The New York Times and the Washington Post lead with the ongoing constitutional crisis in Iraq. The August 15th deadline and several extensions have now passed and Kurdish and Shiite leaders have called the talks finished, but Sunni negotiators are still attempting to resolve the highly divisive issues that are plaguing the process. The Los Angeles Times leads with Americans' newfound penchant for dipping into their home equity to finance snazzy lifestyles. The $59 billion U.S. homeowners took out of their houses in the second quarter of 2005 was twice what it was the year before, and a whopping 16 times what it was in the mid-'90s. Meanwhile, mortgage debt has risen 69 percent in the past five years and the savings rate is still at zero.
The NYT dismisses the remaining talks as "last-ditch efforts" and hints they may be rendered irrelevant when Shiite and Kurd leaders present the final document this afternoon. The Post also calls the talks over, essentially handing the mic to a Sunni negotiator. "The chances of bringing Sunni Arabs to the political process are almost lost," he says. "Things will deteriorate in every aspect."
But the LAT's front-page coverage of Iraq is strikingly different from that of the other two papers. Its Column One story, slugged "Iraq Talks May Plod Until Vote in October," makes a clear case that the talks are not over:
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Sunni Arab politicians and clerics closed ranks Saturday, proposing a flurry of amendments to a draft constitution they have condemned, while some officials said negotiations could drag on until a nationwide referendum on the charter scheduled for the fall.
Despite announcements by several Shiite politicians that negotiations were complete and the draft constitution was finished, discussions continued feverishly Saturday and might keep going until, during and after a meeting of the National Assembly scheduled for today. (LAT)
In addition to the above discrepancy, the LAT brings up three major points that go strangely unaddressed by both he NYT and the Post: 1) the possibility that the transitional law governing the constitution-writing process might allow for the extension of negotiations until the October 15 referendum. ("I typed the deadlines with my own hands," said an Iraqi lawyer at the Unitd Nations who helped write the interim law: "The National Assembly is well within its rights to continue the process. If [they] need more time, that's fine.") 2) the apparent fact that Iraqi officials have been running a smear campaign against the 15 Sunni negotiators, portraying them as extremists who don't represent Sunnis at large, even though 3) on Saturday, "Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political party and a group of Sunni clerics rallied to the support of the 15" and their efforts to negotiate a solution.
Why is the LAT the only one reporting these items? Are they giving too much credence to the possibility of a renewed Sunni diplomatic salvo? Or are the Post and the NYT missing important developments?
In another front, the NYT interviews the parents of fallen soldiers. In that group there is no consensus, the reporter finds, on either the war or the actions and motivations of Cindy Sheehan.
The WP fronts a look at the Russian town of Beslan, one year after the elementary-school terror attack that claimed 331 lives, including 186 children. The town, in the words of one Moscow psychologist who has worked there since the attack, "is a very sick place." Many children are only now becoming ready to return to school—the locus of their terror—though most remain severely traumatized and require constant special help.
The LAT fronts a look at how the broadening moral support enjoyed by critics of the Iraq war may not amount to much, since anti-war policymakers can't agree on how to proceed. Some Democrats in Congress, most notably Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold, have called for a quick withdrawal—but no other senator has stood with them. Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph Biden—both likely presidential candidates—have been cautious. "This is very different from Vietnam," said Biden. "There's much more at stake." He did assert, however, that "by the end of '06, we'll be out of there—either because we've solidified the country, or it will be beyond our control."
Sunday Rainforest Update: The Amazon rainforest is doing a little better this year. Or rather, it's doing a little less bad—foresters have only cut down 3,500 square miles since last August, whereas (according to the Brazilian Environment Ministry) 10,000 square miles got slashed the previous year. Keep down the bad work, guys!