Today's Papers

After the Flood

Everyone leads again with the sprawling relief effort in devastated areas of South Asia. Even as Indonesia revised its tsunami casualty figures up to an unimaginable 94,000, the papers all report that the airport in Banda Aceh began receiving a constant stream of aid supplies and medical workers to help those who have survived.

A group of Seahawk helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln continued ferrying supplies to remote areas along the west coast of Sumatra yesterday, as another convoy of American ships steamed toward Sri Lanka with desperately needed desalinization equipment. And the papers all pick up some self-congratulation, too.

“I am more optimistic than yesterday, and much more than the day before, that we, the global community, will be able to face up to this enormous challenge,” the U.N.’s emergency relief coordinator told the New York Times. In USA Today, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia said,It feels like the logjam has broken open.” And, touting the clearing of some streets and the reopening of an Aceh market, the Washington Post’s postdiluvian lead declares: “INDONESIAN PROVINCE BEGINS ANEW.

But many stories paint a less optimistic picture of a chaotic aid effort hampered, at least for now, by its own size and complexity. The Wall Street Journal, which offers some of the best context in its Indonesian aid overview, notes that the laden Seahawks were at one point delayed for an hour because they lacked permission to take off from Banda Aceh. “The distribution system is broken,” a Malaysian Red Crescent volunteer explains in a WP article that heaps blame on the Indonesian military for its nightmarish bureaucracy—including the requirement that stamped letters of notification from local community leaders be presented in person at the Aceh governor’s mansion and then brought back to the airport before supplies can be released, which they often aren’t. Another story details the torturous route from Jakarta to Aceh for a shipment of water-treatment kits. “They need medicine and food,” one volunteer said upon arriving at a refugee camp, “and we just bring water.”

Inside, a NYT story explains part of the problem: Aceh, where a civil war has festered for 30 years, was almost entirely off-limits to foreigners before the tragedy.

The situation sounds similarly dire in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. The WP and WSJ say the Indian government has put off for five days requests by groups such as Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders to deliver aid to the isolated islands, which are home to some 350,000 people, most from indigenous tribes. Yet, according to the NYT, residents are begging for help via radio transmitters. “Please send food immediately to Chowra or people will starve,” one transmission pleaded, referring to one of the archipelago’s hundreds of islands.

The NYT fronts and everyone else stuffs the latest insurgent attacks in Iraq, which claimed at least 27 lives yesterday. Some 20 Iraqi soldiers and several civilians died in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, when an explosives-laden SUV veered into their bus and exploded. Then, less than an hour later, near Samarra, four policemen were shot and killed.

The Los Angeles Times fronts a story that relates some of the less obvious consequences of this utter lack of security for the Jan. 30 election: Polling station locations have not yet been revealed, and some 250,000 election workers are being hired and trained under a veil of protective secrecy. And to ensure the safety of the polling equipment itself, some 7 million pounds of ballot boxes, ballots, and polling booths will be airlifted into the country over the last 10 days before the election so there is less time for them to be destroyed.

Sen. Richard Lugar condemned an administration proposal, reported in yesterday’s Post, to keep terrorism suspects in permanent custody regardless of whether there’s sufficient evidence against them to charge in court. “It’s a bad idea,” Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News Sunday. “So, we ought to get over it, and we ought to have a very careful, constitutional look at this.” Sen. Carl Levin, the top Dem on the Armed Services Committee, chimed in, too, arguing forcefully for the U.S.’s commitment to the rule of law: “There must be some modicum, some semblance of due process,” he said, “if you’re going to detain people.”

A second cow infected with mad cow disease has turned up in Canada, according to wire stories in the NYT and LAT. Last week, after a preliminary announcement, U.S. officials said the discovery would not affect plans to begin allowing importation of young, live cattle from Canada beginning on March 7.

The conventional-wisdom desks at both the WP and USAT file previews of the next Congress, which convenes tomorrow. “TWO ISSUES MAY DEEPLY DIVIDE NEXT CONGRESS,” blares the WP’s off-lead, referring to Social Security and the Supreme Court. USAT’s Cover Story plays up “diversity” among the freshmen, matching up four pairs of ideological opposites. One of several must-read “Senate Highlights” in an accompanying box informs readers, “97 senators hold at least a bachelor’s degree, 20 earned master’s degrees, 57 have law degrees and four have medical degrees.”

The papers also mention the death on Saturday of Rep. Robert Matsui, who served 26 years in Congress and was one of the most outspoken opponents of President Bush’s plan to partially replace Social Security with private accounts. He died of pneumonia linked to a rare stem-cell disease that causes immunodeficiency. He was 63.