Today's Papers

Agony in Aceh

Everybody focuses on Indonesia’s Aceh province, where the government now says at least 80,000 are dead—bringing the worldwide total to about 120,000—and there is still no access to, or solid information from, hundreds of miles of Aceh’s worst-hit areas.

The New York Times says in even Aceh’s capital—where aid is supposedly flowing in—”relief of any kind was still badly lacking.” One problem is that there’s so much debris and destruction it’s near almost impossible to drive any distance. Rescuers have only been able to make it by helicopter to Aceh’s west coast. Hundreds of thousands lived there, but officials flying over have seen few signs of life. The Wall Street Journal talks to one local official who said only four of 28 villages in his district escaped total destruction.

The papers rely largely on two sources of information from the still-isolated coast. One is a British conservationist who did a flyover and described it as looking like “old photos you see of Hiroshima.” The other one is the first of a handful of survivors rescued from the region’s main town, Meulaboh, which used to have a population of tens of thousands. “The place where I lived has been turned into the ocean,” she said. “There are survivors, but many of them are wounded.”

Everybody also notes increasing frustration with the Indonesian government’s response. Citing an “American official,” the NYT notes, “Indonesia’s helicopter fleet, which could be used to make more food drops to the region, appeared to be grounded with technical problems.”

The papers all mention the White House’s announcement that Secretary of State Powell and the president’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will visit some of the disaster areas this weekend.

The NYT has a solid tick-tock on the tsunamis, following scientists as they realized what was happening but didn’t know who to warn.

According to early morning reports, a fire in a Buenos Aires club killed 150 people and injured about 400.

In Iraq, one GI died from wounds he received during Wednesday’s large-scale insurgent attack in Mosul. Yesterday, the city’s 700 electoral workers reportedly resigned, citing threats. And three guerrilla groups warned Iraqis against voting.

The NYT mentions inside that, as expected, Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced he’s reneging on his promise to relinquish his job as the head of the army. “The voice of the majority” wants that, he said. The paper doesn’t mention the White House’s response. But the Washington Post’s editorial page takes a guess: “ANOTHER PASS FOR PAKISTAN.”

The WSJ goes Page One with the administration issuing a new directive retreating from its previously permissive view of torture. The White House had said it would issue the memo months ago. The WSJ mentions, but doesn’t emphasize, that the order doesn’t actually repudiate some of the harsher treatment the Pentagon has used.One former Justice Dept. official, who helped write the original torture memos, said this revision “removed all the clear lines but didn’t change the basic analysis.”

The Los Angeles Timesdigs through federal disclosure forms and finds that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted a lot more gifts over the past six years than have his colleagues, a total of $42,000 worth. Ethics codes only bar justices from accepting goodies from people who have business in front of the court. For what it’s worth, the Times notices that some the most expensive swag came from a Texan conservative who had been a board member of a group that often filed amicus briefs in the Court.

The Post fronts House Republican leaders pushing to loosen another ethics committee rule in order to make it harder to discipline wayward lawmakers.  

Dept of Irony in Naming … A finger-wagging “analysis” accompanying the above WP piece notes: “The Office of Government Ethics has proposed, and Bush supports, legislation to ease financial disclosure requirements for government officials, reducing the amount of conflict-of-interest information that candidates and their families must report. The House recently passed a version of the legislation.”

And finally: Happy New Year.