Obama reverses on abuse photos; administration wants to regulate derivatives.

Obama reverses on abuse photos; administration wants to regulate derivatives.

Obama reverses on abuse photos; administration wants to regulate derivatives.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 14 2009 6:39 AM

Obama Changes His Mind

The Washington Postleads with President Obama's decision to try to block the release of photographs showing the abuse of detainees by U.S. soldiers. Last month, the administration said it wouldn't fight a court order to release 44 photos by May 28, but Obama changed his mind after he saw some of the photographs and heard from top Pentagon officials that releasing the images could endanger troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with word that the Obama administration is discussing ways to detain terror suspects. The administration is apparently considering a proposal to indefinitely hold some Guantanamo detainees inside the United States with the approval of a new national security court.

The New York Timesleads with the unveiling of a new plan to increase oversight of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that were largely responsible for sparking the financial crisis. The Obama administration has called on Congress to increase regulation over derivatives, which largely managed to escape federal oversight even though the market has grown exponentially in the last few years. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how the hearing about the Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50 people is raising questions about the safety of regional airlines as a whole. The pilot was apparently unfamiliar with important emergency procedures, the co-pilot was paid $16,200 a year, they both commuted hundreds of miles to work, and they probably flew tired that fateful day. USA Todayleads with a look at how around 20,000 soldiers are unavailable for combat because of wounds and injuries, the largest number since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. At a time when investigators are looking into the soldier who shot five fellow service members in Baghdad, the Army says it might have to scrap plans to increase the time off between deployments. But Army officials are optimistic that the plan to withdraw troops from Iraq will be enough to help the situation.

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he changed his mind about releasing the photographs that depict detainee abuse after the top commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan raised objections. It appears that is what swayed Obama as well. How shocking are these photographs? Last month, published reports made it seem as though the images wouldn't be anywhere near as graphic as the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs. Now it's not so clear. The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which had fought for the release of the photographs, says officials have described them as "worse than Abu Ghraib." The WP hears the same view from a congressional staff member who says that the release of the photos would lead to "a major outcry for an investigation by a commission or some other vehicle." But one Pentagon official tells the NYT that while the photos do depict detainees in humiliating positions, they're not as provocative as the images from Abu Ghraib. For his part, Obama said the photos aren't "particularly sensational."

The LAT notes that while Obama's reversal has angered his liberal base, the president might see it as a "showdown" that is "politically necessary." After all the criticism he has received from the right lately, this is one decision that won him praise from Republicans. And now, even if the courts eventually force the release of the photographs, Obama can always say he tried to do what was best for the troops. The White House said the argument that the photos shouldn't be released because they could spark a backlash had never been made in court. But the LAT says that's not true and points out that the issue was rejected by both a district court judge and a court of appeals.

Currently, a big part of the trading in derivatives markets goes on behind closed doors. In fact, no one can even say how big the market is. Now the administration wants trading in these exotic instruments, such as the credit-default swaps that brought on AIG's demise, to be more open and transparent. Although one might expect the financial industry to be up in arms against the plan, it seems everyone recognizes that some sort of regulation is inevitable. The WP notes that under Obama's plan, specialized derivatives, such as those negotiated between companies, would still be allowed to continue trading largely outside the control of regulators. This has led some to worry that traders will be motivated to create even more complex derivatives just to stay one step ahead of regulation.

The WSJ goes inside with the administration's new drug czar declaring that he wants to end the idea that the United States is fighting "a war on drugs." The statement illustrates how the Obama administration is likely to focus on treatment rather than jail time for drug abusers. Gil Kerlikowske, the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that the popular phrase has become an impediment to dealing with the country's drug issues. "[P]eople see a war as a war on them," he said.

Remember yesterday's lead story in the LAT that revealed the U.S. military had begun working on a new joint program with Pakistani officials to operate armed Predator drones and go after insurgents? Well, today the NYT's sources say that's not true. And apparently there are no plans in the works for the military to even operate its own armed drones inside Pakistan. The NYT does say that the U.S. military flew "a handful" of unarmed drone surveillance missions and provided Pakistan with information that was collected along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In an attempt to build up good will, the military offered a large amount of images and real-time footage, but it's "not clear whether the cooperation will continue," particularly since "requests for additional flights abruptly stopped without explanation," notes the NYT.

The WSJ takes a trip to the Dog House, the smallest office at the California Capitol. It's a two-room space that clocks in at 391 square feet and doesn't even have a reception area. The office's nickname "denotes both its dimensions and the occupant's status," notes the WSJ. In Sacramento, office space is decided by the leadership, so if a lawmaker is in the Dog House, it means he must have upset someone important. Inside the office there's a plaque placed by a former occupant: "The Dog House: Standing up for your Principles."

Remember when a sunscreen's sun protection factor didn't get past 30? Those were the good old days. Now, "SPF creep has hit the triple digits," declares the NYT. With SPF 100+ on the shelves, dermatologists say all these increasing numbers simply confuse people. It would be easy to assume that SPF 100 gives you double the protection of SPF 50, but that's hardly the case. "SPF 100 blocks 99 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent," the NYT explains. Most people underapply sunscreen, so dermatologists say that rather than worry about the SPF, it's more important to reapply often.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.