Today's Papers

Sebelius Tapped as HHS Secretary

The Washington Post leads with news that Kathleen Sebelius, the Democratic governor of Kansas, will be nominated as secretary of health and human services. The New York Times leads with a story about how Barack Obama’s election has rekindled hope that the United States will soon take a major leadership role in global efforts to combat climate change. The Los Angeles Times leads with a report on financial improprieties in the California governor’s office; its top national story is a news feature on a veteran undercover CIA operative currently being tried for war crimes committed during the Balkan wars.

Noting that her nomination comes days before a crucial White House summit on health reform, the Post blandly outlines Sebelius’ résumé and her gubernatorial experience with health care issues. The NYT analyzes the political implications of the pick, noting the governor’s bipartisan credentials and devoting much space to her pro-choice background, which, for some reason, the paper seems to think may end up derailing her confirmation. The article cites the specter of looming Catholic opposition to Sebelius’ nomination but neglects to mention that the Senate’s Catholic bloc is by no means ideologically consistent on abortion issues.

Hopes are high that after eight years of indifference and obstructionism on global-warming matters, the United States will change its course and help forge a global climate treaty that would replace the Kyoto Protocol, the flawed 1997 pact rendered ineffective by America’s refusal to sign. “The lesson of Kyoto is that if the U.S. isn’t taking it seriously there is no reason for anyone else to,” said one activist. The Post goes deep inside with a story on how the U.S. House has effectively abandoned its plans to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to zero (in part by purchasing “carbon offsets”): The House purchased carbon offsets during its last session but has no plans to do so this year.

Former CIA operative Jovica Stanisic, intelligence chief to Slobodan Milosevic during the 1990s, was thought by some to have formulated Milosevic’s ethnic-cleansing policies; on trial for his role in the Balkan genocide, Stanisic has called the CIA as his main character witness. The CIA has responded with a document maintaining “that this allegedly evil person did a whole lot of good.” If that doesn’t work, rumor has it that Stanisic plans to blame the whole thing on a mysterious one-armed man.

The Post off-leads with a story maintaining that Obama’s first budget request, “a 10-year spending plan thick with political friction points,” represents the largest ideological shift in budgetary matters since Ronald Reagan took office 28 years ago. Republicans charge that the proposal does not cut the budget enough to pay for spending increases; congressional battles will probably ensue over proposals to expand health care and tax businesses that produce greenhouse gases. The NYT covers Obama’s budget, too, though it makes less of the historic shift in budget priorities and more of the immediate Republican rush to characterize the plan as “out-of-control spending that would drive the nation deeper into debt.”

The NYT off-leads a look at the way liberal Washington lobbyists are once again enjoying positions of influence. The article points out that many Clinton-era officials who formed progressive organizations like, Media Matters for America, and the Center for American Progress during their eight years in exile, are now poised to turn their groups into major policy players on issues like health care. “This is no longer going to be Barack Obama standing by himself getting pilloried by the special interests with no one pushing back,” said CAP’s John Podesta.           

Everyone reports that Paul Harvey, the radio broadcaster whose reassuring Midwestern inflection and odd speaking cadence became nationally known during a career that spanned nearly 60 years, has died. Harvey was a reliably conservative commentator; a benign historical quizmaster (“And that little boy who nobody liked grew up to be … Roy Cohn”); an indefatigable salesman of millions of Wahl home shave kits and Bose wave radios; and, in the end, a very rich man—he died with two years left on his 10-year, $100 million contract from ABC Radio. He was 90 years old.

The LAT profiles celebrity architect Frank Gehry, who celebrates his 80th birthday today. Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, in a surprisingly tough-minded piece, notes that Gehry’s asymmetrical, insinuative buildings have been derided as “vehicles for self-aggrandizement forced on unwilling communities,” and explores how the architect plans to cope with the recession. (Answer: Lots of corrugated tin.)

The NYT business section reports on investment guru Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders of his company, Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett accepted blame for the company’s decline this year but reserved harsh criticism for the impenetrable mathematical formulas so fashionable in business before the economic downturn. Investors are too easily seduced, Buffett said, by “a nerdy-sounding priesthood, using esoteric terms such as beta, gamma, sigma and the like. Our advice: Beware of geeks bearing formulas.”

You got that? In Thomas Friedman’s NYT column today about the Obama State Department’s policies, he explains that special adviser Dennis Ross is actually “Super Sub-Secretary of State for Amassing Global Leverage on the Incomprehensibly Byzantine Iranian Government So That It Will Terminate Its Nuclear Weapons Program.” No word yet on whether the sage of Bethesda thinks Ross’s title should be acronymized on his business cards.