Today's Papers

Big Deal

The New York Timesleads with news that the new Pakistani government is close to reaching a peace deal with leaders of the “the most militant tribes” in the volatile border region. Although nothing is official yet, a top militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, has ordered members of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan to stop all attacks and militant activities and warned that anyone who ignores his order will be punished. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with word that the U.S. military claims to have  found evidence that Iran is continuing to send weapons into Iraq, despite Tehran’s pledge to take action to stop these shipments. Officials say the Iranian arms have date stamps indicating they were manufactured in the past two months. USA Todayleads with word that a new report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction says the Iraqi security forces are nowhere near ready, and it could be years before they have enough resources to secure the country. An audit found that the figures kept by the Iraqi government substantially overestimate the number of military and police officers, and there’s no way of knowing how many of those listed in the payroll are actually on the job. For its part, the Pentagon insists the numbers are accurate.

The Washington Postleads with the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledging that managers in Dallas covered up mistakes by air traffic controllers by blaming them on pilots. A new report, which the FAA declined to release, says the agency never appropriately cracked down on this problem even though similar allegations were made years ago. “The report is disturbing,” the FAA acting administrator said. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Senate unanimously voting for legislation that would prohibit employers and health insurers from discriminating based on a person’s genes. As more people begin to undergo genetic testing, companies would be prohibited from using this information to evaluate a customer or employee. The House is expected to approve the bill. “It’s the first civil rights bill of the new century of life sciences,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said.

The 15-point accord that is currently being negotiated between the Pakistani government and the militant leaders calls for an end to the fighting and for the release of prisoners from both sides. Under the terms being discussed, the Pakistani military would also withdraw from a section of South Waziristan as long as the militants allow the local paramilitary force known as the Frontier Corps freedom to move around in the area. Followers of Mehsud, who is thought to have ordered the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, say the Pakistani military has already begun withdrawing from tribal regions, but officials deny those allegations and insist negotiations are ongoing.

Not surprisingly, U.S. officials aren’t too keen on the idea of an accord with Meshsud, who is thought to be responsible for “many, if not most of the suicide attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last two years,” says the NYT. Previous attempts at reaching this type of cease-fire agreement haven’t been successful, and the Post points out that some believe they actually allowed the militants to get stronger. Significantly, the draft accord makes no mention of halting attacks in Afghanistan.

Officials apparently plan on making their findings on the new Iranian weapons in Iraq public within the next few days, possibly Monday. The WSJ says that the allegations “mark a further hardening of U.S. rhetoric on Iran” at a time when military officials believe Tehran is increasing its support for Shiite militia groups in Iraq. Top Pentagon leaders are also being more direct in declaring that the Iranian government, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is aware of the shipments. Even though the criticism of Iran has been increasing lately, officials had recently acknowledged they weren’t sure whether Iranian weapons found in Iraq were leftovers. But this new discovery apparently gives officials the confidence to claim that Iran continues to ship weapons, including explosively formed penetrators, to Shiite militants.

USAT highlights that the problems with air traffic controllers in Dallas revealed yesterday amounted to the second time in as many months that “federal whistle-blowers raised safety concerns at the FAA.” Agency officials had promised in 2005 to crack down on reporting errors in Dallas, but the problems persisted for several years. Although none of the errors resulted in a crash, misreporting is serious business because it can prevent the FAA from tracking patterns and improving overall safety at airports.

The NYT off-leads an interesting look at how experts in aviation say runway collisions are the aspect of airline safety that worries them the most. Even though nervous fliers probably think they’re safe when they’re on the ground, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board says that exactly the opposite is true. “To me, this is the most dangerous aspect of flying,” he said. Although existing technology could help avoid most of the risk, the FAA has been slow in requiring that it be implemented. Here’s a scary thought: “If you’ve got a G.P.S. in your car, you have infinitely more detailed information about where you are than in the cockpit of an airplane on the ground,” a former president of the Air Line Pilots Association said.

The NYT fronts, and everybody mentions, news that Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc announced that it will return to the government after a boycott that has been in place since August. Although the finishing touches on the deal are still being worked out, the move would be a clear victory for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he continues to wage war against Shiite militias. “The reconciliation has proved a success,” Maliki said. But the LAT points out that followers of cleric Muqtada Sadr said they have no plans to return to the government.

The LAT fronts a look at how Sen. Barack Obama is the “new star” of several Republican ads. Besides giving a preview of what Republicans might focus on in the general election if he’s the nominee, the ads are particularly significant because they’re coming out at a time when Democratic leaders are trying to figure out whether Obama “could be vulnerable to being cast as too far out of the mainstream.”  Meanwhile, in the WP’s op-ed page, Geoff Garin, a strategist for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, says the former first lady has been held to a different standard than Obama. Although Clinton has often been accused of being too negative, it’s Obama’s campaign that “has made an unprecedented assault on her character—not her positions, but her character—saying one thing about raising the tone of political discourse but acting quite differently in its treatment of Clinton.”

The NYT and WP go inside with the top U.S. envoy to Africa saying that Zimbabwe’s opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was the “clear victor” of the country’s election and President Robert Mugabe should step down. “This is a government rejecting the will of the people,” the assistant secretary of state for African affairs said. “If they had voted for Mugabe, the results would already have been announced. Everyone knows what time it is.”

The LAT and NYT note that actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison for failing to file tax returns for three years. The judge ignored dozens of letters, including from the likes of Woody Harrelson and Denzel Washington, and handed the maximum penalty to the star of the Blade trilogy. In what the NYT calls the “most prominent tax prosecution since the billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley was convicted of tax fraud in 1989,” Snipes has to pay up to $17 million in back taxes, not including penalties and interest.