Democrats agree to immunity for telephone companies; screeners don't catch bombs.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 18 2007 6:02 AM

Immunity Boosters

The Washington Postleads with word that Senate Democrats and President Bush reached a tentative agreement on legislation that would give immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the administration's surveillance program. Leaders of the Senate intelligence committee support the draft bill but it's not clear whether other Democratic lawmakers would join them. USA Todayleads with a classified report by the Transportation Security Administration that says security screeners at the main airports in Los Angeles and Chicago failed to catch most of the fake bombs that were taken through security checkpoints.

The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxlead with attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey telling the Senate judiciary committee that the Justice Department should not be used as a tool for partisan politics. Mukasey said he would not be afraid to disagree with the president but was careful not to cast judgment on several administration policies and programs, including warrantless surveillance. The New York Timesleads with the Turkish parliament, as expected, voting overwhelmingly to authorize a military incursion into northern Iraq to target Kurdish rebels. An actual invasion is unlikely in the near future, but the vote amounts to "a blunt request for the United States to acknowledge Turkey's status as an important ally," notes the NYT.

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The NYT, which credits the Post with breaking the story,reports that after poring through classified documents, senators now seem to agree that the telecommunications companies "acted in good faith" when they cooperated with the government's surveillance program. The Post notes companies would have to demonstrate "to a court that they acted pursuant to a legal directive in helping the government" to avoid facing lawsuits. Leaders of the Senate judiciary committee, which would also have to approve the legislation, have previously spoken up against immunity so it's not clear whether they'd support the bill.

News of the agreement came after Republicans in the House managed to use parliamentary tactics to delay a vote on a surveillance bill that would have placed more restrictions on the administration. There was a lot of partisan bickering, but it all ended when Democrats pulled their bill after Republicans introduced a measure "that on its face asked lawmakers to declare where they stood on stopping Osama bin Laden," notes the NYT. Democrats feared they'd be labeled soft on terror (what else is new?), so the leadership pulled a major bill before a scheduled vote for the first time since taking control of Congress. As the Post makes clear, it all amounted to a victory for Bush and an embarrassment for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

At the Los Angeles International Airport, screeners failed to catch about 75 percent of all the fake bomb parts and explosives that were hidden in bags. The failure rate at Chicago O'Hare International Airport was a bit better (60 percent), but San Francisco International Airport clearly won the screeners challenge, as inspectors missed only about 20 percent of the fake explosives. It's obviously a smaller airport, but screeners in San Francisco also work for a private company and get tested more frequently. In a separate story inside, USAT details how these kinds of tests by TSA agents have become much harder in the past year.

Apart from a few tense moments, the first day of the Mukasey hearings were pretty much a lovefest as senators seemed happy to be dealing with someone besides Alberto Gonzales. Mukasey appeared to have this in mind as "his statements amounted to a repudiation of the tenure of his predecessor," notes the LAT. He emphasized his independence from the president and said he would resign if asked to carry out policies that violated the Constitution. In his strongest statements, Mukasey made clear that the president doesn't have the power to order the torture of detainees and criticized an infamous opinion issued by the Justice Department in 2002 that approved of  harsh interrogation tactics. Everyone agrees he'll easily be confirmed. The WSJ notes Mukasey's first big test will be whether to keep the acting deputy attorney general, who has been "the department's parachuting troubleshooter" but worked on several cases that ended up hurting Republicans.

The Turkish government is hoping the threat of a military incursion will put pressure on the United States and Iraq to actually go after the Kurdish rebels, which have been mostly ignored although they've killed at least two dozen Turks in the past few weeks. The LAT points out there are up to 1,700 Turkish troops already in Iraq  monitoring the rebels.

The NYT off-leads word that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants to decrease restrictions on media ownership in the next two months. Kevin Martin is proposing a plan that would get rid of a rule that prohibits a company from owning both a newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same market. 

The WP off-leads the Supreme Court halting an execution in Virginia, which legal experts said probably means all states will stop executions via lethal injection until the justices decide whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. One legal expert said it now seems there's "a defacto moratorium," and others emphasized states would probably be unwilling to go through with executions.

There's been much talk of the important role that the bundling of political donations is playing in the presidential campaign. But today the WSJ manages to stand out with an impressive Page One look at the fund-raising practice that "has become the chief source of abuse in the American campaign-finance system." Although information on bundlers is scarce, the paper has a detailed graphic that outlines who the bundlers are and how much each of the major candidates gets from them.

Early morning wire stories report that Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan today after eight years in exile.

Until USAT told them about it, recruiters at the Army, Navy, and Air Force didn't know they were running job ads on networking Web site GLEE.com, which stands for "gay, lesbian, and everyone else." It's ironic because many gays "have been drummed out of the armed forces simply for using sites like GLEE," said an activist. Most of the ads were promptly removed.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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