The Washington Post’s lead says top Justice Department lawyers concluded that Texas’ congressional redistricting plan was illegal but were overruled by top officials. The New York Timesleads with a solid thumb-sucker on the diffuse nature of the Iraqi insurgency, which is made up of dozens and dozens of groups. “Attack any single part of it, and the rest carries on largely untouched,” writes Dexter Filkins. “It cannot be decapitated, because the insurgency, for the most part, has no head.” The Los Angeles Timesleads with pressure on Congress to extend the May deadline for signing up for the new, complex, Medicare drug benefit. The extension has support in Congress, but the White House is against it. USA Todayleads with the Army National Guard, still faced with recruiting shortfalls, starting a pilot program to offer soldiers $2,000 finder’s fee for every recruit they bring in.
The Justice Department voting section’s lawyers concluded, unanimously, that the Texas redistricting, which was spearheaded by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, diluted black and Hispanic voting power and thus violated the Voting Rights Act. “The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect,” said a memo written by the staff lawyers. The Post notes in passing that the lawyers were “subjected to an unusual gag rule.” More please. (Are staff lawyers usually allowed to talk to the media?)
The Iraqi insurgency “market” is so hot, says the NYT’s Filkins, there’s a branding war. A leaflet in Ramadi by the Islamic army referred to “the growing number of mujahedeen groups,” adding, “We are asking people to reject any statement signed by the Sajeel Battalion of the Islamic Army that does not carry their slogan or seal.”
As the NYT emphasizes, the military announced the deaths of four U.S. troops in Iraq. One GI was shot in Baghdad, and two Marines were killed—in separate incidents—by gunfire in Fallujah. Another soldier died in a vehicle accident.
There was fighting in Ramadi, but it’s not clear what happened. Ramadi is only 60 miles west of Baghdad, but there are no stories filed from the town today, presumably because it was too dangerous to drive over. One local official told the WP by phone that about 200 insurgents briefly took over part of the city center. The military said that’s B.S.
Everybody, briefly, mentions the Pentagon’s announcement that suicide bombings in Iraq have fallen to their lowest levels in seven months. The NYT points out that there have been drops before and then increases. The overall number of reported bombings also dropped by about 30 percent—to 1,329—though it’s still higher than it was six months ago.
The WP reefers and others mention that the Senate will hold closed-door hearings today on the military’s newly discovered habit of buying positive press in Iraq. Meanwhile, the U.S. military’s top spokesman seemed to defend the program, adding, “We don’t lie. We don’t need to lie. We do empower our operational commanders with the ability to inform the Iraqi public.” So, that’s what it’s called …
As the Wall Street Journal says up high, federal prosecutors charged a U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel in connection with an alleged reconstruction contracting scam uncovered recently in Iraq. His part of the alleged operation was pretty simple: stealing hundreds of thousands in cash meant for reconstruction, stuffing it in his luggage, and heading back to the U.S.
The LAT fronts an EPA proposal to relax requirements on the disclosure of toxic chemical releases. Currently, plants that release 500 pounds or more of toxins annually are required to report. The new proposal would set the threshold just a wee bit higher: 5,000 pounds. The WSJ says some firemen and local emergency planners oppose the proposal since, you know, it’s useful knowing what toxic chemicals might be inside a burning building.
The NYT goes Page One with prosecutors tightening the screws on former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In particular, investigators are looking into Abramoff’s habit of hiring top congressional aides, which if he had business before the aides’ bosses might be a no-no. “Several people involved in the case” said they expected Abramoff to flip and start talking, a prospect perhaps helped by crowing to the Times about the pressure.
TP’s Jobs Section … TheWSJ’s Washington Wire (following the Post) notes that the Office of Government Ethics, an executive branch office charged with “preventing conflicts of interest on the part of Government employees,” has a position open: its directorship. Must be a really tough gig though. They haven’t found a taker for two years.