The Washington Post leads with the release of the Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review. The report revises the U.S.'s current strategy of preparing for two all-out ground wars, arguing that the military needs more small but elite units to fight in many long-term conflicts. The New York Times leads with an exclusive scoop that President Bush plans to save up to $35 billion on Medicare by cutting or freezing some expenditures but also by increasing premiums for wealthy seniors. The Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal highlight a strong jobs report but caution that decreasing unemployment—the lowest since 2001—and rising wages are also fueling fears of inflation and further Fed interest-rate hikes.
The new defense strategy draws from lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as a result is designed to win a "long war," as the Bush administration describes the war on terror, says the NYT inside. The WP's front-pager has more of the nitty-gritty details: The U.S will still be ready to fight two major wars, but one will be "irregular," featuring small teams hunting down nuclear weapons or unmanned vehicles hitting mobile targets (i.e., terrorists in Pakistan's mountains). The review doesn't recommend more troops or new weapons, but it does increase funding for elite units and undersea fighting.
Bush's Medicare plan would save $35 billion over five years, only a 1.5 percent sliver of the total cost. The NYT speculates that he'll have a tough time getting the idea past Republicans in Congress who are weary of looking too ungenerous ahead of midterm elections after already squeezing billions out of social goodies like student loans earlier this week.
Meanwhile, the WP reports off-lead that the FDA is backlogged with hundreds of generic drug applications. The agency will be able to approve them only very slowly because of a shortage in staff, delaying huge potential cost savings for Medicare and for consumers. Don't miss the bottom of the story, where the WP notes that FDA chief Lester Crawford last summer said he was happy with the pace of approvals, and that some at the agency say drug companies should help pay the FDA's staff costs. The WSJ reports that the FDA is considering cutting back on discount coupons amid fears that consumers mistake them for endorsements of those drugs.
An Egyptian ferry returning from Saudi Arabia with 1,400 passengers sunk about 40 miles off Egypt's coast, the NYT and LAT report on Page One. About 300 have been rescued, but most of the rest are presumed dead. The cause is so far unknown, but Reuters speculated it was a combination of bad weather and vehicle doors left open. The LAT reports that survivors said fires were breaking out on the boat.
The LAT joins the party and fronts (below the fold) Muslim outrage over cartoons, published originally in a Danish newspaper and since republished in papers across Europe depicting the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. The Bush administration has now chimed in, calling the cartoons "offensive," but joined other governments in defending the Danish paper's right to print them. The NYT talks to U.S. newspaper publishers and TV producers who almost uniformly chose not to print or air the cartoons. *
The NYT reports below the fold that NASA's chief called for "scientific openness" throughout the organization. The story updates the paper's earlier front-page scoop that some NASA scientists say they were being urged to tone down or edit reports to match Bush administration thinking on climate change and the big bang. The LAT reports inside that the EPA's internal advisory committee is furious that the agency's new rules on smog aren't tougher.
A front-pager in the WSJ says that unseasonably warm weather—which some scientists have linked to a "La Nina" effect in the Gulf of Mexico—is ruining crops and costing billions of dollars for farmers in the Midwest.
Inside, the NYT has a good story about Internet privacy, detailing many routine disclosures that Internet providers and web hosts give to police and courts as parts of criminal investigations. The WP fronts a lighter but fun story about politicians using their staffs to edit Wikipedia entries.
And inside the WP, an excellent look at Republicans who feel that the party's proposed lobbying reform is too stringent, a view shared by new Majority Leader John Boehner.
Wings of Desire. Nobody fronts the Super Bowl, but everyone has an angle. For a sober take, read the WP's story about Detroit's many homeless, who will party on Sunday but return to a near-hopeless life in shelters on Monday. Or the NYT's look at the back-room politics and elaborate gifts that determine which city hosts the game. But for kicks, turn to the LAT, which lavishes coverage on the Super Bowl's black-sheep cousin, the Wing Bowl in Philadelphia, where 20,000 fans paid to watch a buffalo-wing eating contest. As one participant put it: "I like chicken. I really do." Let's hope so.