The papers speculate on the SCOTUS and ponder where the economy is headed next.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 10 2009 6:19 AM

Call Your Mom!

The New York Times leads with an examination of the national hodgepodge of state aid systems that provide adequate help for some and far less than necessary for others, depending on their location and station in life: With few truly national aid programs, whether a person survives or not can have more to do with where he or she lives than how hard she works. The Washington Post leads with the story behind an odd qualification for the liberal, African-American Supreme Court contender Leah Ward Sears: the esteem of arch-conservative justice Clarence Thomas, who many in the black community believe has betrayed their interests. The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at how the CIA is fighting to hold on to sleep deprivation as a technique for coaxing information out of detainees, which President Obama banned along with other torture methods as one of the first actions of his presidency. Unpleasant details abound—prisoners were at one point allowed to be kept awake for 11 days, although the allowable time was then reduced to a week.

(In the papers' only real appeal to today's Hallmark holiday, the Post's A1 feature about a football star gets a "news" hook. In an odd foil for the same front-page real estate, the LAT opts for a piece about child-molesting teachers. Happy Mother's Day!)

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In the first Sunday papers since Justice David Souter announced his retirement, the SCOTUS parlor game is in full swing. As the Post's story narrates, Sears and Thomas grew up not far from each other in Georgia, where she is now chief justice of the State Supreme Court; he attended her swearing in and reportedly respects her achievement while disagreeing with her politics. The NYT reads the tea leaves in President Barack Obama's past voting record on judicial nominees, which has been rather firmly liberal: He voted against Sam Alito and John Roberts as well as numerous nominees to the federal bench on the grounds that they lacked "empathy," or a sensitivity to social-justice concerns.

Swine flu continues to get play in the form of a NYT, front-page, reassuringly toned profile of the woman who would save us all: World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan, a "diminutive woman with large glasses who does not drive, type or cook" who is nevertheless a highly competent veteran of the SARS epidemic, which she battled while heading the Health Department in Hong Kong. If you're still worried, blame pork, Mexican communities say—the big industrial hog farms mostly owned by American companies dotted through the landscape. While the stench and groundwater contamination from pig excrement isn't exactly good for anyone's health, officials haven't found any link between the pork producers and the pandemic, the Post reports.

Meanwhile, to safeguard your general health, Congress is considering incentives for employers to organize in-house "wellness programs"—currently limited under a tangle of federal rules—which would encourage balanced diets, judicious exercise, and other habits that help prevent harder-to-cure health problems down the line. This one may well make it through; the NYT notices that the solidarity Republican lawmakers showed in overwhelmingly opposing the stimulus bill and budget seems to be breaking down over other chunks of the president's recovery plan, like measures to rein in credit card companies and crack down on financial fraud.

Trailing its lead story, the NYT has a pair of big-picture reflections on the economic situation: In one of those whatever-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger moments, the paper notes that Americans may just learn to save money again as a consequence of this here economic downturn. Then back in the business pages, proclaiming the economic free fall to be at an end, the paper muses upon what lies ahead for this shrunken and reshaped economy. The piece focuses on Boise, Idaho, supposedly a microcosm of America, with the kind of stories that have by now become monotonously familiar.

In news from the Middle East, Israel is quietly but openly consolidating control over Jerusalem by building parks. The Holy Basin, already dotted with historical sites claimed by both Jews and Palestinians, is undergoing a public-private, $100 million revamp that focuses on Jewish heritage and Israeli sovereignty, although planners emphasize how it will benefit all Jerusalemites by drawing visitors to the city. Jumping to Pakistan, the word sharia may not evoke "moderation" and "mainstream" in a Westerner's mind, but residents of that country's Swat Valley wish they could return to the formal system of Islamic law—adopted out of frustration with the inefficiency of secular courts—as it gets increasingly twisted by Taliban forces that have taken control in the area. While sharia itself has become more popular around the country, the Post reports that many are fleeing the excessively harsh punishments imposed in its name, as officials in Parliament decry the "Talibanization" of the traditional legal framework and work to drive out the Taliban fighters.

Below the fold, the LAT sits in on the trial of the late philanthropist and socialite Brooke Astor's son, accused of stealing millions from his centenarian mother in her final years. The ongoing soap opera of a court proceeding has been a parade of Manhattan high-society fixtures, most recently including Nancy Kissinger, who often hosted the grande dame at her parties. The prosecution's goal has been to prove Mrs. Astor's mental infirmity, and her illustrious friends have complied with stories of misremembered names and dates. The Times runs with it as a rare window into a world with wealth on a scale that few can understand.

The Post has an insightful piece in Outlook that questions Obama's use of the word pragmatism and variations thereupon, which have been applied to everything from economic policies to court nominees. It's a term that almost no one can take issue with—the most pragmatic word in politics! But Obama got better reviews for his performance at this year's White House Correspondents Association dinner, featuring such zingers as this one for Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: "This is a tough holiday for Rahm. He's not used to saying the word 'day' after 'mother.' "

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.