The Washington Post leads with a somewhat-clandestine U.S. program aimed at increasing the popularity of the Palestinian Authority ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections. Fearing that the elections will result in a broad victory for the radical Islamic group Hamas, the U.S. has pumped $2 million into various projects that the Palestinian Authority alone is taking credit for. The New York Times leads with Pakistan's faltering campaign against foreign militants in the country's tribal areas, where Osama Bin Laden is believed to be hiding. Pakistani officials say "the military campaign is bogged down, the local political administration is powerless and the militants are stronger than ever." The Los Angeles Times leads with lawmakers from several states proposing new restrictions on abortion in order to force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade.
Although $2 million is only a small fraction of the U.S. aid budget for the Palestinian territories, it should go a long way in making the ruling Fatah party seem more, well, Hamas-like. Hamas has, as the Post puts it, a "reputation for competence and accountability in providing social services." Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority, does not. In an effort to change all that, the U.S. has anonymously sponsored such things as a street-cleaning campaign, food distribution at border crossings, a national youth soccer tournament and a tree-planting ceremony (that looked a lot like a Fatah rally).
The Post is quick to point out that the campaign "does not fall within the definitions of traditional development work," despite being led by a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Nevertheless, the aid agency decided that the goal of limiting Hamas' influence trumped all other concerns. But officials quoted in the Post still seem a bit elusive and over-defensive. "We are not favoring any particular party," said James A. Bever, the USAID mission director for the area. (A document outlining the project listed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority as its "direct beneficiary.") Another U.S. official said, "I'm not going to apologize for it. I'm proud of the work we've done." One wonders if the reporter asked him to apologize.
Speaking presumably of Hamas, Bever goes on to say that "we do not support parties that are on the terrorism list." TP couldn't help but flash back to this comment when reading the NYT profile of Jamal Abu Roub, the Palestinian leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade … and a Fatah candidate for parliament.
Since Pakistan's tribal areas are off-limits to foreign journalists, the NYT report on the region is a view from afar, based on accounts from former residents and U.S. and Pakistani officials. There's not much new here. Local militants, with the assistance of al-Qaida operatives, have taken control of the tribal areas, gaining a hold over the population "through a mix of fear and religion." The Times says the region shelters "a kind of rogue gallery," including al-Qaida leaders, Afghan warlords and local militants. In other words, the area looks a lot like Afghanistan prior to the American-led invasion.
The LAT lead on abortion is timed to coincide with the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. But the story could have appeared anytime within the past, say, 33 years. Conservatives in state legislatures have made an annual ritual of introducing legislation that would ban abortion in all but some cases. So when the LAT headline trumpets, "States Step Up Fight on Abortion," it is really misrepresenting a 33-year-old effort as a new trend.
The latest West Virginia mining tragedy makes no one's front page (although the WP reefers it). Two miners who disappeared after a conveyor belt caught fire 900 feet underground were found dead on Saturday. The NYT reports that, since last June, the mine has been cited at least 12 times for violations involving fire equipment.
The WP fronts Democratic-leaning states striking out on their own to regulate energy use because, in the eyes of state officials, the GOP-controlled federal government isn't doing enough. A spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality says the administration welcomes state efforts "as long as they do not put Americans out of jobs or move emissions from one state to another or one country to another." If the White House welcomes the efforts and doesn't want emissions moving from one state to another, shouldn't it federalize the campaign?
At least 12 Iraqis were killed in shootings and bombings in Iraq Saturday, but there is still no word on the fate of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll. Meanwhile, in neighboring Kuwait the cabinet has begun proceedings to unseat the new emir, who is so sick he may not be able to recite the oath of office.
Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova died of lung cancer Saturday. Talks over the province's future, scheduled for this week, have been postponed.
Whale of an ending … Everyone reports on the fate of the 17-foot-long, bottle-nosed whale whose swim up the Thames River in London attracted thousands of onlookers. It died Saturday as rescuers tried to load the 7-ton creature onto a barge and transport it back out to open seas. The sentimental LAT seems the most broken up over the loss, noting that the whale "swam into London and into the hearts of people around the world." Does anyone have a tissue?