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today's papers
Lust and Marriage
By Ryan Grim
Saturday, January 20, 2007, at 5:16 AM ET

The New York Times leads with the outline of new oil legislation in Iraq that would give wide powers to the central government over contracts and revenues. The Washington Post has the Supreme Court's decision to rehear campaign-finance arguments in its lead slot. The L.A. Times leads with the introduction of a bipartisan bill to move California's primary to February 2008 in order to boost the state's clout. The NYT fronts a large photo of people mourning a popular Armenian editor assassinated Friday. The Wall Street Journal mentions the oil bill, the arrest of a Muqtada Sadr aide, and friction between Democrats and Bush over Iraq atop its worldwide news box.

The NYT piece has one laugher in it—the oil law "would appear to settle a longstanding debate"—but otherwise thoroughly lays out the positions of the relevant parties. The Kurdish region has been independently negotiating contracts and exploiting its oil reserves, occasionally without bothering to tell the central government, let alone get approval or share revenue.

They have little interest in changing that situation and only agreed to the deal, perhaps, because "in Iraq's chaotic wartime environment, even laws that do get passed can have little impact," as the Times puts it. (TP might ask if that could be a workable definition of a "failed state.")

George Will must be pleased that the Supremes will be revisiting the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform. (TP puts the over-under for number of columns he wrings out of it at 2 and a half.) The central reform of the legislation is at issue: Can interest groups mention the name of candidates in "issue ads" that are exempt from the legislation's restrictions? The law says no, as did the court three years ago. But that was before swing vote Sandra Day O'Connor was replaced by a less-swinging judge, Samuel Alito Jr. A ruling is expected before the 2008 presidential primaries.

If California moves its primary from June to February a number of issues—climate change, healthcare, immigration, weed-smoking—would be raised in profile. The bill has the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has previously vowed to up California's influence on the national and global stage.

The intense cost of campaigning in California—a Times source puts it at $6 million to $8 million per candidate—could dim the hopes of shoestring candidates, while boosting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who raise money when they sneeze.

How's this for chutzpa? An increasing number of companies' executives are getting busted stealing money from shareholders by backdating their stock options. Lock 'em up? Not hardly. Instead, the WSJ reports above the fold, companies are taking away the stock options but giving executives bonuses to make up for the loss.

Speaking of chutzpa, the WSJ has an A2 analysis of the upcoming State of the Union address that concludes: "Odds are he wants this time to prompt the Congress—and the country—to start thinking beyond Iraq to what he clearly sees as the next big problem. And that lies next door in Iran." The NYT fronts a complementary piece in which the new chair of the Senate intelligence committee, Democrat John Rockefeller IV, calls the idea of attacking Iran "bizarre."

"To be quite honest, I'm a little concerned that it's Iraq again," he's quoted saying, adding that a coming report from his committee on the administration's failure to heed CIA warnings about possible disintegration in Iraq is "not going to make for pleasant reading at the White House."

The slain Armenian editor, Hrant Dink, had previously been charged by Turkey for anti-Turkish remarks. That's still a crime in Turkey, which continues to officially deny the Armenian genocide of World War I. It is undeniable, yet the Times gives the issue the he-said-she-said treatment, absurdly reporting Turkey's historically, factually, and morally indefensible position that "the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians resulted from hunger and other suffering in World War I." That is not a difference of historical interpretation; it is a lie. (Editors' note: "Today's Papers" writer Ryan Grim erred in his analysis of the Times' piece. Contrary to the Slate assertion, the Times treats the Armenian genocide as fact, not historical interpretation. The newspaper's decision to mention the Turkish government's official stance—that "the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians resulted from hunger and other suffering in World War I"—does not amount to an acknowledgment of that view's legitimacy. Slate has decided not to alter the original text, since doing so would be more confusing to readers than explaining the error.)

The arrest of a top aide to Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr came just in time to be denounced in Friday prayers throughout Shiite areas of Iraq. Sadr is a high-ranking government official and ally of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. The LAT reports that it was unclear if Maliki knew or approved of the raid. Sadr, who controls several ministries and the largest and most stable section of Baghdad (Sadr City), is a prime target of President Bush's surge, which is intended to stabilize Baghdad. Got that?

The city edition of the NYT leads with the coming closure of 21 parishes in New York mostly due to undercrowding issues.

The LAT fronts a piece on the bagged-greens industry, focusing on a method of processing that increases risks of spreading veggies contaminated by E. coli across the country. The industry surely won't like this quote from Michael Doyle, a food-safety expert recently hired by Taco Bell to review its safety guidelines: "I quit eating bagged lettuce years ago," Doyle said. "After seeing how bagged lettuce was harvested and prepared, my impression was it's not very sanitary."

For fans of HBO's drama Rome, WSJ has a chat with a Caesar historian on the show's accuracy.

And speaking of Roman orgies … When is prostitution not prostitution? When it's marriage, of course. But a common problem associated with marriage is that it lasts, you know, for a pretty long time. (TP got hitched last weekend and is definitely not referring to his own marriage.) The Post's Nancy Trejos, in a story you have to read to believe, reports that Shiites in Iraq are developing a solution to this problem—which, again, is certainly not a problem for TP.

Some Shiites are apparently arguing that Islam allows for an unlimited number of "mutaa relationships"—temporary marriages—as long as you're a man. The relationships seem to involve little more than sex and the exchange of money. "According to Shiite religious law," writes Trejos, "a mutaa relationship can last for a few minutes or several years." Now that's thinking of everything.

war stories
He Still Doesn't Understand the War
Bush whiffs on Iraq again during the State of the Union.
By Fred Kaplan
Wednesday, January 24, 2007, at 12:31 AM ET

What a dispiriting State of the Union address! So many disasters, so little time left to repair them, so few insights into what caused them or what to do about them now.

President Bush may not have felt obligated to discuss Iraq in detail, having laid out his new plan in prime time less than two weeks ago. But to the extent he talked about the war, his words were at best puzzling, and at worst, maddening.

For example, the president did nothing to clarify the "surge"—the deployment of 20,000 more U.S. combat troops over the next few months. It's unclear whether even this administration believes in the plan or knows how it will work. The new defense secretary, Robert Gates, has said in recent days that the surge might be needed only through the summer, after which withdrawals might begin. However, at hearings this morning before the Senate armed services committee, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, stressed the need for patience. The new troops will need time to get to Iraq; more time to understand the neighborhoods they'll be securing; more time to conduct operations and secure the area; and still more time to build on the security. These tasks, he said, will be "neither quick nor easy."

So which is it: a brief blip, as Secretary Gates assures us—or a very long haul, as Lt. Gen. Petraeus sternly warns?

"I ask you to give it a chance to work," the president (uncharacteristically) pleaded tonight. In service of this support, he proposed to set up a "special advisory council on the war on terrorism, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties," to "share ideas for how to position America" to meet today's challenges and to "show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of security."

The thing is, there already are advisory councils. They're called the congressional committees on foreign relations, armed services, and intelligence. President Bush had his chance with the ideas of a bipartisan council, the Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. He dismissed them out of hand. Now he has to deal with the normal constitutional arrangements. That's democracy.

What is most head-shaking of all is that, after four years of this war, the president once more fell short of making its case. As in the past, he said that it's very important—"a decisive ideological struggle," he called it, adding, "nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed." And yet he also said that America's commitment to the war is "not open-ended." How can both claims be true? If nothing is more important, it must be open-ended. If it's not open-ended, it can't be all that important.

One reason he can't argue for it is that it's not clear he understands it. "The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," he said. "Whatever slogans they chant ... they have the same wicked purpose. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East." He still seems to view the ever-mounting violence as reflecting a struggle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny. He fails to grasp the sectarian nature of the fight. (Does he really believe that the Shiites and Sunnis are the same—or that, besides the small minority of al-Qaida, they're "totalitarian" in nature?)

He then said, "Americans can have confidence in the outcome of this struggle because we are not in this struggle alone. We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism."

This is mind-boggling. The largest "coalition" partner, Great Britain, plans to pull out by the end of the year. Most of the others have long since vanished. There is, clearly, no "diplomatic strategy," no "rallying" to recruit others to the fight. A diplomatic strategy and energetic leadership are precisely what everyone is waiting for. They are what President Bush once more failed to offer tonight.

Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC /

Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC /

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