The front pages are nearly free of breaking news on this slow Sunday, but there are still some interesting morsels scattered throughout the papers. The Washington Post leads with a look at the eclectic group of donors that Norman Hsu tapped in his prolific fundraising efforts for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Some contributors say they never met Hsu, who now sits in a Colorado prison. The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at how al-Qaida is expanding by co-opting regional Islamic extremist groups. The New York Times leads with the surprising (and somewhat mind-numbing) news that some of America's biggest industries are calling for new federal regulations. The industry groups are motivated primarily by self-interest, not your health and safety.
Near the top of its lead story, the WP says "many questions remain about [Norman] Hsu's fundraising tactics, the origin of the funds and whether they were all given legally." Unfortunately, the paper doesn't answer any of those questions. Instead it passes on some vaguely interesting stories about donors who say they don't know Hsu, others who didn't know he was credited for their donations, and a few who didn't return phone calls. It's all a bit weird, but TP imagines you could find donors to say similar things about other big fund-raisers. As of yet, there is no evidence that Hsu's fund-raising activities were illegal.
The WP also emphasizes the overlap between Hsu's dodgy commercial interests (which certainly do seem illegal) and his political activity. But the mixing of business and politics is not uncommon, as the Post itself admits. Only after reading the front-page pieces on Hsu in the LAT and NYT does one start to realize what a unique character he is. The NYT paints him as an awkward man, desperate to be included in Hillary Clinton's big-ticket campaign events. He once threw a $20,000 party (not a fundraiser) in Clinton's honor—she did not attend. Last year he treated members of her campaign staff to a vacation in Las Vegas. With everyone now disowning him, you can see why he reportedly contemplated suicide last week.
The LAT's report on al-Qaida reads like it could be a Harvard Business School case. The terrorist group is forging ties with extremist groups across the Middle East and Africa. But like any brand-name company, it's being particular with its acquisitions. The Times relates how the group sent two operatives to Lebanon to investigate a potential affiliate. The Lebanese group was ultimately passed over due to its criminal activity and suspected ties to Syria.
Back in the United States, thousands marched in Washington yesterday to protest the war in Iraq. What started out as a peaceful demonstration turned rough, as protesters crossed police lines and arguments between anti-war activists and war supporters turned heated. The WP reports that 189 people were arrested, including 10 Iraq war veterans. The NYT says the march "evoked the angry spirit of the Vietnam era protests," though the Post piece ends with one of the more encouraging moments from the day's events.
In a front-page analysis piece, the Post says a bipartisan accord on Iraq now seems more elusive than ever. One reason why is that with the presidential primaries coming up, the Democratic candidates are likely to harden their anti-war positions to satisfy the party's base. But the candidates may also be rooting for the surge to work. As Peter Rodman, a former Pentagon official, points out, "The better condition Iraq is in, the better the situation will be" for the next president.
John McCain is certainly rooting for the surge as he campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire. But, according to the NYT, he is also trying to distance himself from George Bush. So, like most other Republicans, he avoids any reference to the president and pays tribute to Gen. David Petraeus every chance he gets.
In its piece on McCain, the NYT brings up a good point about his burgeoning comeback (if you can even call it that). If he does start to move up in the polls, his opponents have a potent weapon to use against him. They can simply reignite the debate over immigration and his failed reform plan.
In other campaign news, the NYT notes Fred Thompson's "sparse" campaign schedule. Next week he has no public events planned at all.
Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge, has suddenly become the front-runner to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general. But some Republicans are saying Mukasey is too close to Democrats like Chuck Schumer, who has recommended him.
Fresh off his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, Wesley Clark writes in the WP about how the military should handle the next war, wherever it may be. The advice, he says, comes from "a general who won" a war. (True enough, but let's not overlook the complicated situation the United States now faces in Kosovo.) The most interesting part of Clark's scattershot op-ed comes in the fifth paragraph, where he lays out how a military campaign against Iran might unfold.
Speaking of Iran, the NYT says President Bush's speech last week indicated how he's leaning in the internal debate over what to do about the country. With Condoleezza Rice arguing for diplomacy and Dick Cheney advocating more forceful measures, the Times says Bush "might have tilted toward Mr. Cheney." Iran, meanwhile, isn't helping itself.