Today's Papers

Lebanon and Off and On Again

The Los Angeles Times’ top non-local slot goes to Lebanon, where, in a bizarre twist, pro-Syria Prime Minister Omar Karami has been re-nominated to the post he quit just last week amid growing opposition protests. The Washington Post leads with Iraq, where deadly violence claimed more than 10 lives and some 41 bodies were discovered in mass graves near the Syrian border and south of Baghdad. The New York Times leads with Senate Republicans’ decision to slash the tax cuts proposed in President Bush’s 2006 budget by more than a quarter  in their own proposal. USA Today leads a package on Social Security, bannering some tough talk from the White House. In an interview, Allan Hubbard, head of the administration’s National Economic Council, rejected as “absolutely a non-starter” calls for the administration to secure the system’s solvency before considering private accounts.

The papers say that Tuesday’s massive Hezbollah rally emboldened Syria’s allies in the Lebanese parliament, leading a slim majority to back Karami in meetings yesterday with the country’s Syrian-allied president, which guaranteed Karami’s reappointment. Opposition leaders were livid. “We consider that it is a kind of provocation to come back with the guy who presented his resignation a week ago,” a spokesman told the LAT. “It’s a joke. It kind of says, ‘Nothing is changing in this country.’” But the NYT points out that the appointment is, at least in part, a reflection of the dearth of prominent Sunni politicians in the country following the Feb. 14 assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri; by law, the prime minister must be a Sunni, the president a Maronite Christian, and the Parliament speaker a Shiite.  ”The decision seems absurd, even Kafkaesque,” a Beirut newspaper editor told the NYT. “But the death of Mr. Hariri has left a huge void. Unfortunately there are few people left.”

Meanwhile, the NYT’s off-lead cites anonymous “administration officials” who say the administration reluctantly recognizes that it must accept Hezbollah as a legitimate political player in any vision of an independent Lebanon. “Hezbollah has American blood on its hands,” an anonymous U.S. official said. “They are in the same category as al-Qaida. The administration has an absolute aversion to admitting that Hezbollah has a role to play in Lebanon, but that is the path we’re going down.”

Approximately 26 dead bodies were uncovered yesterday in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, and 15 were found south of Baghdad. While the victims include women and children, Interior Ministry official told the Post that some were presumed to be members of the National Guard and Army, a fact that has spooked some troops. “We are all waiting for death like the moon waiting for sunset,” said one soldier. “We don’t know whose turn will be next.”

Elsewhere in the country, more than 10 people died in several attacks yesterday, including a roadside bomb in Basra, which has been more quiet lately, and another in Baghdad, which claimed a U.S. soldier on patrol. Early morning wires report that two high-ranking police officials have been killed in Baghdad.

According to the NYT and WP, the Bush administration has withdrawn from an international agreement that gives the International Court of Justice jurisdiction over allegations that foreign nationals jailed here have been illegally denied access to diplomats from their home countries. The move came only a week after the Bush administration bowed to just such an ICJ decision by ordering new hearings for 51 Mexicans on death row in Texas, California. (According to an LAT story yesterday, it looks like those hearings will probably happen, despite objections from Texas officials.) “It’s encouraging that the president wants to comply with the ICJ judgment” in the Mexicans’ case, an international law prof told the WP. “But it’s discouraging that it’s now saying we’re taking our marbles and going home.”

The NYT fronts and the WP goes inside with leaked details from the military’s classified Church report on prisoner abuse. The WP says the report (surprise, surprise) exonerates the high-level policy and adds little to what has already reported—one defense official calls it a “gap-filler.” The NYT has pretty much the same take, but focuses instead on a new set of interrogation procedures that the report says are designed to remove ambiguities that allowed the abuses to occur in the first place.

Apart from the NYT’s lead, which admirably mines some drama, the papers’ budget resolution stories all wind up inside. They’re mostly compare-and-contrast jobs, noting Bush’s requests, and the Senate version and House one, which passed out of committee yesterday. The WP emphasizes that, for the first time since 1997, legislators are trying to use the budget process to curb entitlement spending, as well as non-defense discretionary programs. Characteristically, the Wall Street Journal is the most comfortable putting the whole exercise in context: “Budget resolutions are typically more fiscal planning documents than real law.”

The papers note that the future for President Bush’s “Clear Skies” bill looks cloudy after Republicans in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee failed to break a deadlocked 9-9 vote on the measure. The LAT says that committee Chairman James Inhofe postponed the vote three times in the last month to continue negotiations, which finally broke down yesterday. According to a frustrated Sen. George Voinovich, the major stumbling block was whether the bill should address carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming: “[Sen. Lincon] Chafee thinks this is the biggest problem facing the world, and the chairman [Inhofe] has a sign in his office saying this is a hoax.”

Although the American Medical Association says that Texas is one of more than a dozen states suffering from a malpractice “crisis,” the WP says a statewide analysis by four legal scholars found that, over the last 15 years, there’s been little change in the number of malpractice suits filed or the total amount paid in damages, when adjusted for population growth and inflation.

Tripped up … For the second day in a row, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is featured prominently in a front-page story about potential ethics violations stemming from trips he’s taken. This time, it’s in the WP, which reports that DeLay and a “delegation of Republican House members” accepted a junket to Korea in August 2001 at the expense of a group that is registered as a “foreign agent” and is therefore off-limits. Three House Democrats and another Republican took a similar trip on the group’s dime in 2003.