The papers lead with some local disappointments—but the Obamas got a dog.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 12 2009 6:05 AM

The Obama Puppy ... He Is Risen!

Happy Easter morning! The Los Angeles Times leads off with an investigation of a late-1990s program meant to provide homes for low-income families, which the paper deems a failure after nonexistent oversight allowed the formerly foreclosed-on houses to change hands repeatedly, enriching speculators rather than investing in communities. The Washington Post also leads local with a look at how the redeveloped Nationals baseball stadium has so far failed to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood; anticipated shopping and residential development remains conspicuously absent as another season opens. The New York Times leads with a meet-and-greet on banking's bright youngish things, who have found careers outside the industry's old titans, starting up their own firms and reshaping Wall Street in the process.

Wrongdoing comes to light on the nation's front pages: The NYT spotlights a federal investigation into just how much steroid use went on in baseball in the early days, from about 2000 to 2004, when the leagues were discussing whether the drugs even merited testing.  Investigators are also busting U.S. military officials who found ways to skim a tidy profit for themselves off those billions flowing into combat operations in Iraq, the LAT reports. And though ex-Sen. Ted Stevens may have gotten off this time, the Post explains the prosecutorial incompetence that resulted in the case's collapse: an understaffed and inexperienced Public Integrity section of the Justice Department failed to ask for enough time, mishandled witnesses, and didn't provide relevant evidence to the defense, which the judge is now using in a probe of the prosecutors themselves.

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New beginnings are in the air at the NYT, which augments its lead story with a summation of the downturn's effect on this year's graduating classes, who are taking their brains to new fields as finance falls—especially science and public service. Another piece, unaccountably placed in the Fashion section (perhaps those good-looking recent grads had something to do with it), finds that even community organizing is suddenly chic. Some of the nation's most brilliant, however, are stuck outside the country; the Post reports that tightened visa rules have made it nearly impossible for foreign scientists to re-enter the States. In a similar piece, the NYT highlights even established entrepreneurs who can't bring their families across the border.

Could it just be the springy weather? The NYT takes the temperature of the stock market and finds a broad rebound, with a slowing decline in areas like real estate and financial services. And in California, at least, the business of growing is growing fast; the Post reports that relaxed rules on medical marijuana have given rise to a booming trade in cannabis products. Still, there's real pain in the states, 34 of which have had to cut aid programs for the elderly and infirm despite the billions of dollars pouring down from Washington. The Post's Alec MacGillis takes on the question of what's more important with all that money: speed or smart spending? Even with Congress demanding more accountability, the former may carry the day.

Turning to the wider world: The Somali-pirate predicament started easing toward a resolution yesterday as a boatload of Americans docked safely in Kenya. But the standoff continues over the American captain who remains hostage; negotiations broke down when American forces attempted to rescue him from the lifeboat where he is being held. In news of other standoffs, the U.N. Security Council slapped North Korea on the hand for its missile launch this last week. And in Thailand, the country's domestic problems derailed a planned conference of Asian nations as protestors of the current government overwhelmed security and sent the gathered leaders packing.

For the bigger picture, check out the NYT'sWeek in Review section, in which Dexter Filkins observes that civilians are reasserting themselves in foreign policy: President Obama's State Department is playing a higher-profile role where the Defense Department once dominated. One of the reasons is the "irrepressible" Middle East envoy Richard Holbrooke, who chats with Afghan clerics about their former Taliban days and embodies a broader approach to diplomacy in the region rather than simple military force. (Now, let's see what they can do about Burma, where neither tough talk nor friendly engagement seem to have helped much; the new strategy is called "intelligent engagement" and seems to incorporate elements of both.) Former Council on Foreign Relations Chief Les Gelb has some suggestions in his new book on U.S. foreign policy, which reviewer Michael Beschloss calls a "plea for greater strategic thinking"—although Gelb believes soft power is just "foreplay."

With gay marriage on a roll, is a Roe v. Wade-style Supreme Court case coming next? Probably not, according to the judicial tea leaves: Justices may well be reluctant to set any kind of sweeping precedent, which in the instance of the landmark abortion case helped create a backlash that has kept the issue contentious until today. Another thing SCOTUS watchers can rely on is Ruth Bader Ginsburg's continued service on the bench; the 76-year-old, cancer-afflicted justice gave no indication she's going anywhere during an appearance at Ohio State's college of law.

Nonetheless, it's been a slow Easter weekend, which you know by the huge leaked photos of the new first puppy splashed across the Post's front page—or maybe the presidential pooch really is that monumental of a news event in Washington. Yes, friends, he's a Portuguese water dog. And his name is Bo.

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.

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