Today's Papers

Running on Empty

The New York Times and Washington Postand the Wall Street Journalworld-wide newsbox all lead with Republican senators proposing a package of measures aimed at reducing the burden of high gas prices, including cutting taxpayers a $100 check. The Los Angeles Times leads with the normally apolitical Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani saying that Iraq’s militias should disband. USA Today leads with the Transportation Security Administration offering bonuses of up to $1,000 to airport screeners to keep them working over the busy summer travel months.

The GOP gas plan would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production and raise taxes on oil-company profits, but the promise of free money was the major attraction. As the Times dryly puts it, the plan “could strike a public chord, particularly with its promise of a $100 check to millions of taxpayers.” The checks would come at the end of the summer and would be available to anyone under a certain income level, whether they drive a Hummer, Prius, or Schwinn. Democrats countered with their own proposals, including a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax, and President Bush asked for the authority to raise mileage standards on cars.

All this came on the same day that Exxon Mobil declared huge quarterly profits, 7 percent more than last year and the fifth-highest by any public company in U.S. history, according to the AP.

No one takes the proposals seriously, especially not the editorial pages, where words like “silly,” “pander,” and “stunt” are used liberally. (A good history of bipartisan “stupidity” on the issue was in Slate this week.) The new Fed chairman suggested that, of all things, conservation might be the answer.

Gas prices aside, the U.S. economy is trucking along: The government is expected to announce today that the economy grew 5 percent in the first quarter of the year, the highest rate since 2003, the NYT reports on the front page.

The LAT focuses on the political fallout of Sistani’s anti-militia statement: Sunnis worry that Sistani’s foray into politics could signal a more active role for the Shiite leader. The NYT and WP, which both stuff the story, emphasize the jockeying between Iraq’s major Shiite leaders. The prime minister-designate, Nouri Maliki, another Shiite, traveled yesterday to visit Sistani and another influential cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr was “noncommittal” about the militias (unsurprising as he controls a vast militia himself), and now Maliki is stuck in the middle. Also in Iraq, the sister of one of Iraq’s vice presidents was assassinated. The same VP had a brother assassinated in April.

The Post has a colorful account of the visit to Iraq by Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld. In contrast to the jovial show put on by Rice and her U.K. counterpart, Jack Straw, earlier this month, this duo was decidedly less dynamic. “During a joint meeting with reporters traveling with the secretaries, Rumsfeld frequently doodled with a black felt-tip pen or stared absent-mindedly at the ceiling when Rice spoke. Rice would occasionally cast a nervous glance at Rumsfeld as he prepared to respond to a question,” the Post reports.

President Bush disagrees with a Senate report that proposes the dismantling of FEMA, he said as he toured Gulf Coast areas hit by Katrina last year, the Post and LAT report. And he does plan to allow a Dubai-based firm to take control of nine U.S. military parts plants, the NYT writes in an apparent scoop.

The L.A. Times fronts news of a dirty war in Pakistan, where Taliban types are killing suspected spies for the United States—53 in the last two years, according to a local human rights group, while residents say it’s closer to 150. The paper links the killings to its earlier reporting on the flash drives being sold in Afghanistan bazaars that included sensitive U.S. military data, including names of local U.S. spies, though it says none of the people killed are named in any of the drives it bought.

The Journal fronts an interesting look at Mexico’s changing demographics. The average Mexican woman in 1968 had just under seven children; the figure today is slightly more than two, similar to the United States. This could portend a rising middle class and much lower immigration to the United States in the coming decades.

In other immigration news, a Spanish-language version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is set to be released today, the Post reports on the front page. Apparently the first stanza is fairly faithful to the original, but translators took some liberties with the second, which includes the phrase “we are equal, we are brothers.” Naturally, there are critics, who, as the Post puts it, “sketch a nightmare scenario of a Canada-like land with an anthem sung in two languages.” Curious to hear it? It’s scheduled to be played on Spanish-language radio across the country at 7 p.m. ET tonight.