The New York Times leads with how Iran's nuclear ambition is prompting nations across the region to look into developing their own nuclear technology. The Washington Post leads with an update of yesterday's top story: The U.S. military now confirms that Marines fired on civilians during an incident in Afghanistan last month, killing or injuring more than 40 people. The Los Angeles Times goes with reports that Iraqi Shiites have set up a parallel intelligence agency within the Iraqi government to counter the predominately Sunni official agency *, which is entirely funded by the CIA.
The NYT paints the nuclear ambitions of virtually every Middle Eastern nation as the byproduct of fears that a nuclear Iran would dominate the region. All the nations concerned say they only want nuclear technology for generating electricity (despite the region's vast oil reserves), and the paper treats this claim with healthy skepticism, assuming that at least some of the states in question would want to pursue nuclear weapons. The article's most startling claim: Most Arab nations would prefer a U.S. military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities to Iran having nuclear weapons. In a related story, the NYT says North Korea failed to meet deadlines for shutting down its nuclear facilities, leaving the U.S. with relatively few options for bringing the nation in line with the commitments it made in February.
The hook of the WP's Afghanistan story is that the U.S. Army is, to an extent, confirming what Afghanistan's human rights council had concluded: that American troops acted excessively in responding to a suicide bomber. The NYT runs a more narrative version of the story, which may be a better read but doesn't tell the reader anything that the WP didn't report yesterday.
The LAT's piece on parallel Iraqi intelligence agencies focuses as much on political maneuvering as it does on ideology, since this shadow intelligence bureau was born as much out of personal rivalries as political realities. Sadly the tale of spy versus spy doesn't have a clear hero, as both organizations appear culpable of a range of illegal activities.
The WP off-leads with reports of lending companies' improper use of government-held student loan data, prompting the Department of Education to mull shutting down the government database until better controls can be implemented. The database, which contains vast stores of personal information from 60 million borrowers, may have been used to fuel direct mailing campaigns and other marketing efforts. The information is meant to be used by schools and lenders to issue loans and collect repayments. The paper says that Education officials were aware that data mining went on, but recent inquiries showed it spiraling out of control. What's troubling is the underlying assumption that a certain amount of data mining is tolerable, even inevitable—an idea the story never really gets around to questioning. The NYT runs a related story above the fold, reporting that private lenders have steadily boxed direct federal student loans out of the market place by offering schools sweetheart deals.
In a sort of reverse "Nixon's secret plan to end the war" scenario, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tells the NYT point blank that he has no "Plan B" for Iraq, should President Bush's "surge" strategy fail. McCain tells the paper that if it became clear the surge was not working, then he would try to think of another idea, but at present "I cannot give you a good alternative because if I had a good alternative, maybe we could consider it now."
Much has been made of Illinois Democrat Sen. Barack Obama's success at raising funds from small first-time donors. But according to the WP, Obama has been no slouch in courting the big money, either, even after swearing off money from federal lobbyists, a pledge he's kept so far, if only in the most technical sense.
The WP tries to reconstruct a day of violence possibly perpetrated by private security guards in Iraq, in order to examine the loose legal strictures such hired guns are under.
The conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan may be taking on a new shape, says the NYT, as Arab and non-Arab tribes, often portrayed as nemeses, may be allying to either fight the Sudanese government or negotiate some kind of settlement.
One of the major downsides of campaign fund-raising growing so quickly is that candidates can't always question who their supporters are, says the LAT as it profiles a Pakistani man who had done fund-raising for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and a host of other Democrats, only to wind up on the run from the FBI.
The WP airs criticisms of million-selling author and educational consultant Ruby Payne's controversial views on how schools can best educate low-income students. The stir is over Payne's often sweeping characterizations of children from a certain economic strata: for example, the idea that they're more motivated by a need to please their teacher than by a desire to achieve high grades. Critics say Payne's ideas paint the poor as a single, homogenous group, and argue that many of her assertions are unverifiable.
The WP's Opinion page gives Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales a chance to address criticisms stemming from the firing of U.S. attorneys last year. Gonzales repeatedly writes that he made no "improper" decisions during a review of all 93 U.S. attorneys, a process that eventually led to eight of them being replaced. Buried deep in the rhetoric lies an announcement: Gonzales writes that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility will review the firings.
The LAT reports Chicago will be the U.S. bid city for the 2016 Olympics, derailing Los Angeles' hopes of hosting the games for a third time. Chicago now has to face down international competition from cities like Tokyo and Madrid.
For Starters, the Movie Sucked . . .
The LAT runs a series of investigative pieces on how and why the 2005 film Sahara bombed—the film is currently $105 million dollars in the hole, despite having so many promising elements: best-selling source material, a well respected crew, and bankable stars.