Today's Papers

U.R. Trouble

USA Today’slead says that flu shots are being rationed as some states have been hit by the worst flu outbreaks in years. The 83 million doses of the vaccine made for this flu season have already been distributed to doctors and clinics. “It’s unprecedented,” one vaccine manufacturer spokesman said of the shortage. Healthy people aged 5-49 don’t have to get shots, they can get something called FluMist. Also, private doctors may have plenty of flu vaccines on hand. The Washington Post, Wall StreetJournal world-wide newsbox, and Los Angeles Times all lead with word that the Russian party loyal to President Putin, United Russia, trounced opposition in parliamentary elections; the communists and Western-leaning parties took a beating. When final results are in, U.R. and allied parties are expected to have control of about two-thirds of parliament. That would be sufficient to amend the constitution, notes the Post, thus allowing, say, Putin to serve a third term, as some supporters have suggested. The New York Times off-leads the election; the paper’s lead reports that the White House and South Korea have agreed on what the Times calls a “broadly worded” offer sheet to North Korea. The proposed deal calls for a “coordinated” series of steps in which the U.S. and other countries would offer Pyongyang security guarantees as it begins dismantling its nukes program. The Times says that North Korea probably isn’t going to be very excited by the vague offer, which doesn’t include any timetables on potential aid. A story inside yesterday’s Post said the White House is still divided about how to deal with Pyongyang.  

Everybody notes United Russia’s platform of nationalistic platitudes. The party, says the Journal, focused on “patriotic themes of strengthening and rebuilding a proud Russia.” The NYT calls United Russia is “an alliance of politicians, ministers and businessmen united less by ideology than by their support of Mr. Putin.” Putin isn’t formally a member of United Russia, since Russian presidents are, interestingly, expected to be above party politics.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russia’s favorite xenophobe, also doubled his party’s vote to about 12.5 percent.

The papers all cite election observers complaining that United Russia officials used their government connections to sway the vote, for example tossing opposition candidates off the ballot. European election monitors also described a “strong bias” for United Russia on state-controlled television. The NYT notes that as the vote went on yesterday, state television reported “little” on opposition parties but did find time to broadcast breaking news: The Putins’ dog Koni just had eight puppies.

In a sentiment widely reflected in the papers, but generally not put so baldly, one analyst told the LAT: “This dash United Russia made since September, when in the polls it was running head-to-head with the Communists, can be explained mostly by the television brainwashing or zombifying the population has been subjected to in the last few months. It is clear to me now that we are sliding more and more toward a police state.”

The WSJ says up high that the flu-vaccine shortage is actually the eighth major U.S. shortage of a vaccine since 2000. Supplies of vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, chickenpox, and measles have all been inadequate at one point or another recently. Among the problems, profits for vaccines are thin. According to one apparently non-partisan study cited by the Journal, that’s partially because the government keeps prices artificially low by buying about 50 percent of vaccine production and negotiating cut-rate deals.

The papers note inside that one soldier was killed and one wounded in a roadside bombing yesterday in Mosul.

A short piece in the Journal summarizes some internal U.S. military assessments, concluding that during the Iraq invasion both tactical and strategic intel stank. A report by the Marines First Division stated, “The division found the enemy by running into them, much as forces have done since the beginning of time.”

Yesterday’s Post had a feature in which commanders from various levels of the U.S.’s four major divisions in Iraq were asked via e-mail about the guerrilla war and how they measure success. From the town of Sinjar, one midlevel (battalion) commander answered, in part:

During July and August, we were able to out-spend the FRL [former regime loyalists] and foreigners in most of the theater. It was simply more economical to work with and for the Americans because we were disbursing more money into the local economy than Saddam had ever done, and the FRL could not keep up. Additionally, the benefit of the money was all local in the form of infrastructure rebuilt, schools and clinics back into operation or upgraded. The benefits from U.S. occupation during those two months were tangible to the average Iraqi. Why risk getting killed by shooting at Americans when you can work for them or with them and get paid more in the long run? As the money getting directly into the hands of the commanders dried up in September, the FRL/foreigners were then able to fill that gap with their money and we have witnessed a sharp increase in attacks ever since. … Although more money has been approved for Iraq, we have seen none of it out here yet, and the result is increasing disenchantment or indifference with our presence on the part of the average Iraqi. If we are not able to improve their daily existence as we were back in July and August, then we have become an occupation force. The money that is available is kept in Baghdad; [and there is] a Byzantine process which commanders must navigate to get the funds.