Today's Papers

Powell: Pow!

The New York Times, Washington PostWall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Los Angeles Times all lead with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s fiery speech at the Grand Poobahs’ economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, during which he denounced allies’ hesitance to go to war with Iraq and said there’s plenty of evidence to justify an invasion. “This is not about inspectors finding smoking guns,” said Powell. “It is about Iraqis’ failure—Iraq’s failure—to tell the inspectors where to find its weapons of mass destruction.” USA Today leads with a poll: Fifty-six percent of respondents said that inspectors should be given more time. Then again, 81 percent said Iraq is not complying with U.N. resolutions. (No, the poll isn’t from France.)

The NYT listens to Powell’s comments and reasonably enough concludes that he “came close to dismissing” the impending inspectors’ report. Meanwhile, USAT, citing anonymous administration officials, says, “Bush has made no decision yet” about whether to invade: “The media, officials say, are overblowing the sense of urgency.” Puuleese. With the current military buildup, the stark rhetoric from the White House, and the much-discussed narrow climate-based timeframe for an invasion, the notion that the press is somehow overreacting strains credulity, and USAT should have said as much.

As this morning’s papers say and as has been mentioned before, the inspectors’ report—due out today—is going to nail Iraq for lots of omissions in its weapons declaration but is also going ask that inspectors be given more time. “We are just now reaching a fully operational level,” one inspector told the NYT. In a not-great sign for the White House, best buddy Tony Blair seemed to sympathize with that request. “I don’t believe it will take them months to find out whether he’s cooperating or not,” said the prime minister. “But they should have whatever time they need.”

As the LAT notes up high, Powell also renewed allegations—made by other administration officials recently, too—that Saddam is connected to al-Qaida, a claim, as the LAT properly points out, “that the administration has so far supported with scant evidence.” The NYT’s Bill Safire says that’s only because the CIA are bureaucratic buffoons; he insists, “Saddam and the followers of bin Laden are bedfellows.”

The Journal has the best details on Davos’ cross-Atlantic atmosphere of animosity. During a dinner speech, Patrick Cox, president of the EU parliament, proudly announced, “The real Europe has real values,” adding “our imperial days are over, and thank God for that.” Ron Silver, “U.S. actor and political activist,” saw that as a diss of his homeland, prompting him to jump from his table and proclaim, “We are not an imperial government, Mr. Cox! You know that and everybody here knows that.”

A front-page piece in the NYT says that the government is developing a computer network to gather people’s health data and serve as a sort of early-warning radar for a bioterror attack. The Times’ piece goes high with the privacy issues around the system and notes that until recently the project was funded by the Defense Department’s much-bashed Total Information Awareness program. Meanwhile, the Times underplays other parts of the story, namely its huge potential non-terror-related utility: Wouldn’t the system be a big help with natural epidemics too? Indeed, according to the article’s 34th paragraph, state health workers in Massachusetts and an HMO are already in the midst of creating a similar civilian system that will soon cover 20 million people. (Why isn’t that a big story? It may not have the sexy bio-terror hook, but presumably the program could save a whole lot of lives.)

A front-page piece in the WP says that North Korea’s 6-month-old attempt to reform its all-but-dead economy is failing badly. The Post speculates that the collapse might be why North Korea has chosen to unwrap its nuke program and attempt a shakedown.

Everybody mentions that a U.S. U-2 spy-plane crashed in South Korea yesterday, slightly injuring five people on the ground. The pilot ejected and survived. The Pentagon kept mum on where the plane had been flying.

A front-page piece in the LAT says that the White House is skimping on domestic defense. The administration has proposed about a $2 billion increase for domestic security (aka homeland defense), a third of what one recent study called for. “The bottom line is that it appears to us we’re going to be under-funded is several key areas,” said former Republican Sen. Warren Rudman, who headed a bi-partisan panel on domestic defense.

The NYT and WP front the latest from Israel: With two days to go before national elections, Israel announced a ban on all Palestinian travel within the West Bank and closed entry points to both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Times also says that after a firefight on Sunday that killed 12 Palestinians (mostly gunmen) in Gaza, Israel is considering reoccupying the strip. As the paper mentions, that would probably result in nasty urban fighting, along the lines of what happened last April.

In a bit that TP missed, Saturday’s LAT reported that the Pentagon is drawing up plans to possibly use nukes against Iraq. Administration officials have hinted in the past that the U.S. might go nuclear if Saddam uses chemical or biological weapons. But the LAT adds that the military is also considering using nukes pre-emptively and without provocation to take out deep bunkers. As the paper reminds up high, these are just contingency plans and will probably end up in some archive, dusty and unused. Still, the administration’s  previous rhetoric  about flexible nuke use has taken a step toward reality, and that’s news—though not to the other papers: So far as TP can tell, the NYT, WP, USAT, and WSJ all skipped it. Two possible explanations: One is that the papers might not have thought it was newsworthy since, as Scott Shuger  said last year, previous administrations have also warned that they might use nukes in retaliation for chem or bio attacks. (Not a solid argument; see this paragraph’s third sentence.) The second, perhaps more likely, explanation: The story was in the SaturdayLAT.

Superbowl coverage: Bucs 48, Raiders 21.