The Washington Post and the New York Times both lead with, while the Los Angeles Times fronts, coverage of the escalating conflict between Russia and Georgia. Russian forces have stepped up bombing of Georgian cities, and the fighting appears to have spread to a second autonomous region of Georgia called Abkhazia. The LAT leads with a report on U.S. guns being smuggled into Mexico by drug cartels.
The headlines of the papers suggest that the struggle for control of South Ossetia is growing in both intensity and scope. The details are a little fuzzy, however. Somewhere between "dozens" and 2,000 people are dead, depending on who is doing the counting. All the papers make some mention of separatists in the region of Abkhazia joining the battle by attacking Georgian military outposts. Russian troops are en route to the Abkhazia region to aid the separatists, and U.N. military observers have pulled out.
The greater mystery is what Russia hopes to accomplish with this conflict. It will almost certainly annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin tells the NYT, "There is almost no way we can imagine a return to the status quo." But the attacks on Georgia's oil pipeline and airports, along with the overwhelming force being used, may suggest that the fight is about more than disputed land. All the papers make at least some mention of the way the fighting is being framed by both sides: as a struggle between the Western-aligned Georgian government and pro-Kremlin separatists being aided by Russian troops. As Georgian officials repeatedly call for a cease-fire and ask the international community to get involved, Russia appears to still be escalating. All the papers feature quotes from anonymous U.S. officials saying they don't understand why Russia's military response has been so overwhelming.
The WP fronts a piece on the morale of Georgians in the city of Gori. The paper describes a divide in attitudes between civilians and soldiers. Civilians have taken most of the casualties so far and are worried about more bombings and destruction. Would-be soldiers, however, are much more gung-ho.
The WP notes inside that the White House has decried the conflict, but says it will not send an envoy to negotiate an end to the hostilities at this time. The paper says the United States will help the roughly 2,000 Georgian troops stationed in Iraq return to their homeland, but that's about it for now.
Mexican drug cartels are being armed with guns smuggled in from the United States, reports the LAT. Most of the weapons come from Arizona, Texas, and California and are bought by "straw buyers," who purchase the guns legally and then resell them to the cartels for drugs and cash. There are an average of more than three border gun dealers for every mile of border territory between the United States and Mexico.
The WP goes over the fold with, while the LAT and NYT just briefly mention, the stabbing of the parents of a U.S. Olympic coach at a popular Beijing tourist site Saturday. The man was killed and the woman serious injured, as was the couple's Chinese guide. The assailant leapt to his death after the attack, making his motives a mystery. There's no indication, however, that the couple was attacked for being American or for being connected with the games.
Michael Phelps won his first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, setting a new world record for the 400-meter individual medley in the process. Again, only the WP fronts the full story.
The WP reports on a Chinese government crackdown on churches not sanctioned by the state, in stark contrast with the religious freedoms enjoyed by Olympic visitors.
The NYT, meanwhile, covers the troubling food situation in Sudan, where crops are being exported despite widespread famine in the Darfur region.
Final Curtain Call … Comedian and actor Bernie Mac died of pneumonia Saturday at the age of 50.