Today's Papers

I Will Follow You

The New York Timesleads with word that a classified order issued in 2004 gave the U.S. military authority to carry out nearly a dozen of what the paper describes as “previously undisclosed attacks” against terrorist targets in Syria, Pakistan, and other countries. The order was signed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and it gave the military the authority to attack al-Qaida targets anywhere in the world, with a specific emphasis on “15 to 20 countries” that were believed to be the prime destinations for militants in hiding. The Washington Postleads with, and almost everyone else fronts, news that China announced a $586 billion stimulus package that aims to prop up the country’s slowing economy. The huge package, which some are comparing to the New Deal, could also help fight the effects of a global recession.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with a new study that found statin drugs can cut in half the risk that seemingly healthy people will suffer a heart attack. The findings are bound to be a boon for statins, which millions of people already take to manage their cholesterol: Experts say that if this new treatment were widely adopted, it could help prevent 50,000 heart attacks, strokes, and deaths each year. USA Todayleads with the Sunday interview tour of President-elect Barack Obama’s key advisers, who said that passing a new stimulus package is one of the Democrat’s main priorities. The aides also made it clear that Obama plans to move full steam ahead with his plan to repeal President Bush’s tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 while instituting new tax breaks that would save 95 percent of working Americans an average of $1,000 each. The Wall Street Journal also leads its worldwide newsbox with the president-elect’s plans but focuses on how he is likely to reverse some of Bush’s executive orders, including the restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research.

Most of the attacks that came out of the 2004 classified order were carried out by Special Operations forces, often in close coordination with the CIA. Despite the order’s broad authority, each mission required approval from the highest levels of government. And “as many as a dozen” operations were canceled due to potential problems, “often to the dismay of military commanders.”  Although there were debates over whether to include Iran in the 2004 order, officials ultimately decided against it and now insist there have been no raids inside Iran using the secret authority.

So what were these “previously undisclosed attacks” that used the authority granted by the 2004 classified document titled “Al Qaeda Network Exord”? The paper’s sources aren’t talking and just say they took place in “Syria, Pakistan and other countries.” The only specific example of an attack provided, in fact, is one that took place in Pakistan in 2006, which hardly fits the description of “previously undisclosed,” since the LAT wrote about it in July. While there’s no doubt that the NYT helps advance the story about the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism tactics with the details it reveals about this classified order, it can’t really be considered surprising that the military has been carrying out these types of operations. By late 2006, for example, it was already clear that Special Forces had been carrying out secret missions in allied countries that were part of a classified program designed to help the United States track terrorist networks.

While China was widely expected to unveil a stimulus package, its huge size came as a welcome surprise to many economists, and Asian stock markets surged. The Shanghai composite index increased 7.3 percent today. Under the stimulus plan, the Chinese government said it would spend $586 billion over two years in social-welfare programs, health care, and infrastructure projects, to name a few. The NYT notes that it’s not exactly clear how the Chinese government came up with the $586 billion figure, and officials didn’t specify how much of the spending would go to projects that were already in the pipeline.

Statins were so clearly beneficial to patients that an independent safety monitoring board stopped what was supposed to be a four-year study after less than two years. In a study that involved 18,000 people, researchers found that statins reduced the risk of death from heart disease by 20 percent. The study participants didn’t have high cholesterol or histories of heart disease, but they all did have high levels of a protein known as CRP, which indicates inflammation. Scientists were quick to praise the study, saying they finally found an option to prevent the heart attacks that occur in people without high cholesterol. Checking CRP involves a simple blood test, so everyone says it’s only a matter of time before doctors begin prescribing statins to people with normal cholesterol levels. “It’s a breakthrough study,” one expert tells the Post. “It’s a blockbuster. It’s absolutely paradigm-shifting.”

The WP fronts a fascinating piece looking at how the Treasury Department quietly slipped in a nice gift to U.S. banks at a time when the country was fixated on the debate over the $700 billion bailout package. Lawmakers were so concentrated on the bailout bill that it took them several days to realize that the administration decided simply to change 20-year-old tax policy, effectively giving American banks a “a windfall of as much as $140 billion,” reports the WP. Lawmakers were angry, and many tax law experts insist that the Treasury Department had no authority to do this. But it seems many in Congress are choosing to keep this quiet for now out of fear that speaking up could further destabilize the economy, since it might reverse several recent bank mergers. Getting rid of or changing Section 382 in the tax code has been a long-running goal of conservative economists.

The NYT and WSJ front news that the U.S. government will be throwing away its original bailout deal for American International Group in favor of a new $150 billion package. This is a striking admission that the initial $85 billion emergency credit line, which has since grown to $143 billion, failed to stabilize the ailing insurer. The new deal would give AIG not only more money but more time to repay the loan at a lower interest rate. This new package is bound to raise the ire of Democrats: They’re likely to say that while the Treasury seems all too willing to sink more and more money into AIG, it appears uninterested in helping Detroit’s Big Three.

The NYT’s Paul Krugman and the WP’s E.J. Dionne Jr. both have one simple message for Obama: Be bold. Krugman says that while Roosevelt’s New Deal brought real relief to many, it almost failed because it didn’t create as much fiscal stimulus as many people assume. Roosevelt wanted to be prudent, and now Obama can’t make the same mistake. “It’s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little,” writes Krugman. For his part, Dionne says Obama needs to ignore all those who warn him not to “overreach,” because it’s clear that the president-elect “has been authorized to move in a new direction.” Obama shouldn’t be afraid to follow Ronald Reagan and make some bold first moves. In the end, “timidity is a far greater danger than overreaching,” Dionne writes, “simply because it’s quite easy to be cautious.”