The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead with Cuba’s National Assembly selecting Raúl Castro as the country’s new president. Fidel Castro’s brother immediately made it clear that although Cuba is getting a new president for the first time in almost half a century, little will change on the island. This point was emphasized by the parliament’s selection of 77-year-old José Ramon Machado Ventura as first vice president. There was wide speculation before yesterday’s vote that the No. 2 post would go to a younger candidate, but selecting a man who fought with the Castros during the Cuban Revolution was widely seen as a message that Fidel and his close advisers will continue to rule the country. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with officials from Iraqi Kurdistan demanding that Turkish troops withdraw from Northern Iraq.
The New York Timesleads with a look at how the recent spike in oil prices is increasing inflation in much of the Middle East, which is causing hardship for the region’s middle class. The price of oil is hardly the only reason for the inflation, but it is a significant factor that is seen as a mixed blessing because it is fueling new growth in the region even as it drives more people into poverty. Countries with lots of oil wealth have been able to deal with the rising inflation by throwing more money at the problem and increasing subsidies as well as salaries. But for those that aren’t so lucky, the rising prices have sometimes led to violence as well as a general feeling that a middle-class lifestyle is out of reach for many who used to take it for granted. USA Todayleads with a look at how last week’s recall of 143 million pounds of beef could end up becoming the nation’s largest food recall. Companies are still trying to figure out where all the beef from Westland/Hallmark Meat went and are coming to grips with the fact that it could involve products worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Many from the food industry complain the recall is too extensive, particularly considering that most of the beef has already been eaten and there have been no reports of illness.
Soon after being named Cuba’s new leader, Raúl Castro emphasized that he would consult with his brother on important decisions, “especially those having to do with national defense, foreign policy, and economic development.” And even as he vowed to continue his brother’s work, Raúl promised to clean up inefficient government agencies and give more power to provinces. He also recognized that Cuba’s economy faces problems and promised to improve agricultural production. But there was little talk of change in the National Assembly yesterday, as most preferred to discuss how to continue with Fidel Castro’s policies. The NYT notes that since Fidel remains the head of the Communist party, he ultimately will have the final word on everything. Overall, Cubans, including exiles in Florida, emphasized that both Castro brothers have to die before there’s any real change in the country’s political structure.
Turkish troops continued to clash with Kurdish guerillas for the fourth straight day yesterday. The incursion that began on Thursday is the first confirmed movement by Turkish ground troops into Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003 and puts the United States in the uncomfortable position of having to mediate between two allies. The Turkish military says a total of 112 Kurdish separatists and 15 Turkish soldiers have been killed, while the Kurdistan Workers Party says a total of 45 Turkish soldiers have been killed, and warned guerillas would retaliate with more attacks in Turkey. It’s unclear how long the Turkish military plans to stay in Iraq, but U.S. officials are worried it will foster instability and are urging that all troops be withdrawn as soon as possible.
In other news out of Iraq, everyone goes inside with word that a suicide bomber killed at least 40 people yesterday in southern Iraq. The bomber targeted pilgrims who were marching toward the city of Karbala to commemorate one of the holiest days in Shiite Islam. There were at least three attacks against Shiite pilgrims yesterday, although the other two were far less deadly. The LAT points out that the attacks once again will put pressure on cleric Muqtada Sadr to end the recently renewed cease-fire as his followers are growing increasingly frustrated that they can’t fight back.
Inside, the NYT points out that Sen. Barack Obama is getting attacked from all sides as part of the “customary greeting that the political tribe accords to apparent front-runners.” His advisers apparently discuss every day which attacks to answer in order to strike the right balance between not sounding defensive while also emphasizing that Obama won’t run away from a fight. Well, at least they’ll have nothing to worry about from today’s front pages as both the NYT and LAT carry largely positive stories about the senator from Illinois. The LAT takes a look at the “surprising number” of “Obamacans,” which is the way that Obama describes Republicans who are supporting his candidacy. Many are skeptical that these Republicans will stick with Obama until the general election. But the paper talks to a small group of Republicans who insist that they’ve found their candidate and are working to convince other lifelong Republicans to join them.
Meanwhile, the NYT fronts a look at the “hushed worry” of many Obama supporters who fear he will be assassinated if he wins, or gets close to winning, the presidency. Leave aside the obvious question of whether this sort of high-profile story could give anyone any ideas and the fact that by mentioning Obama in the same breath with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, the NYT is successfully raising the candidate’s mythic stature, but are these fears really “hushed”? As the paper mentions, his supporters bring up the fears “without prompting,” the Times itself has written about it before, a TV reporter famously asked Sen. Ted Kennedy about it, it’s clearly a favorite topic of conversation around the Internet, and the phrase “assassinate Obama” even made it on the list of the top 100 Google search terms early last month.
The WP goes inside with a look at how both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton have changed positions on a number of issues. Some changes are subtle and more a question of nuance, but on some issues, “both candidates are saying things that are quite different from their previous positions.” The paper outlines what it considers to be each candidate’s top five “flip-flops.”
The Post’s Sebastian Mallaby writes that despite Obama’s oft-used phrase that “what’s lacking right now is not good ideas,” there are some important issues about which “good ideas are actually quite scarce.” Mallaby points to global warming as an issue where there’s a particular shortage of good ideas, and says it seems strange that Obama “should dismiss the importance of fresh thinking this way: He is an intellectual, he is beloved by intellectuals, and yet he poses as an anti-intellectual.”
The LAT, of course, goes big with Oscar coverage, and most of the rest of the papers at least front a picture from last night’s event that crowned No Country for Old Men as best picture (and red as favorite color!). The LAT points out that Hollywood didn’t figure prominently yesterday, and Europe won big as “almost all of the top Oscars were handed to foreigners and iconoclastic show business outsiders.” The critics point out the show was particularly boring this year and say it was clear that producers only had a few weeks after the writers’ strike ended to prepare. “The show was so overstocked with clips from movies … that it was like a TV show with the hiccups,” writes the Post. And USAT hurls what may be the ultimate insult: “Maybe settling the strike in time for the Oscars wasn’t such a good idea after all.”