Today's Papers

Force Out

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead with authorities trying to get the few thousand residents still in New Orleans out. Federal health officials said three people have died from infections caused by the fetid water. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and Washington Post play up President Bush’s formal request for another $51.8 billion in Katrina aid. The White House’s budget chief said that should last a good “several weeks.”

There’s a lot of confusion about the forced evacuations, including whether they’ve begun. The NYT says yes, with a near-banner headline. A Times reporter watched an evacuation last night that involved a “dozen heavily armed immigration agents [who] broke into a house without knocking or announcing their presence.” After being told they wouldn’t leave without him, the owner eventually agreed to go.

The other papers see forced evacuations on the horizon but say no concerted effort has started. The city’s police chief said he won’t start forcing residents out until those who “want to voluntarily evacuate” are out.

It’s the mayor who ordered the mandatory evacuation. But he has no authority over the now-main force in town, the National Guard. They’re controlled by the governor, who was less intent on moving to that stage. In what may be its own overstatement, the Post says the mayor was actually “overruled by Louisiana officials.”

Anyway, should the forced evacuations happen, the NYT notes that New Orleans hangers-on are of course free to challenge in court …  currently located in Baton Rouge.

Everybody notes that Republican House and Senate leaders announced a joint investigation into the government’s response. It will be the first joint investigation since the Iran-Contra probe of the 1980s. The NYT headlines, “BIPARTISAN INQUIRY PROPOSED AS BUSH SEEKS $51.8 MORE FOR KATRINA.” Which is technically correct and plenty misleading. As the paper mentions 15 paragraphs in, Democrats “were not involved in putting the joint inquiry together.” Democrats called instead for an independent 9/11-type commission. In other words, headlines aside, what was proposed yesterday was a “bipartisan” panel largely opposed by one party.

The Post notices that while the White House did scrimp on levee work, Louisiana’s congressional delegation didn’t exactly have their eyes on the ball either. Louisiana actually got more money for Army Corps of Engineers projects than any other state; it’s just that much of it was pork. For instance, one big project involved increasing the capacity of a canal that was, as it happens, falling into disuse. According to the WP, the corps’ civil works budget “consists almost entirely of ‘earmarks’ inserted by individual legislators.” The result of such a fine system, said one environmental lawyer, is that “saving New Orleans gets no more emphasis than draining wetlands to grow corn and soybeans.”

The Post fronts and others go inside with an independent panel’s final report on the U.N. oil-for-food scandal; it hit U.N. chief Kofi Annan for inept management but didn’t find evidence he was actively involved in shenanigans. In a point that gets little notice—unless the last paragraph of the Post’s piece counts—the panel also concluded that U.S. officials approved “the single largest episode of oil smuggling” out of Iraq, which happened right before the war started. The Post notes that the U.S. declined the panel’s “requests for interviews and documents” about that incident.

Everybody goes inside with two bombings in the usually quiet southern city of Basra that  killed 16 Iraqis and four American contractors. The first attack hit a restaurant in a Shiite neighborhood; the NYT says the place was popular with Muqtada Sadr’s men. A suicide bomber killed seven in the northern city of Tal Afar, where there seems to be a U.S. offensive unfolding. And another seven Iraqis were killed in assorted attacks in Baghdad. Finally, U.S. forces, acting on a tip from a detainee, freed Roy Hallums, who had been held since November.

The WP notices what may be the biggest news out of Iraq yesterday: As registration ended for the coming elections, officials said Sunnis appear to have signed up in huge numbers. In the Anbar province, where turnout earlier this year was in the single digits, registration is reportedly at about 85 percent.

A stuffed LAT piece reminds us that the U.S. has stopped work on many water- and power-reconstruction projects in Iraq. “We have scaled back our projects in many areas,” one U.S. adviser said in congressional testimony. “We do not have the money.” Much of the money has been rerouted for security. The LAT adds, without explanation, that “less than half of U.S. reconstruction money has been spent.”

The NYT gets hold of Yasser Arafat’s medical records, which show that he died of a stroke brought on by some kind of infection. Contrary to speculation, he does not appear to have been poisoned or to have had AIDS. (No, it’s not definitive.)

Everybody mentions yesterday’s first multicandidate—but far less then free—elections in Egypt. International election observers weren’t allowed to observe. And the NYT says that at many polling stations, “Mubarak supporters literally stood over voters as they cast their ballots.”

On the silver-linings side, Mubarak’s critics were allowed to protest in downtown Cairo and complain about the rigging. “We are kind of shocked they didn’t beat us,” said one protester.