The Washington Postleads with word that some in the Pentagon are urging the Bush administration to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and speed up the withdrawal of forces from Iraq. The White House could begin discussing the future of American troops in both countries soon, and it's likely that Afghanistan will take on a new level of importance as the situation there continues to deteriorate. The New York Timesdevotes its traditional lead spot to the incredible story of the "jungle warriors" in Laos who were hired by the CIA more than 30 years ago and still live in hiding as the Laotian government continues to try to hunt them down.
The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how a number of striking writers are currently in talks with venture capitalists to create Internet content that would "bypass the Hollywood studio system." USA Todayleads with the surprising revelation that the Christmas and Thanksgiving travel seasons are not the busiest of the year. The paper crunched the numbers and says there are more flights, as well as more severe delays, during the peak days of summer. In fact, the busiest days of the 2006 holiday season didn't even make it into the top 20 list for the year. The Wall Street Journal plays catch-up and leads its world-wide newsbox with the climate-change agreement that was reached at the end of the talks in Bali on Saturday.
Yesterday, the NYT reported that the Bush administration and NATO are carrying out three full-scale reviews of the Afghanistan efforts to try to figure out how the rising insurgency can be stopped, as there are increasing concerns, which the Post echoes today, that the past gains in Afghanistan could quickly evaporate. The Post says some Pentagon officials believe Afghanistan poses a bigger long-term challenge than Iraq. But some are expressing caution and warn that the administration shouldn't be too quick to move troops out of Iraq. This is the attitude that Gen. David Petraeus, who holds a lot of sway in the White House, is likely to take as he prepares to testify before Congress in March. But commanders in Afghanistan want more resources, and the joint chiefs of staff seems to think that more brigades can be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2008. The WP mentions that if Bush decides to shift much of the focus away from Iraq, he is likely to face increased criticism that his adminsitration has been ignoring the fight in Afghanistan.
Between 1961 and 1975, the CIA hired tens of thousands of mercenaries to carry out its "secret war" against communism in Laos. More than 30 years later, these fighters call themselves "America's forgotten soldiers" since they continue to live in fear of the Laotian communist government and the United States has apparently all but forgotten about them. The NYT visits the camp of five former fighters deep inside the Laotian jungle, who have to constantly move around (with wives, children, and grandchildren) to avoid detection. Nobody knows how many people live in these desperate circumstances, but estimates put the number "somewhere in the hundreds to low thousands." Aid organizations have been raising awareness of their plight to increase the pressure on the Laotian Army to stop the attacks, but the government denies they even exist.
There are at least seven groups of writers working on Internet-based ventures, but their futures are far from clear. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that three of these groups are working to create something similar to United Artists that would create and distribute content for the Internet and then sell rights of the most popular material to mainstream outlets. Although the number of writers participating in these kinds of talks is still relatively small, they could end up pressuring the studios to reach an agreement with the strikers to avoid losing control over top talent.
The LAT fronts the second of its two-part series about Mitt Romney's business dealings and reveals that the Republican presidential candidate used offshore tax shelters in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands to help investors avoid paying taxes. Although the former governor of Massachusetts "gained no personal tax benefit" from the operations, they did help his bottom line by attracting "billions of additional investment dollars" to Romney's former company. Even though it's a much-questioned, controversial practice, the LAT is careful to point out that creating these types of shell corporations in tax havens is relatively common, and there's nothing illegal about them.
The NYT fronts a look at how the Republican candidates are busy trying to figure out how to deal with Mike Huckabee's surge. Mitt Romney is now acting like he's an "underdog" in the Iowa caucuses and has launched several attacks against Huckabee. For his part, Fred Thompson went as far as to throw "the ultimate conservative insult" and called Huckabee a "liberal." Aware that he needs to expand his base of support to win, Huckabee is busy trying to widen his message by talking tough on immigration and distancing himself from Bush's foreign policy. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain could benefit from having someone that can push back from what was until recently seen as Romney's inevitable victory in Iowa. McCain, who is expected to pick up the endorsement of independent Sen. Joe Lieberman today, * thinks it could help him win New Hampshire, while Giuliani could simply benefit from a fractured field because his campaign is focusing on later states.
Everyone goes inside with news that Turkish troops bombed villages in northern Iraq yesterday morning in what the LAT calls "the most aggressive action in years against Kurdish rebels." The Turkish military claims the United States approved the raid (the NYT calls it an "American-sanctioned effort"), but U.S. officials deny that. Although Turkey insists it targeted rebel sites, reports suggest the bombs hit civilian areas, and at least two were killed.
The NYT fronts a look at how academic researchers are using Facebook to study "fundamental social science questions." Most of these studies are still in the early stages, but one thing that researchers have learned is that while a large number of friends makes someone seem "popular, attractive, and self-confident," if someone has more than 800 friends, the verdict changes to "insecure."