Today's Papers

Double Trouble

The Washington Postleads with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspending all peace talks with Israel as violence continued to rage across the region yesterday, although with fewer casualties than on Saturday. More than 100 Palestinians (the Associated Press puts the number at 114) have been killed since Wednesday, and Abbas said talks will resume once Israel ends its “criminal war on the Palestinian people.” The Los Angeles Timesand Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with the Russian elections, where, to the surprise of no one, Dmitry Medvedev won a landslide victory by collecting more than 70 percent of the vote. Now the question on everybody’s mind is whether Vladimir Putin and his handpicked successor will be able to share power effectively.

USA Todayleads with the latest from the Democratic presidential race as Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama prepare for Tuesday’s crucial primaries. Both candidates were in Ohio yesterday and traded critical words on familiar issues, including Obama’s inexperience and Clinton’s poor judgment for voting to authorize the Iraq invasion. The New York Timesleads with a look at how a number of states and cities are complaining that Wall Street’s system to rate municipal bonds is unfair. It’s a complicated issue but it comes down to a complaint that Wall Street gives municipal borrowers low credit scores compared with corporations, despite the fact that “states and cities rarely dishonor their debts.” This lower rating makes it more expensive for cities and states to borrow money, forces them to buy expensive insurance policies, and ultimately ends up transferring billions of dollars in taxpayer money to the financial markets that could be used for local projects. But ratings agencies dispute these assertions and emphasize that little or no money would be saved if the system changed.

Despite the continued strikes in Gaza, Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets into Israel yesterday while the United Nations condemned the Israeli attacks as “disproportionate.” The WSJ makes clear that the recent outbreak in violence is a “blow to the Bush administration” that had previously hoped there could be a peace deal by the end of the year. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will begin a trip to the region today, and although the administration had hoped that she could pressure both sides to move along on a deal, it now looks like she will have to spend her time trying to end the current bout of violence.

In a particularly insightful analysis, the NYT’s Helene Cooper writes that Hamas has made it clear that by controlling Gaza it can be a player in the negotiations and now “the United States finds itself with dwindling choices, none considered attractive.” Rice could encourage Israel to increase attacks against Hamas, but that would undoubtedly result in more condemnation from the Fatah-controlled West Bank and could actually increase Hamas’ power, just as Hezbollah benefited from the Israeli strikes in Lebanon. Alternatively, Rice can’t exactly pressure Israel to negotiate with Hamas, which would undermine Abbas and bring further legitimacy to the group that is widely seen as a terrorist organization. “Excluding them doesn’t work, and including them doesn’t work, either,” a former U.S. ambassador to Israel said. “This is a situation that does not lend itself to a sensible policy.”

Even as Medvedev vowed to continue with Putin’s policies, many continue to be skeptical that there can be such a thing as shared power in a country that has “traditionally been ruled by a single strongman,” as the LAT puts it. Some are cautioning that Medvedev won’t turn out to be as much of a puppet as many are expecting (the LAT shares a common joke: “Putin and Medvedev sit in a restaurant. Putin: ‘I’ll have the steak.’ Waiter: ‘And what about the vegetable?’ Putin: ‘He’ll take the steak too.’ “) and could end up making a grab for power further down the line. The NYT notes that even if Medvedev and Putin don’t clash on a personal level, “the very fact that there will be two centers of power could stoke conflicts.”

Pressure continued to grow on Clinton to drop out of the presidential race if she doesn’t get good results out of Tuesday’s primary. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson characterized it as “D-Day” and said: “Whoever has the most delegates after Tuesday, a clear lead, should be, in my judgment, the nominee.” But as the WP reminds readers, “Obama has such a big lead in pledged delegates that there is virtually no way Clinton can overtake him on Tuesday.” Advisers are hoping that she’ll be able to keep her candidacy going by winning the popular vote, even if that means they’ll both get about the same number of delegates. The NYT points out that Clinton’s campaign “has been steadily managing expectations” and is now suggesting she can keep going as long as she wins Ohio.

The LAT fronts an overview piece looking into the internal problems and squabbles that brought problems to Clinton’s campaign and contributed to her current predicament. There have been a number of turf wars as her staffers have been constantly plagued by a debate over whether Clinton’s defeats were a question of organization or message.  Even as Clinton continues to be optimistic about her prospects, it seems some of her most high-level staffers are quickly trying to distance themselves. Strategist Mark Penn, who has often been pointed to as a source of conflict, tells the LAT that his influence has been largely exaggerated and he had “no direct authority in the campaign.”

All the papers go inside with the rising tensions in South America a day after Colombian forces killed a senior guerilla leader inside Ecuador. Colombian officials apologized for the incursion into Ecuador’s soil, where troops killed 17 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, including its second-ranking commander. But Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, rejected the apology, kicked out Colombia’s ambassador, withdrew his ambassador from Bogota, and moved additional troops to the border. For his part, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has friendly ties with the leftist guerilla group, mobilized troops to its border with Colombia and sternly warned against any incursions. “This could be the start of a war in South America,” Chavez said. The LAT also catches word that Colombian officials announced they recovered a few laptops in the guerilla camp that show the slain rebel leader held meetings with Ecuadorean officials.

USAT fronts a look at how federal prosecutors are using documents that were recovered in Iraq to bring charges against alleged spies who were working in the United States during Saddam Hussein’s regime. So far, 12 people have been charged and there are more ongoing investigations. These agents weren’t spies in the conventional sense because they weren’t out to uncover government secrets, but rather were told to infiltrate opposition groups, keep tabs on Iraqi immigrants, and figure out ways to influence U.S. policy. The Justice Department says it’s the first time since the Cold War that it has brought so many charges against foreign agents from one country.

Back to the Russian elections for a moment,the LAT points out that so little is known about Medvedev and what his relationship with Putin will be like that analysts look for signs in the unlikeliest of places. Lately, the subject of wristwatches has come up. “Putin wears his watch on the right wrist; Medvedev on the left,” explains the LAT. “Kremlin watchers say some of the United Russia party faithful have begun to switch their watches from right wrist to left to signal loyalty to the new chief.”