Violence increases in Basra; Politicians ignore infrastructure maintenance.

Violence increases in Basra; Politicians ignore infrastructure maintenance.

Violence increases in Basra; Politicians ignore infrastructure maintenance.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 7 2007 6:02 AM

The South Also Rises

The Washington Postleads with a look at how the southern Iraqi city of Basra has turned into a lawless and violent mess as three Shiite political groups are fighting for control and British forces continue to pull back from the area. Earlier this year Vice President Cheney said the oil-rich city was a place "where things are going pretty well" but a U.S. official says "it's hard now to paint Basra as a success story." The New York Timesleads with a look at how the bridge collapse in Minneapolis is forcing politicians to re-evaluate how they spend money on transportation. The maintenance of roads and bridges has largely been ignored in favor of new infrastructure that can help win votes.

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with President Bush stating that he's "confident" Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government will help the United States find and target al-Qaida fighters. USA Todayleads with new Department of Transportation data that reveals the number of planes that sat on the tarmac for at least three hours after leaving the gate  tripled in June. About a third of the 462 planes that suffered the delays were in New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a federal judge in Los Angeles forbidding the Navy from using a type of sonar in training exercises because it could cause harm to marine mammals. Studies have shown a link between high-powered sonar and a "number of mass strandings or panicked behavior of whales." The Navy says it will appeal the ruling.

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The problems facing Basra are a particularly poignant reminder that violence in Iraq can't be simplified as fights between Sunnis and Shiites. There are few Sunnis in southern Iraq, an area where al-Qaida is pretty much nonexistent. In no small part due to this homogenous nature, Basra was doing relatively well after British forces came in and carried out a mission similar to the U.S. operation currently underway in Baghdad as part of the "surge." The mission was successful at first, but once British troops began to withdraw violence increased and now the remaining troops are pretty much barricaded inside their compound. Officials are pointing to the city as an example of the fighting that could erupt between different Shiite political groups inside Iraq's central government when U.S. troops leave.

While transportation spending at the state and federal level continues to increase, maintaining current infrastructure is usually not a priority. Upkeep is just not very exciting and, as Sen. Charles Schumer said, "it's nice for somebody to cut a ribbon for a new structure." Experts contend that politicians are also too focused on building "expansive transit systems," such as light rails, that most commuters won't use instead of dealing with the more pressing problems. Some states are allocating money to try to deal with infrastructure issues, but everyone says it's not enough.

USAT fronts word that states haven't been eager to adopt new technologies to monitor the safety of bridges. Most states think it's not worth the money and instead rely on inspectors, who use little more than their eyes to check for problems. But, in fact, some contend that adopting new technology could help states save money by avoiding unneeded repairs.

In a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Bush didn't answer a question on whether he would send U.S. forces to Pakistan unilaterally. Most papers emphasize how Bush and Karzai clearly differed on their takes of Iran's role in Afghanistan. Karzai said Iran has helped Afghanistan, but yesterday Bush pointedly disagreed and called the country a "destabilizing force."

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Everybody goes inside with the latest from Iraq, where five more ministers announced they will no longer attend Cabinet meetings. This brings the total number of ministers who have at least partially withdrawn from the government to 17 out of a total of 38. The latest to withdraw are members of a secular Shiite coalition led by former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. In other news out of Iraq, a truck bombing killed at least 28 people near Tal Afar, an area that had been hailed as a success story by President Bush last year. Also yesterday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers.

The LAT fronts, and the WP goes inside with, the administration's efforts to defend their expanded eavesdropping program. While fending off accusations that the new powers would be used to spy on Americans, administration officials said the same people who run the program will be the ones in charge of ensuring that there's no abuse. As the Post emphasizes, the director of national intelligence and the attorney general are responsible for both "creating the broad procedures determining whose telephone calls and e-mails are collected" and "assessing compliance with those procedures."

On the topic of the warrantless eavesdropping law, the line of the day comes from a NYT editorial  that says many of the Democrats "who voted for the bill said that they had acted in the name of national security, but the only security at play was their job security."

USAT goes inside with a new poll showing that Sen. Hillary Clinton has widened her lead over Sen. Barack Obama. Clinton is now at 48 percent, which is eight percentage points higher than three weeks ago, while Obama dropped two points and is at 26 percent.  The NYT fronts a look at the Democratic front-runners and says that even though they are often in close proximity in the Senate, they have "barely spoken to each other" in the past few months.

The LAT fronts a new study that says videos like Brainy Baby or Baby Einstein may actually have the opposite effect than parents expect when they sit their children in front of the television. For every hour that babies are exposed to the videos, they understand fewer words than those who don't watch them at all.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.