Today's Papers

Out by ‘08?

The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead and the Wall Street Journal (at least online) tops its world-wide news box with the House of Representatives voting 218-212 to set a timetable for a complete troop withdrawal from Iraq. The bill authorizes $124 billion in emergency war funding, but stipulates that American forces must leave Iraq by August 2008, if not sooner. An upset President Bush promised to veto the bill if and when it hits his desk.

The bill passed after hours of often-emotional debate that involved combat veterans from both sides of the aisle. It exceeds President Bush’s funding requests but requires the United States to hold the Iraqi government to several benchmarks of progress; if the Iraqis miss these benchmarks, the withdrawal process would be accelerated. The bill also includes several non-war-related allocations for, among other things, milk subsidies and peanut storage.

House opponents called the bill pork-laden (“What does throwing money at Bubba Gump, Popeye the sailor man, and Mr. Peanut have to do with winning a war? Nothing,” said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas) and accused Democrats of trying to micromanage the war. President Bush said it “set rigid restrictions that will require an army of lawyers to interpret,” and vowed that he would not be intimidated into accepting any “artificial” deadlines.

Although the bill that Bush will eventually receive will likely be different than the one the House passed, pretty much everyone agrees that this bill’s passage was a major victory for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who maintained party unity despite worries she wouldn’t be able to do so. “This was a real test of Pelosi’s leadership, and she passed it big-time. She’s stronger now than ever,” said one House Democrat.

The NYT and the LAT off-lead and everybody fronts news that new Justice Department documents show that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales met with aides in November to discuss the firings of seven U.S. attorneys 10 days before they took place, in contradiction to his previous statements denying any direct involvement in the firings. This new information was included in more than 280 pages worth of material released by Justice last night in a textbook Friday-evening document drop. Gonzales’ staff says there’s no inconsistency with his previous statements, but his opponents aren’t buying it. “If the facts bear out that the attorney general knew much more than he admitted, he simply cannot continue as the attorney general,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

The Post off-leads and everybody else stuffs news that a former Deputy Secretary of the Interior pled guilty to lying to a Senate committee about the extent of his involvement with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. J. Steven Griles is the 10th person to face criminal charges in the Abramoff probe. He’s expected to receive a 10-month sentence.

The LAT goes above the fold with news that 15 British sailors were captured yesterday by Iranian forces while inspecting merchant ships in the Persian Gulf. The “extremely disturbed” British government insists that the sailors were operating in Iraqi waters; the Iranians claim that the sailors were, in fact, trespassing in Iranian territory. Yes, but what does Seymour M. Hersh think?

The Post fronts news that one of the Iraqi government’s highest-ranking Sunni officials was critically injured in a Friday bombing at his Baghdad home. A Sunni insurgent group claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the latest in a recent spate of Sunni-insurgent-on-Sunni-collaborator violence. Meanwhile, the WSJ reports that Iraqi policemen may have assisted a January insurgent attack that killed five American troops, stoking fears that Iraqi forces have been compromised by insurgent infiltrators.

The Post and the LAT front news that traces of rat poison have been found in several samples of recently recalled pet food. The poison, which can cause kidney failure in dogs and cats, has been officially linked to 14 pet deaths thus far, and, for many pet owners, is the prime suspect in 1,100 additional deaths. The FDA thinks that deliberate sabotage is unlikely. The WSJ makes it clear that rat poison has got nothing on the red palm weevil.

The NYT goes below the fold with news that three Kentucky lawyers who won a $200 million class-action settlement from a diet-pill manufacturer have been found guilty in civil court of keeping the bulk of the settlement money for themselves, in what may be one of the largest cases of legal fraud in history. The lawyers, who will probably face criminal charges soon, apparently bullied their clients into accepting payments smaller than those to which they were entitled. “This is such a betrayal of that fundamental aspect of the lawyer-client relationship that I find it quite sickening,” said a Hofstra University law professor.

The NYT fronts the shocking news thatAmericans have mixed emotions about John Edwards’ decision to stay in the presidential race in the wake of his wife’s cancer diagnosis. (The Post goes inside with a similar story.) Some call Edwards’ decision courageous and rooted in love; others say that it’s “childish” and latently sexist; still others, perhaps inevitably, attempt a lame comparison with Lance Armstrong. TP smells a hastily written Tuesdays With Morrie-style campaign book in Edwards’ future. The WSJ thinks that the Democratic presidential candidates may rise or fall on the merits of their respective long-term plans for America’s eventual extrication from Iraq.

The embattled Tribune Company, which has been in play for several months, is said to be favoring the $33-per-share takeover bid proffered by billionaire developer Sam Zell, the LAT and the WSJ report.

The NYT gives big play to further coverage of the mysterious strangulation death of the coach of Pakistan’s national cricket team. Here’s a brief primer for those of you who don’t know cricket the sport from cricket the bug.

From MREs to A&R: Wayne Newton notwithstanding, big-name entertainers haven’t exactly lined up to perform for the troops in Iraq. The WSJ runs a good article about a Pentagon department called Armed Forces Entertainment that’s sent more than 100 indie bands to Iraq—and, in the process, helped many of these bands build sizable fan bases. “They’re actually helping to break artists,” said the executive editor of Billboard. AFE sent 50 representatives to last week’s South by Southwest music festival to hand out dog-tag business cards to musicians who crave the publicity a base tour could bring. “It’s a very great marketing move that could put the band in front of thousands of open-souled soldiers,” said one band’s manager.