Today's Papers

Swimming With the Sharks

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsboxlead with the latest from Iraq, where tens of thousands took to the streets in Baghdad to protest against the crackdown on Shiite militias that is being overseen by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. At least 125 people have been killed, but the Iraqi security forces seem no closer to getting rid of the militias in Basra than when the offensive began on Tuesday. The Green Zone was once again pounded by rocket and mortar attacks, which yesterday killed another American contract worker. The government imposed a curfew in Baghdad after explosions rocked the capital throughout the day and violence continued to rage in several cities. The WSJ highlights that a bomb was placed under an oil pipeline near Basra, which officials said could affect shipments and increase prices. In a Page One story, the WSJ highlights that the increasing violence once again threatens efforts to lure big oil companies to Iraq.

The Washington Postdevotes most of its above-the-fold space to the role of U.S. forces in the Iraqi crackdown but leads with a look at how the actions taken by the Federal Reserve in the last couple of weeks could mark a vast expansion in the role of the central bank in the future. The Fed was just trying to deal with the current crisis, but many are now starting to recognize the actions will have long-lasting consequences. “Whether we like it or not, they’ve recreated the financial universe,” a finance professor declared. USA Todayleads with the hundreds of flight cancellations that passengers have had to deal with this week and warns there could be more to come as the Federal Aviation Administration continues cracking down on airplane safety. After problems were discovered in Southwest planes, the agency ordered all airlines to check for problems. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines canceled flights this week, and some suspect others will follow suit as the FAA continues its inquiry.

President Bush declared yesterday that Iraq is returning to “normalcy” and praised the latest operation in Basra as a sign that the Iraqi government is taking security matters seriously. “This offensive builds on the security gains of the surge and demonstrates to the Iraqi people that their government is committed to protecting them,” Bush said.

The WP off-leads its Iraq story and says there are hints that U.S. troops are more involved in the fighting than military officials let on. One of the paper’s correspondents saw U.S. troops in armored vehicles directly fighting Mahdi Army forces in Sadr City while Iraqi units largely stuck “to the outskirts of the area.” Throughout the day, “the din of American weapons” could be heard, and the WP pointedly declares that U.S. troops “took the lead in the fighting.” So U.S. forces are getting more involved in the conflict even as one American official admitted that “we can’t quite decipher” the situation and figure out why the government decided to act now. But there’s a growing consensus that Maliki is firing “the first salvo in the upcoming elections,” says the official, who then gives us the understatement of the day: “It’s not a pretty picture.” U.S. military officials insist American troops are merely playing backup to Iraqi security forces, but commanders with the Mahdi Army say they’ve been fighting U.S. troops for the past three days.

The LAT points out that U.S. officials are now in a strange situation where they have to consistently talk about how the crackdown is aimed at Shiite militias in general and insist that it’s rogue elements of Muqtada Sadr’s army that are to blame and not the cleric. Of course, they’re worried that Sadr will officially call off his cease-fire. But as the WP makes clear, that cease-fire seems to exist in name only, since Sadr’s “fighters and Iraqi and U.S. forces are waging full-scale war in places.” The NYT once again notes that there’s “little evidence” that Iraqi security forces in Basra are targeting anyone besides Mahdi Army fighters. Slate’s Fred Kaplan plainly declares that the fighting in Basra “is not a clash between good and evil or between a legitimate government and an outlaw insurgency. … It’s just another crevice in the widening earthquake called Iraq.”

The WP talks to administration officials who say Maliki launched the offensive without consulting the United States. But the move couldn’t have been that much of a surprise seeing as the NYT reported on March 13 that the Iraqi army was planning an offensive to take control of Basra’s port.

The Post says that when the leaders of the Fed decided to open up what is “essentially a bottomless pit of cash,” which was previously available only to traditional banks, to large investment houses, they knew it was a big deal. The plan calls for that money to be available for at least the next six months, but even if it expires, the perception of how the Fed will act in a crisis has been forever changed. Experts now say that investment banks and their clients may be less worried about risky investments in the future since they will assume that the Fed will come to the rescue if there’s a crisis. The question now is whether the Fed will formally take on a more heavy-handed approach to regulating Wall Street.

The LAT and NYT front, while everyone else goes inside with, the proposals put forward by the presidential contenders to deal with problems in the economy. Sen. Barack Obama emphasized there should be more federal regulation of the financial markets, while Sen. Hillary Clinton proposed a plan to retrain laid-off workers. Obama put forward a $30 billion economic-stimulus package, and Clinton’s aides took the opportunity to highlight that she had proposed to spend $30 billion to help prevent foreclosures (the country needs “leadership, not followership,” they said). Both the Democratic contenders sharply criticized Sen. John McCain, who said the federal role should be limited because “it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.”

The NYT highlights that, despite the rhetoric, both parties have agreed that the government should be involved, but “the ideological clashes are … more about whom it should try to rescue.” In the end though, their results could be similar, since it’s probably impossible to separate the individuals from the markets, because each would suffer if the other is doing badly.

The NYT’s Paul Krugman analyzes their proposals and says that, just as with health care, each candidate’s policy tells “a tale that is seriously at odds with the way they’re often portrayed.” McCain, who is often referred to as an independent maverick, “offers neither straight talk nor originality” as he offers traditional right-wing views. Obama is seen as “a transformational figure,” but his proposals “tend to be cautious and relatively orthodox.” For her part, Clinton, who “we’re assured by sources right and left, tortures puppies and eats babies,” offers proposals that “continue to be surprisingly bold and progressive.”

The Post takes a look at Obama’s huge success in raising funds through the Internet and says that in the past two months the senator has “rewritten the rules of raising campaign cash.” The key to his “elaborate marketing effort,” which involves spending heavily on Internet ads, seems to be that his campaign doesn’t ask for money at every possible turn and instead has pursued a “strategy of slow-walking its way into supporters’ wallets.”

The WSJ reports that as foreclosures continue to increase, banks and mortgage companies are increasingly finding that homeowners are taking revenge by trashing their homes before handing over the keys. As a result, many are offering homeowners hundreds, or thousands, of dollars “to put their anger in escrow and leave quietly.”