The New York Times leads with President Bush's firm statement that Saddam Hussein has "weeks, not months" to disarm or else. The Los Angeles Times chooses a different Bush statement from yesterday—his first public endorsement of the Saudi plan for averting war by giving Hussein an option to exile voluntarily. The Washington Post leads with an economic report by the Commerce Department saying that growth in the economy slowed in the final three months of last year. USA Today headlines a federal judge's sentencing in the case of attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid. The Wall Street Journal's top world-wide newsbox story covers the Senate confirmation of railroad executive John Snow as President Bush's second Treasury secretary. Snow was easily confirmed by voice vote.
According to the NYT lead, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that nine countries have committed troops to a possible Iraq war and that more than 20 nations have allowed full access to their military bases, airstrips, and ports, though he declined to name the countries. Armitrage also linked Iraq to al-Qaida: The assassination in October of an American diplomat in Jordan, he said, had been orchestrated by a Baghdad-based al-Qaida operative.
The paper also says that the Bush administration has suggested it will put off a decision on war until Feb. 14, "but not much beyond that." Feb. 14 is the date U.N. weapons inspectors deliver their next report to the Security Council. The paper reveals that Mr. Bush has directed Secretary of State Colin Powell to free up $15 million in a special fund to prepare, in case of war, for any "humanitarian emergency in the Middle East," such as the flight of refugees.
The LAT cites in its lead story an AP report that Arab countries are considering offering amnesty to all but 100 of Hussein's top aides, "to encourage the others to overthrow him without fear of subsequent prosecution for his atrocities." The paper raises an interesting question about the unlikely prospect of Saddam choosing exile: Where would he go? Saudi Arabia and Egypt are two listed candidates, since they both want to "head off a war they feel would be highly destabilizing." (Is war more destabilizing than having Saddam Hussein in your country?)
USAT'sheadline on its story of the three life sentences (plus 80 years and $2 million in fines) that a federal judge gave Richard Reid yesterday was, "JUDGE TO BOMBER: 'YOU'RE NO BIG DEAL.' " According to that paper'saccount, and the other paper's front-page stories, U.S. District Judge William Young exchanged some pretty heated words with Reid in the final seconds of yesterday's drama. "You are not a soldier in any war—you are a terrorist," the judge told Reid, telling him to look at the U.S. flag, which he said, "will fly there long after this is forgotten." Reid stood up and shouted, among other things, "You will be judged by Allah." Reid was then dragged from the court.
Also on the USAT's front, the journal Science will report today that global warming made the recent drought in the U.S. worse than it otherwise would have been. A reefer box within the story reads, "Snowmobile controversy: Study favored ban instead of restraint."
The WP, taking its cues from the latest Commerce Department report, lays part of the blame for the fourth-quarter growth slowdown on consumer spending, which grew only 1 percent. "A chief reason," the paper paraphrases, "was a drop in spending on new cars and trucks." Funny. Only two weeks ago, the Commerce Department reported weak retail sales but surging auto sales (5 percent sales growth in December after gaining 2.6 percent in November).
A different view of the economy: USAT features a cover story saying "average Americans" are demanding a "taste of luxury" everywhere—in the fast food they eat, the golf clubs they swing, and the vehicles they drive. "The trend was in place long before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. ... But the events of Sept. 11 appear to have helped accelerate the trend." How this happened isn't explained.
The NYT fronts and the WSJ goes high up with news that Bush administration officials say American spy satellites have detected what appear to be nuclear fuel rods being moved out of storage. Or not. As soon as the NYT says this, it writes, "the satellites could not see exactly what was being put into the trucks." Still, analysts believe that if North Korea is indeed preparing the production of nuclear weapons, it could have up to a half-dozen ready within a few months. The NYT mentions that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is discussing with top military advisers the possibility of staging a pre-emptive strike against North Korea while at the same time waging war in Iraq.
The WP reports that the Pentagon is requesting a budget that grows $20 billion annually over the next five years. The budget would surpass half a trillion dollars by the end of the decade.
Meanwhile, the NYT carries word that an overburdened manager at a California-based Immigration and Naturalization Service data processing center is being charged with illegally shredding as many as 90,000 documents in an attempt to reduce the backlog there.
The NYT headlines a story, "CHENEY, LITTLE SEEN BY PUBLIC, PLAYS A VISIBLE ROLE FOR BUSH." Well, the VP must be a pretty public recluse. The article mentions that Cheney gave a speech yesterday before the Conservative Political Action Conference; but it fails to add that many of the cable networks broadcast it live.