Today's Papers

Slick Oil?

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead, and the New York Times goes below the fold, with California’s government giving the final OK to a budget plan that will be put to the state’s voters next March. On Friday, as the WP explains, the state Senate approved $15 billion in deficit bonds to pay for the $11 billion deficit Gov. Schwarzenegger inherited plus the $4 billion he added to that deficit by repealing Gray Davis’ tripling of CA’s car tax. The budget plan would also hold the legislature to spending limits, including a future ban on the sort of borrowing that the governor is proposing to do with the bonds. The NYT leads with the latest misdeeds of Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, “whose administration has been engulfed in an assortment of federal corruption investigations for the better part of four years,” the paper says. Rowland had lied about who was paying for improvements to a cottage he owns, and yesterday he admitted doing so. He says now that he didn’t pay for those improvements, but he insisted those who did pay did not receive any special treatment from his office.

The LAT has the go-to reporting on the California budget deal. Schwarzenegger’s budget plans had been doomed as recently as last week but were revived in part by Maria Shriver who pushed for a compromise between the governor and his opponents behind the scenes, the paper says. After phone meetings with the players, she went to Sacramento, and her arrival provided the momentum for a deal, Schwarzenegger’s aides told the LAT.

The papers report that President Bush said Halliburton will need to pay back the $61 million it may have overcharged the government for fuel for Iraq. The Pentagon believes Halliburton was passing along inflated charges for the gas to the government after one of its subcontractors overcharged for the fuel.

Over half of the 900 members of the first U.S.-trained Iraqi army battalion have quit just days before beginning their first mission, the WP says. The fledgling soldiers were discouraged by poor pay, training, equipment, and relations with other ethnic groups. The battalion is assigned to man traffic checkpoints and secure perimeters beginning Monday, but problems such as a lack of proficiency in answering radio calls and in marching in formation plague the remainder of the battalion. The WP reminds that the creation of a functional Iraqi army is vital to Bush’s plans for Iraqi security and sovereignty.

According to the WP front, the FBI now has to answer only to a secret intelligence court and not a regular criminal court when it conducts many counterterrorism searches. The Post describes these new operational rules as marking “the final step in tearing down the legal wall that had separated criminal and intelligence investigations.” FBI senior officials say the new allowances are helping them catch terrorists: four terrorist attacks overseas disrupted and one terrorist sleeper cell in the United States uncovered since the changes took effect, they say.

The NYT relays that the Iraqi intelligence officer who allegedly met with one of the 9/11 hijackers in Prague has told American interrogators that there was no such meeting.

The NYT front features a piece on the debate within the Likud, the main right-wing Israeli party, over how much territory Israel should give to the Palestinians and how quickly Israel should do so. The Likud has long argued against giving up any of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but now fears that reaching a settlement on a Palestinian state is the only way to ensure that Israel retains its Jewish identity and does not become a state dominated by Arabs.

The People’s Mujahedeen, an Iranian opposition group classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, is asking the Pentagon to overturn an order from the Iraqi Governing Council that they be expelled from Iraq and possibly turned over to Iran, says the NYT, which got ahold of the written request. Tehran has suggested it would to turn over al-Qaida members to the U.S. in exchange for delivery of the People’s Mujahedeen. The U.S. has rejected this idea, and the Pentagon maintains ties with the group in order to keep pressure on Iran’s government.

The NYT reefers a study that found over half of women with breast cancer do not complete their recommended chemotherapy regimen because of the drugs’ side effects.

This puts them at a higher risk for a worsening or relapse of the disease. The study’s authors say that patients should be given more of the drugs that stimulate white blood-cell production, which will help the women maintain the strength to see the entire treatment through. The study, the article notes, was sponsored by a company that makes one of the drugs that stimulates white cell production, but researchers denied there was a conflict of interest.

The NYT reports that according the White House, Jim Baker has worked out any potential conflicts of interests arising from his business positions and his work as a Bush emissary on Iraq. Baker will be forgoing his share of any fees his law and investment firms collect from clients who might present a conflict of interest. One of those law firm clients is Halliburton.