Today's Papers

Fast Track

The Washington Postleads with word that judges are sometimes granting requests by federal prosecutors to get cellphone companies to turn over location data on suspects without providing probable cause of criminal activity. The practice contradicts an internal Justice Department recommendation that says prosecutors should always base their warrant requests for location information on probable cause. The New York Timesleads with word that U.S. combat brigades may soon shift a significant amount of their efforts in Iraq to train local forces. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Pakistani government officials insisting U.S. diplomats didn’t express any strong objections when they were told President Pervez Musharraf was going to declare emergency rule. But a U.S. official contends diplomats worked feverishly to try to get Musharraf to step back from his plans.

USA Todayleads with data that shows the Pentagon’s official tally of troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq is not even close to the real casualty figures. The paper found at least 20,000 troops who have “signs of brain injuries” but were not included in the official count, mostly because the problems were discovered after they left the war zone. The Pentagon lists 4,471 cases of brain injury but some estimate the real number could be closer to 150,000. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how abortion foes in several states are working to pass constitutional amendments that would define life as beginning at conception and thus give “personhood” to a fertilized egg. This type of tactic has been tried before to little success but abortion-rights advocates are worried voters could be tricked by confusing language and may not realize the efforts could limit different forms of birth control and fertility treatments.

Federal officials are “routinely” using the courts to get cellphone companies to turn over information that could help law enforcement officers locate a suspect. But privacy advocates are worried there could be abuse if prosecutors can get the information without showing probable cause of a crime. It’s difficult to know how many times these sort of requests have been granted but several judges have made their denials public . One judge warned that allowing a cellphone to become “a tracking device without probable cause raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns” particularly when it’s in a “place where privacy is reasonably expected.”

The plan currently being considered to speed up the training of Iraqi forces, would be “radically different” from current proposals by many politicians and experts to get combat brigades out of Iraq as soon as possible and leave behind only a small, specialized groups of trainers. The new plan would split combat brigades and a certain number would dedicate their efforts to train Iraqis, while the others would remain in their current combat roles. How many service members from each brigade would be assigned to training would depend “on the threats and quality of Iraqi forces in specific regions,” says the NYT. But the plan clearly seeks to avoid the pitfalls that can come with passing along power to Iraqi forces too quickly.

In other Iraq news, everyone notes that gunmen disguised as members of Iraqi security forces launched an attack against armed civilians and local soldiers. The LAT says the ensuing firefight left at least 24 people dead. Also yesterday, a series of mortar shells hit the Green Zone, which marked the first attack on the fortified area in several weeks. The NYT points out the number of cases of cholera in Baghdad have been on the rise lately.

Regardless of whether U.S. diplomats raised strong objections when they learned of Musharraf’s plans for emergency rule, several experts think the Bush administration failed to dedicate enough time to work with opposition parties to create a viable alternative to the general’s rule. The administration has recently been reaching out to Musharraf’s opponents but many worry it’s too little, too late and the delay has left the United States with few other choices.

Meanwhile, everyone notes that the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the last challenge to Musharraf’s re-election clears the path for him to shed his uniform and be sworn in as a civilian president. But crackdowns continued and Musharraf imposed a constitutional amendment by decree that would prevent any court from challenging the emergency measures. Opposition parties must now decide whether they’ll participate in the January elections even if they don’t consider Musharraf’s government legitimate. One candidate that appears ready to participate is Nawaz Sharif, who said he would try to leave Saudi Arabia, where he is in exile, and return to Pakistan.

The NYT fronts an interesting look at how so-called megachurches are getting involved in different community business ventures across the country. The trend not only causes complicated tax questions but also raises concerns about unfair competition and the effects of having a religious organization running important community events. “We try not to discriminate in doing community service,” a church business administrator said. “There are Muslims and other non-Christians here, of course. And we do want to convert them, no doubt about it … We don’t discriminate, but we do evangelize.”

The NYT fronts a feature looking into the “food issues” that come with a run for the White House. Presidential candidates have to be careful not to gain too much weight on the campaign trail, but at the same time they have to be seen eating (and enjoying) all kinds of unhealthy local food. “There are few things more personal than eating,” a former White House chef said, “and if you reject someone’s food, you kind of reject them.” This is particularly difficult for some candidates, such as Mike Huckabee, who used to be significantly overweight and must battle to keep the pounds off.

USAT fronts word that the volunteers who answer some of the “hundreds of thousands” of letters addressed to Santa Claus will now have to sign a waiver releasing the Postal Service from liability for “all causes of action, claims, liens rights or interests of any kind or type whatsoever.” The new policy was instituted even though there have never been any lawsuits as a result of the program, known as Operation Santa. “This is absurd,” a tort reform expert said. “You would think the North Pole is one place on Earth that is safe from the trial lawyers and the litigation experts.”