The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Postall lead with the relatively good news out of Southern California, where diminishing winds gave firefighters a hand, and the wildfires that began Sunday began subsiding finally. Although many fires continue to burn, the general feeling yesterday was that “the worst days of a terrible siege appeared over,” says the LAT. So far, the fires have burned through almost 700 square miles, consumed more than 1,600 homes, and, officials estimate, caused more than $1 billion in damages, but many say the actual price tag will be lower. President Bush is scheduled to tour the region today.
USA Todayleads with a report by the National Association of Realtors that says sales of existing homes in September fell 8 percent. It is the largest drop since the association began looking at the figures in 1999, and it’s far worse than most economists expected. Preliminary October figures show the trend is likely to continue as some cities have seen existing home sales drop more than 44 percent compared to last year. The NYT fronts word that several economists predict the cost of the mortgage woes for financial firms and investors will be up to $400 billion, which is more than the losses from the savings and loan crisis of the 1990s.
Despite the general sense of optimism in Southern California yesterday, questions remained about whether the state had done enough to prepare for large wildfires. Both the NYT and LAT detail complaints that the state didn’t follow the recommendations made by a blue-ribbon panel created after the devastating 2003 fires. For example, the LAT points out that out of the 150 new fire trucks the panel recommended, the state only got 19, and they won’t arrive until next year. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had little patience yesterday for those who suggested firefighting efforts were hampered by a lack of resources. “It is just a bunch of nonsense,” he said.
Another frequent theme this week has been the growing costs of protecting people who choose to live in remote, fire-prone areas. USAT crunched the numbers and fronts a look at how, since 2000, more than 55,000 people have moved to neighborhoods that were affected by this week’s fires. Everyone notes that officials believe at least some of the fires were deliberately set, and police in San Bernardino County said they shot and killed a suspected arsonist Tuesday night.
As fires began subsiding, many who evacuated returned home yesterday. Although there were reports that as many as 1 million people evacuated, the true number is probably much lower. The LAT fronts a look at how difficult it is to come up with a reliable figure and concludes that “the widely publicized estimates of evacuation numbers are probably exaggerated.”
The WP and NYT front word that the Bush administration will announce a broad package of sanctions against Iran today that includes designating the elite Quds Force, which is the foreign operations wing of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a supporter of terrorism. The Revolutionary Guard Corps, the most powerful division of Iran’s military, will be accused of proliferating weapons of mass destruction. It will mark the first time the United States has taken specific steps against a country’s military and “is the broadest set of punitive measures imposed on Tehran since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy,” says the Post, which was the first to break the story. Still, initial plans to designate the whole Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization appear to have been scaled back after complaints from allies and some officials. The designations means sanctions will be imposed that could affect many foreign companies since the Revolutionary Guard controls key aspects of the Iranian economy. “We will be freezing assets, and there will be ripple effects of where we can go from there,” an administration official tells the Times.
Meanwhile, in the Democratic presidential race, the Post’s Dan Balz notes that “Iran has become the new Iraq” as Sen. Hillary Clinton has found herself under attack by the other contenders for her vote in favor of the terrorist designation for the Revolutionary Guard. Some say the vote marks the first step toward war, but Clinton contends it was a push for more diplomacy. While on the presidential race, the NYT fronts a look at how Rudolph Giuliani is being advised by some of the most hawkish Republicans, which is an issue that several bloggers, particularly Talking Points Memo, have been writing about. Their presence has served as a comfort to some Republicans who don’t like his positions on other issues, such as abortion.
The Post fronts, and everyone mentions, news that the State Department’s diplomatic security chief, Richard Griffin, resigned and became the first senior official to lose his job in the controversy surrounding private guards in Iraq.
The NYT manages to talk to some Blackwater employees in Iraq, who live in a separate compound in the Green Zone that one compared to a “minimum-security prison,” and says there’s a growing feeling among guards “that the killings of Sept. 16 were unjustified.” But some emphasized they still want to believe their colleagues didn’t do anything inappropriate, and those in the compound hold on to the thought that the guards were fired on first. The Blackwater employees said the leader of the convoy on that fateful day and “two or three” others on the team have returned to the United States.
Meanwhile, the Post reports that the U.S. Embassy in Iraq is offering financial compensation to families of the victims of the Sept. 16 shooting. Several have turned down the payments, either because they viewed the amount, which in some cases was $12,500, as too low or because they feared it would limit their options to pursue legal action in the future.
The WSJ takes a look at how violence in Iraq is increasingly the result of fighting between members of the same sect, which certainly complicates things for those in Washington who have been advocating for a “soft partition.” The paper talks to a general in Iraq who says much of the conflict resembles the fighting among organized-crime families. “I tell my guys, the best way they can prepare before they come out here is to watch The Sopranos.”