Return of the Swine Flu
The New York Timesleads with word that the Pentagon has placed 50 major Afghan drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban on a list of targets to be captured or killed. The paper got an early look at a congressional study set to be released this week and notes that by putting drug traffickers on the same list as insurgent leaders, the United States is drastically changing its counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan. The Washington Postleads with a look at how the United States, along with other countries in the Northern Hemisphere, is preparing for a second wave of swine flu, which could start hitting with a vengeance in the next few weeks. Several countries in the Southern Hemisphere have been hit particularly hard during their winter, and everyone expects it to continue spreading. Britain has reported a recent increase in swine flu cases and set up a system to distribute drugs. Meanwhile, there are growing concerns the H1N1 virus could cause a huge number of fatalities if it begins to infect many people in some of the world's poorest countries.
USA Todayleads with a poll on health care that shows how people's opinions are all over the map and sometimes conflict. Seniors are certainly the most resistant to change, and with the exception of the youngest age group, the idea of controlling costs is seen as a higher priority than expanding coverage to the uninsured. Those with insurance and no significant health problems don't think the issue is so urgent that something must be done this year. The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with an interview with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, who warned U.S. casualties would remain high in the coming months as more soldiers are sent to population centers. Several officials say they expect McChrystal to ask for as many as 10,000 more troops. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with a look at how lawyers are having considerable success at getting courts to declare that certain budget cuts passed by the legislature are illegal. These lawsuits are one reason why most expect the recently approved spending plan that closes California's massive budget gap will end up collapsing.
Military commanders have told lawmakers the new policy to go after major drug traffickers with the same level of intensity as militant leaders is perfectly legal and essential to making it more difficult for Taliban fighters to operate in Afghanistan. And they emphasized that only drug traffickers who helped finance the Taliban were put on the list. NATO allies were skeptical at first, but now say that there are sufficient safeguards in place to make sure everything remains legal. The report to be released by Congress this week also states that previous studies may have overestimated the amount of money the Taliban receives from the drug trade.
As conservative groups and other opponents of health care reform launch efforts to disrupt Democratic town hall meetings, many have been wondering where in the world are the foot soldiers who were so instrumental to President Obama's victory in November. The LAT takes a look at how the Organizing for America network has been slow to get started because it is still trying to figure out how to best operate, and there have apparently been disagreements on what tactics should be pursued. The troubles the network now has to deal with illustrate how it's not so easy to take a campaign operation and turn it into a network of supporters who can persuade their neighbors to support specific policies. Part of the problem is that many who joined the network during the campaign lean heavily to the left and have found themselves disenchanted by Obama since he moved into the White House. For those still confused about what the battle is all about, the NYT publishes a useful summary.
USAT fronts a look at how China's reaction to the ethnic riots that killed almost 200 people in the country's far western province of Xinjiang has followed a familiar script that shows how the country's leaders have become good at short-term damage control. After rounding up at least 1,600 people, the government has launched a propaganda campaign that included unfurling numerous red cloth banners that proclaim, among other slogans, "Ethnic unity is good!" Almost 2,000 volunteers are handing out 100,000 smiley-face stickers that have the slogan, "A smile is the common language of all nationalities" in both Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. Government officials have also identified a common enemy by blaming unrest on Rebiya Kadeer, the Uighur leader who lives in the United States. And, finally, there has been a surge in public spending in the area. Experts say that all these tactics do is cover up tensions that are bound to blow up again in the future.
The LAT fronts claims by the Pakistani military that the Taliban recruited and kidnapped young boys in the Swat Valley and took them to one of their training camps in the area. Four boys met with reporters and told of their experience being kidnapped, emphasizing that while some busily planned their escape from day one, others had volunteered and were happy to join the militants. Those the Taliban recruited were overwhelmingly poor and were convinced to join the militants with promises of a comfortable future. Some of the boys who have escaped claim boys as young as 7 or 8 were at the camps, but military officials say they can't confirm that.
The expatriate playground of Dubai has turned dangerous, reports the Post. Western expatriates who went to the city in search of the good life are now often increasingly fearful of getting arrested now that the economy is on the decline and the government is looking for someone to blame. As stock and property prices plummet, there have been more arrests for business-related crimes, such as a bounced check. Foreigners are often kept in jail for weeks or months before they're charged with anything. As a result, a growing number of foreigners have decided to leave, or escape, the United Arab Emirates.
The NYT reports that the Seattle Times is thriving. Or at least not dying. Just yet. When the paper's rival, the Post-Intelligencer, folded in March, many predicted it would only be a matter of time before the Seattle Times followed suit. But the paper managed to pick up most of the subscribers from the Post-Intelligencer and is actually making a profit, although it won't reveal how much. And perhaps even more surprising, SeattlePI.com is also doing quite well with a bare-bones staff that relies heavily on content produced by unpaid bloggers.
The NYT takes a look at how technology has added "an extra layer of chaos to the already discombobulating morning scramble" in households across the country. While mornings used to be a time to quickly have breakfast and maybe read a bit of the paper before rushing out the door, now going online is the first thing many people do, even before going to the bathroom. One Michigan couple sends their sons text messages, which they apparently use as "an in-houe intercom," to wake them up. "Things that I thought were unacceptable a few years ago are now commonplace in my house," the mom said, "like all four of us starting the day on four computers in four separate rooms."
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.