Today's Papers

Independence Err

The Washington Postleads with D.C.-based carrier Independence Air announcing it will cease flights after Thursday unless it finds a buyer. It filed for bankruptcy two months ago, and if it really dies will be the largest airline to do so since Eastern Air Lines bit it in 1991. The New York Timesleads with a preview of a government announcement today that $800 million in terrorism-preparedness aid to states will now be handed out based on risk-assessment rather than as it’s traditionally been done, that is, based essentially on patronage. What the Times doesn’t say until the 19th paragraph is that the new risked-based program represents only about 25 percent of the $3 billion in overall federal anti-terrorism grants.

USA Todayleads with Census Bureau figures showing an apparent boom in hospital building. Nearly $100 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars was spent on construction in the last five years, about 50 percent more than the previous five years. Much (no, the story doesn’t give numbers) is being spent on fancy hospitals in the ‘burbs. “These hospitals are loaded with technology to intensively treat chronically ill patients right up to death,” said one researcher. “We know from research that does not improve outcomes, but it does drive up costs.” The Los Angeles Timesleads with “many” localities disenchanted with the fancy-schmantzy voting machines they bought after the 2000 Florida debacle and struggling to find replacements. Counties in California have had a rough go of it, “lurching from one voting system to another as the state has written and rewritten standards.”

Everybody fronts rescuers trying to reach the 13 miners trapped two miles into a West Virginia mine. There’s been no contact with the men, and it’s not clear if they’re still alive. Rescuers couldn’t even enter the mine until yesterday evening because of gas lingering after the explosion that cut off the miners. The blast was big enough that residents said, as the NYT puts it, it “rocked them out of their sleep.”

Everybody notes that the mine’s owners had recently been cited for nearly 50 safety violations, including inadequate protections against the buildup of dangerous gases. One resident told the Postthat she recently saw a worker at the mine walk into a store and ask for a cigar, “They said, ‘You don’t smoke,’ and he said he didn’t know how much longer he was going to be alive because of the idiots at the mine.” (Of course the quote is secondhand, and it could be that the guy was simply spinning.)

The NYT fronts Russia mostly reopening its natural-gas pipeline to Ukraine. Moscow tightened the spigot Sunday and faced a fabulous amount of criticism from Europe, where gas deliveries were also affected. Prefacing the assessment with patented “was seen as” wimpy newspaper-ese, the Times describes Russia’s move “as a gamble by Moscow to influence Ukraine’s internal politics ahead of a parliamentary election in March.”

The papers mention inside that the U.N. team investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has sent an invite to another person they’d like to see for a chat: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Post off-lead says the U.S. is pulling back its presence a bit in Afghanistan, politically, militarily, and economically. The WP plays it as the U.S. becoming more open to sharing responsibility: “U.S. CEDES DUTIES IN REBUILDING AFGHANISTAN; NATO, Other Allies Take On New Roles.” What gets played down: The scaling back seems to be happening regardless of others’ ability to fill in. USAID funds for Afghanistan were cut 40 percent this year. The U.S. is also handing over security for southern Afghanistan to NATO forces, despite the fact that they’re not trained for counterinsurgency. (USAT flagged the concern a few months ago.)  

And what’s not in the papers …  Yesterday’s Post noted President Bush’s penchant for “signing statements,” which give the White House interpretation of a law being, well, signed. The idea is to have challenges to a law on paper and thus give the administration a potential leg up in future court cases. The signing statements are an attempt to “address specific provisions of legislation that the White House wishes to nullify,” said one presidential historian. He added that they are “also in an effort to significantly reposition and strengthen the powers of the presidency relative to the Congress.”

The Post did a great job burying the above trend: “ALITO ONCE MADE CASE FOR PRESIDENTIAL POWER.” Also, what the WP didn’t pick up on—and what nobody else seems to either: The White House issued just such a signing statement—an apparent attempt at nullification—for Sen. McCain’s anti-torture amendment. The statement says:

The executive branch shall construe [the amendment] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President … of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

The president acceded to the McCain amendment just a few weeks ago and ended up praising it. Anybody care to ask the White House whether, given the above language, it considers the government absolutely bound by McCain’s ban?