Today's Papers

Militant Vs. Predator

The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that the Bush administration is sending Predator aircraft “equipped with sophisticated new surveillance systems” to target militants inside Pakistan. This new technology was apparently a key weapon in the fight against Iraqi insurgents, and now drones with this special equipment are being pulled from other areas and sent to help out in Pakistan. This is yet another example of how the Bush administration has decided to pursue more unilateral attacks in Pakistan instead of trying to cooperate with the Pakistani government.

The Washington Postand New York Timeslead with news that Lehman Brothers has put up a for-sale sign, only a day after the investment bank was busy insisting that it could continue to operate by itself. The WP emphasizes that the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department are helping Lehman deal with its problems and are actively talking to potential buyers. Government officials are hoping that a sale can be completed before Asian markets open Monday. USA Todayand the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with Hurricane Ike, which is expected to hit just south of Houston sometime tonight or tomorrow morning. Forecasters predict the storm will get stronger before hitting Texas’ Gulf Coast as a Category 3 hurricane and government officials have ordered the evacuation of many low-lying areas along the coast.

So what’s this new technology the LAT is referring to that has apparently been an important piece of equipment in the fight against insurgents in Iraq? Well, officials asked that details not be released because it could help militants evade detection. But “the previously unacknowledged devices” permit human targets to be tracked “when they are inside buildings or otherwise hidden from Predator surveillance cameras.” Also, with this new system, remote pilots have a way to confirm where the target is located beyond just looking through the Predator’s lens, which means decisions about when to strike can be made much more quickly. “A military official familiar with the systems said they had a profound effect, both militarily and psychologically, on the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq,” reports the LAT. One official said that with the new technology, insurgents often feel “like they are living with a red dot on their head” and are constantly afraid that a missile might strike.

The paper doesn’t mention it (and TP, of course, has no way to know for certain), but it sure sounds like this technology the LAT is describing is at least part of the program Bob Woodward credited as the main reason behind the decrease in violence in Iraq. In The War Within, one of the few new pieces of information that Woodward put forward had to do with a secret program that apparently gave the military greater capabilities to track and kill insurgents in Iraq.

The new system described by the LAT today apparently allows suspects to be identified quickly. “All I have to do is point the sensor at him,” said a military officer, “and a missile can be off the rail in seconds.” But Predators have also been known to miss their targets, and increasing their use would likely lead to even more civilian casualties, which has already fueled resentment among many Pakistanis in the area who, often as a result of these attacks, see the United States as the enemy.

While the Federal Reserve wants to keep public money as far away as possible from a deal to buy Lehman, potential buyers are looking to the U.S. government to protect them from future losses. Lehman’s stock plunged 42 percent yesterday, which, as the LAT points out,  means that its purchase is “feasible for a range of potential suitors.” The leading contenders now appear to be Bank of America and Barclays, a British bank. But it seems unlikely either of them would want to take on the company without any help from the federal government. “The test will come if potential buyers balk at a purchase without the Fed’s backing,” notes the NYT.

Some think the federal government will jump in eventually to prevent the rest of the financial system from being hurt by Lehman’s woes. For their part, Fed officials are adamant that after the rescue of Bear Stearns and the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they don’t want Wall Street to assume the government will always put taxpayer money on the line to help rescue companies that are in trouble.

But it may be a little too late to be worrying about that now. The WP’s Steven Pearlstein notes that the government is now “hip-deep in the direct management of the financial system,” which is particularly interesting considering that this “unprecedented intrusion of government” is coming in the final days of a president who has always touted deregulation and prayed at the altar of the free market. But just like during the Great Depression, “it has taken a full-blown financial crisis to shake the faith that free markets will always deliver better outcomes than politicians and bureaucrats.”

The LAT, NYT, and WP all front Sarah Palin’s first extensive interview with a hard-news outlet since becoming John McCain’s running mate. The WP, however, doesn’t actually lead its story with the interview but rather mentions that Palin appeared to link Sept. 11 to the war in Iraq. While talking to a group of soldiers that included her son, she said they would “defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.” It certainly sounds like she was making an oft-repeated claim from before the war that linked Saddam Hussein with the Sept. 11 attacks. But the truth is that everyone agrees al-Qaida militants have taken root in Iraq since the invasion. Regardless, the NYT talks to the campaign and says aides emphasized she doesn’t think Saddam Hussein was behind Sept. 11.

As for the interview itself, the NYT says that “perhaps the most confident answer” Palin supplied in “a sometimes tense and generally probing interview” was her assurance that she felt ready to be president. For the most part, Palin successfully uttered talking points from the campaign in a calm manner that mostly didn’t veer far from message. The most uncomfortable moment for Palin must have been when Charles Gibson asked her about the Bush doctrine and she didn’t seem to know that he was referring to the view that the United States can engage in a pre-emptive war. She also switched her position on global warming a bit to put it more in line with McCain’s and said that she was “thankful that, under Reagan, we won the Cold War.” In foreign policy, she very much sounded like McCain and said that if Georgia joins NATO, the United States might have to fight Russia if Moscow decides to invade again. To its credit, the LAT not only goes through Palin’s misstatements but also says that Gibson quoted some of her words “out of context” and also “mischaracterized her” view at one point.

The NYT’s Alessandra Stanley writes that Gibson “had the skeptical, annoyed tone of a university president who agrees to interview the daughter of a trustee but doesn’t believe she merits admission.”

The NYT fronts a look at how Barack Obama will begin to attack McCain more forcefully today with new ads and a general “new tone.” Democrats have been criticizing Obama’s campaign for failing to hit back hard enough at Republican attacks that have been coming quickly since the convention. As much as the Obama campaign insists it is not worried and this is just a phase, many are ready to push the panic button because the Democratic nominee is allowing McCain and Palin to control the message of the campaign and forcing him to respond to accusations rather than push his own ideas.

In the Post’s op-ed page,  E.J. Dionne Jr.  writes that the campaign is now “a blur of flying pieces of junk, lipstick and gutter-style attacks.” McCain’s lies about Obama and Palin’s distortions on her own record “suggest an unedifying scuffle over a city council seat.” Dionne blames the media for frequently failing to call a lie a lie, and McCain for “running a disgraceful, dishonorable campaign.” But he also blames Obama because he isn’t doing a good job reminding Americans this is an important election that can’t come down to trivial issues. Obama desperately needs to take control of his campaign and remind voters what he stands for, because most voters simply don’t know. “McCain has shown he wants the presidency so badly that he’s willing to say anything, true or false, to win power,” writes Dionne. “Obama can win by fighting for what he believes.”

Palin’s popularity is helping not just Republicans, as her personal style has also “sparked a buying frenzy,” notes the WSJ. Hairstylists and wig sellers say more people are asking to look like Palin, and if she wears a distinctive piece of clothing, chances are that sales will increase. The shoes she wears have been selling quickly, and her eyeglasses are on back order. Most of the companies are happy for the attention, even if Palin wasn’t exactly the demographic they had in mind for their product. “The age bracket we target is a little younger,” one executive says of the shoes Palin wore when McCain introduced her as his running mate. “It’s a very edgy, very hip, very street brand.”