Today's Papers

Bhutto Blocked

The Los Angeles Timesleads with late-breaking news out of Pakistan, where security forces placed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto under house arrest this morning. Although there was no formal order of detention, hundreds of police officers surrounded her home a few hours before a scheduled rally and prevented her from leaving  this afternoon. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with President Pervez Musharraf’s announcement that parliamentary elections would be held before Feb. 15, which was welcomed by the White House but met with skepticism by his opponents. The Washington Postleads with the Senate confirming Michael Mukasey as the next attorney general in a late-night vote. The final tally was 53-40, with six Democrats and one independent joining Republicans to vote in favor of Mukasey, which was the lowest level of support for any attorney general since 1952.

The New York Timesleads with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke predicting that the credit woes will lead the economy to “slow noticeably” early next year. As lawmakers urged Bernanke to take strong steps to prevent the problem from getting worse, Bernanke did not hint that there would be more interest rate cuts in the near future. The Post notes that rising oil prices and a falling dollar could cause inflation and ”tie the Fed’s hands.”  USA Todayleads an interview with former President George H.W. Bush, who defended his son’s decision to invade Iraq and emphasized that critics often forget about Saddam Hussein’s “extraordinary brutality.” The former president, whose presidential library has just undergone a renovation, said he usually avoids the press because he doesn’t like answering questions about his son.

One of the main complaints about Musharraf’s announcement was that he didn’t set a date for when emergency rule would end and there were suggestions that it could continue right until election day. Bhutto called the statement “vague” and said the planned protest in Rawalpindi will go on as scheduled. But it was unclear how many people would actually go since all the roads leading up to the protest site were blocked and police officers filled the streets of Rawalpindi. The crackdown continued, and approximately 500 members of Bhutto’s party were arrested yesterday.

The NYT talks to people on the streets and notes there’s widespread anger at Musharraf’s emergency decree. Although they characterize the emergency as merely a way for Musharraf to hold on to power, most are too scared to join the protests. The Post goes inside with a look at the way many Pakistanis have no idea what’s going on since all independent news channels are blocked. Although it’s easy to discount such blocks as ineffective during the digital age, television is very important in a country where half the people are illiterate and satellite dishes are expensive.

The Post fronts word that senior military officials are worried the troubles in Pakistan could derail a “new long-term counterinsurgency” program designed to help train Pakistani troops to battle against Islamic insurgents at a cost of up to $100 million a year. Despite the recent turmoil, the U.S. military continues preparations to send dozens of military trainers early next year but knows that it could all come to a halt if the sitaution on the ground doesn’t improve. The plan is a strong recognition of the problems that Pakistan faces in fighting Islamic extremists, and would allow the U.S. military to keep better track of the hundreds of millions of dollars it sends to Pakistan every year.

The Post notes the late-night Mukasey vote was “thrown together unexpectedly” after several hours of debate that was mostly an argument among Democrats, most of whom insisted they couldn’t back a nominee who wasn’t willing to take a firm stand against torture. None of the senators running for president voted.

The LAT fronts a look at how Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying to take advantage of factional divisions by reaching out to Taliban militants to convince them to lay down their arms and join the government. While some are worried it could undermine efforts to get Afghans to oppose the militants, many think it provides the best hope to end a conflict “that increasingly seems unwinnable militarily.”

Everyone notes that Congress overwhelmingly voted to overturn Bush’s veto of the $23 billion water resources bill. The Post says it was the “clearest victory” for Democrats since they took control of Congress but is likely to intensify the fight  with the White House over the spending bills.

While Republicans were divided over whether they should vote to overturn Bush’s veto, House Democrats split on the vote for the free-trade agreement with Peru. The agreement was approved 285-132, but most Democrats voted against it even though the leadership was for it. The NYT fronts the story and appears to try to justify the placement by asking in the lede: “Has the Democratic Party gone soft on trade? Or has it opened a bitter internal split that could come back to haunt the party in the coming elections?” Are those the only two choices? Further down in the story the paper notes that out of all the pending trade bills, this was the easiest to pass because it included labor and environmental standards and is relatively small.

Everybody notes that the indictment of former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik on corruption and tax evasion charges could complicate matters for Rudolph Giuliani, who urged Bush to nominate him to head the Department of Homeland Security. When asked about the case yesterday, Giuliani said he made “a mistake in not checking him out more carefully.” But things could get worse if, as some predict, the case reaches trial “at the height of the political season.” The WSJ takes a look at how Kerik is just one of several people who are (or were) close to Giuliani and have been involved in scandals or faced trouble with the law.

In a story on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s new Web site dedicated exclusively to issue rebuttals, the NYT mentions that yesterday’s “mini-scandal” was whether Clinton had left a tip at a diner in Iowa. The NYT talked to the waitress and she was simply dumbfounded the whole thing had become such a big deal. “You people are really nuts,” she said. “There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now—there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than … who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.”