Today's Papers

A Higher Toll

The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the death toll in Iraq in April reached its highest level since late last year. The four U.S. soldiers who were killed yesterday increased the total military deaths in April to 50, a seven-month high. In addition, the Iraqi government reported that 969 civilians died last month, the highest number since August. The Washington Postleads with the forced resignation of Lurita Doan, the head of the General Services Administration. Doan had a rocky two-year tenure as head of the government’s main contracting agency and was accused of using her position for political purposes as well as helping friends get lucrative contracts. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with a poll that shows only 27 percent of voters view the Republican Party in a positive light, which amounts to “the lowest level for either party in the survey’s nearly two-decade history.” The interesting part of this is that despite these negative numbers, and the fact that a majority of voters would rather see a Democrat in the White House, Sen. John McCain remains in a statistical dead heat with the two Democratic contenders.

USA Todayleads with a new study that questions whether colleges are really using all that extra money from tuition to benefit students. While the cost of higher education continues to increase, colleges aren’t putting that money into the classroom, and the number of students graduating hasn’t kept up with higher enrollment. But critics say it’s unfair to simply look at classroom instruction since colleges are spending money on such things as affordability and technology. The New York Timesleads with a look at how Americans are decreasing their spending at a time when fears about the country’s economic health continue to grow. New Commerce Department figures report that the overall economy grew 0.6 percent in the first three months of the year while consumer spending increased a mere 1 percent, the lowest level since 2001. Many economists predict the economy will now proceed into negative territory. “This is not a fluke or a technical quirk,” said one economist. “It’s fundamental. Real disposable income has been squeezed.”

The truth is that despite the increased number of deaths in Iraq, the numbers are still smaller than they were a year ago, when 65 U.S. servicemembers were killed in April 2007. But after a 60 percent decrease in attacks across the country in the last half of 2007, it’s clear that the casualty numbers are once again on the rise. This increase is leading many to wonder “whether U.S. and Iraqi forces can consolidate last year’s security gains” at a time when most of the troops who were part of the “surge” are leaving Iraq. Much of the increased death toll is due to the crackdown of militias loyal to cleric Muqtada Sadr, but U.S. officials also warn that Sunni militias appear to be making a sort of comeback. The “trend will continue, and the relative quiet accomplished by the surge [will] come to an end, if the U.S. does not reach a new understanding with the Sadrists,” an expert tells the LAT.

In other Iraq news, the NYT goes inside with word that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is sending a delegation of Shiite leaders to Tehran to discuss concerns that Iran is supporting militias in Iraq. U.S. officials emphasized that this was the work of the Iraqi government, although they seem pleased that Maliki is taking claims of Iranian involvement seriously. The NYT says that the United States has delayed its planned briefing to show new evidence of Iranian involvement in order to give leaders in Baghdad the opportunity to talk to Tehran directly.

Doan was pushed out of her role at the GSA almost a year after her actions came under fire from top lawmakers of both parties. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel conducted an investigation into Doan’s conduct and found that she did indeed violate the Hatch Act by using her position as a federal employee to help Republican candidates. The special counsel recommended that Bush discipline Doan “to the fullest extent” last June, but the White House had mostly stayed silent on the matter until this week. And although most in political circles who are pushed aside usually try to play it off as if the resignation was their choice, Doan wasn’t shy about telling the truth: “I have been asked by the White House to resign,” she said.

As the Commerce Department released low spending figures and the Labor Department reported that wages were down 0.6 percent in the first three months of 2008 compared with last year, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the seventh time in eight months. The Fed decreased a key interest rate by 0.25 percent yesterday but suggested its cutting campaign is over for now unless the economic situation gets worse.

The WSJ poll once again shows that voters are really not happy with the way things are going. In total, 73 percent of voters think the country is on the wrong track, and a mere 27 percent approve of President Bush’s job performance. “The numbers show an electorate more disenchanted than in the fall of 1992,” reports the WSJ. But while voters really dislike Republicans, McCain appears to be benefitting from his personal traits as voters say they can identify with his “values” and “background.” The paper warns, though, that “McCain’s appeal could fade” as the campaign progresses and he picks up more partisan talking points.

The NYT goes inside with its own poll that found Sen. Barack Obama’s “aura of inevitability” has decreased. The poll was conducted Friday to Tuesday, which means it might not reflect the full reactions to the latest controversy regarding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but it at least does seem to show some reactions to Obama’s loss in the Pennsylvania primary. While 69 percent of Democrats expected Obama to get the nomination a month ago, that number is now 51 percent. In addition, 48 percent believe he has the best chance of beating McCain, which marks a decrease from the 56 percent who thought so last month. Regardless, he’s still the preferred choice for more Democrats. The poll also reveals that all the intraparty fighting has taken a toll as 56 percent say the Democrats are divided while 60 percent of Republicans think their party is unified.

Meanwhile, the WP notes that with the five endorsements from Washington lawmakers that he picked up this week, Obama now officially has the same number of backers from Capitol Hill as Clinton. “A congressional contest that Clinton once dominated is now knotted at 97,” says the Post.

The WP fronts the story of Pfc. Monica Brown, who was pulled out of her unit in Afghanistan shortly after she became the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star for her heroic acts. The reason? Army rules say women can’t serve in combat. Experts say these rules are “based on an outmoded concept of wars with clear front lines that rarely exist in today’s counterinsurgencies.”

The LAT and NYT both front looks at how members of the House of Representatives can get a taxpayer-funded car. The LAT specifically focuses on how, due to an amendment in last year’s energy bill, House members now have to pick a low-emissions ride. Some lawmakers are decidedly unhappy about this for reasons that vary from those who say that driving through their districts requires a big vehicle to others who want a car that was made by their constituents. The NYT takes a broader look at the issue and notes how some of the 125 (or 130, according to the LAT) House members who use the benefit choose expensive cars while others prefer a more modest alternative. Some, such as a Democrat from Queens, N.Y., who leases a Lexus for $998 a month, tried to pass off their choice of car as an issue of safety and reliability. But others, such as Rep. Charles Rangel, who leases a Cadillac for $778 a month, admit they enjoy the luxury. Rangel says he wants his constituents “to feel that they are somebody and their congressman is somebody. … And when they say, ‘This is nice,’ it feels good.”