Today's Papers

Bush Boost

The New York Times leads with a late surge in filings for the Sept. 11 victim fund. More than 95 percent of eligible relatives filed by last night’s deadline. Only a month ago, just 60 percent had. The Wall Street Journal says up high that two long-awaited White House reports on the quality of American health care went through “extensive revisions” that made their findings more upbeat than “some experts” think is justified. For instance, the original version of the report said the health-care system “is not capable” of preventing or managing diabetes. The revised version states that health-care providers “must respond in order to prevent and manage” the disease. The Washington Post leads with a poll showing President Bush’s approval rating at 59 percent, about the same as what other papers found last week. The poll also shows Howard Dean surging ahead of his rivals but getting creamed when he goes head-to-head with Bush, 55-37 percent. USA Today leads with the FDA’s warning that states and cities importing drugs from Canada will be busted. “It’s very clear it’s absolutely illegal,” said an FDA official. Two cities are already running such programs, and 10 states are considering doing so. The Los Angeles Times leads with the 6.5 magnitude quake that hit a rural section of central California yesterday, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. At least two people were killed, and the downtown of scenic Paso Robles was heavily damaged.

A front-page LAT follow-up to the terror alert emphasizes just how worried administration officials are.“I have never seen the national security leadership as tense and anxious as they are right now,” said one top official. During previous alerts, there had been disagreement about whether to raise the warning level. “This time, everyone said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ It is the most specific and credible information we’ve had, period.”

Everybody mentions inside that two GIs and an Iraqi translator were killed and two soldiers wounded Monday by a roadside bomb. That makes three GIs killed since Saddam was captured 10 days ago; the number of guerrilla attacks has decreased significantly since November.

The Financial Times (which TP tries to read, too) reports that the Iraqi ministry of communications has approved rolling out mobile phone services despite an ongoing, apparently criminal, investigation suggesting that coalition and Iraqi officials received kickbacks to award the licenses the services are based on. 

The NYT and WP both front a historic decision by China’s legislature to protect private property rights. The NYT, unlike the Post, emphasizes that the bill’s language was mushier than in an earlier draft. The law states, “Private property obtained legally shall not be violated.” The Times says that the phrase “obtained legally” is an out-clause, giving “leeway to the police and the courts to seize their property according to party dictates.”

Everybody mentions that a federal judge ordered the Pentagon to halt compulsory anthrax vaccinations, saying the military has to stop treating soldiers like “guinea pigs.” The FDA considers the vaccinations to be experimental.

A front-page Post piece details the questionable tactics GOP leaders used to pass the Medicare bill in the wee hours of Nov. 21. The bill was set to be defeated, but GOP leaders left the vote open while they spent three hours strong-arming votes, including perhaps offering bribes. Rep. Nick Smith charged in a radio interview after the vote that GOP “leadership” had offered to give his son’s congressional campaign “$100,000-plus” if Smith changed his vote. He didn’t. But he did try to back away a bit from his comments and has refused to say who allegedly tried to bribe him. (Slate’s Chatterbox has been following the potential bribe story from the beginning.)

A LAT Page One story reminds that while the White House is cajoling other countries to drop their nukes program, the U.S. is moving toward developing low-yield mininukes, which could have a lower threshold for use than traditional nukes.

The NYT fronts a curious case in which a teenager who burned down a boathouse received an uncommonly harsh penalty: He was charged in federal court and given the max sentence of 30 months. As it happens, the fire destroyed a boat engine owned by former President George Bush, and Secret Service agents told the kid’s family that the incident raised “national security concerns.” Prosecutors insist that the two things are unrelated.

The Journal says the head of NASDAQ has approached the NYSE about a merger. Apparently, the talks are very preliminary, with no formal proposals offered yet.

ThePost’s “Style” section profiles former Centcom commander Gen. Anthony Zinni, * who endorsed Bush in 2000 and who has become one of the fiercest critics of the invasion of Iraq. “I think the American people were conned into this,” he says. “The more I saw, the more I thought that this was the product of the neocons who didn’t understand the region and were going to create havoc there. These were dilettantes from Washington think tanks who never had an idea that worked on the ground.” Zinni says that after he oversaw the bombing of Baghdad in 1998, he thought Saddam was on the verge of falling, so he drew up a detailed plan for occupying Iraq, called Desert Crossing. Concerned that his plan wasn’t being properly considered, before the war Zinni called a Centcom general, asking, “Are you guys looking at Desert Crossing?” The general responded, “What’s that?”

Correction, Dec. 23, 2003: Eric Umansky initially called former Centcom commander Anthony Zinni by the wrong name, George. Return to the corrected sentence.