Today's Papers

Wizard of GOZ

Nearly everybody leads with President Bush’s prime-time speech in New Orleans pledging “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.” He promised that the feds will pick up the “great majority” of infrastructure costs. USA Todayfolds the president’s talk into a double-lead but gives top billing to New Orleans Mayor Nagin’s announcement that dry areas in the city will begin opening to residents this weekend, ZIP code by ZIP code. “The health people are saying they are not seeing any significant risks,” he told the Wall Street Journal. Half of the city is still flooded.

The president talked about the “deep, persistent poverty” in the Gulf Coast and said, “We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.” He offered no specifics, and, as a New York Timesnews analysis reminds, “defined the problem as regional rather than national in scope.”

Bush did offer three more-or-less concrete proposals: 1) a “Gulf Opportunity Zone,” or GOZ, which would feature “tax relief” and unspecified other “incentives”; 2) a $5,000 credit for job training for displaced people; 3) a lottery to give those with low incomes federal land as long as they promise to build on it.

The papers don’t have significant details on any of president’s proposals, which is understandable, since the president didn’t offer any details. But the Heritage Foundation did. The conservative think tank put out a policy paper last week calling for an “Opportunity Zone” for the Gulf Coast; the proposal has some interesting ideas and calls for various tax cuts as well as suspending many labor and environmental regulations. (As the papers have mentioned in passing, the president has already suspended regulations that required construction workers on federal contracts to be paid the prevailing wage.)

Most of the papers make a nod to what the president left unsaid: any kind of a price tag. Also, an early version of the NYT noted, there was “nothing about Mr. Lott’s house in Pascagoula.” (The line disappeared by the final edition.)      

Bush also pledged to look into what went wrong with the overall Katrina response, though as Washington Postpoints out up high, the White House has opposed the creation of an independent panel to look into the matter. Instead, the administration has endorsed a GOP-led inquiry.

TP sees no follow-up from the line in yesterday’s NYT, attributed to “Republicans,” that the president has put one Karl Rove “in charge of the reconstruction effort.”

The NYT and Journal have more on the bubbling rebellion among fiscal conservatives to Bush’s free-spending plans. “We are not sure he knows what he is getting into,” said one “senior House Republican official.”

The Post fronts a fascinating poll of evacuees in Houston, nearly half of whom said they don’t want to return to New Orleans.

A WP piece inside picks up on grumbling—from both liberals and conservatives—about the government’s plan to build 300,000 mobile homes for Katrina’s displaced. A better option, they say, would be to give people vouchers to rent apartments. The south has a high rental vacancy rate; about 1 million units are unoccupied. As the NYT mentions, in a piece that doesn’t pick up on the debate, Houston and Dallas have the nation’s highest percentage of open apartments.

The government isn’t in the best shape to make a well-considered decision about housing. The Post’s building piecepoints out that HUD has been “hollowed out,” with at least seven top spots open. It’s also worth noting that there’s long been a similar nationwide voucher program in existence, though the administration has tried to cut it back.

Everybody mentions, but the Postgoes into the most detail on, the latest study concluding that hurricanes are becoming more severe. The number of Category 4 and 5 storms has doubled during the last 35 years. “There is increasing confidence, as the result of our study, that there’s some level of greenhouse warming in what we’re seeing,” said one researcher. “Is it the whole story? We don’t know.”

The Los Angeles Timesfrontsthe New Orleans suburb of Gretna defending itself after it blockaded a bridge during the height of the crisis and turned back evacuees. “We didn’t even have enough food here to feed our own residents,” said the mayor. “We took care of our folks. It’s something we had to do.”

The LAT’s off-lead says U.S. intel thinks Abu Musab alZarqawi’s group is increasingly made up of Iraqis, not foreign fighters. They now account for “more than half his organization,” one “U.S. official” no doubt guessed. (As this TPer noted, a jihadist Web site recently said it has enough foreign recruits and discouraged new ones from coming.) The LAT piece also has intel officials predicting that if, as is likely, the proposed constitution passes, it’s going to mean nothing good in terms of the insurgency. “There’s going to be some real ratcheting up of Sunni disaffection with the process,” said one “U.S. official.”

Everybody notes the last oh-so-riveting day of Judge John Roberts’ confirmation hearings. It consisted largely of witnesses speaking to … nobody. “Only four of the committee’s 18 senators were on hand for much of his testimony; Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) could be seen consulting his wristwatch,” writes the Post’s Dana Milbank. “Of the 120 seats in the press gallery, 104 were unoccupied.”