Gaza Goes South
The Washington Post leads with the breaking news of the weekend: Israel has launched a new incursion into the Gaza Strip, killing 60 Palestinians—half of them civilians—in the area's deadliest day since 2000. The Los Angeles Times leads with an analysis of how the new popularity of corn ethanol as a source of fuel could lead to price shocks in everything from food to gasoline, especially if any kind of drought hits this summer. The New York Times runs with election news, highlighting Sen. Barack Obama's heavy spending on television advertisements in Texas and Ohio, which will vote on Tuesday.
The latest clash in Gaza had been building since Wednesday, when Israel hit a van carrying five Hamas members thought to be planning an attack inside the country, setting off a hailstorm of rockets and mortars from militants in Gaza. The WP story focuses on the diplomatic implications for President Bush's attempt to negotiate a settlement between the governments anytime soon (they don't look good), paired with an analysis of the United States' shrinking role in Middle East politics. The NYT's Page 3 coverage instead emphasizes the experience of civilians under fire and suggests that Hamas may be attempting to lure Israel into a major ground operation. The Israeli army contends that the escalation is nothing out of the ordinary, but rather "within the scope" of activities carried out in Gaza since the army has been permanently engaged there. According to the LAT, it may not be so for long: Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been signaling that a larger operation may launch when the weather warms up.
Turning to another battleground, candidates are going full tilt before the Tuesday primaries, where Obama has $50 million to spend over Hillary's $30 million, plus television input from independent heavyweights like the SEIU: "If this can be purchased, he can win it," said Gov. Ted Strickland, a Hillary supporter. Potentially more problematic for the Hillary camp is a scheduled concert by popular indie-rock band and Obama supporters Arcade Fire, which may prompt at least a few temporary desertions. Although Ohio voters remain focused on the economy, the Post's front-page coverage features the impact of the candidates' pitches on foreign policy, noting the prominence of arguments over what each would do with a red phone. The paper also finds that youth may trump ethnicity in the battle for the Latino vote—long considered a check in Clinton's column—as younger Hispanics increasingly stump for Obama.
It's also Women's Day in election coverage, as the LAT looks into feminist debates over the number of females jumping ship for Obama. A piece in the Post's Outlook section breaks the split down along class lines: Maria Shriver-types favor Obama, while the less-educated stick with female solidarity. A companion piece bemoans the tendency of "us women" to fall for the sentimental and superficial pitches of both sides.
If you didn't know that Russia was picking its new leader today, you'd be forgiven: Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the subject of an illuminating below-the-fold profile in the Post, had it made as soon as he got the endorsement of President Putin. Forty-two-year-old Medvedev, a former law professor, talks a good game about personal freedom and cracking down on corruption—but with the possibility of Putin becoming his prime minister, observers say, those claims will need some backing up. For more on elections, the NYT reports (and the WP barely catches) news that days after a settlement had been reached following weeks of post-election violence in Kenya, Armenia seems to be following suit, declaring a state of emergency 11 days into clashes between police and people protesting an election they say was stolen. And even after a changing of the guard in Pakistan, U.S. troops will help the country form an 86,000-strong paramilitary force called the "Frontier Corps," in what the NYT calls "another sign of the Bush administration's concern and frustration with Pakistan's failure to do more about Al Qaeda's movement in the tribal areas."
Perhaps most sobering of all, the janjaweed are back in Darfur, intones the lede for a center-stage story on the NYT front page. The Sudanese government has in recent weeks re-employed the fearsome Arab militias that terrorized villages on horseback in earlier stages of the conflict, turning to a scorched-earth policy to reclaim territory from rebels who vacated for a period in February to come to the aid of the president of Chad, with whom they have close ties.
In front-page economic news, the WP makes concrete that creeping feeling that things are not all right in corporate America, talking to businesses in all sectors (although mostly D.C.-area-based) that are cutting jobs to insulate themselves from the downturn. It's not as bad as the 2001 recession yet, but deflated consumer spending is having ripple effects through the corporate sector, which in turn—as the NYT notes in a similar story back in Business—hurts people looking for jobs on the lower end of the pay scale.
The LAT thinks it has hit upon a scandal in the overvaluing of multimillion dollar pieces of art used as tax write-offs, estimating that half the donations over the last 20 years were appraised at double their actual value. Elsewhere in swindle news, and continuing with its coverage of how seniors get screwed in America, the NYT fronts a long piece on the selling of "reverse mortgages": payments tied to the value of a home that only need to be repaid when the owner moves out or dies. Drawing heavily on the experience of one elderly woman who says she lost thousands of dollars in a scheme, the paper recounts dozens of sketchy details about a $20-billion-a-year industry that says it's only trying to help seniors out.
In probably the most underplayed story of the day, the WP runs news on A7 that President Bush is speaking out to oppose the dozens of lawsuits pending against telecommunications firms that, if allowed to go forward, would establish whether companies including AT&T, Cingular, and Verizon had handed over phone records en masse to the government. Bush's primary concern is that airing e-mails and other documentation pertinent to the case would "aid our enemies" and "give al-Qaeda and others a road map as to how to avoid the surveillance." Also, Bush pushed back against the high-level unnamed source who yesterday told newspapers that the administration was planning to withdraw troops from Iraq before the end of the year, following a drawdown pause in July to accommodate provincial elections. Bush reiterated that no decision had been made—somebody's either out of the loop or lying here, folks. *
Anyone wanting to understand what's going on in the broader Middle East should take a gander at veteran Washington Post reporter Robin Wright's new book, which apparently even has an optimistic side. Or just read her piece in Outlook.
Anyone wanting to read one more Bush retrospective might pick up Bushism chronicler and Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg's book The Bush Tragedy, which reviewer Alan Brinkley deems "mostly persuasive," if occasionally "highly speculative." Brinkley also points out that tragedies usually involve some amount of talent squandered and self-awareness of failure, which Weisberg argues that this presidency lacks.
The NYT took the time to collect a few voices from the dead, giving has-been presidential candidates the chance to hammer away at pet issues one more time. One of them, the Hon. Dennis Kucinich, may be more dead than others.
Correction, March 3, 2008: This piece originally stated that an unnamed source in the Bush administration said troops reductions were being planned for July. The plan allegedly calls for troop withdrawal by the end of the year, with pauses in July for provincial elections. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.