The Senate approved a $350 billion tax cut yesterday, according to the lead stories in the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post and the top non-local story in the New York Times. In a half-victory for George Bush, the plan eliminates all taxes on stock dividends as he's been demanding—and then reinstates them in 2007 as part of a gambit to secure the package's passage by making it less expensive. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with word that FBI and CIA agents have arrived in Saudi Arabia to help investigate the bombings there, reflecting American fears—also reported in the NYT and fronted by the WP—that more attacks are imminent in the area. USA Today's lead reports that China, in an attempt to demonstrate new ways it's fighting the SARS epidemic, has frozen almost all foreign adoptions, a story the NYT and WP both reefer. According to USAT, China is America's favorite source of foreign adoptions, sending more than 100 babies per week to the U.S.
The Senate vote was so tight that Dick Cheney had to cast a tie-breaker for the amendment that included the dividend tax cut, and the bill later passed 51-49. The NYT reports in its tax story and an accompanying news analysis that Republican senators seemed less interested in passing coherent tax legislation than in using sunset clauses to cobble together a majority, leaving the details to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee their party would dominate. One conservative at the American Enterprise Institute told the NYT that the bill's off-again-on-again taxation of dividends is "one of the most patently absurd tax policies ever proposed."
The original tax-cut bill the Senate began considering a week ago did not exempt all dividends from taxation, and the papers all report the Bush administration adamantly demanded the change to a complete, if only temporary, cut to score at least a symbolic victory in the "moral" crusade against that scourge of millionaires, the dread double taxation of corporate earnings. Yet the WP, alone among papers, notes that the version of the tax cut the Senate just passed also takes a swipe at single taxation, eliminating taxes on dividends from corporations that already pay little or no federal taxes.
The WP's front-page attack-fear article cites unnamed "intelligence and terrorism officials" who claim that increased chatter, similar to that picked up before this week's Riyadh bombings, indicates al-Qaida plans to hit more U.S. targets abroad, especially in east Africa. One official told the Post that "in some cases, the bullets have already left the gun." There's no mention, however, of entirely opposite intel claims the WP fronted only 10 days ago—right as this supposed chatter was heating up—that AQ was thought to be nearly crippled. That story relied heavily on the head of the State Department's counterterrorism office, Cofer Black, who said that the Iraq war was the test for AQ: "You put up or shut up and they have failed. It proves that the global war on terrorism has been effective, focused and has got these guys on the run." Oddly, according to a story in today's NYT, Black was dispatched twice in recent months to Saudi Arabia to warn them of impending attacks, most recently on April 15.
The WP off-leads, the NYT fronts and the LAT goes inside with the Giuliani-like commitment of Paul Bremer, the U.S.'s new civil administrator in Iraq, to bring order to Baghdad—the Post reports inside that troops have even started picking up the garbage. Conceding "a serious law-and-order problem," Bremer said at a news conference that troops are more aggressively patrolling streets and have arrested 300 Iraqis over the last few days. Moreover, in Washington, the Pentagon announced it is sending 15,000 troops from the 1st Armored Division to Baghdad to help out the 20,000 troops already there from the 3rd, according to a story inside the Post.
Buried in the last graph of the LAT's Baghdad crime article is separate story that deserves its own follow-up: Apparently British troops have handed over the southern port city of Um Qasr to a local civilian authority, the first such transfer since the war ended.
According to pieces inside the LAT and WP, Colin Powell hinted yesterday that he was willing to compromise with France and Russia on a draft Security Council resolution on Iraq, saying that the U.S. might be willing to suspend sanctions as opposed to lifting them outright. Soon after, however, White House spokesman Scott McClellen reiterated that the administration would press for an unequivocal lifting of the sanctions, and Powell issued a statement backing up the official line. The WP indirectly cites U.S. officials and council diplomats who think Powell was "floating a possible negotiating concession to measure the depth of resistance to the proposal in Washington."
Both the NYT and WP go inside with the French ambassador's accusations that the administration has engaged in a covert smear campaign against France, leaking false information about the country to American newspapers, including the WP and NYT. In a 2-page letter, the ambassador listed eight questionable stories since September that cite "anonymous administration officials," and both papers report that France suspects the Pentagon is to blame. A White House spokesman cautiously refuted the claims, saying, "There is, I don't think, any basis in fact to it," and Sec Def Rumsfeld offered this curiously worded denial: "Certainly, there's no such campaign out of this building."
The NYT fronts news that three European countries' economies—including Germany's—shrank in the first quarter of 2003, fueling fears of a global recession as Asia still reels from the economic fallout of the SARS epidemic.
To TP's relief, USAT reports inside that the disturbing, White Noise-style terrorism drills in Seattle and Chicago have ended, and all the people feigning sickness from radiological and biological attacks have gone home.
And just when you thought you couldn't read another story about the Bush administration's artful manipulation of the news media, the NYT runs a surprisingly compelling front-page piece introducing us to the event-planners who make the magic happen. Buttressed by approving quotes from Michael Deaver, Ronald Reagan's famed image-maker, the NYT also introduces us to a new adjective: Sforzian, after Scott Sforza the former ABC producer who works in the White House communications office and is instrumental in orchestrating the president's TV-friendly events. Sforza conceived Bush's message-of-the-day backdrops and choreographed the shlock-and-awe extravaganza aboard the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln, where the Times says he "embedded himself" days in advance to make preparations for Bush's arrival.