Everyone leads with Hurricane Charley's 145 mph—more than 30 mph faster than expected—rampage through the west coast of Florida. President Bush declared four counties of his brother's state a federal disaster area, the Los Angeles Times reports three deaths, and the New York Times estimates that about 377,000 buildings (worth about $15 billion) were destroyed. The Washington Post's story, and an NYT piece inside the paper, highlights the tempest's unpredictability: Earlier in the day over 1 million heeded forecasts of the storm's direction and evacuated Tampa, but the winds only grazed the city and instead barreled through the Fort Myers area, 90 miles south. Still swirling but slightly weakened, the hurricane snaked by Orlando at around 10 P.M. and is expected to hit the South Carolina coastal area by morning. Flash floods and tornados are anticipated across Florida. Meteorologists—hopefully accurate this time—expect that the hurricane will be downgraded to tropical storm status (39 to 73 mph sustained winds) by tonight.
All the papers also front the tenuous truce forged yesterday in Najaf, Iraq, between American troops and the militia of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr. The break in fighting allowed Sadr, who was incognito throughout the eight days of battle, to appear in the surrounded Imam Ali shrine so he could denounce the Iraqi interim government, order his militia to reject the Iraqi government's call—seconded implicitly by Colin Powell—for disarmament, and according to the WP (which has the best play-by-play account of the cease-fire's emergence), propose his own plan for the Shiite holy city: leave it alone and under the control of two senior clerics. The NYT notes that if Sadr, who may have been wounded by a U.S. airstrike two days ago, works out a deal, his role as the main opposition to the U.S.-supported interim government would be further solidified.
The NYT profiles a killed member of Sadr's Mahdi Army and indicates that army mainly comprises young Shiite men who joined not out of religion or patriotism (such as the rebelling Sunnis in Falluja), but because the charismatic Sadr filled a void created by poverty and alienation.
U.S. military tribunals in Guantanomo Bay ruled yesterday that four detainees were properly considered unlawful enemy combatants and could thus be detained indefinitely. The tribunals, which opened on July 30, came on the heels of the Supreme Court's decision that the "enemy combatants" deserved a fair shot at challenging their detention. According to the NYT, the names of the "defendants" weren't released, nor was it clear that they were even present at their hearings. Critics complained that the Bush administration was not adhering to the court's opinion. (Last week, Slate's Phillip Carter described the hearings as part of "a legal strategy to keep the rule of law out of the war on terrorism by whatever procedural, legal, or administrative means are available.")
A front-pager in the WP uses recent arrests and warnings to review and update the current, if sketchily outlined, state of al-Qaida. Adapting to the 2001 defeat of the Taliban and the 2003 capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the group has become more decentralized, but it hasn't had trouble finding new leaders. This flies in the face of the previous CW, which suspected that Osama Bin Laden's network had been totally crippled.
A story in the NYT notes that while everyone focuses on terrorism or Iraq or the economy, the Bush administration has used regulations—which bypass the nasty business of legislation and open debate—to change "[h]ealth rules, environmental regulations, energy initiatives, worker-safety standards and product-safety disclosure policies." Unsurprisingly, most of the new rules enliven industry leaders while enraging consumer groups.
Oil prices hit an all-time high for the third time this week yesterday, at $46.58 per barrel. While hypotheses for the recent surge have ranged from increased Chinese demand to instability in Iraq to the imminent breakup of Russian oil giant Yukos, an NYT article blames the recent surge on a new culprit: OPEC. Apparently, the cartel mucked things up for itself by lowering its production ceiling after the fall of Saddam Hussein and ramped up production a little too late. Now, prices are soaring and production is at full capacity. Still, the daily appearance of a new hypothesis leaves TP sympathetic to an analyst who said, "[w]e have too many issues out there" and then went on to detail the whole lot of them.
The WP fronts news that President Bush plans to announce on Monday the withdrawal of 70,000 of the 100,000 U.S. troops stationed at bases in Europe and Asia. The events of the past three years and post-Cold War strategic reconfiguration seem to play a role in the decision.
The presidential candidates nearly crossed paths yesterday in Oregon. Sen. Kerry talked about a new Congressional Budget Office study revealing that most of President Bush's tax cut provided a windfall to the rich and barely helped the poor while President Bush defended his cuts.
Julia Child, the famed chef and gourmet-popularizer, died yesterday at age 91.