Congressional negotiators agree terms for long-awaited fuel efficiency measures.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 1 2007 4:24 AM

Fuel on the Hill

The New York Times leads on news that lawmakers last night reached a deal on legislation that would force American automakers to improve their vehicles' fuel efficiency by 40 percent by 2020. The Washington Postleads on word that the number of Americans who contract HIV each year may be far higher than was previously thought. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that U.S. military officials in Iraq are softening their behavior toward Iran, with Pentagon moderates prevailing over advocates of a more confrontational line. The Wall Street Journal tops its online newsbox with criticism of government plans to freeze rates for subprime mortgages.

Despite bitter opposition from auto companies, congressional negotiators last night agreed to a plan to require average fuel efficiency ratings of at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a sharp increase from current levels. The move saw House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and auto-industry advocate John Dingell hammer out a compromise that should guarantee the legislation's passage in the House; the WSJ reports that Pelosi forced Dingell to drop language barring states from setting their own tailpipe standards but allowed automakers to retain a credit for producing cars compatible with gasoline-ethanol blends.

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For more than a decade, the Center for Disease Control has pegged America's annual number of new HIV infections at around 40,000; now, the Post reports, scientists believe the real figure may be closer to 60,000. (The WSJ reports slightly more conservative figures, suggesting that infection rates may only be 20 percent higher than previously thought.) The revised estimates spring from new testing techniques that distinguish between recent and long-standing infections; researchers warn the data has not yet been peer-reviewed. Meanwhile, President Bush called on lawmakers to double spending on a key international AIDS relief program to $30 billion over five years; the Post notes that the proposed hike would still constitute an easing off of year-on-year increases in AIDS relief.

The NYT off-leads on word that lawyers preparing to defend a 21-year-old Guantanamo detainee have been ordered not to reveal the identity of prosecution witnesses, highlighting the gap between military tribunal procedures and long-standing American judicial traditions. "Instead of a presumption of innocence and of a public trial, we start with a presumption of guilt and of a secret trial," said the detainee's lawyer.

The Post fronts word that the government is nearing a deal to freeze rates on subprime loans in a bid to keep a foreclosure crisis from spreading to the wider economy. The WSJ also gives the story big play on the front page, noting that while the plan has won kudos from the likes of Paul Krugman, some fear it may simply prolong the crisis. The NYT says it's too soon to tell whether the deal will bring adequate protection for at-risk homeowners.

Everyone reports a tense standoff in New Hampshire, where a man claiming to have a bomb burst into one of Hillary Clinton's campaign offices yesterday, holding four workers hostage for several hours before surrendering to police. In a splashy cover story, the Post notes that the suspect made repeated calls to CNN during the siege, complaining that he had been denied treatment for mental problems; the NYT reports that the man was known to local police for his erratic behavior.

Both the Post and the NYT report that Colombian security forces have recovered videos, photographs, and letters showing that 15 hostages held by the country's FARC rebels—including three Americans and the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt—were still alive recently. Relatives called for renewed efforts to secure the captives' release.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States yesterday, accusing Washington of trying to sabotage tomorrow's referendum on reforms that would bolster the Venezuelan leader's authority and potentially allow him to remain in office indefinitely. The Post notes that Chávez's bluster serves a purpose: "He's decided that his best tactic to recover the control of his movement is to instill fear in his people that there's a world conspiracy against Venezuela," says one analyst.

Both the NYT and the WSJ run editorials dismissing the Venezuelan president's proposed constitutional overhaul as a power grab; the NYT also carries an op-ed from Raúl Isaías Baduel, Chávez's longtime ally, in which the former army chief laments the failure of the Bolivarian revolution and calls for Venezuelans to reject the reforms. "Venezuela will thrive only when all its citizens truly have a stake in society," he writes. "Consolidating more power in the presidency through insidious constitutional reforms will not bring that about."

Russians also go to the polls tomorrow, bringing to a close a parliamentary campaign marked by sharp anti-Western rhetoric; the Post reports that President Vladimir Putin kept up the show yesterday, suspending his country's participation in a treaty limiting Russian and NATO military deployments in Europe. On the paper's op-ed page, Masha Lipman criticizes the president's increasingly strident approach: "Mustering public hatred against enemies real or imagined, political, social or ethnic, may be disastrous in Russia's weak and intolerant society."

The WSJ profiles former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who after leaving office was reduced to doing ads for Pizza Hut. He's now backing Vladimir Putin even as the Russian president chips away at his democratic legacy. The paper also carries a piece by Garry Kasparov—recently jailed for leading an opposition march—lambasting Putin's heavy-handed tactics. "There is little doubt tomorrow's parliamentary elections will be as fixed as my trial," he writes. "The ground is being prepared for greater oppression."

After a career that saw him break at least 38 bones and spend three years in hospital, motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel died of natural causes yesterday at the age of 69, inspiring nostalgic appreciations. "It's been coming for years, but you just don't expect it," a friend told the AP. "Superman just doesn't die, right?"

Ben Whitford writes for the Guardian, Mother Jones and Newsweek.

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