Today's Papers

Reconstruction Taper

The Washington Post’s top non-local article reports that the U.S. will not seek new funds for Iraq’s reconstruction. The New York Times leads with the fact that states have been taking the initiative to raise their minimum wages, since the federal government hasn’t raised its own in almost a decade. The Los Angeles Times leads (at least online) with the news that Russia cut off the supply of natural gas to Ukraine, threatening Russia’s credibility as a global market leader.

The Bush administration’s decision not to seek new funds in its congressional budget request next month signals the winding down of the rebuilding effort in Iraq, says the WP. Less than 20 percent remains of an $18.4 billion rebuilding effort. Half was spent on the insurgency, the criminal-justice system, and the trial of Saddam Hussein. Billions that were initially supposed to go to rebuilding Iraq’s decrepit infrastructure went to new security forces and maximum-security prisons and detention centers. Bringing reliable electrical, water, sewage, and sanitation services to Iraq will require tens of billions yet, but, as one brigadier general put it, “The U.S. never intended to completely rebuild Iraq.”

Although Congress has refused to raise the federal minimum wage since 1997, 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, have taken it upon themselves to set their minimums higher than $5.15. Many of the other states are considering doing the same. Efforts to raise the federal minimum have been opposed largely by Republicans who fear that this would drive up labor costs and drive away unskilled and first-time workers. The current minimum places a family below the federal poverty level, unable (as Wal-Mart’s chairman put it) to shop even at Wal-Mart. 

The LAT emphasizes the timing of the shutdown of natural gas to Ukraine, noting that since the crisis comes within hours of Russia taking the reins of the G8, it threatens Russia’s image and Putin’s credibility. The dispute occurred because a state-controlled Russian energy company wanted market pricing now, but Ukraine wanted a phased transition, saying the price hikes were politically motivated punishment for the pro-Western policies of Ukraine’s president.

The LAT wonders whether the Supreme Court will rule that “federal judges should reopen old cases when new scientific evidence showed that a jury relied on false facts.” On Jan. 11 the justices will hear the case of a man convicted of murder. The court will then decide whether to overturn the man’s death sentence based on new evidence that does not prove his innocence but disproves much of the case made by the prosecution. The ruling will test an unstated rule of law: that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but convicts are presumed guilty until proven innocent.

The WP teases with  President Bush’s defense of his domestic spying program, his third such defense in two weeks. Bush told reporters that the program is limited and legal and that Americans understand that it is “vital and necessary” to ensure the nation’s security. He also said that leaking the program’s existence causes “great harm to the nation.” The WP argues that Bush’s comments make clear that the administration will respond to congressional inquiries with “a vigorous defense of the program as a matter of national security.”

The LAT reports on the “powerful Pacific rainstorm” that is pounding Southern California, spurring concern about flash floods and mudslides, particularly in areas near hillsides that were denuded by last year’s wildfires. The storm in Southern California hit just one day after widespread flooding in San Francisco, where tens of thousands are still without power. At least two levees were breached. The LAT mentions “concerns” about California’s flood-control system, noting that federal lawmakers say it needs billions of dollars of upgrades. But the NYT says that in general the state’s levee system has been holding up well.

A NYT front reveals that a PR firm doing contract work for the Pentagon has been paying Sunni religious scholars in Iraq to help produce propaganda, according to employees. The NYT piece refers to “information warfare” and “psychological operations,” but it appears that all the Sunni religious scholars did was write reports on how to craft messages to encourage Sunnis to reject the insurgency and vote in the Iraqi national elections. A preliminary assessment of the campaign concluded that it was legal, said an Army commander.

The LAT considers Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been the president of Iran since August. Ahmadinejad is considered “a religious extremist and political radical.” Highlights: He denies the Holocaust; he has banned Western music; he replaced the director of Tehran University with a cleric. He is considered “more revolutionary than the revolutionary fathers.” Moderate Iranians worry that Ahmadinejad’s radicalism will result in economic sanctions and isolation for Iran.

Eschewing the fat … The LAT reports on the use of “social marketing” in government campaigns to encourage people to get in shape. In the old days, marketers tried to scare people by talking about long-term health risks. A better strategy is to “sell the sizzle, not the steak,” using humor or sex, “positioning” obesity as being uncool, and emphasizing immediate “social benefits” to being in shape, such as status, attractiveness, and self-confidence.