The Washington Post leads with the White House's release of more documents related to President Bush's National Guard service. The New York Times heads its story, "President Acts on Two Fronts Against Critics" and mentions both the document release and Bush's decision to let the 9/11 commission interview him in private. (Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore have also tentatively agreed to interviews.) The Los Angeles Times, which fronts the document release, goes instead with a rehash of yesterday's news that the U.N. envoy to Iraq thinks that early elections—whether direct, as the Shiites prefer, or indirect, as the U.S. wants—are not feasible. One alternative, an interim U.N. role, was all but ruled out by Secretary General Kofi Annan for security reasons. Another option is an expanded Iraqi Governing Council.
The White House dumped the National Guard papers at 6:30 p.m., after the start of the holiday weekend. All the front-page analyses conclude that the new material provides scant evidence that Bush showed for Guard duty in Alabama between May 1972 and April 1973. This evidence includes a re-released Jan. 1973 dental exam at the Montgomery base where Bush was assigned (see Thursday's "TP") and payroll records documenting Bush's presence there over two weekends. Only the LAT discusses the payroll records in any detail, and only the LAT has Bush's unit supervisor at the base professing to have seen Bush at least six weekends that year. The Post alone notes that in Aug. 1973 National Guard headquarters asked the Texas Guard—where Bush had served prior to May 1972—to forward a performance evaluation of Bush from the Montgomery base. The Texas Guard's reply: "Not rated for the period 1 May 72 through 30 Apr 73. Report for this period not available for administrative reasons."
All the papers front a possibly historic agreement between Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus to unify the island in time for its May 1 entry into the European Union. The pact, brokered by Kofi Annan, allows each side autonomy over everything except defense and national economic policy. Details remain, but the parties agreed that if they cannot finalize a deal by March 22, Greece and Turkey will mediate. If that fails, Annan himself will arbitrate. On April 21 there will be a national referendum. Unless both sides vote to unify, Turkish Cyprus, and perhaps even Turkey itself, will be left out of the EU. (Click here for Annan's press conference, and here for details of the U.N. proposal on which yesterday's agreement was based.)
Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin now explains his unexpected disappearance last weekend by claiming that he was kidnapped, possibly by political opponents. When he resurfaced in Kiev on Tuesday, Rybkin claimed to have taken an unscheduled vacation. In Moscow on Wednesday, he hinted at something sinister. In London yesterday, he said he'd been lured to Kiev to meet with a Chechen separatist leader. He was ushered into a room and knocked unconscious for four days with some drugged tea; afterward, his unidentified captors showed him a "compromising" video of himself. He promises to continue his campaign from abroad. The papers also note inside that an exiled Chechen independence leader with alleged ties to al-Qaida was killed by a car bomb in Qatar. Russia, which last week blamed a Moscow subway bomb on the Chechens, denied responsibility.
The NYT reefers the Food and Drug Administration's decision to delay by 90 days its long-awaited ruling on whether the morning-after pill can be sold over the counter. Reproductive-rights advocates claim the delay is political. The Post's front teases a dispatch from Uganda on the rise of sex-advice matriarchs for hire. These "paternal aunts," or sengas, would traditionally instruct village girls in the birds and the bees, but urbanization has led to a new type of Dr. Ruth-like senga who courts publicity and advises on everything from HIV transmission to dating etiquette. To capitalize on sengas' influence with teenagers, the government is offering the aunties licensure and telling them to discourage pre-marital sex and encourage condom use.
The U.S. trade deficit—the amount of stuff Americans bought from abroad minus the stuff they sold abroad—hit a record $489.4 billion in 2003, the papers report. (In other words, Americans had to borrow $489.4 billion from foreigners to pay for the imports they consumed but couldn't afford.) The NYT writes that, contrary to economic theory, the trade deficit has increased despite the falling value of the U.S. dollar (which makes U.S. goods cheaper abroad and therefore increases demand for U.S. exports). The WP, by contrast, says that the falling dollar is starting to boost U.S. exports. Both the WP and NYT note that the trade deficit is now 4.5 percent of GDP, but only the NYT bothers to give the comparable figure for 2002 (4 percent). None of the papers provide comparable figures for the 1980s, which makes it impossible for readers to know whether last year's "record" dollar amount is truly a watershed.
All the papers report Gen. Wesley Clark's endorsement of John Kerry for president. The Post fronts word that Kerry, feeling secure of the Democratic nomination, is embarking on a coast-to-coast fundraising marathon.
According to early morning reports, 21 were killed and 35 wounded when guerrillas attacked an Iraqi police station in Falluja.
The Post's trade deficit article notes that White House economic adviser N. Gregory Mankiw, a former academic, had to apologize yesterday for insensitivity after saying that the migration of service jobs overseas "is just a new way of doing international trade." This is not the only politically incorrect remark in Mankiw's past, of course. TP happens to have the 1997 edition of Mankiw's macroeconomics textbook on his shelf. In it, Mankiw argues that the large federal budget deficits of the 1980s "reduced national saving, leading to a large trade deficit." This is accompanied by a graph showing a historical correlation between the federal budget and the trade balance. And what does a high trade deficit mean for America? "High current consumption [as reflected in a trade deficit] leads to lower future consumption, implying that future generations bear the burden of low national savings."