Yesterday's 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Indonesia, which killed at least 3,500 people, is the lead story in the Washington Post. The quake is also the off-lead in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, and both papers give over much of their above-the-fold space to large, striking photos of the devastation it wreaked. The NYT's lead story is an analytical piece about the growing power of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The LAT leads locally, with a poll showing two Democrats running neck-and-neck in a primary contest to choose a challenger to California's increasingly weak incumbent governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The earthquake struck the island of Java at 5:54 a.m., when most people were fast asleep. It leveled buildings, damaged bridges and roads, and left many thousands sleeping in the open air last night. The initial death toll is expected to rise. Hardest-hit was the town of Bantul, where at least 2,093 people died, according to the LAT. Also "ravaged," according to the NYT, was Yogyakarta, a city of half a million and "the cultural center of Java."
This was "the third major quake to strike Indonesia in 17 months," the LAT notes, including the cataclysmic 2004 tsunami, which killed around 100,000 people in the island nation. The country owes its tectonic troubles to its location within the Ring of Fire, a "zone of seismic and volcanic activity that roughly surrounds the Pacific Ocean." The specter of the tsunami hangs over this latest tragedy. The WP reports "some villagers fled inland when the quake struck around 6 a.m. Others, fearing it was an eruption from the nearby Mount Merapi volcano, headed toward the coast." As it turned out, there was no wave, but the seismic activity could well be connected to the volcano. It's been threatening to blow for some time, and during the quake it "shot hot gas clouds and volcanic rocks down its western slopes," the NYT reports.
"It was like being chased by thunder," one survivor told the LAT, which has good eyewitness accounts of the quake. So does the WP. Both papers dateline their stories from Bantul. The NYT doesn't seem to have gotten as close to the epicenter, and its coverage is somewhat limp in comparison.
Since the revolution in 1979, the workings of Iran's government have been extremely opaque, with a number of religious and political bodies exercising overlapping powers. According to the NYT, President Ahmadinejad, a secular but very conservative politician, is pursuing "a risky strategy" in attempting to assert his supremacy. Seemingly with the support of the country's supreme religious leader, Ahmadinejad has moved to take control of his country's foreign policy—however ham-handedly—in its confrontation with the United States over its nuclear program, while simultaneously attacking corruption among the traditional elite, and, most surprisingly, advocating for the relaxation of some social restrictions on women. "He appears motivated at least in part by a recognition that relying on clerics to serve as the public face of the government has undermined the credibility of both," the NYT writes. The upside of this development: At least America will now know whom it's dealing with. The downside: It's dealing with Ahmadinejad.
The WP goes long with an investigative profile of William Cohen, the former Defense Secretary, who is now a big-time lobbyist. It begins by pointing out how Cohen, an agreeable Maine Republican who crossed party lines to serve a Democrat, once styled himself as a champion of the "purity of the political process," and then went on to get rich by trading on his insider knowledge. It meanders through a series of unremarkable business relationships. Then, some 80 paragraphs in, the story details a real estate deal involving Cohen, a defense contractor, and a $4 million mansion, which appears to have begun while Cohen was still in office and in tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt. If this story's lede was buried any deeper, it'd be written in Chinese.
"More and more, Gaza is ruled by warlords," a human rights activist tells the LAT in a front-page feature on the growing internecine violence in the Palestinian lands. The territories have lately been gripped by "gangland-style" fighting between factions of the state security apparatus. As usual, Yasir Arafat is to blame: He didn't want rivals, so he divided the apparatus among various feuding political groups, and turned a "blind eye" to Hamas' own organizing moves. Arafat could keep violence in check, but now that he's dead, it's a free-for-all.
The NYT checks in on Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and discovers that he has now begun to fight—the 2004 election. He's forcefully rebutting allegations, first leveled by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth two years ago, that his military service was anything less than honorable. He's gone so far as to hire an independent researcher to dig through Navy records. This is about clearing his name, he says, not 2008.
Also in the NYT, in the Week in Review section, there's an interesting piece on Afghanistan, which is quietly getting hairy, with the Taliban mounting concerted attacks in groups of up to 300 men. "Afghanistan is the sleeper crisis of this summer," one expert tells the paper.
The WP says the House GOP isn't going to give an inch to the Senate or President Bush when it comes to the upcoming negotiations over an immigration reform bill. Republicans facing tough races say they can't afford to back any amnesty for illegal aliens, and some say their office mailboxes have been filling up with brick, sent "as part of a new grassroots campaign promoting a fence between the United States and Mexico."
And finally, another special delivery, hopefully somewhat heavier than a brick, makes all the papers: Yesterday, under heavy guard at a resort in Namibia, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt welcomed a daughter into the world. They named her Shiloh. Shelby Foote tells US Weekly: "Lordy, I'm glad I'm dead."