Today's Papers

From Czar to Deputy

The New York Timesleads with, and everyone else mentions, news that John D. Negroponte will leave his post as director of national intelligence to become the deputy secretary of state. Condoleezza Rice has been without a deputy since July. The Washington Postleads with President Bush announcing he wants to balance the budget and urging Congress to decrease the use of earmarks. USA Todayleads with word that the first order of business for Democrats as they take over the House of Representatives today will be an ethics reform package. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with the new Congress, which today brings “an end to all-Republican rule.” The Los Angeles Timesleads locally but goes above-the-fold with the beginning of the three-day celebration by incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Negroponte’s switch will probably be announced this week, and everyone predicts he’ll have no trouble getting confirmed. It is unclear whether Negroponte took the new job because the Bush administration is unhappy with his work, or if he is not satisfied with the job of intelligence czar. Negroponte, who was ambassador to Iraq, is the first to hold the position that was created after the 2001 attacks to oversee the 16 U.S. spy agencies. But his reasons for wanting the move might be simpler, especially considering he was a Foreign Service officer for more than 30 years and could merely want to get back to the State Department. Negroponte’s Iraq expertise will surely come in handy at a time when Bush is allegedly days away from announcing his new strategy for the war. Everybody says Negroponte’s likely successor is retired Navy Adm. John M. McConnell, who led the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1996.

Bush’s speech at the Rose Garden largely echoed an op-ed he wrote in yesterday’s WSJ. Democrats largely dismissed the president’s statement and said he is trying to get on the forefront of reform they have been talking about and that will pass anyway. The incoming House and Senate budget committee chairmen had already talked about putting 2012 as a target for balancing the budget. The Post notably points out how the president seemed to give little importance to these issues before his party lost the November elections. “Bush has never proposed a balanced budget since it went into deficit, never vetoed a spending bill when Republicans controlled Congress, and offered little sustained objection to earmarks until the issue gained political traction last year,” writes the WP’s Peter Baker.

The new ethics rules proposed by Democrats yesterday include a total ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists, restrictions on the use of corporate jets, and further disclosure of earmarks. Congressional travel will also come under greater scrutiny, as lawmakers will still be allowed to accept trips from colleges and foundations, but they would have to be approved beforehand by the House ethics panel.

In an op-ed in the Post, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois says Congress has to pass “more than window dressing when it comes to ethics reform.” In addition to measures such as banning gifts and meals, Obama also says there must be a “nonpartisan, independent ethics commission that would act as the American people’s public watchdog over Congress.”

The NYT fronts news that the laboratory responsible for testing most of the electronic voting systems was not keeping proper records of the required tests and has been temporarily forbidden from approving new machines. This adds fuel to the accusations by those who have frequently said voting machines do not undergo enough testing to make sure they’re reliable. The company, Ciber, says it is fixing the problems and insists the issue isn’t with the testing itself but rather with the documentation of these tests. “What’s scary is that we’ve been using systems in elections that Ciber had certified, and this calls into question those systems that they tested,” a computer science professor said.

Everybody goes inside with the latest from the fallout of Saddam Hussein’s execution, which is getting more complicated by the day. Iraqi officials arrested a guard whom they believe was responsible for filming Saddam Hussein’s execution. The LAT says two other men were also arrested but gives no further details. There are also very few details on the guard, because Iraqi officials refused to identify him. All the papers mention the news of the guard’s detention was met with skepticism and suspicions that Iraqi officials wanted to pin the blame on a low-ranking officer.

Yesterday, the NYT quoted Munqith al-Faround, the prosecutor at Hussein’s trial, as saying he saw the national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, holding up a cell phone during the execution. In an interesting twist, the paper now says it “erroneously quoted” the prosecutor. For its part, the LAT says two Shiite politicians have said Rubaie did film the execution, but he vehemently denies he even had a cell phone during the execution. Meanwhile, Faroun still contends there were two other official observers who openly recorded the execution with their cell phones.

The LAT mentions two of Hussein’s aides will probably be hanged this week.

For another chapter in the long book of the awful living conditions in many parts of Iraq, the Post fronts a look at the difficulties expectant mothers have to face in order to give birth. Going to the hospital can be a dangerous trip, so many simply skip prenatal visits. Then, pregnant women have to worry that the fateful moment could come during curfew hours, so many are asking for Caesarean sections. If there is a problem with the pregnancy or if a woman decides to go through with natural childbirth, there might not be a qualified doctor at the hospital. Doctors, especially women, have become a favorite target of kidnappers, which has made their presence scarce at some hospitals. 

The papers mention clashes between the Hamas and Fatah movements killed five Palestinians in the Gaza Strip yesterday. It was the worst day of violence between the two groups since they agreed to a truce two weeks ago.

In its business section, the Post takes a deeper look at the FBI report it wrote about yesterday that looked into possible abuses at Guantanamo. Today, the paper notices the important role private contractors seem to play in carrying out interrogations. The documents “suggest a greater role for contractors than was previously known” and, once again, raise questions of where these contractors would fall in a military chain of command. The FBI report reveals how contractors were sometimes in charge of interrogations and may have, at least in one case, ordered the mistreatment of a prisoner.

The NYT and LAT front news that Robert L. Nardelli, chairman and chief executive of Home Depot, agreed to step down. He will receive about $210 million for his troubles.