Today's Papers

Patriot Act Games?

Editor’s note: Should it not already be obvious, because of a technical glitch, there are no external links in this Today’s Papers.

The New York Times, with a two-column headline, leads with President Bush urging Congress to “untie the hands of our law-enforcement officials” and remove “unreasonable obstacles” to investigating and prosecuting terrorism. Specifically, he proposed 1) allowing feds to snoop on suspected terrorists with investigators’ own in-house subpoenas instead of a court order; 2) changing the burden of proof on the bail of suspected terrorists or their helpers from the government to defendants. The Los Angeles Times lead, citing unnamed feds, says al-Qaida has a “largely invisible but extensive presence” in the U.S. and that investigators are “only now” realizing the full extent of the network, most of which is apparently focused on fundraising. The piece adds that investigators still only have a general idea of the domestic network. “That’s what people don’t get,” said one agent. “They think we know the names of all the terrorists and we don’t.” USA Today’s lead plays off that, saying the FBI has decided that it’s all but impossible to plant undercover agents in the tight-knit al-Qaida. (The CIA didn’t comment.) The Washington Post leads with a Senate vote yesterday blocking the White House from revamping overtime rules.

Bush, speaking at the FBI’s training HQ in Virginia on the eve of the second anniversary of 9/11, argued that investigators in health-care fraud cases already have the power to issue their own subpoenas and don’t need the court’s permission to poke around. “If we can use these subpoenas to catch crooked doctors,” said the president, “Congress should allow law enforcement officials to use them in catching terrorists.” The papers all include press-release quotes from the ACLU, which, shockingly, is opposed to the proposals. But what the reporters don’t do is pick up the phone and examine the substance of Bush’s claims: Is there an unfair playing field for terror investigators?

In any case, as the papers note, with the original Patriot Act under increasing heat, Congress is unlikely to jump for the new proposals. So, why would Bush push for the new laws? According to one Republican strategist quoted in the NYT’s lead, “Bush is betting that he will either get the powers or get an issue he can use to club his Democratic opponent.” (Read a break-down of what the Patriot Act entails in these Slate “Juriprudence” columns.)

The Times also notices that Bush, in just 23 words, repeated and linked two of the sketchiest pre-war claims about Iraq. “The terrorists have lost a sponsor in Iraq,” the president said. “And no terrorist networks will ever gain weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein’s regime.” Phew!

The LAT’s lead, in something it doesn’t emphasize, mentions that investigators trying to track AQ in the U.S. are particularly concerned since they’ve seen “many indications” that the war in Iraq has made jihadists “more intent than ever” on attacking targets on U.S. soil.

A NYT’s front-page piece on the release of an Osama Bin Laden video, which may or may not be new, includes something similar. “Iraq is now Jihad Stadium,” said one source (deep breath) “in Washington familiar with the latest intelligence on Iraq.” The source IWFWTLIOI added, “We have done a good job on the leadership over the last two years, but now there is an increasing flow of bad guys into both Afghanistan and Iraq. The problem is that there are an infinite number of potential new players.”

The Post’s lead explains that the overtime regulations proposed by Bush would have decreased the number of well-paid workers eligible for overtime pay and expanded eligibility for low-income workers. The Senate rejected the first part of the proposal and passed the second.

The WP’sstory spends much space pondering the political ramifications of the diss, for instance noticing that a number of Republicans voted against the White House. The article also mentions that Democrats and the White House disagree, of course, about the proposal’s potential impact, with the administration arguing that hundreds of thousands of workers would gain coverage and Democrats arguing that millions would ultimately lose it. What the article doesn’t show is any sort of curiosity about who might be right.

The WP says that Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has approached former top general Wesley Clark about becoming Dean’s vice presidential candidate. Clark, as aides emphasized to the Post, still needs to decide whether he himself is going for the top job. Apparently, the two have had four meetings to, as the Post puts it, “discuss the race.”

As everybody pauses for a moment and ponders the second anniversary of 9/11, the WP notices that President Bush has been extra responsible in making sure the attacks aren’t forgotten: In the past six weeks, says the Post, Bush has cited Sept. 11 while arguing for his positions on energy policies, tax cuts, campaign finance, unemployment, the deficit, and, of course, Iraq.