Today's Papers

Playing the Last Hand

The only clear news thread on today’s front pages is the continuing slaughter in Iraq, but none of the papers lead with it. The New York Times goes with a story on Sudan, where the latest peace agreement is in “disarray.” A photo of dead fighters in the desert covers most of the above-the-fold real estate. The Washington Postleads with the story of a stumbling attempt to privatize highways in Virginia. The Los Angeles Times goes with an investigative piece on rising corruption along the southern border with Mexico. USA Todayleads with rising airline ticket prices for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Wall Street Journalfronts an in-depth look at Vermont’s attempt to shift care for the elderly away from nursing homes and toward private homes.

In Washington, Virginia officials seem to have gotten themselves into a jam, reports the Post. In 2003, a private company offered to ease traffic congestion by building expensive express lanes—no state money needed. Or maybe not, says the company, now asking for public funds. It’s still a good deal, says the state transportation head: “We have an opportunity to obtain a billion-dollar facility with a fraction of that put in by the public sector.” That’s true–as long as “public sector” doesn’t include the people who’ll be paying the premium tolls.

The Post gives Virginia another above-the-fold shout, this one about the Senate race between George Allen and Democratic challenger James Webb. Both candidates, whose “biographies exude machismo,” are trying to tone it down in the homestretch to woo female voters. WP has Allen up 49-47.

Uncle Sam can build a wall 100 feet tall if he wants, but that won’t necessarily stop a Mexican smuggler with the right amount of pesos, reports the LAT, which finds a doubling in the number of convictions of U.S. public officials for bribery since 2004. The story includes this nugget of nuance on Mexican culture: “Though America’s southern border may evoke images of a poor backwater, it is alive with vast amounts of ill-gotten wealth, shadowy organizations that ply the waters of the Rio Grande, and brazen schemes that seem borrowed out of Cold War espionage.”

The LAT also goes above the fold with a piece by Patrick J. McDonnell, who reported from Iraq for two years and then left for one. He returns to find that the chaos and violence he left a year ago looks like paradise compared to the hellish city he finds today. One of the most awfully telling details he shares: Shiite militias control major morgues and wait for Sunnis to come pick up slain relatives, and then they capture and kill them, too. And before McDonnell goes on patrol with a convoy, an Army commander performs an “unsettling ritual,” anointing the Humvees with clear oil, “akin to last rites.”

The NYT is above the fold with a piece of Iraq analysis that is no more optimistic. The American military is “playing its last hand: the Baghdad security plan,” writes Michael Gordon. That’s the good news. The bad news is that “military commanders here see no plausible alternative” to the current strategy. The U.S. has asked for an increased number of Iraqi troops to help out, but the Iraqi government hasn’t provided them. Even when it did order several battalions to deploy to Baghdad, those units deserted instead, according to American military officials.

USA Today’s “Cover Story” is also an Iraq analysis, this one accompanied by graphs showing U.S. and Iraqi opinions of the conflict. Col. James Pasquarette has his own opinion: “This is the toughest thing I hope I ever do: fighting a counterinsurgency atop a sectarian conflict.”

The Post buries its Iraq report, though it contains some courageous reporting from “special correspondent” Muhanned Saif Aldin in Balad, where Shiite militiamen, with the apparent help of the Iraqi army, have been massacring Sunnis. Here’s the quote that tells you what you need to know: “U.S. soldiers asked the Balad officials whether they wanted help, [a military spokesman] said, but the officials declined the offer. The Iraqi government made no request for assistance, he said.”

In news that isn’t bloodshed and mayhem, the Detroit Tigers evened the World Series at a game apiece, Wal-Mart is having major trouble getting a banking license, 48 U.S. House seats are now considered up for grabs, and Barack Obama said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he’s thinking about running for president.

USAT has a front-page piece that is a fresh angle on bad news for Republicans: On top of the U.S. Senate and House, they might also fall behind Democrats in the number of states where they hold the governor’s office and both legislative chambers. Holding such power allows a party to gerrymander districts to its liking and groom future candidates for higher office.

This USA Today graph says that 47 percent of Iraqis think that the country is going in the “right direction.” That’s a big chunk higher than the number of Americans who think their own country is heading in the right direction. TPthought that either Iraqis had lost their minds or that the pollsters didn’t speak Arabic until we spotted the qualifier underneath the graph: “Note: 93% of Sunni Arabs say the country is going in the wrong direction.”