Today's Papers

In Plane Sight

The New York Times and Washington Post lead, and the  Los Angeles Times fronts, Congress’ “overwhelming” approval of an $87 billion package of military and reconstruction funds for use in Iraq and Afghanistan, granting President Bush the vast majority of what he asked for when he sent an omnibus nation-building plan to Capitol Hill in early September.

Both chambers ended up trimming about $2 billion worth of prisons, hospitals, and garbage trucks from the original proposal, with the Senate straying further still from the White House’s wish list by designating $10 billion in reconstruction aid as a loan to be paid back out of future Iraqi oil revenues. The Senate also added $1.3 billion in health-care benefits for veterans and excised about $200 million earmarked for importing petroleum into Iraq, amid claims by some lawmakers that a subsidiary of Halliburton was improperly inflating prices for such services (charges which the company denies, according to a piece inside the WP). A conference committee will hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the package next week. 

The NYT notes that, among Democratic presidential aspirants, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. John Edwards, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich voted against the plan, while Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Joe Lieberman were in favor.

A piece inside the LAT notes that despite the new U.S. package, the road to reconstruction still tends toward the steep and uphill: In addition to the $55 billion the U.S. and World Bank estimate will be needed to rebuild Iraq over the next five years, the country is carrying between $300 billion and $400 billion in international debt, including nearly $200 billion in unpaid reparations from the first Gulf War. 

The papers all front word that four U.S. MPs were killed in separate incidents in Iraq—three in a firefight in the holy city of Karbala, and another by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. The WP, which runs the most detailed dispatch  from Karbala, writes that U.S. soldiers were engaged by bodyguards of Mahmoud Hassani, a minor Shiite cleric “neither well thought of nor well known.” The paper regards the incident as evidence that anti-American sentiment is rising among the up-till-now relatively peaceful Shiite majority. Counting these most recent deaths, 101 U.S. soldiers have been killed in combat in Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities May 1.

The NYT fronts and the LAT and WP go inside with the security inspections ordered for all commercial airliners Friday after suspicious packages containing clay, bleach, and box cutters were found in the lavatories of two Southwest Airlines jets. The FBI announced that the discovery constituted “no imminent threat” of terrorism, and agents are reportedly questioning a 20-year-old college student from North Carolina who they believe planted the material on the planes, apparently as a challenge to current security protocol. While the man has not yet been arrested or charged, “proceedings” are expected to be initiated against him in federal court in Baltimore on Monday. According to the NYT, the packages were stashed in a part of the bathrooms “not easily accessible to passengers,” accompanied by notes that seemed to indicate that they had been left there sometime last month.

(In reflecting on the seriousness of the breach, the NYT asserts outright that box cutters had been used to commandeer all four of the planes taken over on 9/11, while the WP and LAT hedge slightly in describing the box cutters’ precise role in the terrorist attacks. As Slate’s David Plotz pointed out last month, the evidence that box cutters were used on all four flights is thin, and there’s still a lot we don’t know about exactly how the 19 hijackers took control of the planes.) 

The WP and LAT front (and the NYT reefers) the resignation of Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who stepped down Friday amid intensifying protests by indigenous groups over his proposal to route a natural-gas pipeline to the U.S. and Mexico through Chile. Per the Bolivian Constitution, Vice President Carlos Mesa will now assume power.

A piece reefered by the NYT notes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has apparently backed away from his government’s decision last month “in principle” to deport Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Expelling Arafat “would not be good for Israel,” Sharon told the Jerusalem Post in an interview.

A piece inside the NYT registers unrest among the Amish in Pennsylvania over federal child-labor laws that prevent children under 18 from working in sawmills or woodworking factories.  Legislation that would give Amish teens (who generally leave school after eighth grade to pick up a trade) a special dispensation to work on religious grounds is now pending before Congress, and to hear one sawmill operator tell it, much hangs in the balance: “If we couldn’t put our boys to work and they didn’t do nothing until they were 18, they’d be absolutely worthless. … Next thing you know, you’ll have a bunch of them getting into dope and drinking and partying.”

The WP fronts a dispatch from greater Seattle, where more than 1,000 minks are running wild after having been sprung from a fur farm in August by members of an animal rights group. The little critters sound like a handful: They smell terrible, caw like crows and, thanks to the unique anxieties posed by semi-domestication, are notably subject to “an insatiable desire to kill and eat each other” when confronted with unfamiliar members of their own species.

And in a sign that a Certain Someone may still be grieving for a World Series matchup that could have been, the NYT takes note of an editorial that appeared in the late city edition of Friday’s New York Post, offering a remarkably bold, contrarian take on the Yankees’ extra-inning  victory over the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS: “Despite holding a 3-2 lead in games over the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees couldn’t get the job done at home; their season ended last night.” According to the Post’s editor in chief, separate editorials had been prepared for use in the event of a Yankees win or loss, but an employee “pushed the wrong button” at press time, sending the Dewey-defeats-Steinbrenner version to the printer by mistake.