Obama faces tough call on al-Marri; the contest to rule the RNC heats up.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 3 2009 7:56 AM

Brief Prospects for Guantanamo?

The New York Times leads with expectations for the Obama administration's upcoming Supreme Court brief on the legal status of a Guantanamo detainee. The document is the new president's first occasion to disavow the Bush administration's expansive use of executive power, but some legal scholars believe the dangerous nature the detainee in question and the lack of admissible evidence against him could force the Obama camp to disappoint those hoping for a vigorous renunciation of Bush policies. The Washington Post leads with news that burgeoning national debt will force the Treasury to borrow more money to repay bonds in the upcoming year, as 40 percent of private loans to the government come due in 2009.

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with coverage of thwarted diplomacy between Israel and Hamas and mass protests against the Israeli attacks in Arab countries. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that laws banning cell-phone use while driving may not improve safety on the road, and that despite the increasing popularity of such laws, little data exist as to how cell-phone use contributes to collisions.

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The Obama administration faces a "perilous" decision with its stance on the case of Guantanamo detainee Ali al-Marri. According to the NYT piece, the intelligence community considers Marri "exceptionally dangerous" and unsuitable for deportation. If the administration chose to charge him in a criminal court, evidence against him would be inadmissible if his defense could demonstrate it was produced through torture. And the new president would face widespread anger from his backers in light of his strong condemnation of Bush legal positions on the campaign trail if he condoned an indefinite holding of Marri.   

As more investors flock to low-risk Treasurys and the government plans to shift short-term bonds into "more stable, long-term securities," the WP piece says analysts fear future interest payments could generate a "huge" burden for taxpayers. The predicted demand for higher interest rates from investors, which economists believe will happen as the darkening global economy forces the foreign creditors who shoulder U.S. debt to put money back into their own domestic markets and the need for loans increases, will only worsen the load.

The WSJ joins in the bleak economic predictions for 2009 with a front-page report on plunging manufacturing rates worldwide. The latest drop in manufacturing activity in the United States, which is key gauge of future economic growth, is on par with June 1980 levels, when "the economy was on the verge of a severe double-dip recession." Decreased manufacturing across the world will domino economically; economists portend further a deeper plunge in global employment, exports, and production. But, the NYT grants prominent space below the lead to optimistic forecasts from economists that a substantial stimulus package from the Obama administration could bolster the economy enough so that the recession could wane as soon as midsummer. Of course, there are many naysayers who claim the assumptions of the forecasters' models that the American economy is basically sound, and that its nature state is one of high economic activity, positively skew their predictions.

The WP fronts, and the NYT stuffs, news of the nine Muslim passengers removed from a flight leaving Reagan National Airport Thursday. All but one were U.S. citizens and "appeared traditionally Muslim." The airline, which has since apologized, claimed that it removed the group from the flight after other passengers were troubled after overhearing a conversation about the "safest place to sit" on a plane, and still refused to let the nine back on the flight after they were cleared by the FBI.

The WP also gives front-page play to the contest for the RNC chairmanship, which is the first open race for the position in a decade. Six GOP leaders hope to helm the party still reeling from the November election and the aggressive campaigning along regional, ideological, and racial lines reflects the Republican struggle to redefine party identity. However, despite sharp calls for new blood, GOP elders favor incumbent Mike Duncan for the position because of his ties within the party and skill at fundraising.

Michelin-rated Hong Kong chefs make an appearance in both the NYT and the WSJ. The NYT devotes its front-page Saturday profile to the first Chinese chef to earn the coveted, top ranking of three stars from the restaurant and hotel guide, which has just published its first Hong Kong edition. Chan Yan-tak creates his decadent Cantonese-inspired signature dishes—like jumbo prawn simmered in a Champagne sauce, topped with a gold leaf—for his restaurant in a Four Seasons hotel along the city's harbor. Deep in the weekend journal, the WSJ celebrates the cigar-loving upstart Alvin Leung Jr., who has been know to serve "a crisp, paper-thin slice of Spam … topped with scrambled pigeon eggs and slices of truffles, all sitting on a piece of toast." Leung's spin on a "poor man's Chinese lunch," alas, received only two stars.

A trend piece in the LAT investigates the increasing seizures of "khat" in Southern California and Washington, D.C. The East African plant popular in Ethiopian, Yemeni, and Somalian immigrant communities, is a "mild narcotic" and illegal in the U.S, but it's considered as benign as coffee in regions where it is widely used.  A DEA spokesman clarifies: "It is not coffee. It is definitely not like coffee. … It is the same drug used by young kids who go out and shoot people in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. … [W]hen you look at [its] effects, you could take out the word 'khat' and put in 'heroin' or 'cocaine.' "

Morgan Smith, a former Slate intern, is a law student in Austin, Texas.

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