Obama faces problems in Congress; U.S. stepping up missile defense system in Hawaii.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 19 2009 6:43 AM

North Korea Ready To Attack Hawaii?

Iran is out of the lead slot in all of the papers, and the New York Timesand Washington Postturn back to Washington infighting to warn that President Obama is losing momentum on some of his most important domestic-policy initiatives due to doubts from lawmakers. The WP has a two-story lead, focusing on doubts from lawmakers about increasing the power of the Federal Reserve and the fighting that has broken out over the price tag for health care reform. The NYT also leads with health care, noting that the high cost of insuring all Americans is worrying Democrats, who are trying to find a way to either make the plan less ambitious or cut back on existing programs. The Wall Street Journalleads with news that the United States is deploying ground-to-air missile defenses  to Hawaii out of fear that North Korea may soon try to fire a long-range missile in that direction. Most U.S. officials don't think a North Korean missile would actually be able to reach Hawaii, but, just in case, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States is deploying a high-tech radar in the ocean near Hawaii that can track whether a missile is approaching.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision that makes it much more difficult for older employees to win an age-discrimination suit. For a while, courts had decided that if a worker could show age was one of the factors that led to a layoff or demotion, then the employer had to prove the decision was made for other reasons besides age. Now, the court's conservative coalition has put all the burden on proving that age was the key factor in the hands of the worker. USA Todayleads with news that the percentage of Army soldiers diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol abuse almost doubled since 2003 in what many see as another sign of the toll that repeated deployments to a war zone can take on servicemembers. The number of Marines who screen positive for drug or alcohol problems has also been increasing in the past few years.

Advertisement

Why is everyone so spooked about health care reform? It goes back to that Congressional Budget Office statement that a bill currently being proposed in the Senate would cost more than expected and cover just a fraction of the uninsured. The estimate "has rattled everyone," one official tells the Post, noting that Obama made his concerns known during a "high-level  meeting" yesterday. Democrats are fighting not just Republicans but also one another as they try to tackle the complicated issue without Sen. Edward Kennedy, who would be the natural leader on this issue. The NYT points out that Democrats are discussing several ways to cut costs, including a way to rapidly reduce the growth of Medicare and a plan that would require some employers to foot at least part of the bill for the insurance of low-wage workers. Democrats insist it's only natural there's going to be lots of back-and-forth when discussing such an important piece of legislation and that no one should take it as a sign it's doomed to fail. "You may call them snags," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "we call them the legislative process."

In a piece inside, the WP notes that a draft proposal that made the rounds in the Senate finance committee yesterday scaled back several provisions from earlier versions in an effort to reduce costs. The proposal lacks a so-called "public option" for health insurance, instead choosing to create consumer-owned cooperative plans.

Yesterday, the papers were eager to argue that the most controversial part of Obama's proposal to overhaul financial regulations was the creation of a new consumer protection agency. Today, the WP declares that it is the proposal to increase the Federal Reserve's power that has become "the most controversial element of the president's plan." In testimony before the Senate banking committee yesterday, senators repeatedly questioned Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on whether giving the Fed more power was really the best idea. This "hostility toward the Fed stands in marked contrast to the way the central bank has been viewed for most of the past 30 years," notes the Post.

A Japanese newspaper reported that North Korea is planning on launching a long-range missile at Hawaii around July 4. Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn't address that report, or say anything about a specific date, but noted there are "some concerns if they were to launch a missile … in the direction of Hawaii" while assuring that "we are in a good position … to protect American territory." Meanwhile, in another sign of the growing tensions with North Korea, there's word that the United States is tracking a North Korean ship suspected of carrying banned weapons.

The Supreme Court's age-discrimination decision is particularly significant as it comes at a time when these types of lawsuits are increasing. But analysts said that now it would be much more difficult for workers to prove their case since, well, "you are not going to have an employer stand up and announce, 'I'm discriminating against you because of your age,' " as one corporate defense lawyer put it. Justice John Paul Stevens led the dissenters and called the decision "an unabashed display of judicial lawmaking."

The NYT off-leads, and the WP fronts, another Supreme Court decision that stated prisoners don't have a constitutional right to DNA testing after their conviction. The court's conservative majority said it was up to states and lawmakers to decide the issue. "To suddenly constitutionalize this area would short-circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, even while acknowledging that DNA testing gives an "unparalleled ability" to "exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty."

The LAT and NYT are alone in putting their Iran stories on Page One. In another day of demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of Mir Hossein Mousavi supporters marched in silence through Tehran. Mousavi addressed the crowd and asked his supporters to return to the streets on Saturday. The government invited the three presidential candidates who allegedly lost the election to meet with the Guardian Council, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad backtracked from his earlier statements that the Mousavi supporters marching in the streets were "dust." At the same time, arrests continued. The NYT states that while yesterday's demonstration seemed larger than in previous days, it wasn't bigger than Monday's, when there were apparently 3 million people in the streets, according to Tehran's mayor.

The NYT notes that the situation in Iran "had all the hallmarks of a standoff." The LAT agrees, noting that no one really knows what can happen, mainly because there seems "to be no constitutional mechanism to end Iran's biggest political challenge in 30 years." There are suggestions that perhaps Ahmadinejad will end up giving reformers prominent positions in his government. But not only would that be out of character for him, it's also unlikely the reformers would agree to such a move, knowing full well they're not likely to have any real power.

Yesterday, everyone was anxious to hear what Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's statement on the issue during today's prayers from Tehran University. But anyone hoping for any sort of recognition of the protesters was surely disappointed. Early-morning wire reports reveal that Khamenei offered no concessions and once again affirmed that last week's election gave Ahmadinejad a "definitive victory." He said protesters would be "held responsible for chaos" if they refused to end their demonstrations. Khamenei then proceeded to blame Western countries for the current unrest. As the LAT points out, Khamenei "is considered God's representative on Earth," so there is no constitutional way to appeal his decisions.

Inside, the NYT points out that so far the pro-government Basij militia has mostly attacked at night and allowed the protests to go on during the day. That could all soon change, and some analysts think there are signs that the government is getting ready to take "its gloves off." But so far, the large numbers of people that have taken to the streets mean that there are too many people "to enable the vigilantes to intimidate people in their customary way." When they have tried to attack demonstrators, crowds have sometimes turned on them.

A student in Iran, Shane M., writes an interesting op-ed piece for the NYT in which he declares that Western analysts who caution that there might not have been fraud in the elections "are basing their arguments on an outdated understanding of Iran." Those who proclaim that the protests are taking part in the rich areas of Tehran, where Mousavi's support lies, are drawing "on pernicious myths of an iron correlation between religion and class, between location and voting tendency, in Iran." Many U.S. analysts seem "able to view our country only through anxieties left over from the 1979 revolution." But right now, Tehran "is not the Iranian anomaly it was 30 years ago." Almost 70 percent of Iranians live in cities, so the much talked-about rural vote in no way provides "a decisive bloc" for Ahmadinejad. "No one knew that it would come to this," he writes. "Iran is this way. Anything is possible because very little in politics or social life has been made systematic."

Have $15 million lying around? You could snap up Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House in Los Feliz, Calif.,  reports the LAT. Sure, you'd also have to put in a couple of million extra to restore the dilapidated masterpiece to its former glory, but just think of how jealous all your friends would be.

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.

  Slate Plus
Slate Archives
Nov. 26 2014 12:36 PM Slate Voice: “If It Happened There,” Thanksgiving Edition Josh Keating reads his piece on America’s annual festival pilgrimage.