Debating what Pelosi knew about torture, while Obama backs off on a campaign promise.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 16 2009 5:44 AM

Pelosi at Center of Torture Debate

The New York Times leads with an analysis of how the wave of foreclosures that reached New York last is breaking particularly hard on minority homeowners. Defaults occur three times as often in mostly minority census tracts as in mostly white ones, leaving them wide open for damage when the market collapsed. The Washington Post leads with the latest in the case of What Nancy Knew—in this episode, CIA Director Leon Panetta rejected Speaker Pelosi's claim that his agency had not properly briefed congressional leaders in late 2002 about interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the results of a report from the Securities and Exchange Commission's inspector general, which found that two employees traded stock in companies under investigation by the agency, violating its insider-trading rules. After coming under fire for a failure to detect Bernie Madoff's gigantic Ponzi scheme, the SEC can ill affort a "potential scandal," says the paper. The Los Angeles Times leads with the news of 1,100 General Motors dealerships being put on notice, via letters sent overnight Thursday, that the company would not be renewing their licenses. As many as 500 more could get the ax soon, which—along with nearly 800 dealerships terminated by Chrysler yesterday—amounts to about 100,000 jobs lost.

Accusations and conflicting accounts continue to fly in the CIA interrogation-techniques kerfuffle. Former Sen. Bob Graham backs Pelosi, saying that the CIA did not adequately inform members of the Intelligence Committees of what techniques were being used on detainees at Guantanamo, while former CIA director and former Rep. Porter Goss said they were. Either way, it's like Kryptonite for the otherwise-durable Pelosi, although the NYT calls it "undisputed fact" that even if she had been fully knowledgeable about what was going on in September 2002, she would have been relatively powerless to stop it.

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In another disappointment for left-leaning Washington watchers, Obama's expected announcement that he would continue to try terrorism suspects through the military commissions—which exclude certain types of evidence from consideration by the defense—drew cries of outrage from civil rights groups. Of course, there's also a considerable political upside for the president as well from conservatives who would rather see him take a hard line on terrorism. Both the Post and the NYT hammer home how much the idea of retaining even "revamped" military commissions departs from Obama's campaign rhetoric, which had articulated a sharp break from the practices of the Bush administration: Along with the decision to not release photos of detainees at Guantanamo, this is an attempt to argue that justice may be compromised in the interest of national security.

The Post fronts an investigation into the lobbying gears behind millions of dollars budgeted for computerization of medical records—generally agreed to be a progressive step but one that will also pour money into the coffers of the companies that produced the studies used to make the argument for the program, which Office and Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag has since called "overly optimistic."

But any impropriety in that, and even the troubles over at the SEC, pale in comparison to the British Parliament's more garden-variety corruption, which exploded onto the front pages of the London Daily Telegraph this week. Representatives have made a common practice of charging the gamut of personal expenses, from flat-screen televisions to piping under a tennis court, to the crown. It's rattling a nation already mired in a deep recession and has already claimed one official's job, possibly with more to come. Of the papers to comment, the Journal takes perhaps most joy in the telling, placing this dust-up in the context of parliament's long history of indiscretions—although this time, "the scale of the cupidity is astonishing."

Falling gas prices are bad news for Russia, which has gone from riding high with revenues rolling in as energy prices climbed ever higher to having to close wells for lack of income, the NYT reports. And the country is stuck, at least for now—Gazprom negotiated contracts with central Asian nations at prices far above what they've fallen to today, forcing the energy utility to sell gas at a loss. But oil may help grease the gears of Cuba's economic integration with the U.S.—10 to 15 billion barrels of crude oil are buried underneath 5,000 feet of seawater and 20,000 feet of rock off the island's northwestern coast. Already, familiar arguments about how it might aid the rickety Castro regime are surfacing; even such an attractive deal wouldn't slide very fast through such a Cuba-phobic Congress.

In the interest of dealing with all that oil's end product, the Post has a rundown of (and the other papers ignore) the climate bill reported out of Rep. Henry Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday. It's begging to pass, already packed full of concessions and exemptions—carbon allowances under an overall cap that will be gradually lowered are largely to be given away to utilities and energy-intensive industries rather than auctioned.

Supreme Court chatter continues with a look at a potential replacement for David Souter—Diane Wood, who has President Obama's desired empathy in spades, if her stances in opposition to the curmudgeonly conservatives of the 7th Circuit Court are anything to go by. Mostly though, the LAT explains, Obama just wants to avoid a headache over abortion and gay marriage. (It doesn't look promising.)

In other stories that won't go away, it seems that swine flu hasn't yet run its course. Federal health officials are noticing that the normal flu system didn't end when it normally would have, and half the flu cases are testing positive for the swine flu virus.

The Journal reports from the trenches of the yuppie recession—Portland, Ore., along with places like Seattle and Austin—where young college grads just keep moving, seeking to write or play music or farm, only to find that the jobs dried up long ago. Buick dealers and happy hipsters, all in the same boat!

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.

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