The Washington Post leads with Hezbollah forces taking over large swathes of Beirut, a story that also tops the world-wide newsbox in the Wall Street Journal. The Los Angeles Times leads with a poll showing both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ahead of John McCain in head-to-head matchups. The New York Times leads with high gas prices pushing more commuters to use public transportation.
The Hezbollah takeover came after three days of sectarian fighting in Beirut between Sunni militias and Hezollah and its Shiite allies. Hezbollah also shut down a rival television station and newspaper; 11 people have died so far in the fighting. And the country’s security forces, which Washington has supported to the tune of $400 million? They’ve “largely stood aside,” the Post says. They did do this, however: “The army had issued a statement saying the fighting had compromised its unity.” Hezbollah helpfully handed control of some of the government offices it seized on Friday to the army.
The jury is still out on what it all means. “It was not yet clear what Friday’s events would mean for Lebanon’s political future, or how Hezbollah’s show of force might translate into a corresponding political advantage,” the NYT says. But the paper also quotes one local analyst: “They want the government to resign. This is effectively a coup.” The Journal’s lede paragraph also is blunt, saying the takeover signals “a dramatic shift in power in the country: The U.S.-backed government of Lebanon isn’t in charge anymore.” An analyst quoted by the LAT has a different take, saying that Hezbollah is not likely to continue its surge or even continue to hold the parts of Beirut it just seized. “Instead, the offensive was an ‘object lesson’ meant to demonstrate the group’s ability to quickly subdue its domestic rivals without exposing its arsenal of heavy weapons meant to target Israel in a potential war.”
The same LAT poll showed McCain beating both in February; the paper attributes the Democrats’ rising fortunes to the falling economy—voters see McCain as the least able of the three to manage that. In a hypothetical matchup, the poll gave Obama 46 percent to McCain’s 40 percent and Clinton 47-38 over McCain. In February, McCain led Clinton by six and Obama by two. Among voters who say the economy is in a recession—78 percent of those polled—both of the Democrats lead McCain by 20 points.
McCain could be facing even more trouble: The LAT checks in with Bob Barr, the former congressman who is mulling a run for president as a libertarian, worrying some Republicans who think he could be a Nader of the right. And while Obama keeps accumulating superdelegates, John Edwards may or may not have let slip that he voted for Obama on Tuesday, the NYT finds.
The jump to public transportation is especially pronounced in cities with relatively strong driving cultures, like Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Francisco. Even cities of less than 100,000 are seeing big spikes in bus ridership. The increases are all the more remarkable because they are taking place in a poor economy, which usually means fewer people using public transportation.
All the papers have updates on the grim situation in Burma/Myanmar. The LAT saw ships in the country’s main port being loaded with rice being exported to Bangladesh, while the government was handing out rotting stores of rice to citizens affected by the storm. The Washington Post (which did not have a Burma dateline) took a political approach, going high with the Burmese government’s announcement that it would admit U.S. military flights bringing aid but that there was still disagreement over who would distribute foreign aid: Yesterday, the Burmese authorities commandeered two planeloads of U.N.-donated food and equipment and refused to allow in international aid officials. U.N. officials said they will not provide aid without having people on the ground to monitor its distribution.
“This is a regime that is extremely nationalistic—their whole ideology is about how they are a strong government that is protecting the country and holding the country together,” said one expert quoted in the Post. “Accepting aid would be an implicit admission that they cannot deal with the problems of the country … What they are seeing here is a threat to their entire raison d’etre—their whole house of cards falling down.”
Both the Post and NYT have previews of Jenna Bush’s wedding tonight in Texas; the Post looks at how Jenna has evolved from a “party girl” and how her husband-to-be, like many in his position before him, seems “hardwired for politics.” And the NYT puts it in the context of Bush’s father re-entering private life.
Also in the papers … The remains of 200 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been cremated at Capitol Crematory and Friends Forever Pet Cremation Service in Delaware. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that won’t happen any more, the Post reports. Moscow held a Red Square military parade, and the papers do not love it: Every single one of them called it “Soviet.” Private military contractor/mercenary group Blackwater is weathering controversy and is still kicking; it just got its main State Department contract renewed, the NYT reports. The NYT has a feature on the woeful health care situation of illegal farm workers. Retailers are getting creative, and aggressive, to get their hands on customers’ stimulus checks, the NYT finds. New Mexico’s commercial spaceport is on schedule to open in 2010, the Post reports.