Too Many Shots
The New York Timesleads with the first glimpse into the FBI's investigation of the Sept. 16 shooting incident in Baghdad involving Blackwater security guards that killed 17 civilians. And it doesn't amount to good news for the government contractor, as federal agents have found that at least 14 of the killings were unprovoked and unjustified. The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox leads with, and almost everyone else fronts, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto calling on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to resign. Bhutto made a clear break with the president and seemed to quash all possibilities of a power-sharing deal by saying that she wouldn't serve in his government. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how rising gasoline prices will affect the wider economy. It's not just that people will have to spend more on fuel but also higher gasoline costs are increasing prices on a variety of products.
USA Todayleads with news that Bank of America will devote $600 million to support its money market funds to ensure they don't fall below the $1-a-share mark. Other institutions have also taken similar steps but this move was seen as particularly significant since it came from the nation's second-largest bank. Bank of America also announced it will write down $3 billion of its debt and warned it could face bigger losses in the future. The Washington Postleads with more from "the biggest corruption case in local government history" and says the multimillion-dollar scam involving employees of a Washington, D.C., tax office could be larger than authorities have publicly acknowledged. The paper analyzed city records and discovered $31.7 million "in questionable property tax refunds" during the last seven years.
Although the FBI investigation of the shooting is still ongoing, the NYT got word of some initial findings that have already been forwarded to the Justice Department. It seems at least five Blackwater guards opened fire because they mistakenly believed they were under attack when they heard shots that were actually fired by other members of their unit. The FBI agents said that three of the killings may have been justified because guards could have felt legitimately threatened. But an official who was part of an earlier military review that found all 17 killings unjustified said FBI investigators were clearly giving Blackwater guards the benefit of the doubt. "I wouldn't call it a massacre, but to say it was unwarranted is an understatement," a government official tells the NYT.
The findings are now being reviewed by Justice Department officials and the NYT says that deciding whether to prosecute the killings "could be one of the first thorny issues to be decided by Michael Mukasey," the new attorney general who was sworn in a few days ago.
Since emergency rule was declared in Pakistan, there have been suspicions that Bhutto continued to negotiate with Musharraf on a possible power-sharing deal. But yesterday she clearly stated that "Pakistan and Musharraf cannot co-exist" and started to seek alliances with other political parties to oppose the president. Although the opposition is fractured and has been largely ineffectual, Bhutto's participation might give it the support and leadership it needs, reports the LAT. Everyone notes the Bush administration will send John Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, to Pakistan for talks with Musharraf later in the week.
The NYT got an interview with Musharraf and fronts the encounter. Notably, Musharraf met the reporters wearing a suit and not his military uniform, which makes for a very nonthreatening Page One picture. Although he doesn't say anything that's really surprising, the interview does give some insight into Musharraf's way of thinking, much of which could be funny if it weren't so tragic. Musharraf strongly believes that the majority of people support his emergency decree. "Their view, is why have I done it so late," he said. He also chastised Western media and governments for spending too much time with human rights advocates who "sleep on the day of elections." When asked about closing down private television channels Musharraf insisted "the media is independent" and all he wants to do is "bring some responsibility to them."
While the Post lends space in its op-ed page to yet another piece by Benazir Bhutto that gives us quotable, but ultimately meaningless, sentences like "[t]he only terror that Musharraf's regime seems able to confront is the terror of his own illegitimacy," the LAT makes things more interesting by publishing a piece by her niece, Fatima Bhutto. Fatima notes that the "most bizarre part" of the emergency rule "has been the hijacking of the democratic cause by my aunt." She's hardly an objective source, but the piece is notable because she writes about how Bhutto has been accused of "massive corruption" at a time when many are portraying her as Pakistan's savior and it's a good reminder of why so many Pakistanis can't get around to trusting her.
Although the price of oil went down yesterday and, as the WSJ details in a Page One article, it seems increasingly unlikely that the much-talked about $100 price tag will be reached in the near future, the cost of gasoline will probably keep increasing for now. The big concern is for lower income households that spend a significant part of their budget on gasoline and will have to cut back on other expenses right at the start of the shopping season.
The NYT fronts an interesting counterintuitive column by David Leonhardt that attempts to throw a little bit of cold water on all the hyperactive economic coverage. Barring a major catastrophe, Leonhardt argues that falls in the stock market, home prices, and the dollar really aren't so bad. And for all those who are not close to retirement, "a market correction is your friend." The urge to treat the economy "as a local sports team that is either winning or losing, up or down" fails to capture the many levels in which it operates and how some people always benefit when others lose.
The NYT notes that controversy has hit the "genteel world of bridge" because one of the women in a team of players that won the Venice Cup in Shangahi held up a sign at an awards dinner that read, "We did not vote for Bush." Some bridge players have called it "treason" and a few of the team members could face suspension, probation, and community service.
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.