Today's Papers

Recovery Fumbles

Both the New York Timesand the Los Angeles Timeslead with yesterday’s grim report from the Labor Department that showed the U.S. economy adding only 32,000 new jobs in July—almost 90 percent fewer than many experts predicted—while earlier figures from May and June were revised downward by about 20 percent. The Washington Post leads with the battle between U.S.-led forces and Iraqi insurgents in the southern city of Najaf. At least 300 Iraqi militiamen and three U.S. soldiers have been killed so far in the first intense fighting since the interim government took power on June 28. The battle is ongoing—a cease-fire offered by rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr was rejected and, according to the NYT’s off-lead, the U.S.-Iraq coalition “intend[s] to use the Najaf fighting decisively to curb Mr. Sadr’s challenge to the new government.”

Hundreds of air-power-backed Marines joined an Iraqi force that had “larger numbers than in any previous battle” to face up to 2,000 of Sadr’s fighters. The NYT’s John Burns calls the battle a “watershed for the new power alignment in Baghdad” that “appeared to be shaping into a climactic showdown with Mr. Sadr.” The WP article, perhaps because it was contributed to by Iraqis near the action, gets at the perspective of the militiamen better than do the other fronts. It describes how Sadr’s men were “spurred by impassioned calls to arms at Friday prayer services,” and how “Shiite leaders asserted that coalition forces had attacked sacred sites without provocation”—a contention unreported by the two Timeses. The WP is also the only one to mention Sadr’s cease-fire request before the jump. All three papers point to the absence of Iraq’s revered mediator, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who’d been flown to London Friday to be treated for an unspecified heart problem.

Arriving at the end of a week of record oil prices, the employment report panicked jittery investors and sent stocks plunging, with the Dow Jones hitting a seven-month low. The papers all front speculation that the new data could pose a problem for President Bush, who has repeatedly asserted during his campaign that the economy was “turning the corner” toward improvement. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry took a jab at Bush’s corner slogan, suggesting instead that “our economy [is] taking a U-turn.” The papers go on to observe that with the Republican National Convention less than a month away and no new employment data forthcoming, Bush may be under extra pressure to stake out a politically solid position on the issue. 

The number of al-Qaida-related arrests continues to rise, with the LAT and WP fronting stories on Babar Ahmad, a computer specialist who was caught in England this week with, among many other things, naval documents detailing routes and weaknesses of a San Diego-based group of warships. Ahmad is apparently the cousin of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a former al-Qaida operative who agreed to cooperate with authorities by sending monitored e-mail messages to dozens of Qaida members around the world. 

The NYT fronts a related report on Issa al-Hindi, another Qaida operative in British custody, who “was dispatched to the United States in early 2001” by Osama Bin Laden himself, “to case potential targets in New York City.” Officials believe he surveyed the New York Stock Exchange with two other men, and though he likely would not have participated in attacks, his arrest is being hailed as “the most significant capture of a Qaida figure in at least a year.”

In terms of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in America, there is a huge disparity between blacks and whites, reports the NYT. Twelve percent of the U.S. population is black, but African-Americans accounted for 54 percent of new cases in 2002. The death rate among black men ages 25 to 44 is six times that of white men the same age, while for black women the death rate is 13 times higher than for white women. Studies also found that blacks, once diagnosed with HIV, “receive life-sustaining treatment less often than whites” and that even when money is not a factor, “blacks receive lower-quality medical care.”

Rick James is dead at 56. He was found in his Los Angeles home on Friday morning; a preliminary coroner’s report cited natural causes. James was best known for his fusion of funk and hard rock music—punk-funk—but he was also a prolific writer, producer and performer.  His multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated hit, “Super Freak,” rose to the top of the charts in 1981.