Arab nations bolster Mideast peace process

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 24 2007 5:24 AM

Cruiseship Down

It's the Saturday after Turkey Day, one of the best times of the year to dump bad news on a distracted public, but few seem to have taken advantage of the opportunity. The Washington Post leads with a walk-up on President Bush's Tuesday Middle East peace conference in Annapolis. The Los Angeles Times goes with a more upbeat assessment of the conference's chances. The New York Times leads with an evergreen—for the next year, at least—about the diminished expectations for Bush's remaining time in office. The Wall Street Journal takes a prominent look at student opposition to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The Post and NYT both have front-page photos of a capsized cruise ship that sank in icy waters.

Bush, writes the Post, will conduct three rounds of personal diplomacy with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but hopes are not high for progress, despite the announcement that Saudi Arabia will send high-level representatives to the conference. The president has a "kinship with Israel" as a result of the war on terror, the Post reports, and is "skeptical that, in the end, the Palestinians will make the compromises necessary for a peace deal." Rice, on the other hand, has made it a goal of hers to have a peace deal by the end of Bush's term, setting up a clash between the president and one of his few remaining original advisers.

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The LAT, though, highlights the role Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt could play at the peace conference by giving seriousness to the affair. Syria, it reported, was also leaning toward attending. The consensus of the Middle East countries seemed to be, however, that the U.S. will not put enough pressure on Israel to extract real gains for the Palestinians, causing concerns that the event will be merely a photo-op—and not a politically beneficial one back home as far as they're concerned.

Bush, reports the NYT, has little hope of pushing his more aggressive policy proposals through a Democratic Congress and has instead begun to sound more like the "national Mr. Fix-It than the man who began his second term with a sweeping domestic policy agenda of overhauling Social Security." Mr. Fix-It, says the Times, is using executive orders and his Rose Garden pulpit for such projects as opening more airspace during Thanksgiving and encouraging lenders to refinance home loans.

The WSJ highlights rising student opposition to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez on its front page. The paper profiles Ivan Stalin González, the student president of Venezuela's most important university. His slate of candidates was elected with 91 percent of the vote and has repeatedly taken to the streets to protest Chavez's upcoming constitutional referendum that could vastly expand his powers.

Stalin, as he prefers to be called, is no capitalist running dog, the capitalist paper makes clear. His father was an ardent Marxist and Stalin's assault on Chavez comes from the left, not the right. Chavez, say the students, is becoming a power-hungry authoritarian instead of an egalitarian socialist. The students and the Catholic Church have emerged as Chavez's last remaining vocal opponents, notes the paper.

Black Friday gets dark writeups in most papers, with the New York Times dubbing it the holiday season  of the "trade down," as broke shoppers skipped high-end chains for the cheaper joints. The first Middle America quote in the piece comes from Theresa Johnston, a 47-year-old social worker from, wait for it … Columbus, Ohio! If there's another town somewhere in Middle America, TP is unaware of it.

The Wall Street Journal has bad news for anybody who thought the worst of the housing mess was behind us. Most of the defaults and foreclosures we've seen so far, it points out in a front page piece, have come in the first year of the loan, meaning they didn't even get to the period when it balloons and mortgages increase. In 2008, that'll happen to $362 billion worth of loans, a new Bank of America report estimates, adding to political pressure to somehow bail folks out.

What happens when you don't elect a president? The army takes over. Lebanon's president stepped down with no successor chosen and asked the army to hold down the fort until the country can pick somebody to take his place. The Post plays it deep inside.

All 154 passengers on an ice-breaking cruise ship survived for four hours in small boats before they were rescued near Antarctica. The vacationers had paid between $7,000 and $16,000 for the trip.

Had they floated much longer, they may have been rescued by a fleet of Japanese vessels out hunting whales, which the LAT spotlights. It's illegal to hunt whales unless you claim that you're catching them for scientific research, a loophole that Western governments and environmental activists have worked to close.

The Japanese say that there isn't even that much demand for whale meat, but that they continue to hunt out of a principled respect for the Japanese tradition of whaling. "We all support some controls. But as a government, we cannot say to our communities: 'Give up your way of life because the Western powers and some activists say this is an intelligent animal,' " says a Japanese representative, Joji Morishita.

The Times calls out the Japanese high in the story for this line of reasoning. "Yet despite contending that tradition justifies the whale hunt," writes Bruce Wallace, "the Japanese government balks at accepting similar arguments from the Ainu people on the northern island of Hokkaido who want to fish for wild salmon."

It seems to have come in too late to make the papers, but it looks like Australia's Labor Party opposition has won enough seats to form a government.

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