Compromising Positions

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 28 2007 6:08 AM

Compromising Positions

The New York Times leads with news that the White House will not assess the gains of the surge until September and reports that some top administration advisers already concede that results will be limited. The Washington Post leads with word that the Interior Department plans to open currently off-limits federal waters to new oil and gas drilling. And the Los Angeles Times devotes its top nonlocal spot to the first-quarter economic figures, which the Wall Street Journal also fronts. The news is decidedly mixed: Economic growth is the slowest it has been in four years but could be buoyed by brisker business investment and high consumer spending.

Nothing in the NYT lead is particularly shocking, but it's a good primer on the issues that the president and Democratic Congress will deal with as they sort out their differences over the timetable for withdrawal passed this week, which Bush has said he'll veto. The administration is privately scaling back its expectations for the surge and is discussing timetables that "would entail a dramatically longer commitment of frontline troops" than what is envisioned in the House and Senate plans. But the president seems convinced that, once he vetoes the Democrats' timetable, "he will have the upper hand in negotiations" over a compromise. The Democrats aren't so sure: They hope an open-ended commitment will push more congressional Republicans to support their timetable for withdrawal.

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The Post lead makes it look like a new congressional showdown  might be in the works. The Department of the Interior has finished a five-year plan that includes a "major proposal for expanded oil and natural gas development" in protected waters off Virginia and Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico. But such a plan would be subject to legislative approval, and in each year since 1982, Congress has maintained a moratorium on drilling off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The full plan will be released on Monday.

Everyone gives major play to the Commerce Department's first-quarter economic growth estimate. And everyone says more or less the same thing: Growth is crappy, largely because of the housing-market slump, but economists are somewhat encouraged by rising business investment and robust consumer spending.

The NYT had this scoop yesterday, but the Washington Post still decides to go big with a front-page rundown of former CIA Director George Tenet's new book, which will be released on Monday. You get the sense that the Post wants desperately to add value to the Times story, but the basic contours remain the same: Tenet says there was no serious debate that preceded the war; claims his infamous "slam dunk" comment was taken out of context; and engages in all the juicy apologetics, score-settling, and backstabbing that a reader could hope for.

The Times, meanwhile, does a follow-up on all the people ticked off by Tenet's memoir.

The Post makes up for arriving a day late on the Tenet story by contributing some new fuel to the Paul Wolfowitz funeral pyre. According to the paper's front-page report, a World Bank investigative committee has concluded that Wolfowitz breached ethics rules when he wangled a pay raise for his girlfriend. The committee is reportedly debating whether to ask Wolfowitz to resign explicitly, and a decision from the bank's board of directors could come as early as Monday.

There is more news from the scandalous intersection of ethics and foreign aid: Almost everyone mentions that Randall L. Tobias, the deputy secretary of state who handles U.S. overseas giving, resigned abruptly after ABC News confronted him over his use of a high-end escort service that has been accused of prostitution. Tobias, who is married, claims he just used the service a couple of times "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." In classy form, he also says he has recently been using a different service "with Central Americans" to provide the much-needed massages.

Everyone reports that the Saudi Arabian government has arrested 172 men who were planning to blow up oil facilities and attack public officials around the country. For some reason the papers can't agree if these evildoers are from al-Qaida: The Post says the men belonged to the "same al-Qaeda-affiliated network that killed scores of people in 2003 and 2004," while the New York Times says (rather torturously) that the Saudi captors merely employed "the phrase often used to describe the ideology of Al Qaeda." But there is no disagreement about where many of the operatives received their militant training. That would be Iraq.

On the home front, almost everyone mentions that a former Mets clubhouse assistant has pleaded guilty to selling performance-enhancing drugs to "dozens" of professional baseball players over a 10-year period. He has cooperated with authorities since getting busted in 2005, and his input is expected to widen the scandal over performance-enhancing drugs.

The New York Times has an unexpectedly interesting piece on the gender disparities in U.S. apparel tariffs. (Seriously.) Men's bathing suits, for example, are slapped with a duty of 28 percent, while women's suits scoot into the country with a paltry 12 percent tax. No one can seem to come up with a good reason why these differences exist. Cue gender discrimination litigation.

The LAT reports that predictions of Fidel Castro's imminent demise were off the mark: El Caballo is back, and he seems to be resuming many of the duties that he left when he fell ill with an undisclosed intestinal problem nine months ago.

Reports the Washington Post: Political appointees will no longer pick interns at the Justice Department.

Oh yes, and in that other DOJ scandal, new documents provide evidence that the White House told a Republican lawmaker about its firing plans but cut Democrats out of the loop.

Conor Clarke is a former editor at the Atlantic and the Guardian as well as the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism.

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