Virtual fence delayed for at least three years; Bernanke hints at more cuts in interest rates.

Virtual fence delayed for at least three years; Bernanke hints at more cuts in interest rates.

Virtual fence delayed for at least three years; Bernanke hints at more cuts in interest rates.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 28 2008 6:16 AM

Staying the Course

The Washington Postleads with word that the Bush administration is being forced to make changes to the much-touted "virtual fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border, which will delay the first phase of the project for at least three years. Officials have found that the 28-mile pilot project built in Arizona was plagued with persistent technical problems that prevented it from working as intended. The New York Timesleads with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke hinting to lawmakers that he's ready to continue cutting interest rates. Despite new evidence that inflation is increasing, Bernanke made clear that his No. 1 concern continues to be the possibility of a recession.

USA Todayleads with news that four U.S. senators have asked the Defense Department to carry out a broad investigation into the Pentagon's wartime acquisition process. The senators, citing the delays in shipping armored vehicles in Iraq, said they "remain concerned" that troops in Iraq are still not getting "the best possible equipment." The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's harsh criticism of any new plan that uses government money to help struggling homeowners. In an interview with the paper, Paulson characterized the proposals as "bailouts" and said the administration's market-based approach would be enough to prevent a crisis in foreclosures. Democrats are working on several plans to help homeowners, and Paulson's comments emphasized the opposition they'll face from the White House on the issue. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with a federal appeals court striking down a state law that set pollution limits on ships that use California's ports. It's the second time in two months that California has been prevented from instituting pollution controls that differ from federal regulations.

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Investigators had already pointed out that the virtual fence was plagued with problems, but yesterday it became clear that the whole project will have to be redesigned. Officials now say they expect the first 100 miles of the project to be completed "near the end of the next president's first term," says the Post. This is a clear setback for President Bush, who has long been touting the virtual fence as a high-tech way to secure the borders that would complement a network of physical fences, which are also likely to be delayed. It seems the administration's eagerness to push the project during last year's immigration debate led the contractor, Boeing, to install equipment without proper testing.

Everyone points out that, by prioritizing economic growth, the Fed is pursuing a risky strategy. Ever since the country was hit hard by stagflation in the 1970s, "the rule of thumb in monetary policy has been that revving up a slow economy is far easier than slowing inflation once it becomes entrenched," notes the NYT. And the added risk for the Fed is that the economy's future will be in large part determined by the value of the dollar, which fell to its lowest level yesterday. There's growing concern that foreign investors will get tired of the plunging dollar and move elsewhere in big numbers, but these types of warnings "have been heard frequently since the 1980s," says the LAT in a front-page piece. Some analysts believe the euro might be reaching its peak and the dollar could end up benefitting in the long term.

In an opinion piece in the WSJ titled "That '70s Show," Allan Meltzer writes that the Fed seems to be making the same mistakes that led to stagflation. "One lesson of the inflationary 1970s: A country that will not accept the possibility of a small recession will end up having a big one." Meltzer writes that the Fed should follow the example of the European Central Bank, which is focusing on economic growth as well as inflation and "doesn't shift back and forth from one to the other."

The WP fronts a look at how the increasing frustration of the predominantly Sunni forces in Iraq is leading many of them to abandon their posts. Their complaints are many, including the accidental killing of several members of the Awakening forces by U.S. soldiers, late payments, and low salaries. There's also anger that requests for more resources are falling on deaf ears even though they're continually facing more threats. If their frustrations continue to increase, many are concerned the fighters will once again join the insurgency, which could easily dismantle all the progress that has been made in recent months.

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Early morning wire stories report that Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with his Turkish counterpart today in Ankara and urged the incursion into northern Iraq end  as soon as possible. Before leaving for Turkey, Gates was more specific: "I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two … not months."

In an interesting story inside, the WP points out that many in Turkey are suspicious that Turkey's incursion happened to coincide with its controversial decision to allow head scarves in universities. "Many people take it with some worry, that they are trying to take away from the secular republic while keeping the people busy with something else," a retired general said.

The LAT fronts a look at how even though Sen. Barack Obama mostly tries to keep his race in the background, "serial public apologies—largely by Democrats—show just how sensitive race remains," and it's unclear how the issue of Obama's race and background would play in a general election. His opponents could benefit by appealing to prejudice, but that could also result in more people being turned off by that kind of message and turning to Obama. While Sen. John McCain has pledged to conduct a "respectful debate," he might have to worry about his supporters. Some of that has already been evident in the past few days, from the radio host who repeatedly mentioned Obama's middle name, Hussein, to the press release sent out by the Tennessee Republican Party that included the infamous picture of Obama in a traditional Somalian outfit and accused him of being surrounded by anti-Semites.

In an op-ed piece in the NYT, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally makes it official that he's not planning on running for the White House. "I am hopeful that the current campaigns can rise to the challenge by offering truly independent leadership," Bloomberg writes. But even though he's not running for the presidency, "the race is too important to sit on the sidelines," so if one candidate "takes an independent, nonpartisan approach … I'll join others in helping that candidate win the White House."

Everyone fronts the death of William F. Buckley Jr., the father of the modern American conservative movement. Buckley founded the National Review, wrote more than 50 books, and was a syndicated columnist. He was also a television and radio talk-show host who was famous for his wit and sarcasm as well as "a darting tongue writers loved to compare to an anteater's," says the NYT. In a debate on the Panama Canal, Ronald Reagan's first questions was: "Why haven't you already rushed across the room here to tell me that you've seen the light?" Buckley answered: "I'm afraid that if I came any closer to you the force of my illumination would blind you."

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