Today's Papers

The Buck Stops, Hear

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Los Angeles Timesall lead with Judge John Roberts’ performance, during which he affirmed a right to privacy but didn’t happen to say whether he thought Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The New York Timesleads with President Bush, in response to a reporter’s question, seeming to fall on his sword:“Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility.” USA Todayleads with and others front officials charging the owners of a Louisiana nursing home with negligent homicide after 34 patients were found dead post-Katrina. The owners, who turned themselves in, reportedly spurned an offer to get patients out. Louisiana’s death count jumped to 423 yesterday. 

The papers catch word that a bomb early this morning in a Shiite part of Baghdad killed about 75 day laborers. According to CNN, there were also three smaller car bombings, with one killing four shoppers in a Shiite neighborhood. Meanwhile, Iraqi National Guardsmen—or perhaps militants posing as them—executed 17 men just north of Baghdad.

Roberts backed away from some of his saucier Reagan-era memos—including one that cited the “so-called right to privacy”—and he said that Roe v. Wade is “settled as precedent.” But, asked by Sen. Arlen Specter whether he considered the case a “super-duper precedent” (seriously), Roberts demurred, something he did again and again yesterday. Slate’sDahlia Lithwick looks at the genius of Roberts’ all-encompassing humility play.

The WP’s piece on Bush’s responsibility talk actually spends a good deal of space detailing what it says is the president’s coming suspension of a law that requires service workers under federal contract to be paid the prevailing wage. Bush made a similar change last week with construction workers, but this move relates to a different law and, according to “labor experts,” would be “unprecedented.”

A piece inside the Post details evidence that much of the flooding in New Orleans came via a little-used shipping canal that locals long ago dubbed the “Hurricane Highway.” There was talk of closing it down, but it never happened thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers and local congressmen.

Knight Ridder reports that it was Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff and not former FEMA man Michael Brown who initially had the authority to spur fed agencies into action—by declaring an “Incident of National Significance”—and who didn’t do so until 36 hours after Katrina. The piece, which comes complete with a leaked memo, also says that the White House didn’t follow its own emergency-response plan.

Mississippi’s Hattiesburg-American also has a curious story that might be worth follow-up: Utility managers in the state said they were called by Vice President Cheney’s office and told they needed to get power back to a gas pipeline, stat. “We were led to believe a national emergency was created when the pipelines were shut down,” said one manager. Workers were diverted, and a few hospitals had to stay without power for an extra day. To be clear: TP doesn’t know whether the administration or anybody else did anything untoward here, but it certainly seems worthy of trying to chase the facts down. 

The NYT fronts and WP mentions a previously blacked-out annex to the 9/11 commission report showing that FAA officials had intel that al-Qaida could “seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark.” The agency never did much in response. But 16 paragraphs into the Times piece, we learn that the FAA didn’t exactly consider the “intel” a hot tip, labeling the threat “unlikely.” The section had essentially been kept secret at the behest of the White House.

The NYT announces: “U.S. MAY START PULLING OUT OF AFGHANISTAN NEXT SPRING.” Maybe. The piece itself says the U.S. is contemplating moving out only “as much as 20 percent” of the force, and even then only if European allies are willing to replace them, and they don’t seem to be. Germany’s defense minister said putting the European soldiers in a combat role—which is what they would need to do—”would make the situation for our soldiers doubly dangerous and worsen the current climate in Afghanistan.” The WP, inside, offers a more considered headline. Given that any drawdown apparently hinges on getting Europeans to buy in,theJournal is best: “RUMSFELD URGES NATO TO EXPAND AFGHAN ROLE.”

The NYT and WSJ front word that Delta and Northwest are both about to declare bankruptcy, as early as today. The airlines would keep flying, for now.

FYI: Yesterday’s TP mentioned that a Times-Picayune reporter had complained that the EPA hadn’t released test results on chemicals in the floodwaters. The EPA seems to have released just that data over the weekend.

The LAT has a long feature using former Justice Harry Blackmun’s recently released papers to show how a “a rookie justice, unsure of himself and his abilities“—that’s Blackmun—”set out to write a narrow ruling that would reform abortion laws.” That would be Roe v. Wade. Blackmun’s notion was to give doctors the power to decide when abortions were appropriate. The decision, he wrote in a memo, would not give women “an absolute right to abortion.”