Today's Papers

Czar Arguments

The New York Times leads with yesterday’s sobering economic news that the growth of the U.S. economy sharply dropped during the second quarter of 2004. For its top nonlocal story, the Los Angeles Times interviews eight undecided, registered voters from across the country to check out their (mainly positive) reactions to John Kerry’s big Thursday speech. The Washington Post leads with a long feature on the quandary of family members of U.S.-hired private contractors killed in Iraq: They receive shoddy benefits while their dead relatives receive no substantial recognition.

Most economists attribute the slowdown—GDP growth was tabbed at 3 percent, down from the first quarter’s 4.5 percent showing—to decreased consumer spending and higher energy prices. The NYT points out that “diminished output of motor vehicles alone subtracted a full percent of growth from the quarterly expansion” while exports went up, residential construction increased by 10 percent, and business spending improved by almost as much. Fronting the news on their business page, the WP points out that consumers spent only 1 percent more money than the previous quarter and favorably quotes an economist doubting the sustainability of the American economy’s recovery.

But that wasn’t all the economic news fit to print; the Bush administration also announced that budget deficit hit a record absolute high of $445 billion this year. The amount is 3.8 percent of the GDP, 2.2 percentage points lower than 1983’s record high, and also lower than last year’s forecast of $521 billion. The Office of Management and Budget’s forecasted that the deficit would go down over the next few years, but those forecasts don’t include any possible emergency spending for, say, Iraq and Afghanistan. The OMB director attributed the deficit to reasons other than tax cuts, but the NYT points out that the Congressional Budget Office, which will issue its forecasts in September, recently concluded that about a quarter of the deficit can be blamed to the decline in tax rates. John Kerry jumped on the news to attack the Bush administration’s economics while President Bush, unintentionally channeling Herbert Hoover, claimed that “[w]e have turned the corner, and we are not turning back.”

The LAT and WP look at bipartisan concern—shared by everyone from senators to the Bush administration to the ACLU—about the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to institute a real national intelligence czar who would be located in the White House. Yesterday was the first day of Senate hearings about the panel’s recommendations, and the WP focuses on widespread Senate concern that, if located in the White House, a singular director could easily politicize intelligence. Lee Hamilton, the commission’s vice chair, told the Senate that all possible ideas for intelligence reform had drawbacks. The LAT concentrates on the administration’s claim that an office that would partly run domestic intelligence in the White House could compromise civil liberties. Unsurprisingly, the ACLU isn’t convinced that privacy is Bush’s real concern. John Kerry has unconditionally supported the panel’s recommendations. 

Only the WP notes—and fronts—a significant change in U.S. arms-control policy: Yesterday, the administration announced its opposition to provisions requiring inspection and verification in an international treaty banning “new production by any state of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons.” The U.S. cited not concerns about sovereignty, but fears that the cost of maintaining inspections would be too high.

Everyone reports that the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution by a vote of 13 to 0 to threaten what essentially amount to international sanctions on Sudan if it fails to act on the looming genocide in its Darfur region within the next 30 days. The WP runs a sharp op-ed/dispatch from Sudan, a la NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Three bombs went off at approximately the same time yesterday afternoon in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent at the general prosecutor’s office and the U.S. and Israeli embassies. Two people have been reported dead so far. Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state that has been cracking down on Muslims so viciously that America promised to cut foreign aid a couple weeks ago, and the LAT speculates that the bombs may have been timed to coincide with a trial of alleged Islamic militants that has come under criticism by human rights groups.

In other suicide-bombing-in-Central-Asia-perceived-as-an-attack-on-American-influence news, an attempt on the life of Pakistan’s prime-minister designate failed yesterday but still killed at least six people. The designate, a highly Westernized former Citibank executive, was unharmed.

The NYT runs a solid overview of the United States’ attempts in Iraq to maintain a “coalition of the willing”: While many countries are backing out, the Bush administration yesterday convinced NATO to send military trainers to train the interim government’s fledging army.

Along with the LAT’s nonlocal lead, both the WP and the NYT scour the swing states for anecdotes gauging the response to Kerry’s acceptance speech. All of them note that Kerry got tentatively good marks from swing voters, and the NYT quotes Republican uber-pollster Frank Luntz saying: “He walked out of Boston having moved people to the pro-Kerry camp. It’s a big deal.” The president’s and the vice president’s reactions were predictably less positive while Kerry and running mate John Edwards kicked off a 17-state trip with a visit to Wendy’s for Edwards and his wife Elizabeth’s wedding anniversary.

The NYT reveals that a key al-Qaida figure captured by the U.S. in December 2001 who provided information on cooperation between Iraq and Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network recanted his claims “sometime last year.” Apparently the captive reversed gears once presented with alternative claims by other captured Bin Laden lieutenants.

Decaffeinated DNA … This week’s second big NYT story about the Church of Latter-Day Saints declares that “Mormon genes are hot.” That is, the inwardness, somewhat recent polygamy, and obsessive recording of genealogical records by Utah’s most-noted residents have created a carefully documented interrelated gene pool that, for medical researchers looking to track the hereditary roots of disease, is “a near-perfect laboratory, arrived at by complete accident, for the study of human kinship.” Only one caveat to the research, which was been ongoing for almost 30 years: The stridently teetotaling followers of Joseph Smith won’t allow anyone to check out whether genes exist that makes humans more receptive to booze or tobacco.