Bhutto's widower will take over the PPP.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 31 2007 6:45 AM

Democracy Is the Best Revenge

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post all lead and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the rapidly developing political situation in Pakistan, where the Pakistan Peoples Party has named slain leader Benazir Bhutto's widower as party head until her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 19, can take over. Having spent 11 years in jail on corruption charges, the interim leader is not popular within the PPP, but he did assert that he would call the shots until Bilawal graduates from Oxford. The party's immediate challenge is making the election go forward as planned on Jan. 8, since the government is working to postpone it by weeks or even months—at least until the surge of anger at President Musharraf's government passes. (Late-breaking news  from CNN says the government will come to a decision Tuesday on whether to postpone the elections.) Meanwhile, the NYT all but states that the government is lying about how Bhutto died in order to deflect blame for lax security. Despite photos of a gunman and initial reports that a bullet had struck her in the neck, officials maintain that she hit her head in the tumult and the official medical report did not specify the cause of death, fueling speculation that the government may have pressured doctors to support the official account. The smoking gun wound may never be found, since her husband declined to allow an autopsy.

USA Today's below-the-fold Pakistan story scoops the info that Bilawal Zardari is a black belt in tae kwon do and regrets having never taken up cricket.

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USA Today leads and the rest of the papers front news from Iowa. USAT's overview is a string of sound bites from interviews with seven of the 12 candidates (John McCain: "Look, when you win, the money comes in"), nine of whom could be found crisscrossing the state this weekend and almost all of whom blanketed the Sunday talk shows. The WSJ reports on the "political energy gap" worrying the GOP as Democrats show more pep than Republicans cheerleading for their favorites, with the most recent polls showing a three-way statistical dead heat in Iowa between Clinton, Edwards, and Obama. (Even more worrying for the Republicans—it looks like Ron Paul may have bested their front-runners for fourth-quarter fund raising.)

In the day's profiles, the NYT runs a weepy-eyed piece on the evolution of the Edwards' marriage, from tender moments in their first days of dating to the impact of their son's death in 1996 and Elizabeth's self-effacing but decisive role in John's various campaigns. In a more ominous character sketch, the LAT takes a look at how religion infused Mike Huckabee's governorship and would likely do the same in his presidency. The paper focuses on an instance in which Huckabee held up relief legislation after a 1997 tornado because he objected to the catastrophe—which the bill had called an "act of God"—being blamed on the Almighty. The WP off-leads with a paradox at the heart of the McCain campaign: For all his indignation at the influence of special interests in politics, a recent study found that he's enlisted more lobbyist fund-raisers than any other candidate.

According to the LAT, Iowa's Democrats are all about electability, while the WP runs a story that looks a lot like yesterday's NYT lead about the unprecedented steps candidates are taking to turn out their base. This one focuses on Obama, but it fails to prove that he deserves the attention—his only significant edge seems to lie in a greater facility with online social networking, perhaps attributable to a younger and more tech-savvy constituency. Meanwhile, the NYT looks beyond substance and electability to focus on style: the candidates' cute catchphrases and the atmosphere at their events.

Back in New York, someone's watching the Iowa outcome with greater interest than most: Following a story in yesterday's WP, the NYT more expansively reports (and USAT mentions) that Michael Bloomberg is decidedly interested in a third-party run, depending on the post-caucus political landscape. In a story bizarrely sequestered in the city section, the paper says he's been putting in place a "turnkey" campaign infrastructure should the partisans settle on a diametrically opposed pair like Huckabee and Obama or Edwards.

With less happening on the domestic and international fronts, we might have seen more about the turmoil that followed a too-close-to-call election in Kenya, where the government has sworn in the incumbent president and declared martial law to control the masses of opposition supporters who have declared their candidate the "People's President," as the NYT fronts, the LAT reefers, and the WSJ stuffs. International observers say it's clear the vote was flawed, and violence breaking out along tribal lines has killed at least 15 people.

The LAT's front-page survey of Iran's complex political landscape, detailing the maze of power circles loosely centered around Ayatollah Khamenei but subverted by various councils, clerics, and elected officials, is worth a look, as is its alarming look at the effects of the mortgage crisis on state and city budgets. A WSJ front-page feature brings news that aggressive lobbying by subprime lenders made the whole mess worse when the housing market went south. But USAT's cover story shows that at least the Feds are helping out by subsidizing flights to small towns, which you should bear in mind the next time you buy an $88 flight to Billings, Mont.

USAT reefers a story on the smoking ban to take effect in France, peppered with quotes—undoubtedly spoken in gravelly voices—bemoaning the death of Parisian cafe culture.

Though most of the list-making is over, USAT also gets the award for best bitter-year-end compendium. Although the NYT's nifty photo feature manages to avoid mention of Jamie Lynn Spears.

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