Today's Papers

Bloody Homecoming

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post lead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the two bombs that exploded in Pakistan near a truck carrying former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and killed at least 125 people, although all the papers report slightly different numbers. Hundreds more were injured as the bombs ripped through a crowd of thousands of people who were celebrating Bhutto’s return after a self-imposed eight-year  exile. Bhutto was unhurt and no one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Islamic militants had publicly threatened that Bhutto would be met with violence if she returned.

USA Todayleads with the increase in the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans that are seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Records show there were almost 20,000 more cases in the 12-month period ending on June 30, which amounts to an almost 70 percent increase. The paper also notes that more than 100,000 veterans have reached out for help with mental illness since 2001, although there’s little doubt the real number is higher. The records appear to support the commonly held view that many service members ignore mental health problems until after their military service has ended.

By all accounts, Bhutto seems to have narrowly escaped getting hurt or killed in the attack. After spending eight hours on the roof of a truck waving to the approximately 150,000 people who had gathered to meet her, Bhutto went inside the armored vehicle a mere 10 minutes before the blasts. Bhutto had been warned there were assassination threats against her, and the WSJ talks to a Pakistani official who says at least three groups with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban were plotting attacks. An early morning Associated Press report says there seems to be evidence of an al-Qaida link and that a “young man who threw a grenade blew himself up 22 seconds later next to the truck.”

Authorities asked Bhutto to delay her return because of  security concerns but she nevertheless boarded a flight and landed in Karachi at 2 p.m. It was an emotional homecoming, and the LAT notes the large gathering of supporters was the result of hard work by members of Bhutto’s party who were eager to show there is widespread support for the former prime minister, who had been previously accused of corruption, a charge she contends was politically motivated. The Post notes the streets of Karachi “looked like one giant street festival” and her truck had to move extremely slowly because of the swarms of people.The bombs exploded shortly after midnight, only two hours after members of her party complained that the streetlights had been turned off, which made it difficult to spot any threats.

President Pervez Musharraf had also urged Bhutto to delay her return until  legal challenges to his election were settled. Nevertheless, the government vowed to provide security, and more than 20,000 police and paramilitary troops were deployed, although her party complained that it wasn’t sufficient. “Before the bombings, security for Bhutto’s arrival had appeared simultaneously omnipresent and somewhat lax,” notes the LAT. Members of Bhutto’s party were quick to blame the government for the blasts. The LAT notes that some wonder whether Musharraf will use the bombings as an excuse to declare martial law. No one is really sure how this will play out except that it threatens to “plunge Pakistan into deeper tumult,” as the Post puts it. The WSJ notes the bombings could “hamper” Bhutto’s election campaign but might also “galvanize pro-democracy and anti-extremist Pakistanis to support her.” At the very least, it will almost certainly move criticism of her recent negotiations with Musharraf to the back-burner.

Meanwhile, stateside, the lovefest for Michael Mukasey turned sour. The Post and NYT front, and everyone mentions, the second day of hearings for President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, where senators grew increasingly angry and frustrated with his answers. Despite his previous strong statements against torture, Mukasey refused to state an opinion on waterboarding. He also seemed to embrace some of Bush’s controversial policies, particularly warrantless surveillance, by stating there are certain instances when the president can ignore laws enacted by Congress. Some Democrats wondered whether Mukasey had received criticism from the White House after the first day of hearings, which he categorically denied. Still, no one doubts he’ll be confirmed.

The NYT fronts the failure of House Democrats to override Bush’s veto on a children’s health insurance bill. Despite a huge campaign, Democrats were unable to change the mind of any Republicans who had voted against the bill the first time. The NYT points out this is yet another example of how much power Bush still holds in Washington, which will come in handy now that lawmakers prepare to discuss spending bills. But Democrats vowed to bring up a similar version of the bill, “daring Republicans to oppose them,” notes the Post. The LAT emphasizes this fight shows how difficult it would be to pass any kind of comprehensive health-care reform. Although the Democrats lost, some analysts say this could be good for them because they gained a campaign issue.

Everyone notes Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is expected to announce he’s dropping out of the presidential race. In other quitting news, the Post notes former House Speaker Dennis Hastert will probably resign before the end of the year.

The WP’s Peter Finn takes an interesting look at how President Vladimir Putin and his supporters have been mentioning Franklin Delano Roosevelt quite a bit lately. “According to a consistent story line,” which included a documentary on a state TV channel, FDR fought against big business, saved his country, and held on to office for four terms “because his country needed him.” And, of course, that’s just how Putin wants Russians to think of him.

After months of speculation, it is now official: French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife have gotten a divorce. This was hardly a surprise, but what was indeed surprising, as the Post points out, is that no one found out that a judge had granted the couple a divorce Monday. “They resolved everything amicably,” the couple’s attorney said. A LAT editorial says that “the end of L’affair Sarkozy was refreshingly dignified” and wonders “when Americans will begin handling the flammable mixture of sex and politics more sensibly.”