Today's Papers

Iran: Bombs (Far) Away

Citing “government sources with first-hand knowledge,” the Washington Post says a top-level intel review—representing the combined opinion of all spook agencies—has concluded that Iran is at least a decade away from making enough enriched uranium for a nuke—about twice as long as the intel community’s previous estimates and far more time than the White House has been suggesting. The Los Angeles Timesleads with California’s Supreme Court ruling that businesses need to give same-sex partners the same deals they offer married couples. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and the New York Timeslead with President Bush, as expected, bypassing the Senate and installing John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N. Given that he was appointed while the Senate was on vacation, Bolton’s job contract only lasts through 2006. USA Todayleads with big growth in Medicaid. The health-care program for the poor has increased from 34 million people six years ago to 47 million last year. USAT connects the change to tightened welfare laws that in turn prompted states to expand Medicaid for the working poor. 

Writing the Post’s scoopy lead, reporter Dafna Linzersays intel agencies aren’t sure that Iran’s government—or ruling clerics, as the case may be—have decided to go after nukes. Part of that is because Iran can develop the technology in a dual-use way and doesn’t actually have to commit to nukes until late in the game. Anyway, it’s not like the intel agencies are exactly oracles. As the Post notes, until the latest assessment, the agencies had been making the same prediction—that Iran was five years from nukes—since 1995.

It’s worth noting that the Post didn’tactually see the intel estimate on Iran’s nukes effort. Indeed, the WP adds that its sources “would discuss only limited elements of the estimate and only on the condition of anonymity, because the report is classified, as is some of the evidence on which it is based.” OK, so we may not be getting a complete picture. Which raises an (obvious) question that the Post doesn’t address: What were the leakers’ motivations? That’s particularly pertinent given the interesting timing of the leak: Iran just announced yesterday that it’s effectively pulling out of a deal with European countries and restarting a uranium-conversion plant.

Bolton’s nomination had been put on ice after the White House refused to turn over some documents demanded by Senate Democrats suspicious that Bolton used intel reports to, effectively, spy on his opponents.During the confirmation hearings, a potpourri of witnesses testified that Bolton had a habit of twisting intel and abusing underlings. There have been plenty of other recess appointments in recent years, but rarely at such a high level.

Bolton got right down to business yesterday and headed to New York, where, the NYT says, “he was booed on the sidewalk outside the United States Mission.” Secretary-General Kofi Annan didn’t exactly show the love either: “I think it is all right for one ambassador to come and push, but an ambassador always has to remember that there are 190 others who will have to be convinced—or a vast majority of them—for action to take place.”

Though nobody pays it much heed, the military said yesterday that five U.S. soldiers were killed in two bombings in Baghdad Sunday.

Everybody mentions that astronauts will—in a very advanced procedure—try to yank off the piece of cloth hanging from Discovery’s belly. Fixing the protruding heat-tile filler will be the first ever attempted in-space repair of the shuttle’s exterior.

A front-page NYT piece looks at what seems to be NASA’s plan for a shuttle replacement. Using the shuttle’s rocket, the thing looks like  … your father’s space mobile. Basically, an old-school rocket, the crew’s pod would be at the tippy top, making debris a non-issue. Payloads would go up on a separate, much bigger, rocket. Most of the analysts quoted in the piece praised the design, not the least because it’s a helluva lot safer than the shuttle. Plus, it’s cheaper and more powerful. 

The LAT, NYT, and WP all front fallout from the death of the leader of southern Sudan, John Garang, whose helicopter apparently crashed in bad weather. After 21 years of civil war, Garang just last month became Sudan’s vice president as part of a peace deal. When the crash was announced, rioting broke out in Khartoum among southern Sudanese skeptical that Garang’s chopper simply crashed; about two dozen people were killed. Garang’s formal successor dismissed such speculation and said the south will stick to the peace deal—but with the southern Sudanese often divided, that’s now an open question.

Most of the papers front the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, who was replaced by his half-brother Abdullah. No major changes are expected since Abdullah has already been de facto leader for about a decade, ever since Fahd had a stroke. Everybody gives a nod toward Abdullah’s rep as a reformer. But nobody gives it much credence. Abdullah and his brother, the new crown prince, are “basically not democratic reformers,” one analyst told the NYT. “They’re interested in adjusting the political system but not interested in fundamentally changing it.” Nor is it likely that Abdullah will be around for the long haul. He’s usually reported to be 81 years old, but the Journal says there’s speculation he’s actually “much older given the difference between the Gregorian and Islamic calendars.”

Everybody fronts Rafael “I never used steroids, period” Palmeiro getting busted for, of course, using steroids. After his 10-day suspension was announced yesterday, Palmeiro clarified his stance: “I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period.” Palmeiro is one of only four players in baseball history who has at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

The LAT reports the death of its longtime media critic David Shaw. Just 62, Shaw had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in May. He was known for long,probing pieces. “We are in the age of transparency in journalism,” said one media academic. “David was the first guy outside washing the windows.”

Knight Ridder notices that Palmeiro, a former Texas Ranger, still has at least one supporter: His former boss, President Bush. “Rafael Palmeiro is a friend. He testified in public and I believe him,” Bush told a few reporters in Texas. “He’s the kind of person that’s going to stand up in front of the klieg lights and say he didn’t use steroids, and I believe him. Still do.”