Kick in the Pants

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 19 2008 6:36 AM

Kick in the Pants

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the roughly $145 billion economic stimulus package outlined Friday by President Bush. The White House arrived at the number by taking 1 percent of GDP, exceeding the expected $100 billion for onetime individual tax rebates for consumers, with half as much again for businesses in the form of an expansion of the deductions for investment in equipment. The administration sidestepped a few of the plan's worst potential hurdles by leaving details up for negotiation with Congressional Democrats (a strategy Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called "constructive ambiguity") and refraining from linking the proposal to making Bush's earlier tax cuts permanent. The proposal met with largely affable reactions on Capitol Hill, but the WP emphasizes that it failed to calm jittery markets, which continued their fall as the week closed.

Today's Nevada Democratic caucus and South Carolina Republican primary dominate election news. The WP fronts a look at the frenzied final day of campaigning in the GOP race, where Mike Huckabee is battling John McCain's veteran supporters with his own Christian evangelicals, both of whom are large constituencies in the pivotal state. South Carolina's political establishment is as divided as its electorate, with its Republican senators split between McCain, who's vowing to follow Osama bin Laden "to the gates of hell if necessary," and Mitt Romney, who's in a race for third with Fred Thompson. The NYT fronts below the fold an almost admiring study of Huckabee's ability to turn hard Christian right positions (such as an endorsement of a Southern Baptist statement declaring that a wife must "submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband") into moderate-seeming soundbites, but the paper buries a folksy profile of Fred Thompson on the trail.

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On the Democratic side, the LAT reefers an overview of the scene in Nevada, finding that while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are making a few concessions to the Nevadan audience with talk of issues like Yucca Mountain, the Western setting is still mostly a backdrop for their recurring themes of change and experience. But in the heightened atmosphere of a tie-breaking state, the WP says that Obama has learned to rigorously counter all the attacks levied against him by Senator Clinton, while weaving offensive barbs into his speeches.

The Democratic presidential contenders, breaking from their Congressional colleagues, blasted the White House's stimulus package for passing over those most in need: Although the Bush plan would grant an estimated $800 rebate to each individual taxpayer, 50 million people who make too little to pay income taxes in the first place would get nothing. Administration officials, however, tell the WP that these points are open for debate, and the compromise package—to be hammered out in a meeting Tuesday—could include an increase in the earned income tax credit as well as unemployment benefits. The LAT plays it as a sign that President Bush is taking the lead on the economy, while the NYT notes that both the White House and Congress have an interest in taking swift action, considering recent ominous economic indicators and both of their abysmal approval ratings.

Yesterday marked the beginning of Ashura, Shiite Islam's most important holiday, in which hundreds of thousands gather to worship in Basra and Nasiriya. This year, as the LAT fronts and the WP stuffs, adherents of a messianic cult called Supporters of the Mahdi are spreading chaos, hoping to hasten the return of the 12th imam. Eighty have died in clashes with Iraqi security forces, in the government's first major test in the region since the Americans and the British turned it over last month. The NYT has a surprisingly upbeat take, pointing out that government troops have protected the vast majority of worshipers.

Meanwhile, the LAT fronts a big picture of people still dying in Kenya, where supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga have begun to tear up railway lines to protest the contested presidential election, meeting with canisters of tear gas from police. According to the NYT, Friday marked the beginning of a period of relative calm after a tactical switch from mass rallies to boycotts of businesses allied with President Mwai Kibaki.

The NYT catches up to the WP's scoop yesterday on the CIA's conclusion that former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had been taken out by a Pakistani militant leader with ties to al Qaida. The WP, in turn, fronts the case of Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, a terrorist who took advantage of relatively cushy conditions at Fort Dix, N.J., to start a weapons stash and begin laying plans to attack his captors, while divulging some of the most valuable information gleaned yet on top al Qaida operatives.

The NYT features a look at how some high oil prices—those of "edible oils" like palm and canola—are affecting how much people eat, not just how much they drive. Factors like the rise of biofuels in vehicles and even bans on trans fats in United States cities leave poor people in South Asia especially without affordable cooking oil.

Covering the race that matters most in Los Angeles, the LAT puts no fewer than six reporters on the story developing around the film industry's biggest party: the Oscars, nominations for which are due out on Tuesday. Everybody's hoping and praying for a resolution to the Writers Guild of America strike—dressmakers! Studios! Millions of people around the world! The NYT gets into the act with an illuminating above-the-fold profile of the two leaders behind the picket lines.

The WP reefers and NYT and LAT front long obituaries of the international chess champion, anti-Communist hero, and madman Bobby Fischer, who died late Thursday. Check out the NYT piece for the best stories of his life, including a refusal of psychiatric help on the grounds that a psychiatrist should pay him for the privilege of working on his brain.

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.