Today's Papers

Rise of the Insurgents

The Los Angeles Timesleads with new Pentagon data that show insurgent activity is on the rise in Afghanistan, a development that has led military leaders to order a review of current strategy in the country. In the first five months of the year, insurgent attacks have gotten more sophisticated and increased almost 40 percent in the eastern provinces, a region of Afghanistan that was once relatively calm and several senior Pentagon officials had frequently touted as an example of success. The Washington Postleads with the mounting international pressure against Zimbabwe’s government and its plans to go on with the presidential election on Friday. The president of Senegal and the leader of South Africa’s ruling party both said the election should be canceled and urged both sides to sit down and work out an agreement.

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with an internal Justice Department report that found officials broke the law by favoring those who didn’t have ties to the Democratic Party or liberal organizations for the department’s highly coveted intern and honors jobs, which are meant to be awarded on merit. The New York Timesleads with a look at how Congress is on the verge of approving legislation that could help thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosures. Lawmakers are eager to act as new data were released showing that home prices have plunged more than 15 percent over the past year. USA Todayleads with yesterday’s announcement that the state of Florida has reached a tentative agreement with U.S. Sugar to buy all of the company’s assets for $1.75 billion in an attempt to restore the Everglades. Under the deal, U.S. Sugar would have six years to close up shop before Florida takes over its 187,000 acres of land that it wants to return to its natural state and protect from development.

While the rate of U.S. military deaths in Iraq keeps on decreasing, the opposite is true in Afghanistan, where 50 Americans have been killed in combat this year, compared with 28 who were killed in the first six months of 2007. Pentagon leaders want to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan but can’t do much about that desire until there’s a significant withdrawal of forces from Iraq. Although many in the Pentagon once advocated that troop reductions in Iraq should be used as an opportunity to give servicemembers more time to rest and train stateside, military planners now agree that any drawdown from Iraq will lead to an increase of forces in Afghanistan. Problem is that no one knows when there will be further withdrawals from Iraq. In the meantime, to streamline the operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon will propose “in the coming weeks” that all U.S. and NATO forces report to the new four-star commander in Afghanistan.

Southern African leaders will meet in Swaziland today to discuss the growing crisis in Zimbabwe, but there’s little reason to think that President Robert Mugabe will listen to their concerns. Mugabe continued campaigning yesterday and mocked his former rival for dropping out and seeking refuge in the Dutch Embassy.  “He is frightened, frightened of the people,” Mugabe said. “These are voters. They won’t do you any harm.” The NYT highlights that even though South Africa’s ruling party called for the vote to be postponed, it also insisted that foreign diplomats should resist the urge to intervene because it “will merely deepen the crisis.” Meanwhile, there were hints that even as Mugabe dismissed international pressure, he was opening the door to talks with the opposition, but only after he wins the election and can negotiate from a position of strength.

There’s little doubt that Mugabe will win Friday’s election, but, just in case, the violence and intimidation continue. In a must-read Page One dispatch from Harare, the LAT reports that ruling party officials are telling voters at meetings that the ballot serial numbers will allow them to know who voted for the opposition and warned that those who don’t vote for Mugabe will be killed. “They said, ‘Even if you run away, we’ll chop the heads off whoever you leave behind at your house. We don’t care if it’s your children or your grandchildren,’ ” recalled a 60-year-old woman who was forced to go to a meeting. One man who has been attending meetings every day for two weeks said the talk of serial numbers on ballots was being repeated daily. “They will launch another operation, called Operation Elimination, where people will be disappearing,” he said. “They repeat the same message over and over.”

The report by the Justice Department found that senior officials attempted to figure out political affiliations of applicants through Internet searches as well as a close analysis of their essays and résumés to look for any hint of liberal bias. Although ideology can be used as a factor for political appointees, federal law prohibits it from being considered for civil-service jobs. This is the first in what many think  will be a series of reports that will show how the Justice Department was politicized under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The current attorney general, Michael Mukasey, emphasized yesterday that it’s “impermissible and unacceptable” to consider political affiliation when hiring career lawyers.

The “centerpiece” of the Senate’s housing legislation would allow borrowers to refinance into a more affordable, fixed-rate loan that would come with a federal guarantee. The bill would also increase assistance for first-time buyers, and regulation on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be strengthened. The WP reveals the “centerpiece” was initially suggested by lobbyists for major banks. Although the banks would get less money for the loan, it also would allow them to get rid of properties, and the taxpayer would have to foot the bill if there are defaults. Around Capitol Hill, the proposal was known as the “Credit Suisse plan” before it was incorporated into the legislation.

The LAT off-leads a new national poll that shows Sen. Barack Obama has a 12-point lead over rival Sen. John McCain. In a two-way race, Obama received 49 percent while McCain got 37 percent. Interestingly enough, when the independent (Ralph Nader) and Libertarian (Bob Barr) candidates are added to the list, the margin increases to 48-33 because most of their support comes from independents who would have otherwise voted Republican. The LAT notes McCain suffers from “a passion gap” since many Republicans still aren’t very excited about voting for him. Most of those who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton are now supporting Obama, though 11 percent have moved over to McCain’s side.

When TP knows an e-mail contains bad news, he sometimes refuses to open it immediately, believing that it can’t be real until it has been read. Seems like the White House follows the same strategy. Today, the NYT reveals that when the Environmental Protection Agency reached the conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants and must be controlled, the White House refused to open the e-mail message. Instead, the White House began a furious lobbying campaign to get the document changed. The watered-down report to be released this week makes no conclusions and simply goes over the legal and financial implications of declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

The LAT fronts word that Chrysler will announce tomorrow that everyone who buys a 2009 model will have the option of adding wireless Internet to their vehicle. In an ironic twist of fate, the announcement will come just a few days before drivers in California and Washington will be required to use a headset when talking on a cellular phone. But, in California at least, it’s unclear whether the law prohibits surfing the Web while driving.

The NYT reports that a group in San Francisco will ask voters whether the name of a water treatment plant should be changed to George W. Bush Sewage Plant. Those who came up with the plan while in a bar want to put a vote on the November ballot to provide “an appropriate honor for a truly unique president.”