The Washington Post,New York Times, and USA Today lead with government estimates that the economy grew at an annualized rate of 7.2 percent last quarter, the biggest one-quarter gain since 1984. Business spending jumped 11 percent. The Los Angeles Times' lead says that with wetter weather, the fires are finally calming down a bit.
Many analysts in the papers speculate that the big quarter is a big sign the economy is finally recovering. "Pop the champagne corks," one economist told USAT. But the papers also caution that there were a lot of one-time factors involved, namely super-low mortgage rates that drove refinancing, and tax-cut checks in the mail. Also, employment hasn't picked up yet, a point the USAT leaves until the penultimate paragraph, and the WP notes right at the top, "ECONOMY GROWS AT 7.2 PERCENT ANNUAL RATE IN THIRD QUARTER; But Virtually No Additional Jobs Were Created."
The NYT fronts word from "senior American officials" that Saddam may be coordinating parts of the guerrilla campaign in Iraq. The officials acknowledged that the intel is murky.The Times notes that the White House has long been arguing that Saddam doesn't have time for planning insurgencies as he's supposedly busy trying to save his own tail.
Everybody notes there was a big explosion in Baghdad's old quarter yesterday, killing one Iraqi and setting several buildings on fire. Also a U.S. supply rail train was attacked near Fallujah and then looted.
The WP's David Ignatius, using his column to break some news, says the administration has decided to move against radical young cleric Moqtada Sadr.
As the papers all note, shortly after midnight the House approved an aid package to Iraq that closely follows the one Bush requested. The Senate is also expected to pass it soon.
Everybody mentions a report from a government watchdog group that most of the rebuilding contracts in Iraq went to U.S. companies that are heavy political donors. Nine of the 10 biggest contractors either employed former senior government officials or, as says the NYT obliquely, "had close ties to government agencies and to Congress." The group, the Center for Public Integrity, also complained that the government has dragged its feet in releasing info. The WP flags the CPI's conclusion that the contracting system is beset by "almost incomprehensible confusion." A USAID spokeswoman responded that the watchdog report is "sloppy and inaccurate."
The papers note inside that the Senate intelligence committee, headed by a Republican, sent the White House a letter yesterday saying that the administration "must lift" its objections to handing over war-intel-related documents. Committee members said the White House hasn't answered some of its previous, more polite, requests. Similar letters also went to the Departments of State and Defense.
The WP and NYT off-lead Russian prosecutors' decision to freeze half the stock of Russia's largest oil company, just days after the head of the company was arrested on what seems to be politically trumped-up charges of fraud. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin's chief of staff resigned in protest of the moves. The seizure and resignation caused Russia's stock market to sink 8 percent yesterday; it's fallen 17 percent this week.
The papers note inside that North Korea, apparently responding to President Bush's offer of a "written guarantee" not to attack, has agreed to another round of talks with the U.S. and other countries. The WP notices that North Korea called for "simultaneous actions," which the U.S. says it isn't into.
The WP fronts comments Israel's top military officer made earlier this week that Israel's increasingly harsh treatment of Palestinians is ultimately counterproductive and creates "hatred and terrorism." As he told Israeli newspapers earlier this week, "In our tactical decisions, we are operating contrary to our strategic interests." According to the Post, the general made the comments after he was rebuffed recently when he tried to ease Palestinian travel restrictions during the crucial olive harvest.
The NYT and WP front the FDA's initial assessment that food from cloned animals is A-OK. The agency said that cloned animals that survive through childhood appear to be just as healthy as their conventional counterparts.
The LAT fronts Afghan President Hamid Karzai's aides saying that the United States ignored Karzai's warning that militia fighters working with American soldiers were robbing and terrorizing civilians. "We know that this thing happened," said one aide. "Much of what [villagers] have been saying has some basis in reality." According to early morning news reports, a U.S. soldier was killed in Afghanistan yesterday.