The Washington Post leads with news of problems in the three-way alliance among the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. USA Today leads with word that insurgent attacks in Iraq jumped in 2005. The Los Angeles Times leads with news that President Bush is preparing to unveil initiatives designed to make the nation's health-care system more efficient. The New York Times leads with word that energy companies reported different sale prices to investors than what they actually paid when they purchased natural gas from the government. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with word that an Army interrogator was found guilty of negligent homicide, but not murder, for suffocating an Iraqi general three years ago.
The WP reports that as militants have become more aggressive, and the U.S. has responded in kind, relations among the three countries in the anti-terrorism alliance have frayed. The partnership was strained when the U.S. launched Hellfire missiles at a Pakistani village in an attempt to take out al-Qaida's deputy leader, and again when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd in an Afghan village. The Mexican standoff goes something like this: The Pakistanis see the missile strike—and the ensuing collateral damage—as a sign that the U.S. doesn't respect their sovereignty; the Afghans blame Pakistan for training suicide bombers who kill Afghans; and the U.S. is frustrated because its soldiers are stuck in Afghanistan while militants hole up in Pakistan.
USAT reports that there were 34,131 insurgent attacks in Iraq last year, an increase of 29 percent from the previous year. U.S. Army spin: "It tells me the coalition and the Iraqi forces have been very aggressive in taking the fight to the enemy." According to U.S. officials, insurgents are increasingly targeting Iraqi troops, first because there are now more trained Iraqi security forces and they are taking an increasingly central role in the fighting; and second because U.S. forces are doing a better job of protecting troops against roadside bombs and other attacks.
The LAT reports on President Bush's new health-care proposals, which include putting limits on medical malpractice suits, making most medical expenses tax-deductible, and offering tax breaks for using Health Savings Accounts. Supporters argue that under the new plan, consumers would make smarter decisions and demand less unnecessary care—which they believe would drive down medical costs. Critics liken the system to Bush's Social Security plan, in that Americans would rely less on employers and the government and bear more financial risk themselves—which they believe would undermine the current system, in which employers provide insurance.
The NYT reports on a disparity between the commercial price of natural gas and the sale fees received by the government. The U.S. government is the biggest owner of gas reserves, but because energy giants paid less than they reported to shareholders, it did not receive much more than it did the year before. The NYT isn't sure if this is due to cheating or problems with the regulations.
A NYT news analysis argues that the White House views its secret, warrantless wiretap program as an asset, not a liability. Americans may support the program if it's put in terms of protecting the country, but may not if it's put in terms of the president breaking the law. The administration has proved deft at using "simplicity and repetition" to frame issues in its favor and is already claiming that Democrats believe al-Qaida calls should not be tracked. Still, this may be a tough issue to spin, says the NYT, especially since many Republicans oppose the program.
The WP reports on the exodus of educated professionals from Iraq in the wake of continuing violence and threats. Iraqi elites are being targeted for kidnapping and ransom and even murder, and the resulting brain drain threatens to leave Iraq without the "core of skilled people" it needs to develop into an independent democracy.
The NYT reports on a "new flood" of crystal meth coming mostly from Mexico. States such as Iowa recently banned cold medicines that could be used to home-brew meth, and since then, seizures of home meth labs have plummeted. But treatment centers are getting as many addicts as ever, suggesting that Mexican crystal meth has smoothly insinuated itself into the supply gap. As one former sheriff puts it, "It's killing us, this Mexican ice."
The WP reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales is vowing to "begin reversing centuries of social injustice, insulate the country from U.S. influence and reclaim natural resources." An Aymara Indian, Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president and is comparing his rise to power to the end of apartheid.
Original spin … The WP reports on Thank You for Smoking, currently playing at Sundance. Based on the Christopher Buckley novel, the movie is a wicked satire of big tobacco. Highlights: "Merchants of Death"—lobbyists for alcohol, tobacco, and firearms industries—brag about which of their products kills the most customers; a tobacco apologist gets kidnapped by anti-smoking terrorists who strip him naked and cover him with nicotine patches; when a boy asks what makes America great, his lobbyist father responds, "Our endless appeals process."