Today's Papers

My Friend, the Spy

The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that the United States is using “some of its most sophisticated espionage technology” to keep tabs on the Iraqi army. The decision to employ spy satellites on an ally came out of the frustration felt by American commanders who have been kept in the dark by their Iraqi counterparts about military operations. The New York Timesleads with a look at how a growing number of economists now believe that current economic woes aren’t going away in the near future as tight credit and trouble in the job market could continue until late next year. In the latest sign of how consumers are cutting back in the face of hard times, automakers reported that sales plunged last month. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Barack Obama vowing to expand the Bush administration program that gives federal money to religious charities. Everyone sees it as Obama’s latest effort to move to the center on certain issues to gain Republican-leaning voters.

The Washington Postleads with news that more American troops died in Afghanistan last month than in any other month since the 2001 invasion. Officials say the 28 U.S. combat deaths are an illustration of how the Taliban and other insurgents are getting stronger in certain parts of Afghanistan. USA Today leads with a Pentagon report that was delivered to Congress last week that says the military won’t be able to meet the 2017 deadline to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons unless it ships the deadly agents across state lines to other facilities. Congress would have to change laws that prohibit these types of weapons from being moved, but it seems lawmakers and watchdog groups aren’t too keen on the idea, saying that it would expose Americans to unnecessary risks.

The LAT says that the stepped-up effort by the United States to spy on the Iraqi military, “reflects breakdowns in trust and coordination between the two forces.” But while some say the move shows the United States doesn’t trust the Iraqi military leadership, others insist it’s a positive sign that the Iraqi army can operate independently. Intelligence officials say that spying on allies is quite a common practice, and there are only a few countries in the world that the United States doesn’t monitor. “The bad news is we’re spying on Iraqis,” a former military official said. “The good news is that we have to.”

The unemployment rate has increased by a percentage point in the last year, and, just as significantly, the number of people who have stopped looking for work or have switched to part-time employment is also on the rise. So far though, the weak job market has been a product of employers not creating new jobs rather than firing large numbers of people, but if the reluctance to spend continues, mass layoffs may not be too far off. One economist describes the current situation as a “slow-motion recession” because instead of having a few months of really bad news, it appears that there will be “two years of sub-par growth.” The tax rebate checks appear to be helping prevent consumer spending from falling into negative territory, but few expect that to last.

Obama’s pledge to expand the faith-based initiatives program drew criticism from liberal groups that favor a strict separation of church and state and provided yet another instance in which the presumptive nominee’s base expressed its displeasure with the candidate. But Obama also made it clear that he would get away from some of Bush’s more controversial policies. Mainly, Obama emphasized that religious groups who receive federal money can’t hire people based on their faith. “Federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples and mosques can only be used on secular programs,” Obama said. The announcement came at a time when the presumptive nominee is launching “what many Democrats say is the most aggressive outreach to religious voters ever by the party’s presidential nominee,” notes the LAT

The NYT and WSJ point out that if Obama wants proof that his moves toward the center are angering his supporters, he needs only to take a look at his own Web site. Obama’s site gives supporters the ability to organize into groups, and in the last few days thousands have joined one that calls on Obama to reverse his decision to support the new domestic-spying bill.

The NYT off-leads the fascinating revelation that a chart used by military trainers in an interrogation class in Guantanamo came directly out of a journal article published more than 50 years ago that analyzed ways in which the Chinese got confessions from American prisoners during the Korean War. The news is shocking not just because the United States has long called these interrogation methods torture, but also because many of the confessions they elicited from American prisoners were false. In what some describe as “a remarkable case of historical amnesia,” officials began to look at these techniques to use on terrorism detainees. Congressional investigators released the chart last month but were seemingly unaware of the connection, which was pointed out to the NYT by “an independent expert on interrogation.”

Everyone goes inside with the African Union issuing a resolution urging President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to enter into talks with the opposition and form a power-sharing government. But the prospect of that ever happening seems slim as both Mugabe and Zimbabwe’s main opposition party made it clear they’re not likely to sit down to negotiate. The two-day meeting in Egypt was taken over by talk of Zimbabwe, and Mugabe was quick to fight back against African leaders who dared to question him by telling them to solve problems in their own countries first before criticizing him.

So did the summit achieve anything? Depends whom you ask. The WP says it demonstrated how the African Union is still the same, as leaders are reluctant to get involved in another country’s internal affairs. The NYT, on the other hand, says the fact that African leaders even discussed the issue and wrote a resolution represents a change for a group of leaders who resisted ever referring to Mugabe as anything but a liberation hero. Ultimately though, Zimbabwe’s opposition “won none of its key demands” from the summit, notes the LAT.

In a Page One piece, the WSJ notes Zimbabwe’s government is about to face a potentially big problem as a Germany-based company that provided the government with lots of special paper to print its currency said it will no longer do business with Mugabe. With an annual inflation rate estimated at more than 1 million percent, Zimbabwe was a good customer. The currency gets devalued so quickly that new bank notes are introduced all the time, and Mugabe relies on this new money to pay loyalists. Meanwhile, the citizens have to deal with the consequences. The treasurer of Zimbabwe’s opposition party notes that even billions are rarely used in his line of work and have been replaced by quadrillions. “Our economy is too crazy to understand,” he said.

As the controversy over Gen. Wesley Clark’s comments on Sunday continues, the WP’s editorial board cries out for a bit of sanity: “Enough already!” Clark’s comments may have been stupid but didn’t reveal anything important about the candidate that warranted this kind of attention when there are so many pressing issues to discuss. “Casting guilt by surrogate association is a bipartisan affliction,” writes the editorial board. “So ours is a nonpartisan lament: Cut it out!