The Los Angeles Times and New York Times lead with the democracy showdown in Ukraine, where the official results say Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won—but there’s widespread evidence the count was cooked. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who led a U.S. delegation to check out the vote, described a “concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse.” A range of independent (and apparently trustworthy) exit polls suggest the real winner is the reformer and pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko. Tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of Kiev demanding a recount.
The Washington Postleads with a big omnibus budget bill being been held up while lawmakers repeal a provision that would have allowed some lawmakers to check out people’s tax returns. A surprise cut from the bill: money for researching new nukes. USA Todayleads with a new medical journal study, in JAMA, concluding that a cholesterol-lowering drug pulled from the market, Baycol, did indeed have a higher risk than other such drugs, which are basically safe. The report also found that Baycol’s maker, Bayer, knew of problems but, yes, hid the data. In a point USAT buries but other papers flag, an accompanying JAMA editorial calls for a board independent of the FDA to look at drugs already on the market and not to rely on drugmakers to report problems.
In response to the protestors in the capital, the Ukrainian government channeled Orwell: “We want to assure everyone that in the event of any threat to constitutional order and the security of our citizens, we are prepared to put an end quickly and firmly to any lawlessness.” Prime Minister Yanukovych said he has been asked to crack down “by many Ukrainian mothers to prevent street disorders where their children may get hurt.” Russian President Putin is buddies with Yanukovych and called to congratulate him on his faux-success—before the vote count had finished, notes a Post editorial. “The battle had been hard-fought,” Putin cooed, “but open and honest, and his victory was convincing.”
The Post says the tax-return snooping provision—which seems to have been shepherded by one Rep. Ernest Istook Jr., R-Okla., though he’s now denying it—is just the latest example of the kinds of things that get stuffed in when, as is common nowadays, bills are drawn up secretly and then members are forced to vote on them in a rush without the ability to amend them. The Boston Globe recently did a good series on the decreasing democracy in Congress.
The NYT fronts word that Iraqi security forces aren’t near ready to do their assigned job of protecting polling places on Election Day. U.S. commanders say there are 145,000 trained security forces—a bit more than half of what they say is needed—and even those forces have been less than reliable. Meanwhile, Iraqi ethnic and exile parties said their militiamen would be happy to pull guard duty.
Another piece inside the Times mentions that the recently fired police chief of Mosul has been “arrested” by Kurdish militia on suspicion of working with guerrillas; he was reportedly found holding $600,000 in cash.
The LAT fronts word from an embed report saying Marines have launched what they describe as the “major post-Fallujah campaign.” About 5,000 U.S. and British troops, with about 1,000 Iraqis are moving against insurgents in the Babil province, just south of Baghdad. The action has apparently started small scale, with a raid on about a dozen homes. What the LAT doesn’t say: Back in October, the military also launched a sweeping counter-insurgency operation, also in Babil.
Everybody mentions that a top Sunni cleric was assassinated in Mosul; the group he’s associated with has called for an elections boycott. The LAT mentions that Marines shot a bus nearing a checkpoint in Ramadi, killing three civilians. It’s not clear what happened. Another four Iraqi national guardsmen were found executed in Mosul, making a two-day total of 13. There are another 11 still-unidentified bodies.
Two GIs also died, one from previous wounds and one who was killed by a sniper on the road from Baghdad’s airport. Two GIs were wounded in Fallujah, where the NYT says “fighting continued to dwindle.” The Times says some aid convoys have arrived in the city but haven’t found any civilians to help. The paper adds that a bomb was discovered onboard an Iraqi domestic flight.
The NYT fronts women’s reports of being near-groped by airport screeners as a result of new security guidelines adopted after Chechen women blew up two Russian planes last summer. “In dozens of interviews,” says the Times, “women across the country say they were humiliated by the searches.” Most of the women did “not make formal complaints, most saying that they assumed it would be futile to do so.” So, how did the Times find dozens of women who had objected to the treatment? Just randomly? Perhaps led to them by an advocacy group or lawyers? Wouldn’t clearing that up would give a hint about the extent of the complaints?
The LAT’s “Outdoors” section reports on Marlboro’s 2004 Adventure Team, in which the generous patrons at Philip Morris took foreign youth (of age, thank you!) on a real world cowboy adventure through Utah’s wilds. Reporter Charles Duhigg, who wanted to ask the organizers how they felt about public land being used for smoking junkets, didn’t exactly get a press pass and had a bit of trouble joining the fun. After trying to enter ranch land where the team was, Duhigg was met by the owner, a cowboy, who yelled, “Get the hell off my land!” and walked away: