Today's Papers

The Snow Must Go On

The New York Times leads with word that NATO finally has voted to give Turkey some defensive weapons in order to help it prepare for any invasion of Iraq. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that some firefighter and police departments are being depleted since some of their members are reservists and are being called up by the Pentagon. The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the gargantuan snowstorm that’s hit the Mid-Atlantic and is now heading north and expected to nail New York. The blizzard all but shut down D.C., causing near white-out conditions on the WP’s front page: Three of six Page One stories are snow-related, including the engrossing, “A SPECTACLE TO ADMIRE, IMPOSSIBLE TO SUBDUE: Outdoors or In, Residents Marvel.”

The papers suggest that France, Germany, and Belgium were basically outmaneuvered. Instead of having NATO itself authorize the weapons, a sub-committee, the NATO Defense Planning Council, voted on it instead. France was OK with that because, well, it didn’t have a choice. It’s not on that council. After France was excluded, Belgium and Germany basically fell in line. (The papers don’t explain why none of this happened earlier.) The NYT reminds, while the LAT forgets to mention, that this whole tiff was essentially symbolic. Germany itself promised to give Turkey weapons; it just didn’t want to do it through NATO’s defense clause, since it considered that a vote in favor of war.

The LAT’s lead says the Pentagon doesn’t keep stats on what percentage of reservists also work as first-responders. But the paper looks at anecdotal evidence and comes away confident that municipal emergency services are hurting because of call-ups. A recent survey of 8,500 fire departments found that about three-quarters have employees in the reserves. Of course, it’s no biggie if larger departments lose a few firefighters to the Pentagon, but it can be harder on smaller units. One respondent to the survey noted, “It will only affect one firefighter—but he is the only other full-time member besides myself.” Still, there are no hard numbers on this thing, and while it does seem like a potential problem, the LAT’s headline sounds the alarm a little too loudly: “BUILDUP STRAINS PUBLIC SAFETY.”

Everybody mentions that Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge suggested that he’ll lower the terror threat in the day or so. Ridge said he still thinks most of the intel the threat was based on is solid, but he acknowledged that one of the tips was totally bogus. Or as Ridge put it, “Not all the information that we’ve received later on is corroborated as being 100 percent factual.”

Alert, misleading headline [cue sound of police sirens]: The NYT announces above-the-fold, “U.S. PLANNING SANCTIONS AGAINST NORTH KOREA.” But as the article explains, in what seems like the result of a little diplomacy-by-leak, the White House hasn’t decided to try to impose sanctions; it’s just saying they’re now a possibility, which is pretty much what they’ve been. “If they start to dismantle their weapons programs, then we can talk about incentives,” said a senior administration official in today’s piece. “But if they torque up the pressure, you’re looking at the other direction. That’s when sanctions become much more likely.”

A long front-page NYT piece  profiles one al-Qaida captive who is giving particularly juicy info. Shadi Abdullah was arrested in Germany, where the NYT got ahold of a stash of police documents about him, including transcripts of his interrogations. (The Times explains, somewhat murkily, that it “gained access” to the papers as a result of Abdullah’s “testimony in the Hamburg trial of a fellow terror suspect.”) According to the NYT, some of the most important info that Abdullah has given up are AQ code words. For instance, “little girl” meant a forged driver’s license, and “seven seas” referred to forged visas. Presumably, AQ guys have long suspected that their (lame-ish) code has been cracked. But did the Times really have to announce it? Maybe it’s already part of the public record and intel folks don’t care. If that’s the case, the paper should have just said so.

A NYT editorial notices that Bush’s proposed budget suggests he’s not exactly racing to deliver on his promise of increased AIDS funding in Africa. In his State of the Union address, the president pledged $10 billion over five years; the proposed ‘04 budget only includes a $550 million increase. Oh, and most of that cash is balanced by cuts in international health-care programs for kids.

Meanwhile, the Post’s editorial page apologizes for having kvetched about Bush’s proposed budget cuts for drug treatment. As the correction acknowledges, “The proposed budget calls for a $271 million increase in drug treatment funding.”

Amid last week’s duct tape mania, the NYT notices one workplace where employees were smart enough not to take the warnings seriously: The White House. Sure, some people at 1600 Pennsylvania freaked out, but consider budget chief Mitch Daniels. He didn’t get stressed and just sent his wife a beautiful bouquet of roses … wrapped in duct tape.