Bailout, With Strings Attached
The two biggest stories in the papers continue to be the U.S.'s economic crisis and the fallout from the terror attacks in Mumbai, with attention increasingly focused on Pakistan. The Washington Post leads with progress made on an auto industry bailout: Democrats are advancing a new plan that would loan $15 billion to automakers while taking broad authority to manage the companies' operations. The Los Angeles Timesleads with Barack Obama saying that the country's economic woes "are going to get worse before they get better" and supporting the Democrats' bailout plan.
The New York Times leads with U.S. counterterrorism officials taking a closer look at the group behind the Mumbai attacks, which has links both to Pakistan's intelligence service and to al-Qaida. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a catchall of Pakistan news, including an attack on a transportation depot in northwestern Pakistan that resulted in the destruction of "scores" of vehicles taking supplies to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. USA Today leads with an interview with the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who says he needs nearly double the number of troops over several years to stabilize the country.
The new Democratic auto bailout plan would create a seven-person government board, consisting mainly of Cabinet secretaries who would oversee the companies' restructuring. The proposal would also ban any dividend payments or executive bonuses as long as the loans were outstanding. All the papers quote President-elect Obama supporting the bailout but talking tough about the companies' executives: "If this management team that's currently in place doesn't understand the urgency of the situation and is not willing to make the tough choices and adapt to these new circumstances, then they should go," he said.
Some in the auto industry are looking to an authority higher than Congress for help, too: The NYT has a dispatch from a Detroit Pentecostal megachurch where the bishop, in a sermon titled "A Hybrid Hope," prayed for a bailout. The story includes priceless photos of gleaming white SUVs on the altar.
Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group implicated in Mumbai, has received support from Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, which "has shared intelligence with Lashkar and provided protection for it, the officials said, and investigators are focusing on one Lashkar leader they believe is a main liaison with the spy service and a mastermind of the attacks," the Times writes. But that support was now more in the past, the Times notes. Lashkar "has outgrown ISI's support," one analyst says. In fact, Pakistan carried out a raid on a Lashkar camp on Sunday though, as the LAT points out, it's not yet clear whether or not the raid was serious or symbolic.
The LAT also features Lashkar on the front page, focusing on its recruitment of westerners, in particular Britons and Americans. Both the LAT and the Journal, in stories on how Lashkar indoctrinates young members, note that the group is a sort of minor-league terror group, being easier for foreign would-be jihadis to join than the better known al-Qaida. Famous alums include Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.
And it doesn't just happen to Sarah Palin: The Post stuffs a story about how someone pretending to be the Indian foreign minister prank-called the Pakistani president's office threatening Indian military action. Pakistan apparently took the threat seriously enough to put its air force on high alert. India says Pakistan's publicizing of the story is a ploy to deflect attention from its citizens' role in the Mumbai attacks.
The Journal apparently broke the news that the Tribune Co., publisher of newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, was exploring options for bankruptcy and had hired an investment bank known for its debt-restructuring prowess. But the LAT followed up and got an interview with a company executive: "Revenue declines have been dramatically worse, even over the last couple of weeks. It's just really rough … A number of advertisers just don't have the money to spend right now."
Also in the papers … the CEO of Merrill Lynch is arguing that he should get a bonus of $10 million, while those in charge of such things argue that despite his apparent skill in managing the mess the company is in (he's only been boss for a year) public mood is against huge executive bonuses. The Journal airs the dirty laundry on the front page. Russia is using the financial crisis to renationalize strategic industries, particularly in natural resources, the NYT reports on Page One. Writing music for video games is fast becoming a lucrative market for composers, paying up to $2,000 per minute of music, and music schools are offering classes in scoring games, the LAT reports. Unmanned aircraft will soon be patrolling the U.S.-Canada border, says the NYT.
Joshua Kucera is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.