The New York Timesleads with the Supreme Court saying it will consider the constitutionality of Vermont's strict limits on campaign contributions and spending. In another case, highlighted by the Washington Post, the justices agreed to ponder the McCain-Feingold law restrictions on some types of corporate and union-funded ads. As the Wall Street Journal emphasizes, Justice O'Connor was the swing vote in the last big campaign-finance decision, so a lot could rest on her successor. USA Today leads with, and the Post's top national spot goes to, former FEMA Chief (and current FEMA consultant) Mike Brown trying to shank Louisianan officials during Capitol Hill hearings on the Katrina response. The Los Angeles Timesleads with Louisiana's battered economy. A few stats:"some 300,000 people out of work, 70,000 living in shelters, [and] at least 200,000 homes destroyed or heavily damaged."
At least initially, Brown said he had but one regret on his Katrina response: He wished he had better managed the "dysfunctional" relationship between Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Neither official took kindly to that characterization.
Eventually, Brown also acknowledged that his agency has been hurting. "I predicted privately for several years that we were going to reach this point [of crisis] because of the lack of resources and the lack of attention being paid to what was [once] a very robust organization," he said, adding, "at one point, we were short 500 people in an organization of about 2,500." The papers all flag those comments, but it's the Post's Dana Milbank who gives a sense of the hearing's arc, pointing out that Brown only began fingering what he dubbed the "emaciation of FEMA" after legislators kept hammering at his incompetence. By the way, the hearing was Republican-controlled and mostly boycotted by Democrats, who've demanded an independent investigation.
The Financial Times says the Gulf's oil rigs—but not refineries—appear to have taken a record hit with Rita. The FT says one possible result is an eventual shortage of drilling rigs, which can take years to build. The FT doesn't give the impression that it's an immediate crisis, but it doesn't seem to bode well for oil production.
As the LAT emphasizes inside, the U.S. said it killed the second in command of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terrorist network. Meanwhile, 22 men were found executed near the border with Iran. And a suicide bomber killed seven police recruits in Baquba, just north of Baghdad. The Post is the only paper to highlight news that a car bomb was found—and thankfully disarmed— inside the Green Zone.
The San Francisco Chronicle has a revealing piece from western Iraq (really), where the commander of a Marine battalion acknowledged that Zarqawi-type insurgents are in charge of at least five big towns. "For the time being, they run these towns," said Lt. Col. Julian Alford.
The NYT goes inside with a West Point-trained captain who blew the whistle on apparent abuse of detainees saying that investigators are not interested in going up the chain of command to search for those responsible. The captain said he tried to get an investigation going and was ignored for 17 months, until last week when Human Rights Watch published his account. "We came forward because of the larger issue that prisoner abuse is systemic in the Army," he told the NYT. "I'm concerned this will take a new twist, and they'll try to scapegoat some of the younger soldiers. This is a leadership problem." The LAT had a similar piece on the officer, Capt. Ian Fishback, over the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Post's editorial page publishes a letter Fishback wrote to Sen. John McCain. And a WP editorial notices that while the president has long promised to treat detainees "humanely," the White House has long refused to explain how it defines "humane." As a former White House lawyer and nominee for deputy attorney general recently told senators, "I am not aware of any guidance provided by the White House specifically related to the meaning of humane treatment."