Today's Papers

Strike Out

The New York Timesand the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with news that U.S. forces launched a series of intense airstrikes that killed 11 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers along the Afghan border in an attack that immediately raised tensions between the American and Pakistani governments. Details are still sketchy, and no one really knows what exactly happened on Tuesday night, but what is clear is that the attack threatened the already fragile relations between the United States and one of its key allies in the region. Early yesterday the Pakistani military said the airstrikes were “unprovoked and cowardly” while the Pentagon characterized it as “a legitimate strike in self-defense.” The Washington Postleads with James Johnson resigning from Sen. Barack Obama’s vice-presidential search committee amid criticism over his business activities and loans he received from Countrywide Financial.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Alex Kozinski, suspended an obscenity trial over which he was presiding after the paper revealed that he kept sexually explicit materials on a publicly accessible Web site. The material in question was hidden but still accessible and included a picture of a naked woman painted to look like a cow and a short video of a man with a sexually excited farm animal, among others. USA Todaygoes across the top with a look at how the continuing bad weather could turn a bad situation worse in Iowa and across the Midwest in the next few days. Thousands have already been evacuated in Iowa due to record flooding that is also threatening to destroy a variety of crops, which could further raise food prices. “This could be a 500-year type of event,” Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said. “We’re dealing with something that’s historic in proportion.”

The air strikes along the Afghan border came at a particularly sensitive time as the U.S. government is trying to improve relations with Pakistan’s newly elected government, which has been attempting to negotiate a series of peace pacts with tribal leaders. U.S. officials contend the Pakistani government is looking the other way as Taliban fighters take refuge in the country’s tribal areas. “Nobody wants this to become bigger than it is,” a senior official tells the LAT. “It is just a bad time for this to happen.” By late yesterday, the Pakistani government had softened its rhetoric, and its ambassador to Washington said the airstrikes shouldn’t “cause us to reconsider our partnership but rather to find ways of improving that partnership.” Still, the WSJ says “the incident could prove to be a turning point.”

The NYT highlights that the events that took place on Tuesday night illustrate the “faulty communications” that exist between U.S., Pakistani, and Afghan forces in the area. American officials underscored this idea and said the deaths illustrate how the United States needs to work to improve relations with Pakistan’s paramilitary force, which has pretty much taken over security of the border region and didn’t start receiving financing from the American military until recently. But the Post points out that U.S. officials are also raising doubts about whether the paramilitary soldiers known as the Frontier Corps even have the proper training to handle Taliban fighters.

Both the NYT and WP describe Johnson, who had been selected by Obama to head his search for a vice president, as a “consummate Washington insider.” He had been part of two previous vice-presidential search committees, and Obama was quickly criticized for picking someone from inside the Beltway. That criticism grew after revelations that the man who led Fannie Mae for seven years appeared to have received favorable treatment from Countrywide. The WSJ says Johnson received more than $5 million in loans from Countrywide “that were arranged outside its normal underwriting process.” The controversy only got worse as it became known that he received millions of dollars in compensation from Fannie Mae and was part of corporate boards that approved huge pay packages for executives, a practice that Obama has frequently criticized. “His resignation highlights the difficulties for Mr. Obama’s campaign in trying to live up to his promises to remain independent of the Washington establishment,” notes the NYT.

Republicans immediately seized on the resignation to criticize Obama’s judgment and question whether the presumptive nominee really means it when he says that he’ll bring change to Washington. The Obama campaign shot back and highlighted the number of people with special interests who are tied to Sen. John McCain’s campaign. “Talk about unnecessary disasters,” writes the NYT’s Gail Collins. “It’s like having your career ruined because you invited the wrong person to host a party in honor of your nephew’s godparents.”

The NYT notes that Obama is also facing criticism from labor union leaders who don’t like the fact that the presumptive nominee has hired Jason Furman as his economic policy director. Furman is closely associated with Robert Rubin, who was President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary and is seen as sympathetic to corporations. The unions are particularly worried because Rubin has traditionally been a strong supporter of free trade. Furman dismissed the complaints, saying that his own personal views “are irrelevant” since his job involves talking to economists with a wide variety of opinions.

Judge Kozinski, the head of the federal appeals court in California, has frequently been praised for his sharp legal mind and has been on short lists of candidates for the Supreme Court. At first he admitted to posting the sexual content on his site, some of which he described as “funny,” but then later shifted some of the responsibility to his son. Among the photos he defended as funny was one of a man “bent over in a chair and performing fellatio on himself.” But the amount of material on was apparently extensive and included images of masturbation, public sex, and a slide show of a transsexual performing a striptease. No one is really sure what will happen now because, as the WP points out, “the code of conduct on Internet postings by federal judges is far from clear.” But the LAT says the pornographic images aren’t his only source of concern since music tracks that were also on the site could raise questions about copyright violations.

The LAT fronts a look at the rising tensions between Democrats and Sen. Joe Lieberman. The independent senator from Connecticut caucuses with the Democrats but is supporting McCain and has even offered to speak at the GOP convention. Republicans are obviously happy to have his support, particularly since the senator could help McCain gain Jewish voters, who could be critical in November. So far, everyone is playing nice since the Democrats depend on him for their razor-thin majority. But if the Democrats manage to gain seats in November, they could very well decide to strip him of his committee chairmanship as punishment.

The NYT fronts allegations by the American ambassador to Zimbabwe that authorities in that country confiscated a truck filled with 20 tons of U.S. food aid meant for poor children and sent it to supporters of the president at a political rally. “This government will stop at nothing … to realize their political ambitions,” the ambassador said. The truck was confiscated on Friday after it was forced to park overnight at a police station in Bambazonke when it suffered a mechanical breakdown. When asked about the allegations, the spokesman for Zimbabwe’s national police responded by saying that there’s no place named Bambazonke in the country.

The LAT goes inside with a look at how, despite the economic downturn, mega-mansions are still incredibly popular in places like Beverly Hills. One builder says there are at least 20 homes being built in Los Angeles County with 20,000 square feet or more. So, why do people feel they need so much space? According to one real-estate agent, no one really sets out to build such a huge home—it’s something that just sort of happens. “You keep adding the rooms you think you need. The ballroom. The screening room. Masters with his and hers and a beauty salon and a massage room,” the agent said. “I can’t explain why someone needs a gift-wrapping room or a florist room. That is a question of culture.”