Today's Papers

Mystic Nuclear Revelations

The Washington Postleads with news that lawmakers will see a video today of North Koreans inside the suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site that was destroyed by Israel last September. This video is apparently what convinced Israel and the White House that Syria was receiving help from North Korea to build a nuclear reactor, particularly because of its striking design similarities to the reactor at Yongbyon. USA Todayleads with a look at how approximately 60,000 federal contractors owe almost $8 billion in back taxes. “Lack of communication between agencies lets one arm of the government pay contractors money while another arm is trying to collect taxes from them,” says USAT. Lawmakers are angry and are moving to do something about the problem. A regulation that took effect this week requires contractors to reveal if they owe any taxes, and a bill that’s pending in the Senate would prohibit companies that owe taxes from getting contracts.

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox all lead with looks at the continuing Democratic presidential contest after Sen. Hillary Clinton’s victory in Pennsylvania. As all eyes turn toward Indiana, the Clinton campaign announced that it received $10 million in contributions after the Tuesday victory, reports the WSJ. The NYT has a double-story lead, one looking at increasing questions of how Sen. Barack Obama’s race might affect the general election and another questioning how much primary results really foreshadow what will happen in November. The LAT talks to “dozens” of superdelegates, who seem to accept that the race will continue for six more weeks but insist that a decision has to be made after the last primary on June 3 and can’t wait until the convention, which will take place in late August.

Israel apparently decided to show the Bush administration the video from inside the Syrian facility after U.S. officials openly expressed skepticism that North Korea was helping to build a nuclear reactor. Syria vigorously denies the claim. “If they show a video, remember that the U.S. went to the U.N. Security Council and displayed evidence and images about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” the Syrian ambassador said. Others are also skeptical, particularly because officials will tell lawmakers that “there was no uranium for the reactor and no indication of fuel capability,” which has led experts to wonder whether this was really part of a Syrian nuclear weapons program. Also, there is no evidence that Syria has tried to rebuild after the bombing, so the inevitable question is: Why now?

The NYT, which reefers the story, notes the whole thing is strange considering that the White House has so far refused to talk about the bombing. “It is not clear what has changed, apart from the politics of the moment,” says the NYT. Some think it might force the North Koreans to confess. But there are “widespread suspicions, especially in the State Department,” that the administration’s hawks—led by Vice President Cheney—pushed for the release of the information in order to derail an impending deal with North Korea, which many say is too soft on Pyongyang. As an alternate theory, some officials tell the WPthat “the CIA’s hand was forced” because lawmakers had threatened to cut funds if they weren’t kept in the loop.

The NYT’s Adam Nagourney acknowledges that “the role of race is difficult to disentangle from the other strands of the political debate surrounding” the senator from Illinois, including his “values, elitism, ideology, and experience.” But it seems clear that race is at least playing some sort of factor in a key part of the electorate, and that is increasingly worrying Democrats. Although Obama says he’s made inroads with white, blue-collar voters, the Post points out that “exit polls dispute that.” Not only did he lose white voters without college degrees in Pennsylvania by pretty much the same margin as in Ohio, he even lost ground with white Roman Catholics, who make up an important constituency in several key states.

Clinton’s victory in Pennsylvania allowed her to continue making the argument that she’s winning the states that are essential to a Democratic victory in November. But the NYT says that just because she’s winning the states in the primary doesn’t mean Obama can’t also win them in November. For its part, Obama’s camp contends that the senator from Illinois could put other states in play that have traditionally leaned Republican. Ultimately, political analysts seem to agree that “state primary results do not necessarily translate into general election victories,” and most of those who voted for Clinton would likely pull the lever for Obama in November.

Despite the spike in donations, the former first lady still expects to be vastly outspent in Indiana, notes the WSJ. According to the Associated Press, Clinton still trails Obama in the national delegate count by 131. In terms of the popular vote, “the gap both narrows and widens” depending on how it’s counted, notes the WSJ. Traditional counts put Obama ahead in the popular vote, but if the results from Michigan and Florida are included, then Clinton has a narrow lead.

In a WSJ op-ed piece, Karl Rove says that although Obama is still clearly the favorite, the last few weeks have weakened him as a candidate. “His appeals are based on two aspirational pledges he is increasingly less credible in making,” Rove writes. There’s little evidence that Obama “demonstrated bipartisanship” in any important issues as a senator, and he has also “not provided leadership on any major legislative battle.”

The NYT, WP, and LAT front news that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is now the Bush administration’s nominee to lead military forces in the Middle East and Central Asia as head of Central Command. At the same time, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno was nominated to take over for Petraeus in Iraq.  Everyone points out that with these nominations, President Bush is ensuring that two commanders who have been key to his strategy in Iraq continue in influential roles long after he leaves the White House. The NYT and WSJ emphasize that the move could very well signal that the Pentagon is ready to overhaul its Afghanistan mission and implement the same sort of counterinsurgency tactics that have been used in Iraq. The LAT notes up high that Petraeus has often been critical of Iran’s interference in Iraq, “making his appointment a signal of heightened U.S. attention to Tehran.”

Grocery prices are increasing, and even a casual reader of news probably knows that food shortages have led to riots around the world. But lawmakers in Washington are covering their ears, closing their eyes, and pretending that everything is the same, notes the NYT. Although American farmers are making record incomes and losing sleep over the futures markets, Congress is getting ready to pass the typical farm bill that has billions in the same old subsidies. “It really is astounding,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. “It’s as if this farm bill is being negotiated in a vacuum.”

The WP notes that the latest royal mini-scandal in England involves Prince William, who has been busy traveling around in a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter as if it were his new ride. He landed the helicopter near his girlfriend’s home (“a majestic use of military aircraft as a flirtation device”) and picked up his brother to fly to a bachelor party, among other questionable uses of taxpayer resources. There’s been the usual grumbling about privilege, but others are decidedly more forgiving of the prince: “If William can’t run around and act like, ‘I’m going to be king,’ then who can?”