Today's Papers

Lieberman Cut Loose

The Los Angeles Times alone leads with the continuing conflict in Lebanon. In an analysis piece, the Times says the fight between Israel and Hezbollah is part of a larger battle between America and Iran for influence in the region. The New York Times leads with the U.S. agency in charge of Iraq’s reconstruction hiding cost overruns and withholding information from Congress. The Washington Post leads with a lengthy report on the U.S. government’s secretive new research facility aimed at combating bioterror.

The LAT lead is one of a number of analysis pieces in the papers dealing with the battle between Israel and Hezbollah. The LAT says the administration’s focus on Iran is a major reason why it has not pressed for an early end to the fighting. But, actually, a more rapid cease-fire may be in the offing, as Condoleezza Rice returned to Israel on Saturday to press for an end to the hostilities. The NYT says that there is a sense in Israel that President Bush’s meeting with Tony Blair may have something to do with the increased pressure.

On the ground in Lebanon, Israel withdrew troops from the town of Bint Jbail, prompting Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to declare victory. But Israeli warplanes continued to shell targets across Lebanon. One airstrike on Sunday morning killed dozens of civilians in the village of Qana, possibly setting back the efforts at achieving peace. Another attack cut off the main highway linking Beirut and Damascus. Hezbollah, meanwhile, fired 90 rockets into northern Israel on Saturday, injuring five people.

The NYT lead is based on the federal audit of a project to build a children’s hospital in Basra. The WP reported on the audit yesterday, focusing on the long-delayed hospital project, but the Times sees a bigger story: the U.S. Agency for International Development’s widespread use of fuzzy accounting in Iraq. According to the audit, the hospital project is one of several where the agency hid higher-than-expected construction costs by reclassifying them as overhead or administrative costs. In the case of a power station project in Musayyib, the agency put the direct construction cost at $6.6 million, while overhead costs ran a cool $27.6 million.

The audit also found that USAID lied to Congress about delays in construction. Although the agency knew the hospital project was nearly a year behind schedule, it told Congress that there were “no problems with the project schedule.” The Post may have missed the bigger story, but it did catch an interesting tidbit that helps explain the situation: “USAID relies on one contracting officer and one technical officer to oversee 20 projects across Iraq that together are worth $1.4 billion.”

Continuing with Iraq, the NYT says scholars and pollsters believe the war is the most divisive military conflict in modern times, exceeding Vietnam. Three-fourths of Republicans believe the United States was right to take military action against Iraq, compared with 24 percent of Democrats. Lately independents have been siding with the Democrats.

Perhaps that is why a Senate report on prewar intelligence on Iraq is conveniently running behind schedule. Sen. Pat Roberts said the report was almost complete about nine months ago. But it appears that the section on the administration’s use of intelligence will not be ready until after the November election.

The WP lead focuses on the administration’s creation of a “massive biodefense laboratory unlike any seen since biological weapons were banned 34 years ago.” Scientists at the new supersecret lab, located at Fort Detrick in Maryland, will simulate attacks using real biological weapons. Some arms-control experts say the research runs afoul of a 1972 treaty outlawing the manufacture of biological weapons. But administration officials, in a delayed signing statement of sorts, interpret the treaty as allowing the creation of small amounts of pathogens for research purposes aimed at defense.

The NYT fronts Joe Lieberman finally waking up to the possibility that he might lose next week’s Democratic primary to challenger Ned Lamont. Lieberman is scrambling across the state, as polls show Lamont ahead. The campaign is even considering running an advertisement acknowledging concerns among Democrats over the senator’s support for the Iraq war and his friendly relations with President Bush. The WP goes inside with Lieberman’s decline, describing it as “a cautionary tale of how quickly a political career can unravel.”

The biggest news in the NYT’s Lieberman story is the paper’s own decision to endorse Lamont. In an editorial, the Times condemns Lieberman’s “warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction.” Lieberman, says the NYT, has become an “enabler” of Bush’s executive overreach.

The House approved a $2.10 increase in the minimum wage on Saturday, but tied it to a cut in the estate tax. A tougher fight is expected in the Senate.

The Passion of the Mel … The LAT fronts the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigating whether Mel Gibson was given special treatment following an arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. Officers are suspected of covering up an anti-Semitic rant by the Oscar-winning actor/director/ Saddam Hussein look-alike. The original police report says a belligerent Gibson, after trying to flee back to his car, said, among other things, that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” On Friday, the police said Gibson had been arrested “without incident.”