The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead with word that the White House is pretty much giving up on its efforts to resettle some Guantanamo detainees in the United States. Although the Post does hear from a source that there might still be a chance that “a few” of the more than 50 detainees who have been cleared for release could settle in the United States, the Obama administration is recognizing the overwhelming congressional opposition to the plan and has decided not to push the issue for now. Word of the change in direction came on the same day that six detainees were transferred from the prison. USA Todayleads with a look at the problems confronting workers. While much time is devoted to talking about the unemployed, the truth is that even those who still have jobs “are faring worse than at any time since the Great Depression.” The employed are working a record-low number of hours, which, combined with cuts in wages, means they have less to spend.
The New York Timesleads with, and the LAT and WP front, news that the Senate approved legislation that will give vast new powers to the federal government to regulate tobacco products. The legislation was approved 79 to 17 and is expected to easily make it through the House. It would enable the Food and Drug Administration to impose new controls on how cigarettes, along with other tobacco products, are made and marketed. The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with today’s presidential election in Iran, which culminates a campaign that has been more heated than most analysts expected. A record turnout is expected, and some suspect there will be a runoff.
The administration at first hoped to transfer at least some of the Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, who are being held in Guantanamo to the United States. Even the Bush administration had said they’re not enemy combatants, so it seemed like a safe option, particularly as the United States would have to show goodwill in accepting some prisoners if it expects allies to take on others themselves. But lawmakers were having none of it and raised their swift and unbending opposition to letting any of the Guantanamo detainees walk free on American soil. The administration now seems to have decided that the issue is not worth the uphill battle with Congress. Now the problem is that it seems unlikely European allies will be willing to take on any more prisoners themselves.
Four Uighur detainees were sent to Bermuda yesterday, while an Iraqi and a Chadian were released back into their home countries. British officials immediately said they weren’t consulted about the transfer to Bermuda, which is a British territory. But, really, it all seemed to be a bit of an act to prevent any headaches from China, which wants the Uighurs returned to China. And while much has been made about how a significant number of Uighurs would end up in Palau, it now seems clear they won’t all end up in the island nation, so the administration is still negotiating with other countries to take some of the 13 Uighurs still in Guantanamo. The Chadian detainee who was released was the youngest in Guantanamo, only 14 when he was first caught in Pakistan in 2001.
The landmark tobacco legislation approved by the Senate yesterday mandates that cigarette makers won’t be able to use words like “light” unless they can prove that the product is less harmful than standard tobacco. Most flavorings were outlawed, although, significantly, menthol wasn’t. Smokers would also have to confront bigger and more graphic warnings on their packs every time they reach for a cigarette. New rules were imposed on advertising and in-store marketing of tobacco products. But probably the most significant change is that now, for the first time, cigarette makers would have to disclose all the ingredients that go in their products, and the FDA could choose to ban some of the most harmful. The FDA might even decide to set a ceiling for the amount of nicotine that can be contained in a cigarette. “This is a bill not for a one-year or two-year splash, but for a long-term impact,” said the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who called the bill “the strongest anti-tobacco measure the Congress of the United States has ever passed.” Only one Democrat voted against the bill, and most of the senators who opposed it were from tobacco-growing states.
The WSJ says that the campaign tactics used by reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, involve a mixture of Obama as well as the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Mousavi’s chief strategist is a 26-year-old who was obsessed with Obama’s campaign for president and then pressed the candidate to pursue many of the same tactics in his run for the presidency. He not only pushed Mousavi to campaign with his wife but also made use of social networking sites and recruited thousands of young volunteers. Older members of Mousavi’s team pushed him to also include some tactics that would remind people of the revolution.
In a front-page analysis, the NYT says that the sheer energy this campaign has unleashed could change the country, regardless of who wins. At the same time, the paper warns that “hope has often outpaced reality in Iran” and reminds readers that whatever differences he might have with Ahmadinejad, “Mousavi is no liberal.” The WP also strikes an ominous note, stating that Iran “is more deeply polarized than at any time since the Islamic revolution,” and both sides are getting ready to challenge the results. Some are worried the divisions that were marked out during the campaign could deepen after the election.
To no one’s surprise, the World Health Organization declared that the outbreak of H1N1 influenza is now a pandemic, marking the first time in 41 years that a flu pandemic has been declared. The move has been expected for a while, but it gives a great excuse for USAT and the NYT to front the impossibly adorable picture of two kindergarteners in Hong Kong, where all primary schools will be closed for two weeks. The H1N1 virus hasn’t been found to be particularly lethal so far, but declaring it a pandemic is a statement about how much it has spread, not about its intensity. As much as one-third of the world’s population could be infected in the first year or two, and the flu could come back stronger in successive waves. Officials also worry its lethality could quickly rise when it reaches poor countries where malnutrition and disease make people more vulnerable. The WHO pushed manufacturers to quickly prepare vaccines. (Early morning wire stories report that Novartis says it has produced a first batch of vaccine.)
The WP reports that Senate negotiators seem to be warming up to the idea of creating member-run health care cooperatives rather than a government-run insurance plan that Obama supports. Opposition to a government-run plan runs deep and could stall health care reform. “I tried to come up with something that is not government-controlled, is a competitive delivery model, but nonprofit,” said Sen. Ken Conrad, D-N.D. Other Democratic lawmakers say that in order for it to work, there would have to be at least one national co-op that would be able to compete with the big insurers. The health care industry is clearly worried about the ongoing debate. USAT fronts a look at how the largest medical insurers and drug companies have boosted their lobbying spending this year by 41 percent. The 20 companies spent almost $35 million in the first quarter of 2009, an increase of more than $10 million from the same time last year.
The LAT goes inside with news that while California’s porn industry said that an actress was recently diagnosed with HIV for the first time since 2004, Los Angeles County health officials say there have been at least 16 additional cases. That means the number of HIV cases in adult-film performers in the last five years is at least 22. The new figures are once again bringing attention to the multibillion-dollar industry that has long resisted regulation and condom use. Data released yesterday from Los Angeles Country also revealed that since 2004, 2,378 people who identified themselves as adult-film performers have tested positive for Chlamydia, 1,357 for gonorrhea, and 15 for syphilis.
In the WP’s op-ed page, Ahmed Rashid writes that while the world seems concerned about terrorists in Pakistan, it has been “stunningly indifferent to the plight of the more than 2.4 million people who have fled the Swat Valley” in what is now considered to be “the largest and fastest displacement of people since the genocide in Rwanda.” The United States has sent aid, but no European or Muslim Arab country has followed suit. The Pakistani military is seriously confronting the Taliban for the first time, and the people seem to support the offensive, but that could all quickly change if those who have been displaced by the violence aren’t taken care of properly. “By refusing to see this humanitarian crisis as an exercise in winning hearts and minds,” Rashid writes, “the world seems to be sleepwalking its way to defeat.”
The LAT reports that what was supposed to be a great scoop for a Japanese TV station ended up being an embarrassment that has caused one man a lot of grief. The station showed a photograph of a man that was supposed to be an adult Kim Jong Un, the son of North Korea’s leader who has apparently been designated his successor. The picture quickly became an Internet sensation since the last known photograph of the younger Kim was taken when he was 12. But it turns out the photo was of a 40-year-old South Korean construction worker. “I’m speechless,” Bae Seok-bum said. “I only uploaded the picture to share with the members of my community how similar my face was to that of Kim Jong Il. I didn’t think it would go this far.”