Today's Papers

Forward, March!

The Washington Post leads its print edition with news that President Bush agreed yesterday to send 8,200 more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. This increase comes in addition to the 21,500 new troops Bush decided to send to Iraq in January and may stoke fears that the so-called temporary surge will last longer than was promised.

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times barely mention the troop increase, both leading with dispatches from the somewhat underwhelming regional security conference that convened yesterday in Baghdad. As mortar shells fell nearby, representatives from Iraq’s neighboring nations, the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent member states, and three international organizations discussed various ways to end sectarian violence in Iraq. Although the delegates from the United States and Iran exchanged cordial greetings, they made no apparent progress in defusing the not-so-latent hostilities between the two nations.

Of the 8,200 new troops, 4,700 will head to Iraq, while 3,500 will be sent to Afghanistan, bringing the number of American soldiers in that country to its highest level ever, the Post reports. House Democrats don’t much like the idea, nor do they like Bush’s request for an additional $3.4 billion to pay for the troops. The Dems have their own plan for Iraq, for which, the Post notes, they’re building support one vote at a time. Today Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., tomorrow the world!

The best that can be said for the Baghdad conference is that it happened at all, everyone agrees—the prospect of bringing all these disparate parties together simultaneously would have been dubious in years past. Indeed, Iraqi officials—who fear that their country will become caught in the middle of any forthcoming conflict between the U.S. and Iran—hoped that physical proximity would inspire a dialogue between the two countries. Alas, not to be: The respective delegations sat on opposite sides of the table and didn’t once meet privately, not even for a shared bathroom break.

All the papers take different approaches to their coverage of the conference. The NYT leads off with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s plea to neighboring states to stop supporting the insurgency. Downplaying al-Maliki’s remarks, the Post and the LATcome to wildly different conclusions on the tenor of the interplay between the U.S. and Iran. The Post portrays American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as being “cautiously optimistic” about the Iranians, quoting him as saying that their exchanges were “sometimes even jovial.” In the LAT’s decidedly pessimistic account, Khalilzad calls the exchanges “businesslike” and notes that words mean nothing if they don’t translate into actions. Both papers appear to have drawn their quotes from Khalilzad from the same joint briefing. What’s that old saying about two sides of the same coin?

The NYT off-leads a sobering analysis of the United States’ crumbling mortgage market, comparing the market’s recent troubles to those that preceded the stock market collapse of 2000. The market’s decline is mostly attributed to years’ worth of predatory lending practices on the part of unscrupulous mortgage lenders, more than two dozen of which have already failed. “This is far more dramatic than what led to Sarbanes-Oxley,” said one researcher, referring to the legislation that sprung from the wake of the Enron debacle.

Speaking of dubious business practices, the general merchandise retailer Sears has apparently reinvented itself as a hedge fund, the Post reports in a below-the-fold piece. Sears’ new maverick CEO (Connecticut’s wealthiest man, the article helpfully notes) is using the cash flow from the stores to dabble in high-risk, high-reward investments. It’s been a great deal for stockholders, who saw a 45 percent increase in share prices last year, but not so much for Sears customers or employees: Stores are deteriorating, sales are falling, and some fear that the brand won’t last much longer.

The LAT fronts a piece about alleged political vendettas at the U.S. Department of Justice. Democratic critics contend that eight prosecutors were fired by their D.C.-based Republican bosses for various reasons, including not pursuing cases that might have helped Republican candidates for office. The Post goes below-the-fold with a feature on the tensions between government personnel stationed in Iraq and their naïve Washington bosses.

The NYT fronts news that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been contributing cash to conservative groups in what could be construed as an attempt to buy right-wing support for his White House bid. Romney, who was decidedly moderate in his tenure as the governor of Massachusetts, has been trying to position himself as a legitimate social conservative; he says the donations merely reflect an honest, nonopportunistic shift in his policy stances.

Not to be outdone, the Post goes below-the-fold with an analysis of the ways that John Edwards’ campaign strategies have changed since 2004. Whereas Edwards once tried to appeal to voters with cornpone stories of country living and lawyering, this year he’s emphasizing issues—health care, alternative energy, the Iraq war. “I think he has a strategy to meet the party where it is,” said consultant Robert Shrum.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, the LAT reports that Barack Obama’s high school classmates had no inkling of the racial turmoil that, according to his memoirs, roiled his mind during his teenage years. “We liked him very much. I’d poke him in the stomach when he walked by,” said one woman. No wonder he turned to drugs. On an unrelated note, have you heard about the Internet? According to the Post, it’s changing everything. Everything!

The NYT reports that millions of Shiite pilgrims traveled to the Iraqi city of Karbala this weekend to commemorate a religious holiday, despite the dangers inherent in the voyage (Sunni militants killed at least 150 travelers this week). The holiday, Arbaeen, commemorates the 680 A.D. murder of prophet Muhammad’s grandson—an event that provoked the schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. “Even if I know I’ll die, I’ll still come,” said one pilgrim.

I survived the 1992 race riots and all I got was this lousy T-shirt: If this whole nation-building thing doesn’t work out, Iraq could experiment with a different route out of violence and despair: selling T-shirts to Japanese tourists. The LAT fronts a profile of Larry “Big Al” Jordan, an entrepreneur from Los Angeles’ infamous Watts neighborhood, who is attempting to rehabilitate the area’s reputation by selling T-shirts that say “Wattslife” on them. Most of the T-shirts, which also bear slogans like “Everything Butt Ugly Made In Watts” and “Someone in Watts Loves You,” apparently go to international tourists: Most L.A. residents, it seems, are afraid to actually go into Watts. 

Oh, and Daylight-Saving Time started today. TP forgot—don’t make the same mistake yourself. I’m looking at you, Indiana.