Today's Papers

Congress Caves

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the House passing changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The changes were requested by the White House and though Democrats worried that the administration was overreaching, they were more afraid of appearing weak on national security. The Los Angeles Times leads locally with California’s secretary of state imposing “some of the nation’s strictest regulations” on electronic voting machines, which she says are susceptible to hacking. The new rules mean many counties won’t be able to use the machines for February’s presidential primary.

The Senate approved the administration’s changes to the terrorist surveillance program on Friday night, putting pressure on the House to act. The White House claimed the changes were needed after a secret court ruled that foreign communications routed through the United States could not be tapped without a court order. But the administration asked for a whole lot more than a simple fix to that problem.

The changes will give the attorney general broad authority to approve surveillance of all communications involving foreign suspects. Only if his procedures are deemed “clearly erroneous” could the special FISA court step in. Some wary Democrats put forward a separate proposal giving more power to the court, but it was defeated on Friday. It was all about politics, says the NYT and WP, and the Democrats didn’t want to spend their summer vacation “fending off charges from Mr. Bush and Republicans that they left Americans exposed to terror threats.” The good news for the Dems is that the changes will expire in six months, giving them half a year to grow a spine.

The House also passed a “far-reaching” and “wide-ranging” energy bill that “would mark a dramatic shift in policy,” but only the LAT fronts this news. The measure would require private utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from solar, wind, or other renewable energy sources. But the Senate’s energy bill doesn’t contain this provision, so it may be taken out of the final legislation. Similarly, the Senate bill contains increased fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks that the House bill lacks. So it’s unclear what the bill will look like when it is sent to the president. Regardless, it’s pretty clear that it will be returned with a veto stamp on it.

All the papers front varying looks at spouses on the presidential campaign trail. The NYT takes a rather bland look at Judith Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani’s third wife. The juiciest bits of the story are references to old reports, which means someone is teaching Mrs. Giuliani how to handle the media. We learn that she actually has a somewhat inspiring and underreported life story—she struggled to raise a child on her own, while going back to school and working her way up at Bristol-Myers Squibb. But TP had a tough time getting past the off-putting anecdote about how Rudy asked Judith for her number while still living in Gracie Mansion … with his wife and kids.

The Post’s profile of Jeri Thompson, Fred Thompson’s second wife, reveals a much less inspiring life story. Mrs. Thompson, who is 40 and would become the youngest first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy, “spent much of her 20s biding her time in Nashville without a clear career path.” She “left three court judgments behind her in Nashville, one of which remains unpaid today, and a court twice garnished her wages.” But after meeting Mr. Thompson in 1996, her luck picked up and she found herself in a string of enviable Washington jobs. For some reason, the Post says it’s “hard to gauge” how much her ties to Thompson helped her in Washington. After reading the WP’s profile, it’s actually quite easy.

To round out the coverage of aspiring presidential couples, the LAT fronts an unwieldy look at hints of sexuality on the campaign trail. They’re “sprouting like wildflowers,” says the Times. “With a nominating field full of older men and younger wives, experts say that a youthful, even sexy wife offers a none-too-subtle message about the vitality of the candidate.” The LAT doesn’t explain why only the leading Republican candidates seem to have sought out younger partners (Dennis Kucinich notwithstanding).

Young wives or not, only 19 percent of likely Iowa GOP caucus attendees said they were “very satisfied” with the Republican field, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The Republican candidates will debate in Iowa this morning.

President Bush toured the site of the bridge collapse in Minnesota yesterday and promised to rebuild the structure. The WP says Bush’s pledge of federal action “stood in contrast” to the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, “when officials in Washington played down their responsibilities and pointed instead to state agencies.”

The WP reports on an interesting statistic coming out of Iraq: “The number of Iraqi civilians killed in mass-casualty bomb attacks rose sharply from June to July.” Also interesting is that the number of Americans killed in Iraq dropped sharply in July and the overall number of Iraqi civilian casualties “remained significantly lower than before the U.S. troop increase in February.” But neither of those facts warranted the headline.

The NYT reports that a 23-year-old Army private named Jesse Spielman was sentenced to 110 years in prison for the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family.

The WP notes a piece in The New Yorker that details the alleged torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. According to the article, “Mohammed said he was held naked in his cell, questioned by female interrogators to humiliate him, attached to a dog leash and made to run into walls, and put in painful positions while chained to the floor. Mohammed also said he was ‘waterboarded’ … in addition to being held in suffocating heat and painfully cold conditions.”

The NYT fronts a look at how new rules aimed at making “earmarks” more transparent have backfired. Congressmen are even more eager to get their pet projects funded, as they’re now seen as measures of a member’s clout.

Sporting News … Barry Bonds hit his 755th home run last night to tie Hank Aaron’s career record. Alex Rodriquez also reached a milestone yesterday, hitting his 500th home run. But the greatest sporting moment of the week came when Jake Brown, a professional skateboarder, walked away from this unbelievable fall (video). On Saturday the LAT talked to Brown, who fractured a vertebrae, bruised his liver and lung, and suffered a mild concussion. “I just want to get out of here, dude,” said Brown from the hospital.