Heartened Constitution

Heartened Constitution

Heartened Constitution

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 8 2004 4:42 AM

Heartened Constitution

The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and USA Today alllead with Shiite leaders dropping their demands to tweak the proposed Iraqi interim constitution. Top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had been pushing for changes, but he eventually told or was convinced by Shiite members of the Governing Council that it's OK to approve the constitution as is. Everybody is hoping the constitution will be signed today. The Los Angeles Times fronts the ending of the deadlock, but leads with the five killed in Port-au-Prince—four Haitians and a Spanish journalist—after apparent pro-Aristide gangsters opened fire on thousands of anti-Aristide protesters. About 20 Haitians were wounded. "No one came to stop" the gunmen, said one protester. "They had started walking along with us, and then they just opened fire." The paper says neither the Marines nor Haitian police responded immediately, and nobody was arrested in the incident.

"Sistani and the others are not micromanaging the political process," said one Shiite leader who met with al-Sistani yesterday. "They understand the political realities. As long as the issue is stated and put out in the open, then they are not going to stand in the way." The Shiites' objections had centered mostly on a clause that will essentially give minorities, particularly the Kurds, power to vote down the final constitution.

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As the LAT emphasizes, last night at least five rockets landed near Baghdad's convention center, where the constitution is scheduled to be signed. One person was slightly injured.

Alone among the papers, the NYT fronts the bloodiest battle between Israeli troops and the Palestinian militants in about a year. At least 13 Palestinians were killed, 10 of them gunmen; the three civilians included a 9-year-old boy. About 80 people were injured, including 40 minors (at least some of whom had been throwing stones). The Times notes that Israeli troops were shocked by the heavy fire—which included antitank missiles—and they eventually withdrew without making any arrests or seizing any weapons.

On a related note, one that hasn't received much attention: Israeli papers are reporting that the White House has pushed the Israeli government not to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza until after the U.S. elections, arguing that withdrawal might create instability that would look bad for everyone.

The LAT continues to nail Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for perceived conflict of interests. In the latest instance, the paper reports that Scalia gave a talk to a group that opposes equal rights for gays at the same time that the court was considering a case on gay rights. The federal code of conduct for judges is fuzzy: They are supposed to avoid conduct that "would create in reasonable minds ... a perception that the judge's ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality and competence is impaired."

The Post's off-leadsays that with defense spending spiraling in one direction and the government's fiscal health heading in another, the Pentagon's budget is coming in for a bit of increased scrutiny. The Senate Budget Committee, headed by a Republican, voted last week to slice $7 billion from the defense budget. "There are many people in the other Appropriations subcommittees—including the leaders of those subcommittees—who believe their flat funding puts them in a very difficult position, and they'll be taking a hard look at our defense bill to try to tap into that pool," said the Republican chair of the appropriation's defense panel. Still, despite the tough talk and big play, the Post doesn't give the sense that significant cuts are likely.

Also, a quibble: In a thesis-pumping intro, the article details how the current Pentagon budget is in real dollar terms on par with ones during the budget busting Reagan years. It's not until the 20th paragraph that the story mentions that military spending is actually a far smaller percent of GDP nowadays. And the Pentagon slice of the budget itself is down from 28 percent to 20 percent now.

The NYT says inside that President Bush is the one calling the shots on his campaign. "I don't think there are any major decisions coming out of the campaign that he's not making," said one Republican official "close to the re-election effort who did not want to be named for fear of angering Karl Rove." (Side note: TP would like pause and thank the authors of the Times' new tougher sourcing regs.) Included among the president edicts, Sen. Kerry should be referred to as "the senator from Massachusetts who has a record of weakening national defense and raising taxes." As Slate's Fred Kaplan recently detailed, that first charge appears to be vacuous.

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.