Today's Papers

Blame Game

The Washington Post leads with a leaked House report, officially due out on Wednesday, on federal mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina response. The report spreads the blame across all levels of the federal government, reserving special criticism for the Department of Homeland Security. The Los Angeles Times leads with Pentagon bureaucratic foot-dragging and its unfortunate consequences for ground troops in Iraq. The New York Times leads with news that students nationwide aren’t availing themselves of free tutoring made available through the No Child Left Behind education reform act.

The House select committee report, titled “A Failure of Initiative,” turns out to be far from the GOP hush job that Democratic leaders expected when they boycotted the committee upon its creation last September, the Post reports. Ripping into the federal government’s “blinding lack of situational awareness,” the report, composed entirely by Republican House members, unsparingly chastises the government’s failures in anticipation, evacuation, and communication, leaving nobody off the blame train.

DHS secretary Michael Chertoff bears the brunt of its criticism for being slow to make bad decisions which were implemented poorly. But the White House is faulted for lethargic leadership, former FEMA head Michael Brown is blamed for incompetence, and even New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin is chided for general hysteria-mongering. “All the little pigs built houses of straw,” the report notes in an apt though somewhat unfortunate metaphor. Left unanswered is the question of whether Congress will be satisfied with finger-pointing, or whether accountability will be brought to bear.

A device called the Joint IED Neutralizer boasts a 90 percent success rate in destroying roadside bombs, but the Pentagon won’t let it be used in Iraq, the LAT reports. Although Pentagon officials insist that further testing is needed, others are frustrated by what they consider stalling from an agency out of touch with the immediate needs of ground soldiers. Over 50 percent of total American casualties have been attributed to roadside bombs. “The Army isn’t saying no to this,” a former Pentagon official says. “They are just saying yes very, very slowly, and it’s a tragedy.” A NYT front page feature underscores this point with the story of two soldiers recovering from wounds inflicted by roadside explosives.

The NYT reports that only 12 percent of eligible public school students take advantage of the free tutoring services offered under NCLB. The program offers private tutoring in various subjects for students in schools judged to be failing under NCLB’s standards. Nobody’s quite sure why the tutoring is so underutilized—some blame the federal government for not allotting the program enough money, others blame individual schools for not publicizing the program enough. One conclusion suggests itself: education reform is hard, while finger-pointing is easy.

The WP fronts news of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his efforts to make inroads with high-profile Bush supporters in advance of a possible 2008 presidential campaign. The outspoken senator and perennial candidate has been meeting with big GOP donors in key states, attempting to build alliances that will pay dividends in 2008. Meanwhile, a piece runs inside on Mark Warner, Democratic presidential hopeful and former governor of Virginia, who is currently spending his days touring New Hampshire yogurt factories and shaking hands with strangers. The game is officially afoot!

The NYT off-leads a deeply reported piece on a rise in violent crime rates in several cities. Although historic crime centers like New York and Los Angeles have enjoyed relative peace in recent years, smaller cities like Milwaukee, Boston, and San Francisco have faced surges in violent behavior. While some blame relaxed gun laws and revolving-door justice, police officials in the various cities point instead to a generally bad-tempered, quick-triggered populace—‘“the rage thing,’” Milwaukee’s police chief calls it.

The Post fronts a fascinating news feature on the upcoming trial of Moroccan activist Nadia Yassine, charged with badmouthing the monarchy in a newspaper. Many Moroccans question Yassine’s motives in taking on King Mohammed VI, a reformer who supports parliamentary elections and freedoms for women and the press. Yassine’s organization, Justice and Charity, advocates the institution of an Islamic fundamentalist state and has called for the rollback of many of Mohammed’s reforms.

The NYT fronts a story on new Bolivian president Evo Morales’ novel approach to drug reform—‘“yes to coca, no to cocaine.’” Morales wants to allow the coca leaf to be grown and used legally in products like shampoo and toothpaste. The U.S., long committed to coca eradication, is, um, disenchanted with Morales’ plan.

The LAT fronts a long story on round two of the global space race. India and China, now flush with cash, are eager to spend it on the highly expensive symbolic achievement that is the moon rocket. The U.S. already knows how boring the moon is, but they plan on going back anyway. Why not?

In terms of Sunday magazines, the NYT features a Joseph Lelyveld story on Iraq war critic and dark-horse 2008 presidential nominee Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., the Post fronts a piece on intelligent design, and the recently-revamped LAT mag runs a story about an old and well-traveled violin.

As for the Olympics, Michelle Kwan bows out of the games with a groin injury. The Post and the LAT front the news of U.S. speed skater Chad Hedrick’s gold medal in the 5,000-meter race. Both papers call Hedrick “brash.” The NYT, in a reefered piece on Hedrick, mentions his “smile as wide as Texas.” Are the Olympics over yet?

Everybody Do the Bump: With the specter of an avian flu pandemic looming and vaccines hard to come by, the World Health Organization is promoting lo-fi virus avoidance by urging people to not shake hands, ever. The NYT reports on the WHO’s promotion of the elbow bump as the safe and sanitary way to bestow greetings. Novel as the idea is, it probably won’t catch on for a while, says the National Academy of Sciences’ Dr. Harvey Fineberg: “What would backfire would be for you to say, ‘Start bumping elbows now.’ People would look at you as if you were from Mars.”