USA Today leads with President Bush's arrival in Japan. The paper emphasizes that Bush expressed support for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. "I'm planning on talking about what a great reformer he is," said Bush. The paper also points out that Bush is going to push Koizumi to speed up reforms. The New York Times leads with word that the White House has decided that it will now automatically review all cases of Americans who are kidnapped abroad and will consider taking a range of action, everything from advising family members to organizing commando raids. Under previous policy, the government tended to be hands-off when private citizens were kidnapped. The Los Angeles Times leads with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai's promise that his government will "take every measure to guarantee security in this battered nation." The assurance comes just a few days after the government's tourism minister was murdered at Kabul's airport, apparently by security officials in Karzai's fledgling government. The Washington Post's top non-local story is an acerbic profile of Hazrat Ali, who the paper calls "America's local warlord " in Jalalabad. "He shows little interest in rebuilding his war-torn domain, and describes no real agenda beyond consolidating his power," says the Post. "That mission appears to square with the war aims of his U.S. patrons"—namely, nailing al-Qaida.
The LAT says Karzai tried "to tamp down concerns that a rogue faction of Northern Alliance officials threatened his government" and insisted that the killing of the Cabinet minister was just a personal thing. But the LAT is skeptical: "Karzai [did not] offer details of the purported personal motive for the killing, or why six top officials with a grudge would risk stabbing a government minister to death aboard a plane at an international airport while more than 1,000 people milled about on the tarmac."
The NYT notes that the Pentagon, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, initially opposed the change in hostage procedures, because they said the new pro-active policy would create an incentive to kidnap Americans. The article goes on to note that the White House "made a crucial concession to the Pentagon: the decision for an automatic review of each case will not be publicly disclosed." (That's poorly written. Presumably, the paper means that each review will be kept quiet, not that the overall decision to automatically review cases won't be announced, because it just was in the NYT.)
USAT off-leads the discovery of more bodies yesterday near the grounds of a Georgia crematorium. Authorities now believe that at least 200 corpses are strewn about, some of which have been there for 15 years. The paper says that police believe that the ashes given to family members of the deceased consisted merely of burnt wood.
Everybody notes that Israeli police thwarted a suicide bombing yesterday when they stopped, and exchanged fire with, a suspicious car. Two Palestinian attackers were killed. The NYT and LAT both say that the Al Aqsa Mosque Brigade, "a group affiliated with" Yasser Arafat's Fatah group, claimed responsibility for the attack. All the papers have long used that description in describing the brigade's connection to Fatah. Given that one of the key questions of the conflict is Arafat's links to terrorism, it'd be nice if one of the papers ran a sidebar explaining exactly what's known about the connection between the two groups.
The LAT emphasizes up high in its story that peace factions have been gaining support in Israel.
Everybody notes that Maoist guerrillas in Nepal launched a massive attack yesterday that killed about 130 people, mostly policemen and soldiers.
The NYT fronts word that the Justice Department, in an unusual move, has blocked the departures of 87 foreign detainees, all of whom had been either ordered to be deported or had agreed to leave. The Justice Department picked the men up in post-Sept.-11 sweeps, and though it doesn't believe any of them have terrorist connections, it's holding them while it triple-checks.
The NYT stuffs the results of a federal study that found that nine out of 10 nursing homes are understaffed. The report also found "strong and compelling" evidence that nursing homes with fewer nursing personnel provided what the NYT terms "substandard care." The paper notes up high that despite the findings, "The Bush administration, citing the costs involved, says it has no plans to set minimum staffing levels for nursing homes." Instead, the White House wants to make nursing homes disclose their staff-to-patient ratios, and the market, theoretically, will take care of the rest.
The NYT's Rick Bragg notes that after a 54-year hiatus, the sport called skeleton has returned to the Olympics. Here's how Bragg describes it:
Picture riding the lid of a turkey roaster pan down a roller coaster rail after an ice storm.
Picture it at almost 80 miles an hour, with wicked turns, at G-forces so powerful that you cannot raise your helmet from the ice, which glitters just an inch away.
Now picture making that ride face first.
Bragg says that in a press conference, one reporter asked a skeletor (if the riders aren't called that, they should be) why he calls the sport the "Champagne of Thrills." I don't, the rider replied, "I call bobsled the 'Champagne of Thrills.' Skeleton is the `Moonshine of Thrills.' "