Today's Papers

It’s the Oil, Stupid

The Los Angeles Timescontinues to banner and the New York Timesleads with the latest from Southern California, where six charred bodies were found yesterday, raising the official death toll of the wildfires to seven. Four of the victims were found close to the Mexican border and are thought to have been illegal immigrants, and the two others were inside the remains of a home in northern San Diego. “I imagine we will be finding bodies into next year,” an official said. The fires have become more manageable, but nine are still burning and thousands of homes continue to be at risk. But much of the attention yesterday turned to the recovery and rebuilding efforts as President Bush toured the region and pledged additional federal aid.

The Washington Postleads with a look at how a U.S. military strike on Iran would likely result in an increase in oil prices and general chaos in the industry. “If war breaks out, anticipate that all hell will break loose in the oil markets,” one expert said. That’s hardly surprising, but the Post also notes that experts believe this is the main reason why U.S. military action against Iran is unlikely. Even so, oil prices increased to more than $90 a barrel yesterday, at least partly due to fears of instability in the Middle East. USA Todayand the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsboxlead with the new broad sanctions imposed on Iran, which were announced yesterday and target a division of the country’s military as well as a number of Iranian banks, businesses, and officials. Bush administration officials went out of their way to emphasize the sanctions are meant to foster diplomacy and not start a war.

After visiting some of the areas devastated by the fires, Bush had nothing but praise for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It makes a big difference when you have someone in the statehouse willing to take the lead,” Bush said in a statement that the NYT says made “veiled comparisons to local relief efforts” after Hurrican Katrina. Still, Bush avoided answering direct questions that asked him to compare the two disasters. “There’s all kinds of times for historians to compare,” he said.

Meanwhile, officials were stepping up efforts to try to find the arsonists that are believed to have started some of the fires. The NYT spends time explaining that it’s common for arsonists to start fires in this type of situation. Some are started by children out of curiosity but no great desire to cause harm, while “adults’ motivations are more complex.” An expert tells the NYT that some adults just want attention while others may “actually derive sexual pleasure from committing the act.”

The NYT tries to put the area that has been consumed by the fires in perspective by saying that it’s “a little more than twice the size of New York City,” while the LAT says it’s “roughly two-thirds the size of Rhode Island.” (After the 2003 wildfires, Slate’s “Explainer” looked into why Rhode Island “is the nation’s yardstick.”) The LAT also takes an interesting look at how the fire along the Mexico border has created both “opportunities and deadly traps for migrants.”

The NYT and WP go inside with new satellite photos that show Syria has done a very quick cleanup job of the site that Israel is thought to have bombed last month. In fact, the building that experts believed to be a nuclear reactor in progress “has been dismantled down to the last brick,” says the Post. Everyone notes this makes the whole thing even more suspicious. “They are clearly trying to hide the evidence,” an expert said.  Syria once again denied it is cooperating with North Korea on a nuclear program. Yesterday, Republicans on the House foreign affairs committee called on the administration to release any evidence that North Korea was helping Syria develop a nuclear reactor.

The LAT fronts a look at how insurgents and militias get much of their money from “Mafia-style rackets” that involve a wide range of businesses. Although it was once thought that militants got most of their money from foreign sources as well as kidnappings, it’s now clear that wide-spread corruption and criminal enterprises play a large role as well. These rackets, which involve millions of dollars, take many forms, including charging “taxes” to those who drive through a certain area and phony real estate deals. There are even suspicions that insurgents might be using U.S. reconstruction money to fund their operations.

The NYT fronts word that the Merrill Lynch chairman and chief executive, E. Stanley O’Neal, brought up the idea of a merger with his counterpart at Wachovia without discussing it with the board first. The board got so angry that the move could cause O’Neal to lose his job. Although it’s unlikely there will be a merger in the near future, the fact that the conversation even took place “underscores how much the subprime mortgage crisis has rocked Merrill,” says the Times.

The WP fronts and the NYT goes inside with the testimony of a Burmese monk who was the leader in the recent protests and has become a refugee in Thailand. Ashin Kovida described to the papers how the protests began peacefully with the government’s tacit authorization but then the crackdown began when the marches took on a political tone and more people joined. During the ensuing crackdown of the protesters, “blood was like a stream of water,” Kovida said.

The Post’s Charles Krauthammer is tired of Republicans complaining that the GOP candidates vying for the White House are all flawed. Since Republicans often ask, “Where is Ronald Reagan?” Krauthammer decides to remind them that the former president was “renowned for his naps, granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants” and was a flip-flopper who first “signed the most liberal abortion legalization bill in America” only to oppose the practice later on in his career. Krauthammer isn’t putting Reagan down, of course, he just wants to emphasize that “we have, by any reasonable historical standard, a fine Republican field.”

Looking into the future? A correction from the NYT: “An article on Monday … misidentified a country where American troops have been serving lengthy deployments. It is Iraq, not Iran.”