Today's Papers

General Retreat

Charges are dropped in the Duke lacrosse rape case. The Washington Post leads with the news while the New York Times has it in the off-lead spot, going instead with a report about ethnic cleansing in Baghdad – though that term is never used. The L.A. Times leads with a report that American generals, previously opposed to increasing troop levels in Iraq, are now supportive, removing a hurdle for President Bush. The Wall Street Journaltops its World-Wide newsbox with Bush’s plan to talk Iraq strategy today with his Pentagon chief at Camp David. Meanwhile, five more American soldiers have lost their lives.

In November, voters went to the polls and made a resounding statement against staying the course in Iraq. In a sign of the effectiveness of American democracy, it’s clear that Bush plans to increase American involvement in Iraq. The LAT reports that the “surge” strategy–sending thousands more troops to Baghdad for some yet-to-be-determined mission–is a last-ditch attempt to bring security to the capital. The generals’ support of this plan is a major reversal and a scoop for the Times.

The paper says that Bush sees radical cleric Muqtada Sadr’s power in the current government as the primary obstacle to security and that he is attempting to isolate him. The paper notes, though, that Sadr has been boycotting the government since November. Violence has only increased since then, making it unclear how making his temporary absence from the government permanent will calm the situation.

The NYT reports that at least 10 Baghdad neighborhoods that were mixed Sunni and Shiite a year ago are now almost entirely Shiite and that the Shiite-dominated government is putting plans into place to exacerbate the trend. The Iraqi government is suggesting that American efforts to slow the cleansing “would simply prolong the fight,” reports the Times.

Hadi al-Amiri tells the Times that Sunni charges of abuse “are lies.” The paper notes that Amiri is in charge of security for Parliament and also for the Badr Organization, aka the Badr Brigade, a powerful, death-squad-linked, Iranian-backed Shiite militia. Militias are technically illegal in Iraq, even if they’re run by the chief of security for the Parliament.

War profiteering is nothing new, but the LAT reports that a relatively new conflict is being handsomely exploited: the War on Christmas. Christian activist groups have soaked up hundreds of thousands of dollars selling buttons and bumper stickers extolling the virtue of wishing others a “Merry Christmas.”

Good work if you can get it: The LAT reports that 6,000 state prison guards are now making upwards of $100,000 a year, thanks to overcrowding and overtime. California imprisons 174,000 people in a system designed for 100,000. The biggest payout the Times finds is $252,570 year for a lieutenant. Merry Christmas.

The WSJ goes grinch, running a piece saying that Christmas is an inefficient way to distribute goods, an argument TP remembers hearing in Econ 101. The paper also goes front page with some serious playa-hatin’, giving it to Omnicare Inc., a prescription drug middleman that makes $5 billion a year buying drugs and then selling them at a significant profit to folks in nursing homes, sending the bill to insurance companies and the federal government.

The NYT spills a bucket of ink on the decision by Durham district attorney Mike Nifong to drop rape charges against three Duke lacrosse players, but doesn’t waste a drop of that mentioning its own role in stoking hysteria about the case.

Nifong dropped the rape charge because the accuser now says she can’t be sure if a penis penetrated her vagina, a necessary element of rape in North Carolina. DNA tests did not find any evidence of rape by the three men. Defense attorneys say Nifong’s move fits a pattern: As evidence crumbles, he continues to change the story. “Now, since the revelation of exculpatory DNA tests, all of a sudden, there’s no penile penetration,” said Joseph B. Cheshire, a lawyer for one of the players.

Nifong has now charged the men with kidnapping and sexual assault, obviating the need for DNA evidence. “I can’t exactly figure out what Mike Nifong’s doing other than committing career suicide and possibly inviting ethics charges,” Robert C.  Trenkle, another defense attorney, told the Times. Career suicide might be a stretch: TP sees a book deal in Nifong’s future. If TP had a title to suggest to his would-be publisher, this might be it: If I Wrongly Prosecuted Three LAXers to Advance My Political Ambitions, Here’s How I Did It. Is that too clunky?

The Post goes below the fold with a piece on California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s embrace of environmentalism. He intends to make global warming a major issue in the 2008 presidential race. The Post mentions that he may be positioning himself for a Senate bid in 2008.

The Post also goes front page with a story on the Washington Nationals’ new owners, who plan to spend some of their own money–a novel concept in baseball–to improve the $611 million stadium that District of Columbia taxpayers are building them. The improvements are designed to increase ad revenue, the piece says.

For beleaguered Washington sports fans hoping the Nationals might grant a reprieve from the pitiful experience that has been watching the Redskins this year, there’s hope, says one team source: “We’ll get through next season somehow. And we may not be as bad as people think.” Play ball!