The New York Timesleads with a look at the rising tensions between Kurds and Iraqi Arabs. Many Sunnis and Shiites are growing increasingly frustrated with Kurdish demands for more power and autonomy, which, in a strange twist, has resulted in the strengthening of the central government and President Nouri al-Maliki. The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxlead with the Democratic debate in California, where Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama met one-on-one for the first time. Unlike the last debate, Clinton and Obama were mostly friendly with each other and avoided personal attacks. They did express some disagreement on a few policy issues as well as who is best prepared to be president, but the two senators saved their toughest words for Republicans, particularly President Bush and Sen. John McCain. "The differences between Barack and I pale in comparison to the differences that we have with the Republicans," Clinton said.
USA Todayleads with a look at how state and local government employees are seeing their wages increase at a much faster pace than private workers. Public employees earn an average of $39.50 per hour in total compensation compared to $26.09 for private workers. Benefits play a big part in this widening gap since companies have been cutting pensions and forcing employees to pay a larger share of medical expenses.
Kurds, who are mostly Sunni, have always enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy in Iraq and have been able to get their demands met by strongly supporting the central government and Maliki. But many now feel that they've overplayed their hand by continuing to insist on taking control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and by signing their own oil contracts with foreign companies, among other issues. Now many Sunnis and Shiites are saying enough is enough and are uniting in their opposition to the Kurds. This is raising problems for the United States because it has always been an ally of the Kurds, but now risks antagonizing Iraqi Arabs by continuously defending their demands for more power. These rising tensions are seen as yet another reminder of the ever-present divisions in Iraq and the continuing difficulty in creating a united central government.
Last night's debate was so friendly that at times it looked like "the battle was to see which of them could outnice the other," says the NYT. Despite all the niceness, they did manage to outline some differences, and much of it came down to the Iraq war, in an issue that brought the race back to its "purest distillation: Clinton's experience against Obama's judgment," notes the LAT. Slate's John Dickerson says both candidates had good moments, and in the end, the friendly atmosphere was a sign that "both campaigns think they've picked the right final strategy." Clinton thinks she can keep her lead in the polls, while Obama thinks he's gaining support so they both wanted to play it safe before Super Tuesday.
In a clear attempt to show that Obama has been winning over voters, his campaign released figures showing that it had raised $32 million in January from 170,000 new donors. The Clinton campaign didn't release its own numbers but a source tells the Post that she also saw an increase in contributions. The extra influx of cash comes at a particularly crucial time, and Obama's campaign announced that it has launched television advertising in 24 states. For her part, Clinton is advertising in 12 of the 22 states that will hold elections or caucuses on Tuesday.
As has been the trend throughout the year, Republicans have much less money on hand to spend on advertising. But in an effort to stop McCain's growing momentum, Mitt Romney will spend somewhere between $2 million to $3 million, according to the Post, before Super Tuesday. The WSJ notes inside that Mitt Romney is trying to strike a comeback by attacking McCain's conservative credentials. But the NYT points out on Page One that although some conservatives continue to be anguished over the prospect of a McCain nomination, others are quickly rallying behind the senator and insisting that he'd be better than a Democratic president.
It's hardly a secret that McCain's growing popularity has been a remarkable turnaround for a campaign that was struggling to survive just a few months ago. The WP fronts an interesting look at how McCain was in such dire straits in November that he had to borrow money from a bank in the Washington area. In order to get a $3 million line of credit, McCain offered his fund-raising lists as collateral and even had to take out a life insurance policy, since the bank knew they'd be worthless if the senator died. The money allowed McCain to keep his campaign operating, but some are wondering whether offering his fund-raising lists could be a violation of Senate ethics rules. "Did they base this loan on the fact that, even if he lost, he would still be a sitting senator and able to raise money?" asked one McCain critic. McCain's campaign seems to imply that this is common practice and perfectly legitimate. But is it? The Post doesn't say.
The WP and LAT front, while the NYT reefers, news that a senior al-Qaida commander who trained foreign militants and oversaw several attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan was killed in Pakistan this week. All the other papers imply U.S. involvement but the NYT is the most direct in saying that Abu Laith al-Libi was killed by "an American missile," which was apparently fired by a CIA-operated aircraft. The Post notes he is the first major al-Qaida leader who is known to have been killed in Pakistan in more than two years. And the NYT says it could "signal an escalation in American covert action" in the area.
The NYT's op-ed page publishes a must-read piece about Pakistan that warns: "As matters stand, the Punjabi-dominated regime of Pervez Musharraf is headed for a bloody confrontation with the country's Pashtun, Baluch and Sindhi minorities that could well lead to the breakup of Pakistan into three sovereign entities."
The WSJ and WP note that Bush's budget for 2009 will break the $3 trillion mark for the first time. The budget, which will be released Monday, also projects that federal budget deficits will increase to about $400 billion. In order to get the budget balanced by 2012, it will call for "a virtual freeze" on domestic spending as well as huge cuts in entitlement programs, particularly Medicare.
Jerome Kerviel still hasn't been fired from Société Générale even though he lost the bank $7.2 billion, notes the WSJ. He isn't actually getting a salary, but the bank hasn't been able to officially fire him becaue of intricacies in the French law. Meanwhile, Kerviel is being hailed in many quarters as a hero. And the praise isn't just coming from people who are happy to see rich people lose money. An American economist says that Kerviel may have saved the United States from a recession since the quick sale of his bad bets accelerated the downfall in the markets, which led to the quick reaction from the Federal Reserve. "We owe Jerome quite a few thanks," the economist tells the paper. He "certainly deserves a footnote in American economic history."