Taking the Frist Steps

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 23 2005 5:59 AM

Taking the Frist Steps

The Los Angeles Times leads with the Iranian Guardian Council's surprise announcement of six preapproved presidential candidates for next month's election—a move that excludes about 1,000 candidates and all but guarantees that the successor to reformer Mohammad Khatami will be a religious conservative. The largest reform party, whose candidate was banned, said it was ready to resist: "We are warning the Guardian Council that we will not participate in the election if it doesn't reverse its decision," a leader said. "Barring reform candidates means there will be no free or fair election." The New York Times leads with increasingly tough tactics from United Nations peacekeepers, especially in the Ituri region of eastern Congo, where blue-helmets use attack helicopters and cordon off villages for hut-to-hut weapons searches. "The ghost of Rwanda lies very heavily over how the U.N. and the Security Council have chosen to deal with Ituri," said a top U.N. official.

The Washington Post leads with the second of two articles in its special report on Homeland Security contracts—this one on how the US-VISIT program to build a virtual, biometric border-control regime is plagued with outdated technology and a blurry, open-ended relationship between the government and its primary contractor, Accenture. "There's no question we could end up spending billions of dollars and end up with nothing," said the head of an immigration nonprofit. "It creates an illusion of security that doesn't exist." USA Today leads with shorter security lines at the airports—the last year has seen a tenfold drop in the probability that passengers will be caught in a line over 40 minutes long.

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The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a new U.S.-Iraqi offensive to rout insurgents along the notoriously dangerous Baghdad-airport road. The papers say the insurgency has claimed more than 550 lives in recent weeks, including a Trade Ministry official yesterday and, according to late word mentioned in the LAT, a top aide to Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafaari who was gunned down with his driver early this morning.

A day after a large group of anti-American Sunni leaders in Iraq decided to enter the political arena, the papers also run stories on an unlikely new peace mediator: radical Shiite leader Muqtada Sadr. Despite playing host to fiery anti-American rallies in recent weeks, Sadr sent aides yesterday to leading Shiite and Sunni groups asking them to sign a pledge opposing violence against Iraqis, according to the WP. He also appeared on Al-Arabiya television. "Iraq needs to stand side by side for the time being," he said, adding that the country must solve its problems "politically, socially, and peacefully."

With Sen. Bill Frist likely to force a nuclear-option showdown later today or tomorrow, everyone runs a little filibluster. The NYT has the most vacuous piece, saying negotiations among 12 moderates to forestall a clash are going "down to the wire." The Post's fronter plays up the negotiations but also offers more satisfying details on feverish partisan jockeying—like which Dem senators have been assigned to sway which wavering GOPers, and the Dems' offer to filibuster to protect the chairmanships of moderate Republicans like Arlen Specter if they face a backlash for voting against going nuclear. USAT focuses on outside groups' double-barreled lobbying efforts. And in the LAT, which has its own rote story, Ronald Brownstein takes an even wider view, observing that compromise has become difficult and rare because the Senate increasingly resembles the House in that many senators are from deep red or blue states and therefore "face a greater risk of losing a primary by compromising too much than a general election by compromising too little."

The Journal, by contrast, offers a refreshingly narrow perspective, highlighting the stakes of appointing these particular judges and noting that some could tip the precariously balanced circuit courts to which President Bush has nominated them. (Check the nice, free info-graphic.) Janice Rogers Brown, for instance, has railed against the extent of the federal government and may be headed to the D.C. Circuit, which hears the majority of appeals involving government-agency rulings.

Only a day after the NYT led with an administration-leaked memo saying Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was en route to this country, was "unwilling to assert strong leadership" to rein in the heroin trade, Karzai appeared on CNN's Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer to play some defense, the papers report. Sadly, the NYT doesn't probe the motives of its source, identified Sunday only as "an American official alarmed at the slow pace of poppy eradication." TP wonders: Perhaps he was also an American official alarmed about Karzai's plan to talk with President Bush today about Army reports on systematic prisoner abuse at the U.S.'s Bagram prison, a story the Times itself broke and has admirably kept alive?

A few days after the WSJ filed a harrowing piece from Andijan, Uzbekistan, where it looks like a massacre occurred following an anti-government uprising on May 13, both the LAT and NYT have shown up, too. Although the Uzbek government still insists only about 169 people died, a NYT photographer in Andijan says that toe-tag numbers on bullet-riddled bodies there ranged from the teens up to 378. The LAT, for its part, has detailed accounts from two disillusioned witnesses. "They were driven to it by all these years of arrests and persecution," one witness said of the rebels. "My nephew, Abduvakhid Kutakov, who was among them on that night, briefly came home and said, 'We won! The victory is ours!' He was found dead the next day with a bullet in the back. So what victory was he talking about?' "

The LAT fronts a fascinating story on new videos smuggled from North Korea depicting acts of civil disobedience—or representing it in themselves, merely by their chronicling of everyday life under the repressive regime. "If we were caught, everybody would be dead," said one defector. "I saw that everybody was starving, and the state wasn't doing anything but building mausoleums to Kim Il Sung and villas for Kim Jong Il."

The Post has an interesting piece on the mellowing of J.D. Crouch II, the new deputy national security adviser—and at one time a "saber-rattling" professor who advocated invading North Korea and bemoaned "30 years of liberal social policy that have ... taken Mom out of the house."

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