USA Today leads with word that only one in five detainees currently being held by the U.S. military in Iraq are members of al-Qaida or Shiite extremist groups. As a result, U.S. officials have stepped up efforts to separate extremists from the regular detainee population so they can rehabilitate and release those that aren’t deemed to be a security risk. In the past 10 months, the military has released 8,000 prisoners and there’s been a recidivism rate of less than 1 percent. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Senate leaders announcing that they’ve reached a deal on legislation to help struggling homeowners. The plan would allow the government to commit up to $300 billion to insure refinanced loans as well as overhaul the oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which was a Republican priority. Hurdles remain, but there are signs the president won’t veto the bill, particularly since taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill.
The New York Timesleads with, and the Los Angeles Timesdevotes its top nonlocal spot to, a look at how Sen. Barack Obama will almost certainly win the majority of pledged delegates after today’s primaries in Oregon and Kentucky. Obama will hold an election-night rally in Iowa tonight, but his campaign is being careful not to claim that the senator from Illinois has won the nomination, lest it seem as if he’s trying to push Clinton out of the contest. The Washington Postleads with the latest back-and-forth between Obama and Sen. John McCain about the presence of lobbyists in each of their campaigns, which underscores how they are both “essentially competing to be known as the anti-lobbyist candidate.”
USAT emphasizes that simply because the U.S. military acknowledges that the vast majority of Iraqi detainees aren’t part of an extremist group it doesn’t mean commanders are “suggesting that U.S. forces captured innocent men.” But it’s difficult to reach any other conclusion when defense experts point out that it’s not easy to separate who might be an enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq. “[T]he reality of those wars is we don’t really know who we’re holding,” one defense analyst tells the paper.
The NYT says Obama has explicitly told his campaign not to declare victory tonight, but his campaign manager said that winning the majority of pledged delegates “will send an unmistakable message—the people have spoken and they are ready for change.” Meanwhile, Clinton shows no signs of dropping out and once again emphasized that she leads in the popular vote, assuming the primaries in Michigan and Florida are counted into the equation. The LAT details that, in total, Obama is now 111 delegates short of clinching the nomination (not counting Florida and Michigan), and he’s unlikely to get over that threshold after today’s votes are counted. But he continues to amass superdelegates at an impressive rate, and yesterday got the backing of Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, where Clinton trounced Obama last week.
During a speech in Montana, Obama once again took aim at the number of lobbyists on McCain’s campaign team and criticized the presumptive Republican nominee for taking so long to deal with such obvious conflict-of-interest problems with some of his key advisers. McCain didn’t take it lying down and was quick to say that at least he had instituted the “most transparent policy concerning lobbyist activities” and challenged Obama “to adopt a similar policy.” Everyone points out that Obama allows lobbyists to volunteer for his campaign.
The NYT notes in a front-page piece that the new policy instituted by McCain last week that was meant to purge these conflict-of-interest questions regarding lobbyists has so far only helped highlight just how close the senator is to lobbyists and has prompted Democrats to take a closer look at the backgrounds of those who work for him. The WP says some of McCain’s advisers “are mystified” at the new policy that gives Obama a clear line of attack. Meanwhile, the NYT details how McCain’s top foreign-policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has worked as a lobbyist for several foreign governments “over the past seven years.” He’s no longer a registered foreign agent but did not end his registration until several months after he joined McCain’s campaign.
As the squabbling between Obama and McCain continues, the WP’s Howard Kurtz points out that the presumptive Republican nominee’s campaign has also taken to severely criticizing media reports that it views as inaccurate or unfair. Although McCain has a famously good rapport with journalists, the high-profile criticism has translated into a “more contentious relationship between the presumed Republican nominee and major news organizations than is publicly apparent.”
The LAT fronts a dispatch from Burma, where survivors of Cyclone Nargis continue to struggle to stay alive and, in the worst-hit areas, must learn to get used to the smell of decomposing dead bodies. “It’s not 10, it’s not 100, it’s thousands of bodies,” one survivor said. “We gave up collecting corpses around here.” Soldiers started to gather corpses but also seem to have given up. Although some small amount of food aid is apparently getting to the survivors, locals in the rice-producing region haven’t received any of the necessary materials to start planting again and worry they’ll lose another rice crop, which would only compound their desperation. “I didn’t die, but I feel dead,” a 70-year-old woman said.
In other related news, Burma’s military junta announced that it will let members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations coordinate international relief efforts but emphasized that “there will not be uncontrolled access.” The U.N. secretary-general plans to travel to Burma today after the country’s military leaders failed to respond to his letters and telephone calls.
The WP fronts, and the NYT goes inside with, a new study that debunks the popular idea of a “boys’ crisis” in the nation’s schools. The report found that the success of girls in education has not come at the expense of boys and notes that income level is a better determinant of academic achievement than gender. “There is no crisis with boys. If there is a crisis, it is with African American and Hispanic students and low-income students, girls and boys,” one of the study’s co-authors said.
In another bit of popular-myth debunking, the WP goes inside with a new study that says it simply isn’t true that teenagers are engaging in oral sex more regularly as a way to keep their “technical virginity.” If anything, it turns out that intercourse might be considered the gateway to oral sex (though, in truth, it all appears to happen at about the same time). “Most teens don’t have oral sex until they have had vaginal sex,” one of the study’s coordinators said. Overall, this means parents need to get used to the idea that they have to talk to their kids about a variety of sexual activities. “They have to embrace the ‘ick’ factor,” said the director of an advocacy group to prevent teen pregnancy. “They have to face the facts.”