Today's Papers

A Question of Structure

USA Today and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsboxlead with, and everyone else fronts, the continuing rescue efforts in Minneapolis, where officials expect to continue retrieving bodies from the Mississippi River through the weekend. As of last night, four people were officially confirmed dead, 79 were injured, and as many as 30 were still missing. By all accounts it seems that several people who drowned in their cars remain underwater as divers had to continually stop their rescue efforts due to strong currents.

The Washington Postleads with word that a federal intelligence court declared that one part of the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program is illegal. This could go a long way to explaining this week’s renewed efforts to get Congress to approve an extension of the program. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how many fear a plan to target businesses that hire illegal immigrants “could cause serious headaches for millions of U.S. citizens.” The New York Timesleads with senators voting overwhelmingly in favor of legislation to overhaul ethics and lobbying rules. The White House said the restrictions on earmarks don’t go far enough but no one expects the president to veto the bill.

Officials yesterday struggled to explain how Minnesota’s busiest bridge could simply collapse (a security camera caught the moment). Contrary to what was said on Wednesday night, the bridge had been classified as “structurally deficient” for 17 years. But that’s not as damning as it sounds because one-quarter of U.S. bridges share that classification and, as the Post notes, several recent inspections “provided no indication that the bridge was in danger of imminent failure.”

Everyone points out how the collapse puts new emphasis on the country’s aging infrastructure that is in much need of repair. The federal Transportation Department asked all states to inspect all their bridges, especially the 756 across the country that are similar to the steel-deck truss span bridge that collapsed.

The LAT notes that engineers have described this type of bridge, which was popular in the 1950s but has fallen out of favor, as “a house of cards” because a single failure in the structure could cause the entire thing to fall. The Minneapolis Star Tribuneis reporting that officials were so concerned about the bridge’s structural deficiencies that they considered “bolting steel plates to its supports to prevent cracking in fatigued metal.” But the WP points out that the collapse might not have been caused by physical damage in the structure but rather “by soil erosion around the underwater bridge supports.” Slate’s Michelle Tsai explained that inspectors largely rely on their eyes to catch signs of whether a bridge has suffered structural damage.

There’s plenty of emotional coverage in the papers that illustrates the confusing, desperate moments after the collapse, the valiant rescue efforts, and the interminable wait for news of loved ones that many have had to endure. Both the WP and NYT front stories on the school bus that was on the bridge at the time of the collapse. All 61 people aboard survived largely unscathed thanks to luck and a quick-thinking 20-year-old counselor.

The Post’s choice for its lead seems strange, seeing as the LAT had almost the exact same story yesterday. Regardless, the gist is that a judge in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court declared earlier this year that the government doesn’t have the authority to listen in on communications between two people abroad “that are passed through routing stations in the United States,” says the Post. But the LAT talked to an official who said the decision was actually broader and could affect communications “where one end is foreign and you don’t know where the other is.” Both papers say the ruling was a clear “blow to the administration,” which has always insisted the program was legal.

The development came to light largely thanks to House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who told Fox News of “a ruling” that has prevented officials from listening in on foreign communications that just happen to be routed through the United States. The Post makes a big deal of whether Boehner revealed classified information by talking publicly of the decision.

In response to the ruling, the White House has been trying to get lawmakers to approve expanded authority for the eavesdropping program, “while concealing from the public and many in Congress a key event that appears to have driven the effort,” says the Post. Democrats balked at the wide expansion of powers sought by the administration and have proposed giving the special court temporary authority to approve this type of surveillance.

The Department of Homeland Security will soon outline what businesses must do if they are notified that an employee’s information doesn’t match up with federal records. There would be stiff penalties for those that don’t respond to these notifications. Many are concerned both businesses and Social Security offices will be overburdened since there are errors in the files of more than 10 million U.S. citizens.

The LAT fronts the Senate’s approval of an expansion to the children’s health insurance program by a 68-31 vote, which is more than enough to override Bush’s promised veto. The Senate’s plan would cover an additional 3 million children, which is less ambitious than the measure the House passed Wednesday. The WP goes inside with a look at how the children’s health insurance legislation is just one of a series of disagreements between Congress and the White House. All signs point to the “potential for widespread gridlock” in some key areas when Congress gets back to work in September.

The LAT fronts word that Telemundo newscaster Mirthala Salinas was suspended without pay for two months for continuing to cover Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after they began a romantic relationship.

An army of vigilantes … The WSJ’s letters page is entirely devoted to readers’ reactions to the sale of the paper. There are those who promise to stop subscribing (“Goodbye my old trusted friend. I will miss you,” says one) and others who praise the sale. Most, however, aren’t quite ready to give up on the paper they love but make it clear that they’ll be “watching very closely.” As one reader put it: “Certainly I will continue to read the Journal, but now with suspicion.”