The New York Timesleads with a look at an executive order issued by President Bush last week that ultimately gives the White House more power to control the rules and guidance documents issued by government agencies. These rules are designed to protect such things as public health and the environment, and they have traditionally been the work of career civil servants and experts. But now, under the new order, a presidential appointee will run an office within each agency to supervise their development. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how the government has failed to fill several of the largest tunnels discovered on the U.S.-Mexico border. Some are concerned the open tunnels could be reused by those who smuggle drugs or people.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the first suicide attack in Israel in nine months, which killed three people yesterday. Hamas praised the attack and characterized it as an act of legitimate resistance. USA Today leads with its own analysis of preliminary statistics that reveal traffic deaths fell by at least 5 percent in 16 states last year. Some states were quick to say the decreases are a result of better enforcement as well as an increase in programs aimed at educating drivers. The story ends with two experts basically saying the preliminary figures alone are not very significant. The Washington Postleads locally but goes high with new details about the militants who were the target of Sunday’s daylong battle near Najaf. The fighters were apparently led by a cult leader who claimed to be a revered Shiite Muslim saint who disappeared in the 10th century.
The administration insists the new executive order wasn’t directed at any specific agency, but some believe it was issued out of concern for rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Saftey and Health Administration. Naturally, business groups who have to deal with often costly rules praised the executive order while others aren’t so pleased. Besides having the political appointees in place, the White House also wants to review any new guidance documents it deems significant. “Having lost control of Congress the president is doing what he can to increase his control of the executive branch,” a professor tells the paper.
Interestingly, the LAT makes clear that the main entrance and exit points of several tunnels have been closed off, but much of their middle sections are still open, which means smugglers could still use them.
All the papers make sure to point out that the details of Sunday’s battle in Iraq are still unclear, although it does appear the group’s leader was killed. The militias were heavily armed and they were allegedly planning to attack Shiite leaders and holy sites during the religious holiday of Ashura. Estimates of dead fighters ranged from 150 to 400, and as the LAT makes points out, it’s not clear how Iraqi officials came up with these figures. The Post had a correspondent on scene and says women and children were among the captured.
The LAT sees the group as a sign that “Iraq has become fertile ground for extremists of various stripes.” McClatchy wonders how a group of this nature got such good equipment and training. The latest revelations are a stark reminder that violence in Iraq can’t be quite so neatly summarized as Shiite vs. Sunni.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said the attack showed positive signs that local army and police forces are able to lead an attack, regardless of religious sect. But the NYT reefers word from officials who say there isn’t much to celebrate as the battle, once again, pointed to deficiencies in the Iraqi security forces. The Iraqis are being criticized for failing to notice that a group of people was gathering in a tightly run compound. Also, it seems Iraqi security forces vastly underestimated the group’s strength and U.S. troops had to help with air and ground support. The LAT gives a hint of what might have happened when it says that Iraqi security forces who were sent to investigate came under fire, which seems to demonstrate they had no idea what to expect.
The NYT and LAT front, while the rest go inside with, the latest from the Scooter Libby trial. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Libby told him of Valerie Plame’s identity over lunch three days before Libby has said he first learned the information. The former press secretary also said Libby made it clear he was passing along sensitive information. Everyone notes Fleischer is the fifth witness to contradict Libby’s version of events.
Slate’s John Dickerson suddenly found himself mentioned in the middle of questioning yesterday when Fleischer said he told the reporter that Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. Dickerson doesn’t quite remember it that way.
Both the LAT and NYT go inside with separate pieces on how Fleischer’s testimony gave an insider’s view of the way the White House press secretary is often kept in the dark and then has to deal with changing explanations. “The worst place to stand as press secretary is where the ground is shifting,” Fleischer said. The LAT points out that when Fleischer left the White House, he got a letter from Libby: “[W]e will still count on you to come to our rescue whenever the going gets tough.”
Everybody fronts the news that Barbaro, the horse who won the Kentucky Derby last May, was euthanized yesterday after eight months of trying to fix extensive damage to his legs. Barbaro’s owners decided to euthanize him after they realized there was not much left to do and they felt the horse was going through too much pain. Everyone points out that many who never cared about horseracing were captivated by Barbaro’s story. Last year, Slate’s Meghan O’Rourke wrote that “Americans have historically become preoccupied with horseracing in times of national strain,” while the “Explainer” looked into why a broken leg is so dangerous for a horse.