Today's Papers

Pump It Up

The Washington Post leads and the Wall Street Journal, at least online, tops its world-wide news box with news that Saudi Arabia will increase its June oil production by 300,000 barrels per day, a move that is expected to have only a modest effect on gasoline prices in the United States. The New York Times leads news that the Pentagon plans to build a 40-acre prison complex in Afghanistan, meant to replace the temporary facility currently in use. The Los Angeles Times leads a news feature arguing that China’s response to last week’s earthquake can be read as a sign of the political change percolating in that country.

Saudi Arabia’s production boost, apparently coming in response to consumer demand rather than presidental request, is cold comfort to President Bush, who had asked the Saudis for a much larger one. Even so, as the WSJ alone notes, White House officials understand that Saudi oil production is a minor factor in the fluctuating oil market. The news caps an unsatisfying Middle Eastern visit for the president, who had hoped to return home having won significant concessions from the Saudis. He did befriend several Israeli high-school students, which is something of a consolation prize.

The construction of the “big new prison” marks something of a reversal for the Bush adminstration, which had indicated a desire to reduce its role in Afghanistan’s prison operations. The current prison, located 40 miles north of Kabul at the Bagram military base, is cramped and asbestos-ridden, and has been compared unfavorably with the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Several prisoners have been held there for years without hearing the charges against them, a fact that is not revealed until the article’s final paragraphs. The NYT also fronts another prison-related piece, about a parolee counseling program in Kansas that has been successful in reducing recidivism rates.

The LAT contends that the Chinese response to Monday’s earthquake was a surprisingly Western one: Journalists were allowed unprecedented access to disaster areas, and government officials were open and responsive to the needs of the public. Premier Wen Jiabao even channeled Bill Clinton, telling victims, “Your pain is our pain.” But is this actually foreshadowing glasnost? “[W]hether this is a turning point to China becoming a democratic society, that is a long shot,” notes one Chinese sociologist. The NYT, the Post, and the WSJ run features describing aspects of the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts in China.

The Post offleads an extensive feature on the ineffective Rewards For Justice, a State Department organization that offers cash bounties for information leading to the arrest of various al-Qaida members. Although the group excels at distributing al-Qaida wanted posters to airports in places like New Hampshire and Hawaii, it maintains a much lower profile in countries like, say, Pakistan. “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area – anywhere – knows about it,” said Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who has investigated the program.

In campaign news, Sen. Barack Obama sharply criticized Sen. John McCain, linking him with the “failed policies” of George W. Bush, and declared his readiness to debate national security at a moment’s notice. McCain, for his part, attacked the Democrats’ stance on gun control. Is anybody actually surprised that the candidates are trying to appeal to their bases? Liability-in-the-making Mike Huckabee told a joke about Obama’s clumsiness and inexperience in dodging gunfire.

Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee sprinter who had been banned from Olympic qualifying trials because his prosthetic limbs were said to constitute an unfair competitive advantage, will be allowed to run in the qualifying trials after all, the Post and the NYT report. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the ban, in a move that is being hailed as a victory for disabled athletes worldwide. It is unclear whether Pistorius actually has a shot at qualifying for the games.

The Post fronts a thoughtful look at Earth Hour, an energy conservation campaign that urges residents of select cities to douse their electric lights en masse for one hour per year. The author argues that campaigns like Earth Hour “tend to prompt people and companies to choose what looks good over what works” and that going dark for an hour is much less useful than simply switching over to high-efficiency fluorescent lighbulbs. “Let’s All Go to the Hardware Store Hour” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

The NYT goes up top with a news feature on the food crisis in Somalia and the chaos that may ensue if rebel groups and terrorists interfere with aid workers. “We’re really in the perfect storm,” said economist Jeffrey Sachs.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson predicted Friday that the economy would rebound in the second half of 2008, the Post and the WSJ report. While acknowledging that the housing and energy crises will likely persist, Paulson cited the stabilizing financial markets and Congress’ economic stimulus package as reasons for economic optimism. “I don’t mean to sound Pollyannaish,” said Paulson.

Robert Mondavi, the pioneering California winemaker, has died. Famed as an advocate for American viticulture, Mondavi, the godfather of chardonnay, helped transform the Napa Valley from a region best known for its cheap jug wines into a world-class wine destination. He was 94.

Money can’t buy me taste: The WSJ fronts a  feature on William Topaz McGonagall, a long-dead Englishman known in his day as “the world’s worst poet,” whose works are enjoying an unexpected renaissance. “Despite his ability to massacre poetic metaphor, his taste for banality, a weak vocabulary and his tortuous rhymes, his popularity has outlived many of his then-respected contemporaries,” said an employee of the auction house where 35 of McGonagall’s original poems recently sold for $13,200. One fan admires McGonagall’s “dogged determination in spite of his obvious lack of talent.” There’s hope for TP yet!