Today's Papers

The Pentagon Paupers

The New York Times leads with the Pentagon’s plans to broaden its intelligence capabilities by increasing the military’s involvement in the kinds of clandestine operations and human spy activities usually handled by the CIA. The plans, still undisclosed, may be an attempt by the Pentagon to bulwark itself against any loss of power it would face from last week’s intelligence overhaul. The Los Angeles Times leads more Pentagon news—facing spiraling national deficits, the White House will tell the agency to scale back its spending by up to $60 billion over the next six years (for reference, the Pentagon’s 2005 budget could near $500 billion). The reductions, which may signal an end to the Bush administration’s three-year defense buildup, will not affect the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the first of a three-part series, the Washington Post leads its finding that pregnant women are the victims of homicide much more frequently than previously thought. The paper’s in-house study examined the killings of 1,367 pregnant women since 1990, noting that because many states do not record the maternal status of murder victims, the trend had not been recognized until relatively recently, and the national toll could be significantly higher. 

Pentagon officials want the authority to launch more combat operations whose main objective is information-gathering—a concept they call “fighting for intelligence.” And whereas in the past the chief concern of military intelligence has been the position and activities of enemy forces, the new plan would move recon efforts toward counterterrorism and counterproliferation. Transferring the responsibility for paramilitary operations from the CIA to the DOD was one of the major recommendations of the 9/11 Commission report.

Military funding grew hugely after Sept. 11—from $317 billion in 2001, to $355 billion, $368 billion, $416 billion, and now $500 billion. The Navy’s budget, now slated for large cuts, has risen 20 percent a year to $120 billion. That number will probably be reduced by between $4 billion and $5 billion in 2006—the same reduction faced by the Army. As belts are tightened, a few of the larger and more prominent weapons development projects could be downsized, possibly including the Air Force’s F/A-22 and the Navy’s new Virginia-class submarine fleet. The WP cites one Maryland study’s findings that during a sixth-month period in 2001, homicide was the leading cause of death among pregnant women. The paper also found that younger women may be at a higher risk because their relationships with younger men are less stable, both emotionally and financially. Many of the men involved, it seems, are driven to rage by an extreme (and sickening) inability to “deal with fatherhood, marriage, child support or public scandal.” The article includes sketches of quite of few of the murders examined in the study.

The NYT also fronts an investigation of the culture of suspicion and paranoia among U.S. personnel at Guantanamo Bay that spawned several false prosecutions by the Army of its own people. In the two cases detailed in the article, the men charged were Muslims—one a chaplain and the other an interpreter—whose work involved frequent contact with detainees. Fellow servicemen began to perceive them as sympathizers, then as conspirators, and finally as spies. The article describes the series of events by which the men were brought to trial on flimsy evidence and inflated charges (e.g., aiding the enemy by distributing baklava pastries).

The WP fronts a look at the FDA’s lack of permanent leadership under Bush, a state of affairs now being blamed for the recent foul- ups there. The agency has had temporary chiefs for nearly two-thirds of Bush’s tenure. The article suggests that because the Senate must approve permanent appointees, the White House prefers to bypass the confirmation process by installing temporary, less-powerful leaders who are sympathetic to the administration’s more relaxed regulatory stance.

A related NYT piece looks further at the stories of Vioxx and Celebrex, the two arthritis medicines recently shown to carry increased risk of cardiac problems. The drugs were approved on the FDA’s six-month fast track without intensive screening. It now appears that because of aggressive marketing campaigns by Merck and Pfizer, the drugs may have been grossly over-prescribed by many doctors, despite research suggesting that many arthritis sufferers could do just as well with ibuprofen. 

An LAT front shows that Democrats are strongly uniting against the president’s plans for Social Security reform. They argue that Bush is trying to create a political crisis where none exists: that the system is not at all in dire straits (by current projections, it won’t become insolvent for 38 years), and that besides failing to cure the system’s financial problems, the president’s plan to reroute funds to private accounts could entail unnecessary risk for beneficiaries.

Santa’s sick, old, afraid: According to a piece in the WP, many mall Santas have been unable to get flu shots this season, exposing both themselves and tots everywhere—nice as well as naughty—to that worrisome virus. Straining further the Santa myth’s credibility, Tom Kliner, a Santa who runs a listserv for Santas nationwide, said this: “Some guys have been very concerned about it. A lot of the Santas are older, and health is a concern.”