The Los Angeles Timesleads with an arson fire that ripped through thousands of acres in Southern California, forced hundreds to evacuate, and killed four firefighters. A fifth firefighter is in critical condition and has a low chance of survival. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with news of five more U.S. deaths in Iraq, which brings October's casualty count to 96. It is the highest number of deaths since October 2005, and the fourth-worst month of the war. USA Todayleads with news of the U.S. Army plans to realign its forces in order to prevent a small proportion of soldiers from doing much of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to records, more than 40 percent of the Army's active-duty troops have not served in Afghanistan or Iraq, while one-fifth have done multiple tours.
The New York Timesleads with Republicans, including President Bush, trying to rally their conservative base by criticizing the New Jersey Supreme Court decision that said same-sex couples must be given the same rights as heterosexual marriages. "Yesterday in New Jersey, we had another activist court issue a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage," Bush said at a fund-raising luncheon. The Washington Postleads locally but off-leads a piece on the negative campaign ads in the final weeks of the election. Although negative ads are nothing new, "this year's version in many races has an eccentric shade, filled with allegations of moral bankruptcy and sexual perversion." (The WSJ also looks at campaign ads but says that in addition to being negative, several are also humorous.)
The firefighters died while trying to protect a house, and "devil winds" engulfed them in flames giving them no chance to escape. Officials said the fire had been started deliberately and offered a $100,000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest of the arsonist. By Thursday night, firefighters had contained 5 percent of the fire.
The WP fronts the rising casualty count in Iraq and says October has become the deadliest month in Iraq for U.S. troops in combat since the offensives on Fallujah in April and November of 2004. The Post is alone in making a distinction between those who were killed in combat this month (92) and those that died of all causes, including accidents and attacks (96). As opposed to the deaths during the 2004 offensive, casualties this month occurred during day-to-day operations.
Meanwhile, everyone stuffs a news conference held by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in which he said critics of the Iraq war "ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated." Administration officials also tried to downplay what has been reported as disagreements with the Iraqi government on whether benchmarks and/or a timeline were actually agreed on or not. Rumsfeld said the whole thought of setting benchmarks for Iraq is "a process, not an event." Naturally, Democrats seized on Rumsfeld's words, saying it illustrates how he is out of touch with reality.
Meanwhile a State Department official assured the LAT,"no one is imposing benchmarks or imposing timelines, and the [Iraqi] prime minister acknowledges this." Nobody seems to mention the NYT actually reported on Wednesday that it got a copy of a document that "sets a seven-month schedule, running from this September to March 2007, to complete a 16-point agenda on divisive issues." But the main distinction seems to be that U.S. officials are emphasizing there will be no consequences for not meeting any timelines or bench marks.
The Post reports Vice President Cheney also fueled controversy as a result of an interview with a conservative radio-show host in which he declared that dunking terrorism suspects in water is a "no-brainer" if it could result in valuable information. This has, once again, raised questions as to what techniques can legally be used while interrogating terrorism suspects.
As campaigns enter the final weeks, and prospects of a change of leadership in the House, and perhaps the Senate, increase, businesses have slightly, and quietly, increased their contributions to Democrats, report the WSJ and LAT. "All of the Democratic ranking members have seen an increase in attentiveness to their fundraising," a House Democratic aide tells the Times.
In the final weeks of campaigning, the NYT fronts word that Democratic candidates in close races are spending a lot of time trying to increase black voter turnout. Some strategists are worried black voters may choose to stay home on Election Day because they are disillusioned over the voting process. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of blacks that said they had little or no confidence in the voting system has risen to 29 percent from 15 percent in 2004.
The NYT fronts the commissioner of internal revenue, Mark W. Everson, telling his employees they should hold off on trying to collect back taxes from Hurricane Katrina victims until after the November elections and the holiday season. Although it is common for the IRS to give people a break during the holidays, several have criticized the commissioner specifying the elections as a reason to postpone enforcement.
The WSJ fronts a look at trips members of the House of Representatives take abroad and says it has become routine for them to eat meals paid by lobbyists and defense contractors. Accepting these meals not only breaks House rules but also might be a violation of federal law. For the most part, legislators are not allowed to have private interests pay for their food while abroad.
Everybody goes inside with news that President Bush signed legislation authorizing the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many see this as a way for Bush to help GOP candidates have something to back their tough talk on immigration reform. But everyone notes it is not clear whether the entire fence will actually ever be built. Only a small portion of the money needed for the fence has been appropriated, and Bush emphasized he thinks it should only be one part of a broader immigration reform plan.
The LAT fronts an interesting article on the northern region of Iraq, which is pretty much controlled by a militant organization, the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, which the United States and the European Union list as a terrorist group. Dealing with the PKK is currently "one of the most complicated political problems U.S. forces face in Iraq," says the Times. Kurds are seen as one of the strongest allies of the United States, so, along with the Iraqi government, it is reluctant to crack down on the PKK, fearing it would alienate supporters.
Everybody mentions that Exxon Mobil reported a third-quarter profit of $10.49 billion, which amounts to the company's second-largest quarterly profit.
The widely criticized Republican attack ad against Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. has also offended Canadians, says the NYT (the ad can be seen here). In one part of the ad an actor sarcastically says, "Canada can take care of North Korea. They're not busy." Canada's ambassador to the United States expressed his country's displeasure with the ad to the White House.