U.N. officials push for greater access into Burma as some aid begins to arrive.

U.N. officials push for greater access into Burma as some aid begins to arrive.

U.N. officials push for greater access into Burma as some aid begins to arrive.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 9 2008 6:20 AM

Let My People In

The New York Timesleads with the United Nations' increasing pressure on Burmese officials to drop all restrictions and allow relief workers and aid to enter the country. It's now been almost a week since Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma on Saturday, but emergency supplies continue to trickle in at an unacceptable pace as the military junta is adamant that it won't cede control over the relief efforts. "They have simply not facilitated access in the way we have a right to expect," the U.N. official in charge of the relief effort said. The Wall Street Journal also leads its world-wide newsbox with Burma and points out that the military junta allowed the first U.N. aid shipments to enter the country. The Washington Postleads with a look at how Sen. Barack Obama began an effort to unify the Democratic Party behind his candidacy, even as Sen. Hillary Clinton continued to campaign and insist she has a better chance of winning the November election.

USA Todayleads with new data showing that an increasing number of prime borrowers are falling behind on their mortgage payments and that foreclosures are on the rise. Although the numbers are still small and the problem is nowhere near as severe as in the subprime market, if they increase further, it "could prolong the housing crisis." The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the national coordinator of Mexico's efforts to wage war against organized crime was killed in his home by an assassin. Sources tell the paper that the so-called Sinaloa cartel was responsible for the attack against Edgar Milan Gomez, who was the country's third-ranking police official.

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Two U.N. transport planes full of relief supplies finally reached Burma yesterday, but no one thinks that's anywhere close to what's needed to assist the estimated 1.5 million survivors. Defense Secretary Robert Gates described how U.S. military transport planes and helicopters are in Thailand just waiting for the go-ahead to begin delivering aid, but the Burmese government has yet to approve their entry. The Post points out that one of the U.N. planes that arrived in Burma yesterday "had sat for two days in Dubai … waiting for clearance." The WSJ devotes a separate story inside to a look at how the Bush administration and aid groups are "examining radical solutions" that include "air drops, border deliveries and helicopter landings." But some warn that such unilateral action will only make things worse.

The United Nations says several disaster experts haven't been allowed inside Burma, and they're also just waiting around in Thailand. It seems Burmese authorities want to pick who can go into the country and who can't and are favoring aid workers from Asian countries while denying entrance to others. "I've never seen an emergency situation such as this before," the regional director of the International Rescue Committee said. "A week after the disaster, the entire humanitarian community is still sitting in another country." The NYT talks to some experts who say the Burmese government is reluctant to receive foreign help because it would prove that it can't take care of its own people. "The disaster has demonstrated that their omniscient power has been greatly exaggerated," one said.

Of course, as time passes, it becomes more likely that the death toll will continue to increase, and there's the very real risk that epidemics of disease will break out. By all accounts, the situation is nothing short of desperate. For the first time since Saturday, the NYT, LAT, and WP all publish dispatches from inside Burma. Staff writers from the LAT and NYT managed to get into the country and file dispatches from Rangoon, Burma's biggest city, where the death toll was relatively small but the destruction caused by the cyclone is still plainly evident, as residents struggle to pick up the pieces. The fact that the government hasn't managed "to clear debris and restore basic services like water and power in what is the country's wealthiest city" is an illustration of how slow the recovery process will be, says the NYT. The LAT reports that "five days later, a semblance of normality was returning" to the city but says residents now have to pay "exorbitant prices for bare essentials." The WP fronts a dispatch written by a freelance journalist from the "midpoint of the storm's path across the delta," where survivors are struggling to stay alive. Although a few aid groups are working in the area, food remains scarce, and Burmese soldiers and police officers appeared more interested in operating checkpoints than carrying out relief operations.

Even as Obama said yesterday that he's likely to win a majority of pledged delegates after Kentucky and Oregon vote on May 20, he's not publicly calling for Clinton to step down from the contest. It seems his campaign is being careful not to make it seem like Obama is trying to push Clinton to quit since he will need the backing of her supporters in November. The chairman of the Clinton campaign suggested yesterday that Clinton won't take the fight to the nomination when he said that "after June 3, this is going to come to a conclusion." The Post's Dan Balz says that while it's possible that Clinton might end her campaign early due to lack of funds, the most likely scenario is that she won't officially drop out until the undecided superdelegates move into the Obama column after June 3.

The WP fronts a look at how Sen. John McCain pushed a land swap deal through Congress that will "directly benefit" one of his top fundraisers. After approval of the legislation, which will allow an Arizona businessman to exchange remote land for valuable property owned by the federal government, SunCor Development was hired to build thousands of homes in the area. SunCor Development is run by Steven Betts, a longtime McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the Arizona Republican's presidential race. Betts denies he ever talked to McCain about it, but besides that connection, there are plenty of other eyebrow-raising aspects to the deal. McCain wasn't very eager to support the swap at first, but that all appeared to change after the businessman who owned the remote land hired a group of lobbyists that included several people who once worked for McCain. Some have also criticized the legislation, saying that the federal government got a raw deal. This isn't the first time that land swaps pushed through by McCain have come under scrutiny because they benefitted campaign contributors. Last month, the NYT took a look at how McCain has sponsored legislation that helped a wealthy Arizona businessman, who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the senator, get millions of dollars from the federal government in complex land exchanges.

The WSJ goes above the fold with a large picture (yes, a large picture!) of, and everyone mentions inside, the second day of open street battles in Beirut between supporters of the Lebanese government and Shiite gunmen tied to the Hezbollah-led opposition. The fighting intensified and killed at least four people after Hezbollah's leader accused the government of waging war against the group. Everyone says the fighting could push the country into a sectarian civil war, and the WSJ points out that the conflict "has taken on the feel of a political proxy war between Washington and Tehran."

The LAT's Joel Stein sets out to buy some medical marijuana and finds the whole process surprisingly simple. "I always wondered what would happen if marijuana were legalized for anyone over 18," Stein writes. "It seems it already has been, and nothing happened."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.