The Washington Post leads with the nation's imperiled pediatric vaccine stockpile. By law, the government is supposed to maintain a large surplus of vaccines for 11 children's diseases in case of emergency—outbreaks, shortages, etc.—but recent crackdowns against corporate accounting fraud have broken the program (see below), and supplies are dwindling fast. The New York Times leads with the latest on the weapons and equipment that were looted from Iraqi weapons installations after Baghdad fell in April 2003: Some of it is now appearing at open-air markets across Iraq. Though what's available appears limited to innocuous machinery and vehicle parts, the report suggests that underground markets for looted explosives may be run from the same sites. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the U.S.'s weakening control over Iraq's political future now that the country's new government has begun to solidify. There are hints that the next round of decisions about the country's direction—coalition troop levels, amnesty for insurgents, treatment of former Baathists—may be the first in which the U.S. does not have the final say.
To appear more profitable, corporations often cheat by counting future sales toward their revenues. Regulators have sought to put limits on this practice. But the vaccine stockpile program is set up so that the supplies are stored in the manufacturers' warehouses, and the government doesn't actually take possession of them unless there's an emergency—meaning that, technically, they're unsold, and don't count toward revenue. Drug makers have refused to continue making millions of doses that they can't sell.
None of the machinery related to nuclear-material manufacture has surfaced at the Iraqi markets—officials believe much of it was transported out of the country early on by well-organized teams of smugglers. But so many other parts are available that even the U.S. military has become a regular customer. In many instances, U.S. forces are restoring vehicles and equipment that belonged to Saddam Hussein's army and must therefore buy back the very parts once looted from the gear they're working on.
The WP fronts the first of a two-part feature on the small democratic movements that, with help from U.S. pro-democracy programs and state-independent satellite television, are slowly gaining footholds across the Middle East. These opposition groups have drawn inspiration and strategy from recent high-profile resistance movements like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. This article focuses mostly on the media team behind the protests that helped spur the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. The team—like the one in Ukraine—created a stunning visual statement by handing out tens of thousands of red and white ribbons to demonstrators.
The LAT off-leads the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland, a trend hastened lately by a period of relative prosperity, Ireland's own clergy sex scandal, and the rising tide of secularism there. Once a jewel in the Vatican's miter and a prolific source of priests, Ireland's mass attendance has been dropping since the 1970s, and its seminaries emptying: Only 15 priests were ordained last year nationwide.
Meanwhile an NYT front takes a wild guess at who the next pope might be: Cardinal John Ratzinger, the 78-year-old German prelate who was John Paul II's right-hand man. Ratzinger seems to have the largest bloc of supporters—around 50 of the 115 cardinals by the NYT's count—but the selection process is so secretive that even the best guess is almost totally uninformed. The article includes a sort of personals ad for what the NYT sees as the cardinals' ideal candidate: "Charismatic and basically conservative. Intellectual but accessible. Speaks Italian, Spanish and English. Not too old, not too young."
And on the subject of picking a winner in this holiest of derbies, they add: "In the last conclave in 1978, Vatican-watchers had concocted lists of potential popes 20 to 30 names long…[but] the cardinal from Poland who became Pope John Paul II after three days made practically none of them."
Ninety-four of the 162 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals were nominated by GOP presidents, notes this LAT front—a fact that doesn't exactly jibe with Republican claims of a judicial system awash in activist liberal judges. The article is a good primer on the upcoming battle over the Senate filibuster. It observes, for instance, that it isn't the dozen appeals court nominees at issue here—12 judges won't change the balance at all—it's that this go-round will determine the freedom with which Bush will be able to choose justices for Supreme Court.
No Use Tiptoeing: Wendy's International Inc. doubled to $100,000 its offer for information explaining the origin of the mysterious finger a woman found in her chili last month. Sales are down at Wendy's restaurants in the San Jose, Calif., area where the incident took place, forcing some managers to severely cut staff. (More from Slate on this here.)