Today's Papers

Kurds and Way-Out Factions

The Washington Post leads with the rise of Shiite and Kurdish militia groups in northern and southern Iraq. The New York Times leads with the nationwide rush of new bankruptcy claims as debtors move to file before stricter laws take effect in October. The Los Angeles Times leads with Pope Benedict XVI urging Muslim leaders to crack down on terrorism.

The paramilitary wings of Kurdish and Shiite political parties in northern and southern Iraq have spun webs of corruption and violence that may undermine any attempts to bring those regions under a federal Iraqi state, the WP reports. Kidnappings, assassinations, and other violent crimes run rampant around primarily Shiite Basra in the south and Kurdish-controlled Mosul in the north, with each group trying to stamp out their opposition. The crimes are often committed by coalition-trained security forces, whose true allegiance lies with ethnic or religious political parties, not any sort of central Iraqi authority. The WP writes that the local groups seem more intent on dominating their respective territories than participating in a unified Iraqi government, enforcing their authority with the kind of swift brutality that seems only too familiar.

Sweeping bankruptcy reforms were signed into law last April, making it harder for the debt-addled to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which forgives debtors entirely. The new rules say that persons who make more than the median income and can afford to pay $6,000 of their debt over the next five years must file under Chapter 13, which requires a payment plan and enrollment in a financial counseling program. With the new law set to take effect in October, the NYT reports a nationwide 12 percent hike in bankruptcy claims from April to June, over the same period last year. The article is filled out by weepy vignettes of last-minute filers rushing to avoid being “priced out” of bankruptcy, as one source puts it. Most of the NYT’s sources seem unsurprised by the swell of 11th-hour filers, with one going so far as to boldly predict there’ll be a decline in claims once the new rules take effect.

The pope told representatives of the Muslim community in the his native Germany that they had an obligation to prevent terrorism by providing responsible religious instruction. The LAT points out that while the pope stopped short of correlating Islam and terrorism (and did acknowledge that Christians have also killed in God’s name from time to time and this, too, is a bad thing), his words didn’t exactly win him any brownie points with his audience, who were mostly of Turkish decent. The LAT provides some helpful context for the tension, noting that back when Pope Benedict was just a cardinal he opposed the admission of Turkey to the European Union on grounds that it would dilute Europe’s “Christian character.”

The WP off-leads with their assessment of 50,000 pages of writings by Supreme Court nominee John Roberts from his tenure in two different government posts between 1981-86. The WP reports the young Roberts felt a largely lefty judiciary had overstepped its bounds on issues from affirmative action to school prayer. But more than any one specific issue, Roberts seems to chafe under the notion of judges attempting to legislate from the bench. The WP is careful to note that Roberts has probably grown more moderate with age, and the story treats the papers as more indicative of his thought process than of definite opinions on specific issues. The NYT, meanwhile, fronts the most insignificant non-finding yet in the race to determine just how conservative Roberts really is. The NYT reports that Harvard was apparently a largely left-leaning school when Roberts attended it in the ‘70s. Roberts was (shock!) an exception to the rule. The piece leans on quotes from people who barely knew Roberts 25 years ago, each remarking on what a bright young man he was and asserting that his conservatism probably stems from his upbringing.

The WP fronts (while the LAT and the NYT run inside) Day 1 of the Northwest Airline mechanics strike. Everyone agrees that it’s a case of “unstoppable-force-meets-immovable-object,” as the union can’t sign off on a plan that fires half their membership, while NWA, barely escaping bankruptcy as it is, can’t afford to pay them all. Everyone also agrees that the strike isn’t likely to affect service, since pilots and flight attendants aren’t on strike and replacement mechanics have already been found.

The LAT fronts a stunning feature on the veritable minefield of legal loopholes that can keep disability-insurance policy holders from collecting when the chips are down. The piece follows Debra Potter, a former disability-insurance salesperson, who was disabled by Multiple Sclerosis and unable to work, only to find that she wasn’t able to collect benefits because she couldn’t convince her insurer that she wasn’t faking it.

The NYT fronts a feature on the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, a foundation that promotes teaching intelligent design along with evolution in schools, arguing that one should be taught as a counterpoint to the other, in an attempt to “teach the controversy.” The NYT points out the institute receives most of its funding from religious conservatives, some of whom openly admit that they’re more interested in the evolution debate as a political and cultural question than a scientific one. The paper declines, perhaps wisely, to delve into the particulars of the center’s qualms with evolution, leaving the piece focused on the institute’s polarizing effect, rather than its theories.

Inside, the LAT reports on a quibble in Turkey over Islamic-style swim suits, specially designed for modest bathers who don’t wish to show too much skin on the beach. The fight isn’t over whether or not the suits are modest enough however, but whether or not they’re tacky.

I Wonder if Clones Share Karma …
It’s no secret that many Evangelical Christians disapprove of stem-cell research and cloning technologies, arguing on religious grounds that life begins at conception. But how do other religions approach these emerging technologies? President Bush limited federal funding for stem-cell research in 2001, only to have the research take off over in India, where the technology met with less resistance. The NYT takes a look at what Hinduism has to say on the controversial biotech, which is expected to generate a million jobs in India over the next five years. NYT writer Pankaj Mishra finds that Hinduism doesn’t provide an easy answer—instead its less dogmatic nature allows for a variety of interpretations, with scriptural passages seemingly condoning human cloning in one place, while suggesting in another that life begins at conception. Mishra also suggests that the techno boom poses even more troubling (and less theoretical) questions for the subcontinent, like the use of the unwitting poor for medical research.