The New York Timesleads with conservative concern about the bona fides of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates. The Washington Post leads local, but gives heavy front-page play to a long story tracking the pre-deployment preparations of an U.S. Army infantry battalion that recently "surged" into Iraq. The Los Angeles Times leads with a report on the increase in applications for citizenship among green-card holders, just as the government considers toughening the application procedure. *
The NYT story—which mainly serves to remind us that the religious right is skeptical of Sen. John McCain's, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's commitment to the cause—sheds light on the existence of the ominous-sounding Council for National Policy, a secretive group of right-wing big shots, ranging from James Dobson to Grover Norquist, that met with all the candidates and then vented its dissatisfaction with them earlier this month at a Florida resort.
The WP followed Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, a heavily decorated battalion commander, as he prepared 800 soldiers for deployment to Iraq. (His battalion surged for Iraq a couple of weeks ago.)
Oddly, none of the papers front news from the western Iraqi city of Habbaniyah, where at least 40 people died in a truck bombing of a Sunni mosque. On Friday, the mosque's imam had called al-Qaida in Iraq, which is also Sunni, "a bunch of corrupted individuals." (An NYT Week in Review dispatch from Samarra shows how al-Qaida in Iraq calls the shots in the western Anbar province.)
The NYT fronts a profile of Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr, who has toned down his rhetoric and delivered some well-timed personnel changes to adapt to the U.S. surge and flex his political strength. They also note that the son of Shiite politician Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and now the Kurdish President Jalal Talabani, is still calling for punishment of the U.S. soldiers who detained him and allegedly kicked him around Friday. More important, the LAT reports, is the Shiite response ("thousands take to the streets"): Moderates, led by al-Hakim, have found common ground with radical elements in the community usually associated with Sadr.
The LAT has a lonely monopoly on Iran coverage, fronting the news that nearly all the intelligence provided to the United Nations and the IAEA by the United States has been inaccurate. It also reports that an article slated to appear in Monday's New Yorker will provide details of a war plan for Iran that can go into effect 24 hours after President Bush says "go."
A long, must-read article in the NYT reveals the inner workings of China's authoritarian legal system by tracing the rivalry of two public-interest trial lawyers named Li: One believes that political reform can be extracted by legal appeals to sympathetic officials, while the other advocates building a "civilization outside the Communist Party."
The papers apparently decided to divvy up attendance to the panels at the National Governors Association winter meeting: The LAT reports on concerns of Iraq-related strain on National Guard troop levels, the WP notes that none of the NGA's members are strong presidential candidates, and the NYT relays complaints—from both Republicans and Democrats—that the federal government is underfunding state Medicaid programs for children.
The WP nicely outlines how Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., screwed up his introduction of a bill that would tie war funding to especially stringent standards of troop readiness—it intended to make the Democrats look antiwar while staying pro-military, but Murtha unilaterally revealed the bill before a weeklong recess, leaving him open to intra-party criticism and attacks from Republicans.
According to the LAT, an upcoming increase in the application fee for U.S. citizenship (along with a harder citizenship test) and fears of a stiffer immigration law have led to heavily increased applications—nearly 100,000 legal residents applied last month, compared with about 50,000 in January 2006.
The LAT, in an evergreen likely to resurface for the next few decades or so, reports that climate change is facilitating the spread of warm-weather diseases (such as malaria) to new locations and causing epidemiological havoc.
Venezuela has spent $4.3 billion on weapons over the past two years, more than anyone in South America and more than Iran or Pakistan. The NYT quotes a U.S. lieutenant general warning the House intelligence committee of Venezuela's "agenda to neutralize U.S. influence throughout the hemisphere." TP wonders what kind of influence America thinks it is currently spreading down south.
Revenge of the Nerds, Sorority Edition: The NYT files a dispatch from the front lines of intrasorority warfare at DePauw University in Indiana, where 23 out of 35 members of a sorority were kicked out by the national chapter for being insufficiently committed. The 23 evictees happened to include every sorority sister who was either overweight or not white, and, to recruit new pledges, the national chapter brought in thinner, blonder ringers from Indiana University down the road. "They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs," one complained. Six out of the 12 remaining members of Delta Zeta immediately quit, and the campus and the sorority's national office have since been deluged with protests.