Today's Papers

He Shall Overcome

USA Todayleads with a report by the Congressional Research Service that found most of the “high-tech intelligence centers” that were set up in states after 9/11 have not proved to be a valuable tool in the fight against terrorism. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ prepared testimony for today’s congressional hearing where he vows that he will stay on at the Justice Department to “fix the problems.”  The Washington Postleads with a poll that says Americans trust congressional Democrats  more than the president to make the right decisions about Iraq. Most, including a majority of Republicans, said President Bush is not flexible enough on strategy.

Both the New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead locally. The LAT goes with news that two federal judges ordered the creation of a new panel to figure out a way to deal with the intense overcrowding in California’s prisons. The results could include a cap on the state’s prisoner population as well as the early release of a significant number of inmates. The move is seen as a blow to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has announced his own plans for dealing with overcrowding and vowed to appeal the decision. The NYT leads with a report by the state’s attorney general that says aides to Gov. Eliot Spitzer used state police to gather damaging information about a political rival and then leaked it to the news media.

Homeland Security gave $380 million to set up “fusion centers” in states so it’d be easier for officials from different agencies at the federal and local level to share information  and allow officials to connect the dots to prevent attacks. But, in reality, most of the 42 centers across the country have lost their terrorism focus and instead work on helping to solve general crimes as well assist during local emergencies. Although some centers are working well, federal officials are often reluctant to share information with local officers, who often don’t have the necessary resources to operate the centers effectively.

Even though many top officials at the Justice Department have left and those who remain often talk about how the department has been paralyzed because of the political scandals, Gonzales says he has no plans to walk away. “Since I have never been one to quit, I decided that the best course of action was to remain here,” Gonzales will say in his testimony. Meanwhile, the House judiciary committee announced it will vote tomorrow on whether to hold  White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt for their refusal to give Congress information about the firings of U.S. attorneys.

Regardless of their preference for Congress to make decisions on Iraq, Americans aren’t happy with the way it’s performing on issues relating to the war. A majority of Democrats believe lawmakers haven’t done enough to push the president to change his policies on Iraq. Meanwhile, support for any withdrawal plans runs largely along party lines but not even Democrats want a “complete, immediate withdrawal.” It’s clear though that most don’t think the “surge” has really had much of an effect.

The NYT fronts word that a new classified plan written by U.S. leaders in Iraq envisions a “significant American role for the next two years.” The plan’s goal is to create “localized security” in Baghdad and other areas by June 2008 and “sustainable security” nationwide by the summer of 2009. Although the Joint Campaign Plan doesn’t explicitly mention troop numbers, it does expect that the number of U.S. forces will decrease in the coming months while highlighting how those who remain will continue to play a key role by training Iraqis and fighting terrorist groups long after the “surge” has run its course. “A core assumption of the plan is that American troops cannot impose a military solution, but that the United States can use force to create the conditions in which political reconciliation is possible,” says the NYT.

Remember the political briefings that White House officials gave federal employees analyzing the prospects for GOP victories in key races across the country? Well, today the WP off-leads revelations that top diplomats, and others who work in foreign-policy issues, also received the briefings. Documents obtained by the Senate foreign relations committee show that ambassadors, State Department aides, and USAID officials were present at these briefings, one of which was even held at the Peace Corps headquarters. Administration officials defend the meetings saying they were merely a service to political appointees who weren’t urged to take any sort of action.

The WP and LAT front, while everyone but the WSJ reefers, yesterday’s Democratic presidential debate, where candidates answered video questions. All the papers points out the questions made the debate a little more interesting than most since candidates were forced to tackle issues that aren’t regularly brought up in debates, such as whether they’d talked to their kids about sex. But, as the NYT notes, things weren’t that different as “candidates frequently lapsed into their talking points, and there was little actual debate among them.”

The papers’ television critics weren’t very impressed by what was billed as a groundbreaking debate. Both the NYT and LAT point out that all it amounted to was a different sort of town hall meeting, since, despite all the hype, “regular people” have been asking questions for years. The WP’s Tom Shales takes aim at CNN for continually pressing for short answers and for  showing the videos  “in a relatively tiny window within a giant onstage screen,” which made “it all but impossible to see them as their creators intended.” In the end, it was the questions that took the spotlight because they “were more memorable than the answers,” writes the NYT’s Alessandra Stanley. This proves “that novices can ask good questions, but not necessarily elicit better answers than professional journalists.”