The Washington Postleads with a preview of what we can expect to hear when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before Congress today and tomorrow. It's hardly a surprise to reveal they'll both talk up recent security gains in Iraq, but the paper highlights how even Republicans who have been largely supportive of the war effort are likely to express more impatience with the pace of progress than when Petraeus and Crocker testified in September. USA Todayleads with, and the Los Angeles Timesfronts, a look at how San Francisco police are preparing for big protests Wednesday when the Olympic torch will make its only public appearance on North American soil. In Paris yesterday, the torch relay turned into a chaotic scene as demonstrators forced officials to snuff out the flame five times and cancel the last leg of the relay.
The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with President Bush's announcement that he's sending a Colombia free-trade agreement to Congress, which gives lawmakers 90 legislative days to approve or reject the deal. The New York Timesleads with a look at how rising inflation in Asia is threatening to bring to an end the era of cheap imports to which Americans have become accustomed. Inflation in developing countries is nothing new, but some are warning it will be felt more deeply in the United States this time around, particularly because prices are rising at a time when the value of the dollar is continually decreasing. The LAT leads locally with a grand jury transcript that reveals a guard at an Orange County jail was watching Cops and writing text messages while a prisoner was beaten to death by other inmates. Overall, the grand jury found that prisoners were allowed to use violence and pretty much run the jail while deputies took naps, watched television, and played video games.
The Post highlights, and USAT also mentions inside, that money is likely to be a central point of discussion at the Petraeus and Crocker hearings. Several lawmakers have recently said that they don't understand why the United States continues to pay for many of Iraq's bills when the country has $30 billion in reserves and an economic growth rate of 7 percent. USAT notes that some lawmakers are pushing for future money commitments to be made in the form of loans. "It doesn't make any sense when they're making surpluses that we would continue to invest our money in Iraq for their infrastructure," Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson said. The recent offensive in Basra is also likely to figure prominently at the hearings as lawmakers have said they want to ask Petraeus to assess how the Iraqi security forces performed in the fight. As a general rule, lawmakers seem ready to focus on the bigger picture for Iraq that goes beyond the gains in security. "The debate over how much progress we have made in the last year may be less illuminating than determining whether the administration is finally defining a clear political-military strategy," said Republican Sen. Richard Lugar.
Iran is also likely to figure prominently at the hearings, and the WSJ says it "might end up sharing center stage." Beyond the fact that Petraeus will bring up how Tehran is helping the Mahdi Army, the hearings will also give the three presidential candidates an opportunity to talk about their different views on how to approach Iran, which "is emerging as a hot-button campaign issue," says the WSJ. The paper warns that the issue could be a difficult one for Sen. John McCain. While talking about Tehran's influence could help him make the point that U.S. troops shouldn't be withdrawn quickly, it could also convince voters that he's eager to take military action against Iran.
The LAT off-leads the latest from Iraq, where three U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday as the fighting between Shiite militias and Iraqi and American soldiers continued to intensify. The paper points out that "at least 18 U.S. service members have been killed in and around Baghdad since March 25" and characterizes the fighting as "some of the most intense since January 2007." Thousands of Sadr City residents continued to flee the area in an attempt to escape the fighting. The NYT fronts a look at the increasing divisions in Iraq as a result of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's offensive against the militias. Yesterday, Maliki said Muqtada Sadr's party would be banned from the upcoming elections unless the Mahdi Army is disbanded. In some ways the offensive has been good for Maliki's political power because he's gained new allies, not only from Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers but also from rival Shiites who "resent" Sadr. These alliances could help Maliki pass new laws, but the crackdown has also given rise to a new bloody chapter in the Iraq war. New figures show that the number of attacks in Baghdad more than doubled in March.
In case there was any doubt that the Olympic torch will be met by protesters Wednesday, activists made it abundantly clear yesterday when three people climbed the Golden Gate Bridge and unfurled pro-Tibet banners (both the LAT and NYT front large pictures of the banners). The LAT says San Francisco police are increasingly concerned they won't be able to control the demonstrators, who are not exactly being discouraged by politicians. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said people "should show how displeased they are" and even Sen. Hillary Clinton got into the mix by calling on President Bush to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing. Meanwhile, the Chinese media have censored most images of the demonstrations while trumpeting the success of the relay. When the protests are mentioned, officials are quick to blame a few Tibetan separatists.
Democratic leaders are against the Colombia free-trade deal, so most think it has very little chance of passing, particularly in an election year. So, why present it now and risk defeat? The LAT says the administration is taking a gamble, knowing that "waiting would accomplish nothing, and the clock is running out on his opportunities." But the WSJ suggests there could be another motive and points out that the effort could help Bush portray Democrats as mere puppets of their union supporters. This could help Republicans in the upcoming elections, particularly among business groups that have increasingly been turning to the Democratic Party. The WSJ also notes that the possibility that the legislation will fail is raising fears in several countries that have pending trade deals.
The Post fronts a little self-promotion by noting that the paper won six Pulitzer Prizes. The NYT reefers the news and points out that it's the second-highest number of Pulitzers that a newspaper has won in a single year (the NYT won seven in 2002). The WP won the public service medal for its stories on the poor treatment that veterans received at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the national reporting award for the four-part series on Vice President Cheney. The Post also won the breaking news award for its coverage of the Virginia Tech killings. The NYT shared the investigative reporting prize with the Chicago Tribune and also won an award for explanatory journalism. The fiction Pulitzer went to Junot Diaz for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Bob Dylan was awarded a special citation for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture."
Charlton Heston was apparently an "avid newspaper reader," who would have his assistant spread out the paper around the pool. Heston not only wrote dozens of letters to the LAT but also frequently called up editors to share his opinions. Today, the LAT publishes excerpts from some of his letters and TP's favorite is one from 1999, where Heston writes about how he was having a conversation "with a stunningly beautiful, famous star" at "one of those silly 'A-list' parties" about the divisions inside the United States. The actress was surprised when Heston told her she had her "Latin backward" and he proceeded to explain that e pluribus unum means "from many one" and not the reverse. " 'No kidding?' she said, amazed. 'Well … whatever.' And there you have it. We live, increasingly, in a 'well, whatever' nation. God help us all."