Today's Papers

Hamas Sweep

All the papers lead with the radical Islamic party Hamas winning a sweeping majority in the Palestinian elections. The party won 76 out of the 132 parliamentary seats, while the Fatah party won 43 seats. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia from the Fatah party, and the rest of his Cabinet resigned once it became clear that Hamas had won.

Everybody mentions that the wide margin of victory for the party that is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, and the European Union puts into doubt the future of any kind of peace negotiations. Most also point out that the corruption in the Fatah government bears a large portion of the blame for the election results. The big question now is whether Hamas will become more moderate now that it is part of a legitimate government. The acting Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said that Israel would not negotiate with a Palestinian government if its members included “an armed terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.”

The New York Times points out that with the victory of Hamas, Israel is now likely to just forget about peace talks and will simply act unilaterally to pursue its goals. The Washington Postsays the results immediately became an issue in Israel’s election campaign as the acting prime minister faced criticism that the government’s failure to stop the rise of Hamas was to blame for its victory. USA Todaynotes that some have compared the election results to the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan, with Benjamin Netanyahu declaring that “today, Hamastan was formed.” The Wall Street Journal says that Hamas always assumed they would be the opposition party and were not expecting to win as big as they did. An Israeli analyst tells the paper: “Hamas, from the beginning, feared winning too big.” The Los Angeles Timesprofiles the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniya, who is one of the few top members of the group that survived the “targeted killings” campaign of the Israeli government.

The Hamas victory puts the United States in a strange position since it has always been a strong advocate for spreading democracy in the Middle East as a way to stop terrorism. President Bush tried to put a positive spin on the results saying that “there was a peaceful process as people went to the polls” but it does not change the fact that his administration spent almost $500 million to help the Fatah party. Bush called on Hamas to denounce terrorism and urged President Mahmoud Abbas, who is from the Fatah party, to stay in office in order to continue with the peace process. 

The WP off-leads and the WSJ fronts a look at how lobbyists are frequently fund-raisers for the same politicians they seek to influence. The Post focuses on how these sorts of relationships have flourished at the same time as earmarks to bills have increased. These earmarks often involve giving money to a lawmaker’s pet project in his or her home state. In 1994 there were 4,155 earmarks worth approximately $29 billion, in 2004 that number had jumped to 14,211 with a value of approximately $53 billion. The Journal points out that none of the reforms currently being discussed in Congress would prevent this kind of relationship from continuing.

Everybody goes inside with President Bush’s news conference, where, among other topics, he defended his electronic-eavesdropping program and reiterated his refusal to release photographs of himself with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Referring to the eavesdropping program, the president used the term “terrorist surveillance program,” which, according to a front-page NYT piece, would be a good strategy because a poll found that 53 percent of Americans are in favor of the program if it helps “reduce the threat of terrorism.” The WP takes a look at the varying rationales that have been put forth to support the program and points out that even though the White House says it briefed Congress on the issue, it often leaves out that the only ones who were part of these briefings were members of the “Gang of Eight.”

In typical fashion, the Post’s Dana Milbank has an entertaining chronicle of the conference and sums up Bush’s message with one expression: L’Etat c’est moi. (Slate’s Jacob Weisberg made a similar point the day before, and John Dickerson takes a look at the three most common ways that Bush dodges tricky questions).

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office announced yesterday that the only way there will be a budget surplus by 2012 is if Bush’s tax cuts are not extended. If Congress extends these cuts, the deficit will reach almost $400 billion by 2016. Including all the separate variables, the deficit is likely to be around $360 billion this year.

The LAT goes inside with news that enrollment in health-savings accounts has tripled to 3 million people in the last 10 months. These accounts are part of President Bush’s plans to transfer more of the cost of health care onto the patient. The NYT fronts a look at how financial firms have started positioning themselves to get a piece of this pie, which promises to keep on increasing, and will translate into huge profits. It is projected that the number of people under this sort of health plan will increase to 15 million and will make for approximately $75 billion floating around, just waiting to be managed. The NYT says the last time so much money “landed in the lap” of the financial industry was when personal-retirement accounts were created 30 years ago.

All the papers report that the U.S. military released half of the Iraqi women it was holding in prisons. The government adamantly denies that setting the five women free had something to do with the demands of those who kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll. USAT publishes a dispatch from the Associated Press that quotes a top U.S. commander in Iraq admitting that U.S. troops in the country are “stretched.”

Both China and the United States declared their support for a Russian plan that would permit Iran to operate nuclear facilities as long as the fuel is in the hands of Russia and international inspectors.

Authorities discovered one of the most sophisticated tunnels used to smuggle drugs between Mexico and the United States. This tunnel is about half a mile long, has cement floors, electricity, and a ventilation system. About two tons of marijuana were found in the Mexican side of the tunnel.

The LAT takes a look at a recently declassified document and says it is likely that a U.S. military program that pays Iraqi newspapers to publish favorable stories goes against Pentagon policy.

The NYT is alone in revealing there is at least one issue where Iran and the United States can be allies: They both don’t want two gay rights groups to have a voice at the United Nations. The United States supported Iran in recommending the denial of a request by two gay rights groups to be given consultative status at the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council. The status would have allowed the groups to join almost 3,000 organizations that are allowed to distribute materials at meetings. Other countries that agreed with Iran and the United States included Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Almost all the papers give humongous play to the latest James Frey news and, for the most part, plant a big, wet kiss on Oprah Winfrey. The NYT and WP front, while USAT reefers and the LAT goes inside with, yesterday’s show, where the talk show diva confronted the lying memoirist, whose work she had selected as part of her book club. The NYT even publishes a self-righteous editorial on the topic: “Ms. Winfrey gave the audience, including us, what it was hoping for: a demand to hear the truth.” All the stories essentially agree with Slate’s Troy Patterson that the main purpose of the program was to “cleanse” Oprah of her earlier sin when she did not come out against the book before. The LAT critic describes the show as “remarkable television” while the NYT says it was “amazing television” (video clips of the show are available here). Oprah certainly grilled Frey on her program, exposing further proof of how many lies actually exist in his “nonfiction” book. In the end, it seems the public flogging was successful, and at least this TPer hopes never to have to write the words “James Frey” again.