Space Invader

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 19 2007 5:20 AM

Space Invader

The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead with news that China shot down one of its satellites with a ground-based missile last week. The move demonstrated China's ability to target objects in space and sparked concern and condemnation from several countries that have satellite programs. USA Todayleads with word from the Justice Department that it is working on a plan to add the DNA from federal detainees to an FBI database. The plan could target "tens of thousands of immigration violators, captives in the war on terrorism and others accused but not convicted of federal offenses," says the paper.

The Washington Postleads, and most other papers front, the Senate passing broad ethics legislation that seeks to diminish the influence lobbyists have on Capitol Hill. The move, which supporters claim is the most important ethics reform since Watergate, would forbid lobbyists from buying gifts and meals, as well as pay for trips (naturally, with some exceptions). The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with testimony before the House budget panel that shows the Pentagon thinks the 2007 cost for the Iraq war will be approximately $8.4 billion a month.

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For its test, China targeted an aging weather satellite that was a little more than 500 miles above Earth, which means the country could now theoretically target U.S. spy satellites. Arms-control experts are concerned that China's test could spark a new space-arms race. "This is the first real escalation in the weaponization of space that we've seen in 20 years," said one expert. Only the United States and the Soviet Union had previously conducted tests of anti-satellite weapons, but the last one took place in the mid '80s.

One of the reasons the tests ended was due to the debris  they created, which could damage other satellites or even spacecraft. China's test created a large "debris cloud" of as many as 300,000 pieces, which some experts say could take around 25 years to clear. The NYT notes that some experts say China's move could be an attempt to pressure the United States to agree on a treaty to ban space weapons. The United States has resisted calls from China and Russia to ban these weapons, claiming it needs to have the freedom to operate in space. Everyone credits  Aviation Week and Space Technology for breaking the story.

A Justice Department spokesman said details of the plan to collect DNA evidence will be released soon. While proponents of the plan contend that taking DNA from detainees could help solve crimes, others are concerned about privacy issues and say the meaning of "federal detainee" is too broad.

The ethics legislation would also mandate that lawmakers must attach their names to any earmarks, and they would have to pay charter rates on corporate jets. In addition, former lawmakers would have to wait two years after leaving office before they could lobby, and most spouses of senators would not be allowed to lobby (except if they were lobbying for at least a year before their husband or wife was elected).

The LAT goes high with those who aren't such big fans of the ethics bill. Some say ethics reform that doesn't tackle the issue of campaign contributions can't really be effective. But the truth is, even usually skeptical watchdog groups have, for the most part, praised the legislation.

The WP gives the most detail of the behind-the-scenes action, which could have some interesting repercussions. The ethics bill almost didn't go to vote yesterday because Republicans threatened to filibuster it if an amendment that would give the president a sort of line-item veto authority wasn't included. But Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia single-handedly blocked these efforts. In the end, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reached a compromise and said Republicans could add their desired provision to the minimum-wage bill next week if they have the votes.

Also on Capitol Hill, House members voted to repeal tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies that total approximately $14 billion. And with that, Democrats managed to complete their "100 hours" agenda, and they even had some time to spare. Now it seems like they'll use the extra time for a little intraparty scuffle. The Post notes some Democrats have criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to create a new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. There are concerns among several legislators that Pelosi is attempting to decrease the influence of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rep. John D. Dingell, who is from Michigan and frequently answers to the interests of auto manufacturers. 

Meanwhile, everyone notes senators pressed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for details on the way the secret court will oversee the administration's eavesdropping program. They didn't get much. It is still unclear whether the court will approve eavesdropping for each case or if it got blanket approval for the whole program. The Post talks to four anonymous sources who say it appears to be a combination of the two that includes giving out individual warrants but also granting authority to eavesdrop on "more broadly defined groups of people."

In a particularly sharp Page One analysis, the NYT says the change in the eavesdropping program is another example of the way the Bush administration "often seeks to change the terms of the debate just as a claim of executive authority is about to be tested in the courts or in Congress."

The NYT fronts a look at recent signs that seem to show Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is under increased pressure to stop getting so involved in his country's nuclear program. Two newspapers in Iran, including one owned by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader, said the president should stay out of the country's nuclear efforts. It seems to be a sign the supreme leader is getting tired of the president's frequent outbursts against the West and might be trying to diminish his power.

Everybody fronts the death of Art Buchwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist who wrote columns for more than 50 years and published more than 30 books. He was 81 and died of kidney failure. At one point, his columns appeared in more than 500 newspapers. Although Buchwald's life had no shortage of remarkable periods, everyone notes he regained fame in his last year of life. In February, he checked himself into a hospice because doctors told him he had only a few weeks to live. But to everyone's surprise, he didn't die. He checked himself out and continued to write his column, where he frequently discussed death and dying. He also used the opportunity to write his last book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye. By all accounts, Buchwald kept his sense of humor throughout the ordeal. "I just don't want to die the same day Castro dies," Buchwald is reported to have told friends. The NYT posts a video obituary  online that, for the first time, includes an interview given by the subject of the story exclusively for that purpose. It's worth a look, even if it's just to watch the beginning, when the humorist utters the words, "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald and I just died."*

*Correction, Jan. 19, 2007: In an earlier version of this article, Daniel Politi mistakenly wrote that the New York Times video obituary for Art Buchwald was its first. Rather, it was the first video obituary to feature the subject of the obit exclusively for that purpose.

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