The New York Timesleads with rare good news out of Burma, where relief workers are coming back from some of the areas devastated by Cyclone Nargis with reports that survivors aren't doing as badly as initially feared. Of course, this doesn't mean survivors aren't struggling to stay alive, but there's little evidence that the delay in reaching the Irrawaddy Delta led to large numbers of deaths or disease outbreaks. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with the car bomb that exploded in a predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad and killed at least 51 people. It was the deadliest bombing in Iraq's capital in three months. USA Todayleads with a look at how the rising Mississippi River threatens to break through levees in several towns that continue to rely on outdated flood protection. A review done by the paper found that at least 17 levees in the affected region "are too low to hold off a 100-year flood."
The Washington Postleads with the latest back-and-forth between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, which yesterday focused on terrorism and who would do a better job at keeping Americans safe. It all began when McCain's camp said Obama has an "extremely naive approach to terrorism" and accused the presumptive Democratic nominee of wanting to treat terrorists like ordinary criminals. Obama fought back and said those who are criticizing him are the same people who let Osama Bin Laden get away and "helped to engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq." The Los Angeles Timesleads with the first full day of legalized same-sex marriages in California. Hundreds of couples, including Star Trek actor George Takei and his partner, Brad Altman, descended on courthouses and city halls across the state to get married. By the end of the day, more than 2,300 marriage licenses had been issued, and the ceremonies largely went off without a hitch as opponents of same-sex marriage remained mostly silent as they continued planning their campaign to overturn last month's state Supreme Court decision that allowed the unions. "We are silent today, but we're just biding our time," one activist said.
Relief workers in Burma say that the main reason why the predictions of massive amounts of deaths among survivors of Cyclone Nargis never materialized has to do with the nature of the disaster. Most who died in the cyclone drowned, and those who survived were unlikely to need urgent medical assistance. The Burmese are used to being ignored by their government, so villagers took matters into their own hands and managed to survive by relying on food that was immediately available. And while the international world was focused on the military junta's reluctance to allow foreign aid, Burmese citizens and monks were busy carrying out large relief efforts that many now credit with preventing mass starvation. Still, the good news is all relative, and relief workers emphasize that they continue to face obstacles from the government to carry out their work as thousands of survivors still don't have enough food or adequate shelter and remain vulnerable to disease.
Angry Shiites called for revenge after yesterday's devastating car bomb ripped through a crowded marketplace in the Huriya district of Baghdad. Although residents were quick to blame Sunni extremists, the NYT, which is alone in fronting the news,talked to an American military spokesman who said "a special group extremist," meaning Shiite militants, claimed responsibility for the attack that was supposedly aimed at killing coalition forces. But the spokesman was careful to emphasize that since no coalition forces were injured, the U.S. military is questioning "the validity of the claim" of responsibility.
Yesterday's heated exchanges between the campaigns of Obama and McCain marked the first time that the two presumptive nominees have engaged on the issue of terrorism. The Post says the intensity of the back-and-forth "demonstrated that both sides are confident that they have a winning message on the issue." In 2004, many think President Bush managed to sway undecided voters by pushing the idea that Sen. John Kerry had a pre-Sept. 11 mindset when it came to dealing with terrorism. The way Obama quickly fought back against that assertion shows he's willing to engage in the debate and take it a step further by arguing that the way this administration has dealt with terrorism has been nothing short of a failure.
The WP is alone in fronting new documents released by congressional investigators yesterday that suggest the CIA played a larger role in advising Pentagon officials on tough interrogation techniques than was previously known. The top lawyer at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center defended the harsh techniques and explained that the definition of what constitutes torture "is basically subject to perception." He helpfully added: "If the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong." The documents illustrate how military officials were confused about what was allowed and gathered opinions from other government agencies before implementing the techniques despite objections from lawyers and others in the military who said they were probably illegal.
In another explosive revelation that doesn't get much play in the papers, the documents show that lawyers openly discussed cutting down on the harsher techniques when observers from the Red Cross were present. McClatchy does emphasize this bit of news and notes that a senior CIA lawyer said during a 2002 meeting that it was common practice to move detainees in order to avoid the prying eyes of Red Cross officials. But McClatchy also points out that the documents don't specify whether U.S. officials "moved the detainees from one place to another or merely told the ICRC they were no longer present at a facility."
The WSJ and NYT front news that Bush will call on Congress today to repeal the federal ban on offshore oil drilling. The announcement came hours after McCain said he wants the ban lifted so states can decide whether drilling should be allowed off their coastlines. Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, followed McCain's lead and reversed his long-standing opposition to offshore drilling. The WSJ points out that Crist is widely considered to be on the shortlist of possible vice-presidential candidates. The NYT says Bush is currently considering whether to repeal an executive order signed by his father in 1990 that banned offshore drilling, but the White House emphasized the president wants Congress to act first.
The NYT's David Leonhardt points out that "there are some big unanswered questions about Mr. McCain's economic plans. And we in the media have largely overlooked those questions so far." Simply put, what McCain says on the campaign trail simply doesn't match what he tells "budget wonks" who look at the details of each candidate's proposals to see what effect they'd have on the deficit. Although neither Obama nor McCain seems terribly serious about getting rid of the budget deficit, "the unknowns about the McCain agenda are simply on a different scale."
The LAT catches up with the infamous Iraqi informant known as Curveball, who gave Western intelligence officials information about supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and finds that he still insists he was telling the truth. Rafid Ahmed Alwan wasn't eager to speak to reporters, but "in a series of sometimes reluctant interviews," he said he's being blamed for the mistakes of others. Germany's intelligence agency believed much of what he told them soon after he began seeking political asylum, but if government officials had bothered to do a little digging, they would have found that Alwan was famous for being a dishonest man. He constantly lied and "was not embarrassed when caught in a lie," a former supervisor said. The trend seems to continue. "Everything I said was true," Alwan said. "For what I've done, I should be treated like a king."