A Hezbollah leader is killed; Obama doubts Clinton can catch up.

A Hezbollah leader is killed; Obama doubts Clinton can catch up.

A Hezbollah leader is killed; Obama doubts Clinton can catch up.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 14 2008 5:45 AM

Safety in Numbers

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with, and everyone fronts, the killing of Imad Mughniyah, a Hezbollah leader who had long been sought by authorities for his role in a variety of attacks over the last 25 years, including the 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut, the hijacking of a TWA flight in 1985, and the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, among others. The New York Timesleads with a look at how Sen. Barack Obama's lead in delegates has changed the landscape of the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. He currently leads by more than 100 delegates, a number that his campaign contends will make it almost impossible for Sen. Hillary Clinton to catch up. Clinton's campaign acknowledges the difficulty but insists she could still get ahead and vowed to continue pushing to make the votes in Florida and Michigan count. The Washington Postalso leads with the Democratic contest, but focuses on how Obama released an economic plan yesterday. The move was partly meant as an answer to claims that he's all talk and no action, and was also a clear attempt to gain support from lower-income voters.

USA Todayleads with a data analysis that shows the cost of providing government benefits to senior citizens  was $27,289 per senior in 2007. The figure signifies a 24 percent increase above the inflation rate since 2000, mostly because of medical costs. The trend is particularly worrisome considering that the real "senior boom" isn't scheduled to begin in earnest until 2011. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally but off-leads a look at how the health insurance industry is coming under fire from government investigators over what are widely regarded as unfair practices. New York's attorney general said he believes there was an "industrywide scheme" to purposefully underestimate the price of physician visits so patients would have to pay more out of their own pockets. In Los Angeles, investigators are looking into several industry practices, including the way insurers choose to cancel policies.

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Hezbollah immediately blamed Israel for the killing of Mughniyah, but Israel denied it was involved in the car bombing. In recent years, the fame of Osama Bin Laden largely overshadowed Mughniyah, but he was a wanted man in more than three dozen countries, and before 2001 was "the world's most feared terrorist" ( NYT). The NYT, LAT, and WP all have separate pieces inside looking at the man who eluded authorities for so long. The WP notes he  introduced several tactics, such as large-scale suicide bombings, that are now widely used by terrorist groups. His funeral is scheduled for today, and some fear that his death could spark new tensions, as well as violence, in Lebanon and the region.

The Obama campaign is working hard to push the view that having an extra 100 pledged delegates constitutes an important margin in order to make the case that the party's superdelegates should support the senator from Illinois. The fight over superdelegates will become increasingly important, particularly if the race remains close, because most expect that neither candidate will have the necessary 2,025 delegates necessary to claim the nomination once the primary season is over.

But the WSJ notes it's still not easy to figure out the exact delegate count. Several news organizations are keeping track and, although they all agree that Obama is ahead, the margin ranges from 25 to 109. The Post, meanwhile, says that if superdelegates are excluded Obama leads by 134.

The WP says that much of the economic plan announced by Obama yesterday consisted of "more detailed versions of familiar themes" with a particular emphasis on the concerns of the working-class voters that he's hoping to get on his side. Clinton's campaign responded by saying that most of the big ideas were taken from the former first lady's plans and pointed favorably to a comment by one of McCain's economic advisers, who called it "the most shameless piece of potential plagiarism."

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Clinton won't be giving up her traditional supporters without a fight. In a front-page piece looking at recent problems in her campaign, the paper says that a big part of Maggie Williams' new job as manager is to reshape Clinton's "message to focus more on solutions for working-class people." Clinton is also focusing more on comparing herself to Obama by saying that he's "in the promises business" while she is "in the solutions business." She also launched what everyone calls "her first negative ad" that criticizes Obama for not agreeing to debate before Wisconsin's primary. While most have been quick to characterize the recent shakeups in the Clinton campaign as bad news, the WSJ is slightly more positive and says that the "tumult … could be just what the limping Clinton campaign needs."

Sen. John McCain has also been criticizing Obama, saying that his speeches had been "singlularly lacking in specifics." (Slate's John Dickerson notes that while "Clinton hopes to defeat McCain in the fall, for now he is her ally.") In a piece inside, the NYT points out that the tension between McCain and Obama "has been percolating on Capitol Hill for more than two years." When the issue of lobbying reform was being discussed, the senators took part in a surprisingly public argument that involved sending each other "stinging letters," as the NYT described it in 2006.

In what perhaps could be seen as a true sign of his front-runner status, the WSJ op-ed page carries two critiques of Obama. In the more surprisingly interesting of the two, Daniel Henninger says Obama's speeches "are getting hard to listen to." Henninger contends that Obama's main problem is that once you take away the basic change rhetoric, his message is "a downer" because "what one hears is a message that is largely negative, illustrated with anecdotes of unremitting bleakness." This could be a problem for Obama in the general election since polls show that Americans are generally satisfied with their lives and he "is selling deep grievance over the structure of American society." In a separate piece, which is unfortunately illustrated with a low-blow illustration that depicts Oprah sitting down with Obama and Ahmadinejad, Michael O'Hanlon argues against the view that the next U.S. president should be willing to talk directly with all of the world's leaders. "Just because Mr. Bush went too far in one direction does not mean these situations would be rectified by going to the other extreme."

The NYT and USAT front news that the Iraqi parliament passed three important measures that are widely seen as important steps toward achieving national reconciliation. The legislation  includes the 2008 budget, an amnesty bill that could free thousands of detained Iraqis, and a measure that paves the way for provincial elections on Oct. 1, which could shift more power toward Iraq's provinces. But analysts cautioned that many details of the new measures aren't known and there are still several important issues in which lawmakers remain deeply divided.

Request your own earmarks! Who says only high-powered lobbyists can get money from Congress for pet projects? The NYT notes the "earmark season" is now open and many lawmakers have put up online forms to make it easier for people to put in requests. Best get cracking; you only have two weeks.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.