The New York Timesleads with Pakistani officials now saying they do believe that the recent U.S. airstrike, which killed about a dozen civilians, also in fact killed a handful of "senior" al-Qaida men, including the son-in-law of AQ's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The U.S. had posted a $5 million reward for one of the men. It's unclear how the Pakistanis know about the killings, since the suspected militants' bodies reportedly haven't been found. USA Todayleads with federal mine regulators saying they want to pump up max allowable fines nearly fourfold to $220,000. Regulators don't have the power to make the change; only Congress does. Knight Ridder recently had an analysis showing a "dramatic reduction in the dollar amount of large fines for mine safety violations during the Bush administration." The Los Angeles Timesleads with evidence Southern California's real-estate market is cooling down just a bit: The rate of appreciation (not overall prices) dropped last year, the first time that's happened six years. The Washington Postleads with D.C. becoming the latest locale to offer emergency drug coverage for those getting shafted by snafus in the new Medicare pill program.
The LAT and NYTfrontthe Supreme Court punting on a New Hampshire law requiring parental notifications for minors who want abortions. A lower court had overturned the law as unconstitutional since it doesn't include a health exemption. Yesterday's ruling, which was unanimous and written by Justice O'Connor, sent the law back to the lower court, saying that while a health exemption is required, the court "need not have invalidated the law wholesale."
The WP and NYT both stuff the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluding that the briefings the White House gave Congress about the warrantless spying were so limited as to be, ahem, "inconsistent with the law."
Nobody fronts the violence in Iraq, where about 50 people were reported killed in attacks. The NYT flags the discovery of "bodies of 36 Iraqis killed execution-style"; all appear to have been Sunnis recently hired as police. Two African telecom engineers were kidnapped when their "heavily defended" convoy was ambushed in Baghdad. Ten of their security guards were killed. In the southern city of Basra, two American contractors were reportedly killed by a roadside bomb.
The WP has a remarkable, and remarkably sobering, report from the Iraqi city of Baiji. The town hosts a key refinery, and the Post says it's considered a "critical priority for the U.S. military." It has also been "long neglected by American forces and still firmly in the grip of insurgents." One sergeant said insurgents "have the place locked down. We have almost no support from the local people. We talk to 1,000 people and one will come forward." The U.S. unit now on the scene has been taking heavy casualties. "I didn't expect to lose so many friends so soon," said one soldier. (There's a lot more to this story—by Ann Scott Tyson—and it's today's must read.)
The NYT off-leads the special prosecutor investigating former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros issuing a final report alleging he wasstonewalled by Clinton administration officials. The investigation lasted about a decade and cost $21 million. Cisneros pleaded guilty in 1999 of lying to investigators about tax evasion and then was pardoned by President Clinton. The report is due out today but was "obtained by The New York Times from someone sympathetic to the ... investigation who wanted [its] criticism of the Clinton administration to be known."
A USAT cover story offers another candidate for Congress' finest: In 2003, California Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis (no jokes, please) was a key player in pushing through a $160 million Navy project that had been much criticized—including the previous year by Lewis himself. Right before the House voted for the program, a hedge fund connected to the project held a fund-raiser for Lewis. Total takings: $110,000. Lewis says the money had nothing to do with his about-face, of course. He also acknowledged the dough "played a very significant role" in his winning the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
The WP fronts Democrats unveiling their own "lobbyist reform" plan. It goes further than the one Republican leaders offered Tuesday and includes rules for sunshine in currently murk-filled last-minute negotiations on bills. But apparently, no mention of earmarks.
The Wall Street Journal and NYT both front the tumult in Tokyo's stock market, which dived Tuesday and then had to shut down yesterday because trading overwhelmed the system. The market made a comeback today.
The NYT goes inside with six former heads of the EPA, including five Republicans, getting together and warning that the White House needs to stop fiddling on global warming.
A front-page piece in the Post flags a study out today showing promise for a once-a-day AIDS treatment pill. Barring the unexpected, it should be out by the end of the year.
The WP off-leads Secretary of State Rice saying she's going to reassign "hundreds" of diplomats from cushy positions in Europe to hotter spots in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The problem starts not with lobbyists but inside Congress. Over the past five years, the rules and norms that govern Congressional deliberation, debate and voting—what legislative aficionados call "the regular order"—have routinely been violated, especially in the House of Representatives, and in ways that mark a dramatic break from custom. ...
Quick and decisive Congressional actions could minimize the damage done by the explosion of scandals related to Mr. Abramoff. But lobbying reform alone is a temporary solution. The real solution is for Congress to behave like the deliberative body it is supposed to be.