Today's Papers

Putin on the Brakes

According to early morning reports, at least 35 Iraqis have been killed by a car bomb, or perhaps two, near a police station in Baghdad.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Postall lead with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to roll back democracy a bit and strengthen his “already pervasive control” (NYT) over government. Putin is also the Los Angeles Times’ top non-local story. USA Today, which caught initial reports of the Baghdad bombing,stuffs Putin’s proposals and leads with a government analysis concluding that as a result of the new Medicare drug law, retirees will be spending a “large and growing” share of their Social Security checks on health care. On average, seniors now spend about 20 percent of their government checks on out-of-pocket Medicare costs; that is projected to double within 10 years. USAT adds that details on the projection were omitted from a recent Medicare report the administration put out.

Saying the moves are needed to “strengthen the unity of the country” in response to the recent terrorist attacks, Putin proposed to eliminate direct election of governors—”one of the last remaining independent political forces,” says the Journal. Also, members of the lower house of parliament, the Duma, would be picked from party lists rather than elected directly. The result, as the Post explains, is that most Western-oriented parties would lose their seats since they typically don’t get enough votes to pass the threshold for party appointments. The WP, which has the strongest coverage, adds that some of the larger parties “almost openly sell places on their party lists.”

The White House’s response to Putin’s move was… unclear, not the least because only anon-officials appear in the papers. “This is a domestic matter for the Russian people,” a “White House official” told the NYT.  But “one senior U.S. official” told the Journal, “If you’re worried about the threat of terrorism and the coherence of the state, you come up with well-functioning state institutions, not more authoritarianism.” Presumably the first quote is closer to the White House’s position since it’s from a “WH” official. But why do we have to guess? And if the WH won’t go on record, shouldn’t the papers say that and explain the apparent reason?

Writing a “news analysis,” the NYT’s Dexter Filkins says the U.S.’s get-tougher approach in Iraq “is showing signs of backfiring.” Among other things, Filkins notes threats from Turkey insisting that the U.S. stop its offensive against the northern Turkmen city of Tal Afar. The city has gotten essentially no Page One play, but the Post notes at the tail-end of an A18 story that the military estimates 50,000 to 100,000 residents have fled the city, with many in refugee camps outside town.

The WP adds that the military isn’t allowing anybody into Tal Afar, presumably including journalists. But presumably journalists could report from its outskirts, as they did with Fallujah. Is there a reason that hasn’t happened yet?  

With the exception of the Filkins’ analysis, there’s no frontpage coverage of the latest from Iraq. But plenty happened yesterday: There were again U.S. air and artillery strikes in Fallujah, which the military says hit militants working with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Hospital officials said 20 people were killed. The U.S. said it was only guerrillas. Also, the military said early this morning two GIs were killed and three wounded in an attack. And two Australians and two “East Asians” (NYT) were kidnapped. A guerilla group said Australia needs to leave Iraq in 24 hours or the hostages will be killed.

One Iraqi official told the LAT that 10 houses were destroyed by the strikes in Fallujah. And the Post quotes one doctor saying an ambulance was hit by an artillery shell, killing seven people. (He didn’t say if militants were among the casualties.)The LAT says at the top of its article that neither Iraqis’ accounts nor the military version “could be independently confirmed.” The paper adds in the last line of its stuffed story, “Images that appeared on Arab television—of destroyed homes and cars and people burrowing through the wreckage for their belongings—suggested that civilians had been hit.”

The LAT quotes a marine commander saying the airstrikes in Fallujah are causing infighting within various guerilla groups. He explained that residents now want the foreign jihadis to leave.

A wire report inside the NYT says the White House is proposing to shift $3.46 billion from reconstruction projects towards improving security and oil production.

In today’s needlessly anonymous quote, an “American official” explained, “One of the changing circumstances is the need to focus more urgently and more quickly on developing Iraqi security capability.”

Most of the papers frontFDA officials saying that based on a new study and a review of previous ones they are now convinced that two to three percent of children taking antidepressants have suicidal thoughts because of the pills. Officials had been hesitant to make that call, explaining they didn’t want to scare away people from potentially life-saving treatment based on what were then, in their opinion, inconclusive studies. An advisory panel is set to make recommendations today.

The NYT doesn’t quantify the pills’ seemingly modest risks until the 11th paragraph. The Post puts it in the first sentence. And the Journal,which has the most dispassionate play, points out that with the exception of one anti-depressant, Effexor, when considered as a group the increased risk for the pills appeared to be trend but in most drugs was small enough as to be “statistically insignificant.”

The Post says on Page One that while President Bush has been claiming Senator Kerry’s plans would cost $2 trillion over the long-term, the president’s proposals, which the White House has declined to provide “a full and detailed accounting of,” would likely cost “well in excess of $3 trillion over a decade.” The story is branded “Analysis.” Why? What makes the story different from a regular, reported piece? 

Writing an op-ed in the WP, Fareed Zakaria warns against skipping elections in Sunni guerilla-controlled cities, a move that is coming to be known as the “Shiite strategy” since it would favor them. Doing it, says Zakaria “could make today’s problems look easy“:

If the Sunnis end up with no representatives, they will have even less incentive to support the new Iraqi order…. In many of their colonies the British would often favor a single group as a quick means of gaining stability. Almost always the results were ruinous: a trail of civil war and bloodshed. If Allawi and the United States make the same mistake, there will be 140,000 American troops in the middle of it all.