Today's Papers

Freeze Radicals

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with word that the Israeli Cabinet agreed to immediately freeze key payments to Palestinians following the transfer of power to Hamas. USA Today leads with the news that states are considering restricting government power to seize private property.

Everyone fronts the news that one day after the radical group Hamas assumed control of the Palestinian parliament, Israel has decided to freeze the transfer of the $50 or $55 million a month in taxes and tariffs it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The frozen funds account for half the government’s payroll, and the Palestinian Authority warned that it will likely be unable to pay the salaries of employees. The WP says the measures “threaten to collapse the nearly bankrupt Palestinian government,” but USAT quotes Hamas’ leader claiming that an unidentified “Islamic nation” has already pledged $100 million, and that he expects to receive the aid the Authority needs from elsewhere. Israel is trying to discourage other countries from providing the economic aid and military equipment that Hamas is seeking.

The United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations had wanted Israel to continue the transfers until Hamas forms its Cabinet sometime in the next five weeks, but acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the Palestinian Authority is “becoming a terrorist authority.” The LAT underscores that Israel opted not to enact harsher sanctions, such as closing its doors to Palestinian workers. Mahmoud Abbas, still president and commander in chief, threatened to call for a new election if Hamas does not recognize “existing Palestinian agreements” with Israel but stopped short of specifically requiring Hamas to explicitly recognize Israel.

State legislatures are considering limiting the government’s power of eminent domain following a June Supreme Court ruling that established that local governments can seize condemned private property to foster economic growth. Eminent domain empowers cities to seize property for “public use,” as well as for developments such as malls, offices, and condos, all provided the owner is fairly compensated. But fear of eminent domain abuses has prompted states to consider several new policies, such as banning the use of eminent domain for economic development, making it harder to declare a neighborhood “blighted,” or forcing the government to pay above market value when confiscating property.

The NYT fronts a look at the new Iraqi Counterterrorism Force, an elite unit currently being trained by American special ops forces. The unit is equipped with night vision goggles and will perform the most dangerous missions, including “capturing or killing insurgent and terrorist commanders, guarding Iraqi government leaders and rescuing hostages.”

The LAT reports that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, recommended by the 9/11 Commission and signed into law in 2004, has yet to meet. The board’s sole purpose is to protect privacy and civil liberties in the fight against terrorism. But the board has been kept out of commission by “foot-dragging, debate over its budget and powers, and concern over the qualifications of some of its members.”

The NYT reports that rescuers involved in the international relief effort in the Philippines, where a mudslide buried a village of 1,800 people, are acknowledging the grim reality that finding additional survivors is unlikely. So far, only 57 survivors have been found. Commercial logging in the region has left many hillsides bare, and landslides have become “a regular feature” of rainy season.

The WP reports on efforts to persuade the FDA to ban the use of carbon monoxide in treating meat. Carbon monoxide helps keep meat looking pink and fresh for weeks. The meat industry says it loses about $1 billion on meat that’s still fresh and safe but appears brown and unappetizing. Consumer advocates object not to the carbon monoxide itself, which is harmless at the levels used, but to its potential effect on consumers’ ability to gauge the meat’s freshness. Industry advocates note that meat turns brown long before it goes bad and argue that it’s easy to spot rotten meat even without relying on its color.

The WP reports on Chinese access to Wikipedia, the collaboratively written online encyclopedia that allows anyone to edit any entries. The Chinese government has now blocked access to the site, despite the broadening appeal of its Chinese-language edition. The problem, the WP speculates, is that the site threatened the Communist Party’s control of information, allowing people to meet or plan without the party’s approval.

The NYT fronts a feature about the “exploding drug trade on Indian lands,” profiling a Native American woman who led a drug trafficking ring. The woman, who just served a prison term, smuggled OxyContin from Canada into the United States, selling the pills to officials and addicts on her reservation. At its peak, the operation employed 12 to 15 female drug mules, netting $15,000 a day.

Pushing the Envelope … The NYT checks in with Jon Stewart, who, as host of the upcoming Academy Awards, is “transforming himself from class clown to head of the class.” The challenge: “to extract humor from somber, little-seen films like Munich, Crash and Capote,” and to say something fresh about the most obvious joke target, BrokebackMountain. Asked what to expect, Daily Show producer Ben Karlin replied, “Meryl Streep has gotten a free ride for too long. She’s going down.”