The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the resignation and agreed-upon exile yesterday of Liberian President Charles Taylor, who handed over power to one of his cronies, Vice President Moses Blah. Blah is scheduled to be in office until October, when a transitional government including rebel leaders is supposed to take power. USA Today leads, and the NYT and WP off-lead, with the White House’s surprise choice to head the EPA, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that Democratic legislators in California are going to try to repeal the unpopular car-tax increase that Gov. Gray Davis pushed through. The tax hike is cited by many as one of their biggest beefs with Davis.
The LAT catches word of two early-morning suicide bombings in Israel. The first one, in central Israel, killed one and injured at least 10. In the second bombing, which happened about an hour later in the West Bank, one person was killed and at least three people were injured.
Taylor headed to Nigeria, whose president has suggested that Taylor won’t be extradited to a U.N.-sponsored court in Sierra Leone where he faces war crimes charges. The NYT’s main Liberia piece says, “The White House has yet to decide to what extent it will engage in Liberia.” But as a separate story inside suggests, the administration has all-but decided against sending a significant force. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has been gently pushing for the Marines to head in, said yesterday, “If the cease-fire remains in place, I would not expect any large commitment of U.S. forces.” As the WP’s subhead mentions, Bush has previously said that the key condition for sending in the Marines was Taylor stepping down.
Everybody notes that as Taylor stepped down, the White House sent Navy ships right up to Liberia’s shore. According to the papers, many Liberians saw the ships and started cheering, believing that Marines were on the way in. As a wire piece in the Wall Street Journal notes, the ships “moved back out of view within an hour.”
The White House’s choice for EPA administrator, Gov. Leavitt, advocates decentralizing environmental management and leaving many decisions to the states. As everybody notes, he’s also pushed for replacing regulations with financial incentives encouraging voluntary commitments. The papers all get quotes from environmentalists panning Levitt. “I can’t think of too many governors more hostile to government regulations than Mike Leavitt,” one enviro told the NYT. And the LAT says that according to EPA data, Utah ranks second only to Nevada in the amount of toxins that industries release into the air, water, and land. On the other hand, most of the papers get quotes from an outfit known as Environmental Defense pointing out that Leavitt has pushed a few cleanup initiatives: “He deserves credit for” reducing haze in national parks, said the organization’s chief. The WP also notices that Leavitt has pushed for “separating policymaking from data-gathering.”
The WP’s Anthony Shadid continues to explore why Basra, which had been one of Iraq’s most peaceful cities, erupted in riots over the weekend. Shadid says gas isn’t the only thing in short supply. Electricity, for instance, has only been on for a few hours per day. Shadid adds that British officers seem ticked with the U.S. reconstruction efforts. “It seems so bureaucratic,” said one named Brit. “We don’t feel we’ve been able to influence the reconstruction program.”
The WP notes inside that the commander of the U.S. 4th Division, the unit leading the search for Saddam, made an honest admission about the hunt: “I don’t know if we’re getting close or not.” Soon after the death of Saddam’s sons, there were scads of stories saying that U.S. forces were indeed getting close and had in one instance missed him by 24 hours. An administration official made that last claim, and it was later disputed by a top field commander, although the papers (with the exception of the LAT) generally flew by the refutation.
Everybody reports that U.S. forces killed two Pakistani border guards yesterday, apparently mistaking them for al-Qaida or Taliban forces. The papers also notice that NATO formally took over peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan yesterday. Afghan President Karzai used the turnover to call for an expansion of the force, which has been and likely will remain limited to patrolling the capital, Kabul.
The Post’s “Style” section profiles Gallagher, faded C-list comedian and now, of course, candidate for California governor. Gallagher’s platform includes “obituary notices for businesses” and “use [expletive] helicopters” to clear traffic accidents. Of all the schmoes in the race, why do a story about the one-time watermelon-basher? Because Gallagher barged into the Post’s lobby: “He spoke loudly, carried a large cardboard box filled with dirty clothes and explained that he was running for governor of California. A security guard asked him to leave.”