The Washington Post leads with an impressive look at how Colombian drug kingpins are increasingly using Venezuela as a conduit for smuggling drugs into the United States and Europe. The New York Times leads with the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government hampering efforts to bring more Sunnis into the police force. The Los Angeles Times leads locally with equipment and personnel shortages at an Orange County fire department allowing a winnable brush fire to grow into a major blaze. But the paper also reports that cool, moist air has allowed firefighters to make big gains against the remaining fires in Southern California.
In its report on drug smuggling in Venezuela, the WP describes a process where drug-laden planes make short trips from jungle airstrips in Colombia to Venezuelan landing pads a few miles away, giving the Colombian air force little time to respond. These sorts of flights increased threefold from 2003 to 2006, according to American radar tracking, and there is little the United States can do about it—Hugo Chávez suspended bilateral anti-drug cooperation in 2005 after accusing the United States of spying. The movement of drug cartels "shows you where weaknesses are," said John Walters, the U.S. drug czar, referring to Venezuela's failures. Though, perhaps, it also shows the weakness of the American-sponsored counternarcotics campaign in Colombia.
The American military hopes that by organizing Iraqi Sunnis into neighborhood watch groups and then into police forces, it will force the Shiite-dominated government to work with their fellow countrymen, easing the sectarian divide. But the Shiites aren't playing along, according to the NYT. Efforts to hire and train Sunni policemen have been met with "halfhearted support and occasionally outright resistance" from members of the national government, who fear they may be training a future enemy. The story certainly takes some of the shine off of the impressive security gains made in Sunni provinces, which is probably the point.
The NYT fronts Barack Obama telling the paper that he will finally start confronting Hillary Clinton more forcefully. This will come as welcome news to his supporters, who have expressed disappointment with his lack of aggressiveness on the campaign trail. In an interview with the Times, Obama said Clinton has not been truthful about her agenda. And the WP reports that at an event in Iowa on Saturday, he accused her of "ducking the issue" of Social Security. Asked by the Times if he lacked the stomach for confrontational politics, Obama "glared and said no." The Clinton campaign responded with the increasingly stale line that Obama is abandoning the politics of hope.
Obama initiated the interview with the NYT, though you'd only know that if you picked up the paper's early edition. Why was this fact left out of later versions of the story? Does the Times feel guilty about giving the campaign the front-page platform it obviously sought?
In other campaign news, the WP says James Webb, the freshman senator from Virginia, is being mentioned as a potential vice-presidential pick. The Post doesn't say who is mentioning Webb, other than itself. The LAT looks at Fred Thompson's career as an assistant U.S. attorney in Tennessee. Thompson says he prosecuted "major crimes," but the records show he mainly prosecuted moonshiners, and his colleagues describe him in much the same way Richard Nixon did. In the NYT, Frank Rich says Rudy Giuliani's success proves that the clout of "self-promoting values hacks" is in decline (a topic expounded upon in the paper's magazine). But in the WP, historian (and Slate contributor) David Greenberg says Rudy is far from liberal.
In foreign campaign news, the NYT and WP report that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the wife of Argentina's current president, is likely to win that country's presidential election today. The only question is whether she will receive enough votes to win outright or be forced into a runoff next month. The Post notes that during the campaign Kirchner, didn't participate in any of the debates and granted only one interview to the national media. But people love her husband.
With similar skepticism, the NYT and WP report on the Darfur peace talks taking place in Libya. A rebel boycott has left doubts as to whether an effective agreement can be reached. Though, for what it's worth, the Sudanese government has declared a unilateral cease-fire.
Back in the United States, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has backed off a plan to give illegal immigrants the same driver's licenses as everyone else. In a deal with the Department of Homeland Security, Spitzer has agreed to create a license that would allow illegal immigrants to drive but would not be accepted as identification for boarding planes and entering federal facilities.
At a press conference announcing the deal, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff also laid into his own employees for holding a fake news conference last week. "I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government," Chertoff said.
Going (out) green … The LAT looks at eco-friendly cemeteries, where biodegradable caskets are required and embalming is prohibited. At one cemetery near San Francisco, even grave markers are forbidden. So, how does a mourner find the resting place of their departed loved one? "We issue the family a Google map with the GPS coordinates," said the owner.