President will begin to discuss the immigration system; a high-seas standoff.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 9 2009 6:02 AM

Obama Dips Toe in Immigration

The New York Timesleads with word that President Obama will soon start discussing the country's immigration system. Knowing full well that the issue could be particularly controversial during a recession, the administration plans to include discussions about finding a way to legalize the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. The Los Angeles Timesand the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxlead with, while almost everyone else fronts, the high-seas standoff taking place 240 miles off the Somalia port city of Eyl, a known pirate haven. Somali pirates seized the U.S.-registered Maersk Alabama cargo ship. The 20-member crew managed to regain control of the ship within a few hours, but the pirates fled with the captain, a 55-year-old Vermont resident. It marked the first time a U.S.-flagged ship was attacked off the coast of Africa since 1804. Before dawn, the U.S. Navy destroyer Bainbridge arrived at the scene to keep an eye on the situation.

The Washington Postleads with a look at how Attorney General Eric Holder "took a step" toward fulfilling his promise to take politics out of the Justice Department and investigate possible wrongdoing by its employees. Holder named Mary Patrice Brown, a career prosecutor, to head the Office of Professional Responsibility, the department's internal ethics unit. He also named two other career prosecutors to key posts in an attempt to illustrate that he values expertise more than political connections. USA Todayleads with a look at how the recession may be good for the environment. As offices close and factories cut back on production, many countries have experienced marked declines in carbon dioxide emissions. Some fear that the drop in emissions could give governments and companies an excuse not to invest in technology to decrease carbon output.

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The White House plans to talk about its efforts to deal with immigration as "policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system," one official said. Some officials insist that immigration reform won't take priority over other items in Obama's domestic agenda, namely health care and energy. And congressional sources insist the issue won't be taken up on Capitol Hill until those other domestic priorities are debated. Regardless, the president plans to address immigration next month and bring together advocates on both sides of the issue, including lawmakers, to discuss possible legislation. Many, including Democrats, warn that merely bringing up such an emotional issue during such a deep recession could compromise other items in Obama's agenda. Opponents of legalization for illegal immigrants are downright incredulous that Obama would even mention the issue now. "It just doesn't seem rational that any political leader would say, let's give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs," the executive director of NumbersUSA tells the paper.

The situation off the coast of Somalia involving a ship that was carrying food aid for East Africa is a little confusing as no one is sure exactly what is going on or how the unarmed crew managed to overpower the pirates. The WSJ notes that some think the pirates may have been surprised by the number of people onboard since the United States requires that ships bearing its flag have larger crews than many other countries. It is also clear at least some members of the crew were well-trained. The ship's second in command, Capt. Shane Murphy, who is now in control after the captain was captured, is the son of an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy who teaches a course on how to prevent pirate attacks. The crew apparently managed to tie up one of the pirates while the rest fled, but he was released in what was ultimately an unsuccessful effort to exchange him for the captain.

The WP specifies that this was the sixth attack by Somali pirates this week and one of 66 so far this year. USAT points out that the standoff "handed the Obama administration a new foreign policy dilemma over how to deal with the increasingly brazen raiders." As has been stated many times before, the fundamental problem is that Somalia is a failed state that hasn't had a proper government since 1991, so pirate networks controlled by militias can operate with relative impunity. It's certainly a lucrative operation as pirates are estimated to have received around $150 million in ransom payments last year.

The LAT fronts a look at how U.S. citizens have been detained by immigration officials and, in some extreme cases, even deported. The piece, a collaboration between the paper and the Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization, makes it clear that it isn't possible to know how often this has happened since no agency keeps track. But anecdotal evidence suggests it is more common than most would suspect since it can often be difficult for some to prove they are, in fact, citizens. And once tagged as an illegal, it's difficult to prove otherwise since immigration detainees don't have a right to a government lawyer. One expert said she knows of eight cases of citizens who were deported and suspects the real number is significantly higher.

The NYT off-leads word that ordinary Americans may be able to directly make a profit from the bank bailouts. The administration is pushing several large investment companies to create what the paper dubs "the financial-crisis equivalent of war bonds: bailout funds." These funds would allow Americans to participate, theoretically with as little as a few hundred dollars, in the buying up of toxic assets from banks' balance sheets with a huge government subsidy. This could turn into a smart move, particularly since many have complained that the only ones who would profit from the bailouts are big Wall Street firms, some of whom even had a role in creating the crisis. If things go well and the funds can later sell these assets at a profit, thousands, and perhaps millions, of Americans would make money. But it's risky, because if, as many insist, the assets are overvalued, small investors could lose all their money. There's no word on how much the Treasury intends to raise from individuals, and it's still in the process of selecting five fund managers to participate in the program.

The WP fronts a look at how violent anti-American extremists, including members of the Taliban and al-Qaida, often build their Internet presence through U.S. Web hosts. This trend "appears to be growing," declares the paper. The extremists apparently hate America but they like the cheap, and relatively anonymous, service that many U.S. companies provide to those who want to build a Web site for whatever reason. Some U.S. allies have pushed the government to take a more forceful stance and shut down the offending Web sites as soon as possible. But U.S. intelligence agencies often prefer to keep the sites up so they can be monitored for clues. Besides, U.S. officials say that trying to shut down Web sites can often feel like chasing your own tail, since it's so easy for sites to relocate.

The WP and NYT front the results of three new studies that found adults have a type of calorie-burning fat, known as brown fat, that was previously believed to exist only in infants. This suggests there could be a new way to fight obesity, although scientists say that is all speculation at the moment. The fat is activated in cold weather and consumes calories while generating heat. It was long believed that infants have the fat, which is also present in rodents, because they can't shiver very well but that it disappeared early in life. But now the studies have shown the fat is present in significant quantities that could theoretically burn lots of calories if activated. Scientists have been able to show that mice lose a significant amount of weight when their brown fat is activated, but they warn it's not yet clear whether humans would have the same reaction.

The LAT's Rosa Brooks, a columnist who has often made an appearance in TP (and who has blogged  on Slate's "XX Factor"), bids farewell to her readers today. Brooks will soon start working at the Pentagon as an adviser to the undersecretary of defense for policy, a job she prefers to think of "as my personal government bailout." In her parting words, Brooks writes that she can't "imagine anything more dangerous than a society in which the news industry has more or less collapsed" and advocates for "a government bailout of journalism." Unless taxpayer dollars are used to fund independent journalism, we'll eventually be left "with nothing in our newspapers but ads, entertainment features and crossword puzzles."

Accompanied by a photograph of a yarmulke-wearing dog, the NYT reports that one pet food company is sponsoring a Seder for dogs to promote its kosher varieties. It's hardly the first of its kind as one man says he's held these types of Seders at pet stores in the past, a fact that many in his congregation don't like. "They say, 'How could you do it for dogs, isn't it sacrilegious?' " he said. "And my answer is, 'We're having fun.' " But Kosher pet food is serious business, particularly during Passover, when religious Jews work hard to get rid of all traces of grains in their homes. And it's not just food. One pet store owner says that throughout the year she sells lots of yarmulkes and tallits for dogs, which, along with the food, is supplied to "increasingly popular Bark Mitzvahs," where guests have been known to utter "Muzzle Tov."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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