Today's Papers

Trouble in the Air

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox all lead with Defense Secretary Robert Gates firing the Air Force’s top two officials for failing to adequately secure the nation’s nuclear arsenal. It marked the first time that a defense secretary ousted both the military and civilian leaders of a service simultaneously. The stated reason for requesting the resignations of Michael Wynne, the Air Force secretary, and the service’s chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, was the recent disclosure that the Air Force mistakenly sent nuclear warhead fuses to Taiwan. An inquiry into the incident found a “pattern of poor performance” and “an overall decline in nuclear weapons stewardship.”

USA Todaydevotes most of its front-page real estate to interviews with the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees. In Florida, John McCain emphasized that he’s not trying to distance himself from President Bush and instead just wants to “point out my own record and my own plan of action.” McCain also said he’ll try to win votes by contrasting his experience with Barack Obama’s. The Republican described his opponent as a rookie politician who believes in “big government” and “doesn’t understand.” For his part, Obama was in Virginia yesterday launching a tour about economic issues that will take him to several of the states that Clinton won as part of his efforts to get white, working-class voters on his side. The Democrat also said he would launch an “Apollo-style program” to develop new energy sources and he’s “almost certain” that he’ll go to Iraq before the election.

Everyone agrees that the Taiwan incident was merely the last stroke. Gates has long been frustrated with the Air Force leadership because of other mishaps, including the revelation that a bomber had flown over the United States while carrying armed nuclear missiles as well as controversy over a $50 million contract that went to a company with close ties to senior Air Force officials. But it was clear that Gates also differed with the Air Force leaders on strategy, particularly their insistence on continuing to purchase expensive F-22 fighter jets even though the defense secretary has said the planes are of no use for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “In the end, what it came down to is the feeling of the secretary of the Defense that the Air Force just wasn’t on the policy page he was on,” a defense analyst tells the LAT.

Gates made it clear that he sees the lack of oversight of the country’s nuclear arsenal as a deep problem and appointed a former defense secretary, James Schlesinger, to head a task force to look into the issue. The firings once again emphasized the difference between Gates and his predecessor, who was often criticized for failing to hold senior officials accountable. Democratic lawmakers praised the move. “Gates’ focus on accountability is essential and had been absent from the office of the secretary of Defense for too long,” said Sen. Carl Levin, head of the Senate armed services committee.

While Obama was campaigning in Virginia, a move designed to show how he intends to compete in several Republican-leaning states, Hillary Clinton tried to distance herself from an effort to force Obama to pick her as his running mate. The two Democrats met late yesterday at the Washington, D.C., home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but no one has any information on what they talked about at the unexpected encounter. Meanwhile, Obama moved to take control over the Democratic National Committee and sent one of his top campaign operatives to oversee party operations. The presumptive nominee also said that his campaign’s ban on receiving money from political action committees or federal lobbyists would also apply to the DNC.

The NYT fronts a look at a letter written by a top adviser to McCain that says the Republican supports warrantless wiretapping to monitor Americans’ international communications. Although his campaign insists McCain’s views on the matters of surveillance and executive power haven’t changed, the NYT points out that he seemed to sing a different tune six months ago in an interview. This marks the latest example of how McCain has taken up important Republican issues now that he’s the presumptive nominee and is working to unify his party’s base.

The NYT is alone in fronting the latest from Zimbabwe, where the government ordered that all aid groups suspend their activities. Officials warned that the move could have tragic consequences in a country where more than 80 percent of the people are unemployed. Also yesterday, police detained American and British diplomats who were attacked by a group of loyalists to Zimbabwe’s president. The diplomats were investigating political violence outside of the capital and were detained after a six-mile car chase. Officials say this was all part of an effort to hide the violence that is only expected to increase before the presidential runoff this month that President Robert Mugabe is determined to win at any cost.

The WP’s Michael Gerson writes about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army and “the most carnivorous killer since Idi Amin.” After spreading terror in northern Uganda for 10 years he was pushed into the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo but now appears to be staging a comeback. “If this is not a cause for horror—and a justified cause for international action—it is difficult to imagine what would be.”

Everyone reports that two men climbed the 52-story NYT building in Manhattan yesterday. In the morning, a French stuntman who has plenty of experience in the matter scaled the building and unfurled a banner that read: “Global warming kills more people than 9/11 every week.” In the afternoon, a Brooklyn man also climbed the building. The LAT hears that the second man long had plans to carry out a similar stunt and rushed to do it yesterday after growing angry that the French stuntman had beaten him to the punch. TP doesn’t know what’s more incredible, that the two separate stunts actually took place on the same day, or that the NYT needed 16 journalists to cover an event that happened right under its nose.

Just because he’s a good speaker doesn’t mean his jokes are funny.  In his interview with USAT, Obama said he’s looking forward to spending the weekend in Chicago with his family. But it won’t be all R&R for the presumptive nominee. On Saturday night, Obama will welcome eight 7-year-olds to his house for a sleepover to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. “These kids are planning to make pizza, so who knows what our kitchen will look like,” he said. “They shouldn’t call these sleepovers. They should call them wake-overs.”