Today's Papers

Maybe They Were Just a Little Spaced Out

The New York Times leads with a concise, thorough litany of NASA’s failures to increase space-shuttle safety. The Washington Post leads with the inability of public health officials worldwide to handle a bird flu pandemic. The Los Angeles Times leads with the opening of a new U.S. military base in northern Iraq that officials hope will help them stem the flood of smugglers and militants coming across the Iraq-Syria border.

The NYT piece pulls no punches, calling NASA’s attempted safety improvements “a chain of missed opportunities and questionable judgments, not just since the Columbia disaster but over the life of the shuttle program.” NASA launched its first space shuttle since the 2003 Columbia disaster last week, only to discover that a chunk of foam had struck the shuttle during liftoff, similar to the injury that doomed Columbia. While NASA later announced the foam had not compromised the shuttle’s safety, the NYT takes the agency to task for failing to fully implement suggestions made in the last two years.

The WP piece suggests that a bird flu pandemic is possible (even statistically likely) and that if it happened, public health officials in the U.S. and abroad wouldn’t be able to contain the spread of disease or effectively treat the ill. The story concludes that a worldwide outbreak wouldn’t just kill millions of people, but could also disrupt global trade for an unspecified period of time, upending the nation’s economy. The story mentions the U.S. government’s attempts to stockpile vaccines and medication, noting however that these efforts are probably too little, too late. TP feels sick already.

The LAT reports that American forces built a long-term base outside the town of Rawah, near the Syrian border, as part of an ongoing offensive meant to cut off routes used by foreign terrorists en route to attacks in Baghdad or Mosul. Almost as an afterthought, the paper mentions that local media reports that up to 80 percent of the population of Rawah have fled the town, fearing that now it will become a target for insurgents.

The NYT off-leads with a look at Beeston, the Leeds neighborhood that three of the four July 7 London bombers called home. The piece examines the alienation and anger fostered in the bombers by a neighborhood divided not just by religion and race, but also by generation gaps. While it doesn’t give any easy answers, it’s a compelling look at an environment that doesn’t allow for dual-identities and what happened to some young men who found themselves isolated by the rift.

The WP off-leads with a profile of Condoleezza Rice’s first months as secretary of state, emphasizing the differences between her and her predecessor, Colin Powell. On the one hand, the piece lists numerous encouraging signs that Rice’s active, hands-on diplomacy will yield better results than Powell’s more aggressive, dogmatic approach. But it also concludes that, for all the positive omens, neither the situation in Iraq nor the pursuit of dismantling Iran and North Korean nuclear programs seem to have improved since she took over the position.

The LAT off-leads with an assessment of the deluge of legislation passed last week in the lead up to August’s congressional recess. The analysis of the new energy bill, however, comes wrapped around yet another discussion of whether or not President Bush has been able to spend the “political capital” he mentioned after winning re-election last November. The WP stuffs a similar legislative wrap-up inside, but where the LAT sees compromise, the WP sees huge gains for the Republican leadership.

The NYT fronts a feature on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ days clerking for Justice William H. Rehnquist in 1980-81. Interviews with fellow clerks reveal Roberts to be an “ambitious and frankly conservative intellectual.” While the conservatism comes as no surprise (and no light gets shed on Roberts’ stance on any particular issue), the piece does draw from Roberts’ memos from those days, which show off a surprisingly sardonic sense of humor.

After being scooped by the WP the day before, the NYT reports under the fold that the Uzbek government has ordered the U.S. to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base. The WP story cited no official reason for the eviction, but the NYT said the announcement was meant as retaliation for the United Nations flying more than 400 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan to Romania against the Uzbek government’s wishes. The refugees had fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan after a violent uprising in Uzbekistan last May.

The NYT fronts a story on a little-discussed provision in last week’s transportation bill that could offer some relief to drivers who live in fear of the tow-truck. The bill would allow states to regulate the conditions under which a car can be towed (and who must give permission for the towing) whereas such state laws had previously been considered unconstitutional, since tow-trucks are technically interstate carriers and thus can be regulated only by the feds. The aim of the provision is to reduce “patrol towing,” in which tow trucks roam parking lots, taking cars at their own discretion, even if the vehicle isn’t necessarily violating any laws, and often charging large fees for the vehicle’s release.

Remember, Only Plebians Brag in Person … Because sometimes just going to posh northeastern resort towns isn’t enough, the NYT reports on a boom in high-end bumper stickers meant to let tailgaters know that their vacations isn’t nearly as special as yours, assuming of course that they can decode the cryptic acronyms that stand for East Hampton or Sag Harbor. Then again, if you have to ask, maybe you were never meant to know …