Today's Papers

Obama Pushes Security Over the Borderline

The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that President Obama will ask Congress for an 8 percent increase in spending on border and transportation security in next year’s budget. By requesting the $27 billion from Congress, Obama wants to not only make clear that he will step up efforts to decrease the number of American weapons that make it to Mexico but also that any immigration reform will have to begin with enforcement first. The New York Timesleads with the streams of refugees who are fleeing the Swat Valley out of fear of a full-scale attack by Pakistan’s army against Taliban forces that have hunkered down in the area and declared an end to the peace deal with the government. Taliban militants have apparently taken up positions in the Swat region and laid mines in preparation for an attack. American officials are optimistic this could be the sign they were waiting for that Pakistan’s government is willing to wage war against the Taliban, but it’s still far too early to tell whether the effort can be sustained in the long term.

USA Todayand the Washington Postlead with news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention retracted previous guidelines and said that schools don’t need to close if a student is infected with swine flu. More than 700 schools in 24 states that enrolled almost 500,000 students have closed in the past week. The change in guidelines comes even though the numbers of confirmed cases keep on increasing and a second person in the United States died from the new flu strain, which leads the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox. Officials said a 33-year-old U.S. citizen living in south Texas who had “chronic underlying health conditions” died yesterday from “complications from influenza.” The World Health Organization has reported a total 1,490 confirmed cases in 23 countries, and U.S. officials say there are 403 confirmed cases in 38 states.

Obama will outline his immigration priorities in the detailed budget he plans to give to Congress tomorrow. And in making security and enforcement such big priorities, Obama appears to be trying to appease conservatives before taking any definitive steps toward a full-on overhaul of the country’s immigration system that would likely include a path to legalization. In addition to more agents and high-tech equipment, Obama will also ask Congress to sink more money into E-Verify, the controversial employment verification program that is supposed to help determine whether someone is eligible to work in the United States.

Despite the constant fear that the violence in Mexico would quickly spill over into the United States, that hasn’t quite come true. Yet. The LAT notes in a separate front-page piece that the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, who is Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive, has ordered his underlings to not hesitate in using deadly force on either side of the border to gain territory or protect cargo from U.S. officers. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman apparently delivered the message in early March, and agents close to the border say they’ve seen more violent confrontations lately.

The evacuations in Swat Valley come as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari begins two days of meetings with Obama as well as senior U.S. and Afghan officials. In a front-page piece, the LAT points out that when Obama took office, it seemed that Afghanistan would be his biggest challenge, but it now seems like child’s play next to the problems in Pakistan. “By comparison, it looks like Canada,” a U.S. official said. Making matters more complicated is the fact that the Obama administration doesn’t have a great relationship with either Zardari or Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The WP devotes a front-page piece to looking at how Obama plans to “maintain an arm’s-length relationship with Karzai.” That’s hardly a new revelation, but the piece explains in detail why the Obama administration felt the need to move away from the friendly relationship that the Bush White House had fostered with the Afghan leader. Former President Bush felt like one of his most important duties was to mentor Karzai, but critics say that later prevented Bush from making demands on the Afghan government. “The president of the United States had become the case officer for Afghanistan,” a senior Obama foreign policy adviser said. “It was a profound misjudgment of how to handle the situation.”

As health authorities begin to breathe a little easier now that their worst fears about swine flu don’t seem to be coming true, USAT notes that some experts are worried the new flu virus will become resistant to drugs. The H1N1 virus can be attacked with two anti-virals, but these drugs experienced such an increase in sales during the first panic-stricken days of the outbreak that officials worry a new drug-resistant strain could emerge. But in another positive sign, the WP reports that a genetic analysis of the virus suggests that it probably emerged before mid-September, which would mean it is far less deadly than initially feared.

The NYT and WSJ front word that federal regulators have told Bank of America that it needs to raise $33.9 billion (the WSJ says “roughly $35 billion”) in capital as a result of the stress tests that the government carried out on 19 of the nation’s biggest banks. The full results of the stress tests won’t be known until Thursday, but the NYT makes it clear that Bank of America isn’t happy with the government’s determination. If the bank, which has already received $45 billion from the government, can’t raise that kind of capital on its own, it could rely on Uncle Sam by converting the government’s preferred shares into common stock. But that could make the government one of Bank of America’s largest shareholders and would also dilute existing shares.

The NYT also hears word that the stress tests will determine that several banks, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, are in good condition and could repay funds they received through the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But before any of the banks decide to hand back TARP money, they must first show they can issue debt without the backing of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The NYT and LAT front, while everyone covers, news that a Justice Department internal report concluded that Bush administration officials who wrote memos justifying the use of harsh interrogation techniques shouldn’t face criminal charges. According to the LAT, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, could be referred to bar associations in the states where they practice to consider possible disciplinary action. The investigators concluded that Steven Bradbury, who had written at least three memos, may have given bad advice but it wasn’t so serious that he deserves to face disciplinary action. But Yoo, a law processor at UC Berkeley and Bybee, a federal appeals court judge in Nevada, could face disciplinary action for a troubling pattern of providing faulty advice to the administration.

The WP goes inside with word that representatives for Yoo and Bybee have been encouraging former administration officials to contact new members of the Justice Department to tone down the criticism of the two lawyers. The paper doesn’t know how many people have lobbied administration officials on behalf of Yoo and Bybee, but those who did so focused on what they view as the troubling precedent of sanctioning legal advisers for providing counsel.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has hardly made it a secret that she wants another woman to join her at the Supreme Court. But in an interview with USAT, Ginsburg said she was reminded of how important that was during the recent case that involved a 13-year-old girl who had been strip-searched by school officials. Her male colleagues seemed to minimize the girl’s humiliation, and that angered Ginsburg. “They have never been a 13-year-old girl,” she said. “I didn’t think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood.” (Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick said the strip-search case convinced her “it’s pretty much imperative” that David Souter’s seat go to a woman.) What is most amazing about the interview is the revelation that after 16 years on the nation’s highest bench, Ginsburg still feels that her male colleagues sometimes ignore her points. “It can happen even in the conferences in the court. When I will say something—and I don’t think I’m a confused speaker—and it isn’t until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on the point.”

Everyone reports news that the first U.S. recipient of a face transplant came forward yesterday. The 46-year-old woman underwent the 22-hour procedure after her face was severely disfigured by a shotgun blast. Doctors replaced around 80 percent of her face. Everyone has the incredible before-and-after pictures, and the WSJ and WP also publish results from a CT scan that truly demonstrate the extent of the damage.

The WP goes inside with news that senators unceremoniously made Sen. Arlen Specter the most junior Democrat on four committees and second from last on a fifth, even though he has spent 29 years in the chamber. When Specter switched parties last week, it seemed that Democrats had agreed to maintain his seniority on the five committees in which he serves, but yesterday his fellow Democrats said they will reconsider his seniority claim only after next year’s midterm elections. Specter’s loss of seniority could make it more difficult for him to win re-election next year since it would be harder for him to argue that his key positions in the Senate enable him to send lots of money back to Pennsylvania.

The WP’s Al Kamen points out that when Sen. Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party in 2001, Specter was devastated. “It felt as if there had been a death in the family,” Specter said. He even seemed to support a view that Jeffords should resign first and then run for re-election as a member of the other party. But never mind what he said in 2001, it seems Specter is still getting used to the whole being-a-Democrat thing. Yesterday, he took back comments he made in a New York Times Magazine interview to be published on Sunday where he said Norm Coleman could still win the legal battle against Al Franken to regain his Senate seat. “In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another,” he said, “I have to get used to my new teammates.”