With no obvious hard news lead this Sunday, the papers each go their own way with enterprise stories. The New York Times leads with news that the U.S. pays Pakistan roughly $1 billion every year to fight terrorists along the Afghan border, cash that continues to flow even as Pakistan cuts back on patrols in key al-Qaida and Taliban areas. It's a good fit with the Los Angeles Times lead describing a secret CIA operation targeting Osama Bin Laden that, while not producing any fresh leads on his whereabouts, has resulted in important new intelligence about al-Qaida's expanding presence in Pakistan. The Washington Post leads with a stomach-turning report on the vast amount of food coming into the U.S. from China that is unfit for human consumption.
The little-known monthly support payments to Pakistan have totaled $5.6 billion since the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush administration has no plans to cut off the cash or tie the payments to Pakistan's performance, despite the resurgence of terrorists in the past year and growing evidence that the Pakistani military often looks the other way when Taliban fighters take refuge inside their country. Why? Unnamed officials tell the Times that Washington is fearful of further destabilizing President Pervez Musharraf.
The withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops from the tribal areas along the Afghan border described by the New York Times is a major factor in al-Qaida's resurgence in Pakistan's tribal territories, described in today's LAT lead. The U.S. learned a lot about those efforts from the CIA operation launched last year to hunt down Bin Laden, high-value target No. 1 or "HVT1." The operation has also revealed an alarming increase in the amount of cash for al-Qaida that is coming into Pakistan from Iraq. As for HVT1, "any prediction on when we're going to get him is just ridiculous."
For years, China has been flooding U.S. ports with tainted, toxic, and counterfeit foods, supplements and medicines. Government inspectors catch only a small fraction of these products—"filthy" juices and fruits, "poisonous" swordfish, prohibited products shipped in crates labeled "dried lily flower." But change will be difficult, policy experts say, because tighter rules on Chinese imports could harm many American companies that rely on Chinese goods, and/or want a piece of the lucrative Chinese market for their own products.
Both the WP and the NYT go front and center with heart-wrenchers. The Post's is a profile of Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, where 336 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried (check out the slideshow, too). The mother of one young soldier places iPod ear buds on her son's grave and plays some of his favorite songs. The Times reports on elderly Americans bilked out of their life savings by telemarketing criminals (there are audio examples of actual phone calls) who trick them into revealing their banking information after buying their names from a consumer data-collection company called infoUSA. Regulators say infoUSA knows it is doing business with lawbreakers who prey upon millions of the vulnerable elderly. "I just chatted with this woman for a few minutes," says a 92-year-old widower from Iowa, "and the next thing I knew, they took everything I had."
Last week's revelations of that hospital room drama involving a seriously ill former Attorney General John Ashcroft and extraordinary bedside efforts by then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez to get Ashcroft's approval for an eavesdropping program he opposed, inspired the Post to front a piece that asserts "something of a reappraisal of Ashcroft by some on the left." Despite the revelation that Ashcroft privately stood up to Cheney and Rumsfeld over the treatment of detainees at Gitmo, TP thinks that's a stretch. Just because Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Wonkette, and People for the American Waygive Ashcroft props for holding the line from his hospital bed does not mean they have "reappraised" his pushing for the Patriot Act, authorizing detentions without charges after Sept. 11, defending interrogation techniques some call torture, and getting unprecedented authority to look at private records even in public libraries (not to mention covering up the bare-breasted "Spirit of Justice"). (And why does the WP place Andrew Sullivan on "the left"?)
Also in the papers today: The top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq says military officials think they know who captured three missing soldiers, and that he believes at least two of them are still alive. The Green Zone was shelled during a surprise visit by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Post fronts what it calls a dramatic shift in tactics by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who is now wooing Sunnis and repositioning his "brand" as more moderate.
Former President Carter called the Bush administration's foreign relations "the worst in history." He called Blair's support for Bush and for the Iraq war "Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Apparently subservient ... a major tragedy for the world."
Playing catchup with the LAT, the NYT fronts a look at Hillary Clinton's six-year term as the only woman director of Wal-Mart in the 1980s, and her currently complex relationship with a company that has been harshly criticized for its health-care policies, anti-unionism, and treatment of its workers.
The Times also fronts a crisis in Africa: The best universities are falling apart, creating a brain drain that could further devastate the world's poorest continent.
The LAT looks at the Zetas, a band of cruel, bold, and sometimes stupid hitmen in Mexico's drug cartel wars.