Today's Papers

Congratulations, It’s a Theocracy!

The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Times lead with the collapse of constitution talks in Iraq. Shiite and Kurdish representatives called negotiations to a halt when they could find “nothing remotely approaching common ground” (NYT) with their Sunni counterparts. Most unpalatable to Sunnis was the issue of federalism—under the current draft, the Shiites would be able to create an autonomous region in southern Iraq that would contain nearly half the country’s population—and all of its best oil fields. The Washington Post leads with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s warning that the current housing bubble is by no means burst-proof. Home prices could plunge, Greenspan implied, if long-term interests rates go up.  Those rates, which are based on finicky international market forces—have been low for some time, in part because investors believe the U.S. economy is healthy and ergo safe for money-lending. But such relatively safe conditions, Greenspan cautioned, are “too often viewed by market participants as structural and permanent.” 

Speaking at a symposium titled, “The Greenspan Era: Lessons for the Future,” Greenspan went on to praise what he called the “flexibility” of the American economy. Globalization and deregulation have strengthened the markets, he said, leaving them less susceptible to the precipitous boom-bust cycles of the past. What the Post coverage omitted, though, was the chief’s noteworthy treatment of the “fear of change,” both among American workers and policymakers. “Increased fear of job-skill obsolescence,” he said, has prevented U.S. workers from being competitive in the world labor market—a problem that must “be addressed through education and training.”

Sunni representatives also objected strongly to Shiite stances on the fate of former Baath party members, including Shiite refusal to constitutionally outlaw de-Baathification—the process by which former Baathists are banned from public office. In addition, some Sunnis were deeply suspicious of the theocratic tenets built into the constitution and the resulting similarity the new government might bear to Iran: “Islam will reign as the official state religion and as a main source of Iraqi law,” explains the NYT. “Clerics will in all likelihood have seats on the Supreme Court, where they will be empowered to examine legislation to make sure it does not conflict with Islam.” Sunni leaders vowed to organize the defeat of the constitution at the polls in October. That result that would require two-thirds of the votes in all three Sunni-controlled provinces, an outcome that is not considered a certainty.

The LAT looks at the story with an eye on the White House. The constitutional crisis, it notes, “[carried the] seeds that could finally destroy the Bush administration’s beleaguered strategy” for establishing stability in Iraq. The administration is also facing eroding public support for the war, as well as mounting doubt from U.S. diplomats, military officers, and Pentagon officials.  The article mentions Friday’s Gallup Poll result, which reported Bush’s 40 percent approval rating, his lowest ever. 

This Knight-Ridder story gives an up-front look at the ramshackle Iraqi security forces. Badly trained, poorly equipped, rarely paid, and in constant danger from insurgents who fiercely despise them, it comes as no surprise that these men aren’t up to a mission that even the U.S. Marines are having difficulty with.

The NYT and LAT also front—and the WP reefers—the deliverance of South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base from closure. The installation is the state’s second-largest employer, and after heavy lobbying by South Dakota’s governor and congressional delegation, the base-closing commission voted to overturn the Pentagon’s plan to shutter it. The commission also voted to delay the closure of Cannon AFB in New Mexico. Bases in Kittery, Maine, Groton, Conn., and a few other places were given clemency this week, though most of the original closure plan remains intact.

The WPand NYT front the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to delay its ruling on whether to allow the morning-after pill to be sold over the counter. FDA commissioner Lester Crawford infuriated women’s health advocates by claiming that a drug sold both OTC and by prescription posed a difficult regulatory challenge. (But then the WP tells us that “[Crawford] acknowledged that several drugs with such dual status are already on the market.”  Huh?) In December 2004, the FDA advisory panel voted 23-4 in favor of OTC status for the pill. That decision was overridden by one man—FDA drug center director Dr. Steven Galson—whose opinion it was that young girls might become more promiscuous if they knew about the drug. 

Off the hookThe LAT’s calendarlive.comreports that Russell Crowe has reached a settlement with a hotel concierge at whose face he threw a phone in June. The telephone—one of the hotel’s—had not been working properly. Crowe was later charged with second-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Crowe had been strenuously promoting his boxing movie at the time.