All the papers lead with the rapidly rising death toll of the devastating cyclone that hit Burma on Saturday. The New York Timesand Washington Postcite government figures released today that say as many as 15,000 people were killed (early morning wire stories report that an additional 30,000 people are still missing). Burma's foreign minister went on state-run television to report that 10,000 people died in just one town. The Los Angeles Timesnotes that before the number of dead started climbing yesterday the previous official tally was 351 and points out that the cyclone potentially left "hundreds of thousands of people homeless." The Wall Street Journal reports that it was the country's worst recorded natural disaster and points out that the previous record was held by a 1926 storm that killed 2,700. Everybody says that, if the numbers are accurate, it would amount to the worst natural disaster in Asia since the 2004 tsunami. USA Todayfocuses on the relief efforts and says it could be several days before the victims begin to receive much-needed food, water, and medical assistance.
"The call for international aid quickly became politicized," notes the WP. First lady Laura Bush, who has long taken a special interest in Burmese issues, held a rare news conference where she accused the country's military leaders of failing to issue warnings about the impending cyclone and blocking international aid efforts. (The LAT points out things got even more politicized when the first lady announced that President Bush would sign legislation today awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to political activist Aung San Suu Kyi.) A United Nations spokesman said the Burmese military junta is "receptive to international assistance" and the notoriously closed-off country said it would accept foreign aid workers, says the LAT. But the NYT reports that, so far, "most foreigners and all foreign journalists have been barred from entering the country."
USAT notes that the United Nations said it is ready to give aid worth up to $30 million from its emergency response fund. So far, the United States has made available a pathetic $250,000 to aid organizations, but the first lady promised that "more aid will be forthcoming." Any further assistance from the United States might have to go through separate relief organizations because of U.S. sanctions currently in place, says the LAT. But the full extent of the damage is still not known as many roads are still impossible to traverse, and it might be days before the United Nations can independently confirm how much assistance will be needed.
The LAT, WP, and NYT all hear reports that people in Burma are complaining that the military has been slow to respond and provide relief. "People are saying, 'Last September, they were incredibly efficient at clearing 100,000 people off the street, so why aren't they being as efficient clearing 100,000 trees off the street?'" a "Bangkok-based diplomat" tells the WP.
Despite all the devastation, the papers note that the country's leaders still seem determined to hold a controversial referendum on a new constitution Saturday. The government says the constitution will set the country on the road to democracy, but critics insist it's just a ploy to legitimize the junta's power and the vote won't be anywhere close to fair. Early-morning wire stories report that the government announced today that voting will be postponed until May 24 in many of the hardest-hit areas.
Stateside, it's yet another day-that-could-change-everything as voters head to the polls in North Carolina and Indiana to pick whether they'd rather see Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama run against Sen. John McCain. But actually no one really expects today to bring much clarity to anything. A sign of this attitude can be seen in the WP's Dan Balz, who has regularly been writing a feature titled "Eight Questions Today's Primaries Could Answer" before the big primaries this year. Today, Balz nixes the "Could Answer" part and merely asks general questions about the contest. Still, any way you slice it, today's voting is important. North Carolina and Indiana are the last two big primaries with a total of 187 delegates up for grabs. After today, the six remaining contests have a mere 217 pledged delegates to hand out and most already have a clear favorite. The Post says Oregon is the only one that could be considered competitive, but Obama is seen as the favorite in that state.
It's a big day for both candidates, but probably more so for Clinton, who could use today's results to support her contention that the race is turning in her favor. The NYT's Adam Nagourney fronts a look at the three possible outcomes in today's primaries and says that if Clinton manages to win Indiana and at least come close in North Carolina, it will undoubtedly raise more doubts about Obama's chances in November. But if she loses both states, it "would almost certainly mean lights out for the Clinton campaign." The most likely result is that Clinton will get a victory in Indiana and Obama will win North Carolina, which, of course, means the contest will keep going. The Post's Balz says that after today, the most important date that will help determine the outcome of the contest could be May 31, when the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee will get together to consider what to do about the Michigan and Florida delegates.
The WP's E.J. Dionne Jr. says Clinton has recently found her best campaign strategy by portraying herself as a populist and a fighter. "It took a series of defeats to galvanize her campaign and help her put forward a better self." But in doing so, she began advocating for the gas-tax holiday, which was the best thing that could have happened to Obama. The senator from Illinois had been having a rough couple of weeks and it seemed like he was losing focus, but the tax holiday issue brought back the old Obama who could talk about breaking from traditional Washington politics. "A contest between the old Obama and the new Clinton is a fair fight," he writes. "It's too bad only a few states are left to see it."
The LAT and NYT both front, and the WP goes inside with, looks at how the big winner of Microsoft's failure to buy Yahoo is Google. It's ironic because Microsoft clearly wanted to buy Yahoo in order to gain ground on Google, but it may have ended up strengthening the Internet giant. Google began complaining about the possible merger, but then decided to play nice and offered Yahoo a partnership. That led to Yahoo asking for more money, and Microsoft ended its courtship. Conclusion? Google is the king of the hill. "Microsoft used to set the agenda for technology, period, and Google is setting the agenda now," an analyst tells the LAT.
The WP's Eugene Robinson writes his "annual American Idol column" and says there's something wrong with America's favorite reality program. Ratings are down, and "this season, it was easy to find contestants to root against but hard to find anyone to root for." Robinson says the program "lacks sizzle" partly because producers have been trying to milk as much money from the show as possible and as a result are overextending the contestants to the point of exhaustion. Nowadays, "the most urgent reason to watch the show isn't to see who sings well or gets voted off, it's to see how out of it Paula Abdul appears to be on a given evening."