Today's Papers

Crack Down

The New York Timesleads with the two car bombs that killed at least 26 people, including 11 U.N. workers, in the Algerian capital yesterday. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the almost-simultaneous attacks against a government building and a U.N. compound. The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead with the U.S. Sentencing Commission voting unanimously in favor of retroactively applying reduced penalties for offenses involving crack cocaine. The decision would reduce sentences by an average of 27 months, or 17 percent, and could affect a total of 19,500 inmates in the long run.

USA Todayleads with a look at how all first-term Democratic lawmakers have sponsored or co-sponsored at least one project to be funded through earmarks. Those who are vulnerable in next year’s election have been particularly prolific in getting their earmarks inserted into legislation, which is seen as another sign that politics is the main factor when deciding which projects get approved. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with news that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor didn’t take long to make clear that he wants Putin to stay in the government. Dmitri Medvedev announced in a speech that he wants Putin to become his prime minister.

The LAT off-leads the news out of Algiers and says that unofficial reports indicated that as many as 67 people were killed in the bombings, which, as the NYT notes, were the latest example of how “the 11th has become a day of choice for major Islamic terrorist attacks.” The WP avoids giving any estimated numbers but says that many predict it would end up being “the deadliest attack … since the country descended into civil war in the 1990s, and perhaps the worst since Algeria won independence from France in 1962.” This latest attack is just another example of how al-Qaida’s affiliate in North Africa is copying the tactics of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. The LAT quotes an expert who suggests we can expect to see more of these attacks in the future since al-Qaida sees North Africa as one place where it can “make up for its weakness elsewhere and prove its presence.”

Early-morning wire stories report that a car bomb went off in Lebanon today and killed at least three people, including one of the country’s top military generals. Also, three car bombs in southern Iraq killed at least 26 people.

Most of the papers say that approximately 3,800 prisoners could be released from prison within a year of March 3, which is when yesterday’s decision will become effective. The LAT is alone in putting the number of inmates who will become eligible  in March at 2,500. The commission emphasized that the early releases wouldn’t be automatic and judges would have broad discretion to decide each individual case. Although many have long decried the longer sentences for crack offenses as unfair and discriminatory toward African-Americans, the Bush administration opposed the move to make the lighter sentences retroactive. Yesterday’s decision won’t affect the mandatory minimums that were set by Congress, but commissioners said they hoped lawmakers would see it as a sign that a change is long past due. Several bills are pending in Congress that would address the cocaine-crack disparity, but, as the LAT notes, lawmakers are not rushing to make a decision that could result in being labeled as soft on crime.

All the papers note that if Putin becomes prime minister, it could signal a significant shift in the way the Russian government is structured as the president could become a ceremonial figurehead. Since Putin’s party controls Parliament, he could easily increase the powers of the prime minister’s office without changing the constitution. But the WSJ emphasizes that some think it’s all just a ploy to increase Medvedev’s popularity while also making sure that Putin “doesn’t become a lame duck in the coming months.”

Members of the Senate intelligence committee were still left with many questions after they heard testimony from CIA Director Michael Hayden about the destruction of interrogation videotapes. Hayden emphasized that since he became director after the tapes were destroyed, “there are other people at the agency who know about this far better than I.” Lawmakers vowed to continue investigating. Some Democrats called on the attorney general to appoint an independent counsel. “The question of a special prosecutor is the most hypothetical of hypotheticals and that isn’t going to be faced until it happens,” Attorney General Michael Mukasey said. The Post notes that Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, who oversees the prosecution of Guantanamo detainees, told lawmakers that evidence obtained through water-boarding might be used during military trials.

The NYT goes inside with a look at how Republicans in the Senate are making sure their power is felt by blocking almost everything the Democrats propose. Republicans are so used to blocking legislation that when Democrats finally caved to their demands for the alternative minimum tax, Republicans reflexively objected before they realized what they had done and moved to approve the measure. There’s no end in sight to the stalemate, particularly since both sides think they will be handsomely rewarded by voters in the next elections for standing their ground.

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, the LAT reports that Mike Huckabee continued to act as though 1992 was 1982. Defending statements he made 15 years ago when he called for isolating those stricken by HIV and AIDS, he said that “obviously we know a lot more today.” Of course, the LAT points out that by then the U.S. surgeon general had already said AIDS couldn’t be transmitted by casual contact. But by not mentioning when the surgeon general made his announcement, doesn’t that risk the impression that it could have come a short time before Huckabee made his statement or that the information wasn’t widely known? That’s at least the feeling Huckabee seems to want to give when he says that “medical professionals, EMTs, paramedics, and others” had doubts in 1992. But the truth is that, as Slate’s Bonnie Goldstein has pointed out, the surgeon general’s statement on the subject, which was anything but vague, had come in 1986 (PDF). The information was also widely available as it was mailed to every single household in the United States in May 1988, which the National Institutes of Health says was “the largest mailing in American history.” Huckabee also complained that the media were making it seem like he favored “locking people up.” When he was asked the difference between locking people up and isolation, he said those decisions should be made by public health officials.