Foreign Aid Betrayed
The New York Times leads with news that billions of dollars worth of U.S. aid to Pakistan, intended to train Pakistani forces in anti-terror techniques, was instead used for unrelated military purposes. The Washington Post leads a with feature on the many ways the weak U.S. dollar is negatively affecting global markets—tourism is down, inflation is up, and export profits are steadily eroding. The Los Angeles Times leads with news that local homicide rates may reach their lowest levels since 1970. Its top nonlocal story is a look at the "tribal" mentality that led CIA personnel to erase tapes containing evidence of harsh interrogations of alleged al-Qaida operatives, despite advice to the contrary from director Porter Goss.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with news of a press conference given by Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Assuming violence continues to subside in Iraq next year, Crocker said that more effort will be devoted to the "ongoing challenges of reconciliation." USA Today leads news that the brutal winter weather that has delayed flights across the East Coast should ease up by today. Smooth travel conditions are expected for Christmas Day.
Pakistan allegedly used much of the $5 billion worth of American aid to develop conventional weapons best suited for a conflict with India, the NYT reports. Gaming the Coalition Support Funds bureaucracy with ease, Pakistani officials regularly falsified reimbursement claims and expense reports. Counterinsurgency forces saw little of this cash; members of Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps were recently seen "wearing World War I-era pith helmets and carrying barely functional Kalashnikov rifles with just 10 rounds of ammunition apiece."
It's a good story, and it was even better when the LAT broke the news back on Nov. 5 (and again on Nov. 18). The first LAT story focuses more on the inadequacies of the Bad News Bears-esque Frontier Corps, while the second spotlights U.S. efforts to reform the aid program. Today's NYT piece neatly synthesizes the two LAT articles, but adds little else to the story.
As the Post notes, many countries that have pegged their currencies to the dollar are finding themselves in inflation's icy grasp. And although U.S. domestic export revenue has risen because of the dollar's relative weakness, many foreign companies are finding their exports less and less profitable. "Every time the euro increases by 10 cents towards the dollar we lose $1 billion in our operations," an Airbus representative told the Post. Perhaps predictably, some foreign firms (including Airbus) are planning to move their manufacturing stateside.
Loyalty to covert field operatives, the LAT reports, led CIA spymaster Jose A. Rodriguez to order the destruction of the al-Qaida interrogation tapes; intra-agency politics stopped Porter Goss from disciplining Rodriguez, who has since retired from his role as the head of the clandestine service. The article notes that the clandestine service is "careful to secure White House authorization and legal cover before accepting potentially controversial assignments." Is the LAT insinuating that Pennsylvania Ave. was actually pushing those erase buttons?
The Post off-leads a report indicating that the U.S. government repeatedly ignored warnings about the risks posed by using private security contractors in Iraq. "We sent many memos up the chain of command," claims one former adviser to the Iraqi government. Very few of these memos are actually cited in the article. Instead, the story seems padded by a thorough albeit overlong overview of Blackwater USA's sordid involvement in the Iraq war.
It's an early Christmas for everybody who asked Santa for pages and pages worth of tepid campaign coverage. The Post goes below the fold with a look at the "quiet and sometimes not so quiet desperation" that has enveloped former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign in the wake of Mike Huckabee's recent rise to prominence. Then again, desperation makes sense if you're at the point where newspapers are calling your candidate a "phony" and endorsing "anybody but Romney."
The NYT ascribes the Rudy Giuliani campaign's recent "rocky stretch"—Giuliani, who is essentially ignoring the Iowa caucuses, has been sinking in New Hampshire and national polls—to several strategic missteps, an unfocused advertising strategy, and lingering, unanswered questions about the candidate's personal life.
The LAT fronts an examination of Huckabee's "crackpot plan" to replace income and payroll taxes with a hefty national sales tax. Although the former Arkansas governor's "kill the IRS" message has been well received by Iowa conservatives, campaigns centered on radical tax reform have died quickly in the past. Even Grover Norquist calls the national sales tax "political poison."
Yesterday's contest was Thailand's first parliamentary election since military officials took control of the government last year, everybody mentions. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in the military coup 15 months ago; his People's Power Party won 228 out of 480 available seats yesterday. Although currently in exile, Thaksin will likely return to Thailand once the new government is formed.
Just because it's Christmas time doesn't mean that electioneering takes a holiday, as both USAT and the Post note in two separate stories. Although most candidates' Iowa campaigns are going dark until Wednesday, the tinny, grating sounds of dinner table debate will ring from Council Bluffs to Muscatine. "I think it's perfectly appropriate to talk about politics around the Christmas table. I think this is something Jesus would want us to do," said one pastor.
Embattled Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens responded to allegations of steroid abuse with a video posted on his foundation's Web site, everybody reports. "Let me be clear; the answer is no," Clemens said, before tearing a telephone book in half and roaring angrily at the moon.
The WSJ fronts an interesting feature on Raúl Baduel, the former Venezuelan defense minister who has emerged as Hugo Chavez's main political rival. Baduel, once a Chavez ally, pressured the president to accept the results of last month's referendum on the expansion of executive power; he is becoming a spokesman for those who oppose the politicization of the Venezuelan military.
The LAT fronts a dispatch from Burma, where the ruling junta—propped up by sordid profits from child labor mining operations—continues to prosper despite U.S. trade sanctions. Thanks a lot, China.
The Post reefers scientists' efforts to save the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna—the so-called "Porsche of the ocean"—by tracking its spawning and travel patterns via satellite tagging.
When stereotypes come true: If Florida is God's waiting room, then Kentucky is the place where teeth go to die—at least according to the NYT, which fronts a story exploring the abysmal state of dental health in the Bluegrass State. Ten percent of Kentuckians are missing all of their teeth, while half the state's population lacks dental insurance. One popular solution for tooth rot: inexpensive "bootleg" dentures.
Justin Peters is Slate’s crime correspondent.