The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxlead with (and the Washington Postdevotes its top nonlocal spot to) President Bush's unannounced trip to Iraq. On Bush's fourth, and almost certainly last, visit to the country that will play a key role in defining his legacy, the president praised the new security pact as a sign of progress but warned that the "war is not over." Before flying off to Afghanistan, Bush got a firsthand taste of the anger many Iraqis feel toward him, when, during a news conference, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the president. The president managed to duck just in time and wasn't injured.
The New York Timesleads with a look at how states are running out of money to pay the growing number of unemployment claims and how some are already turning to the federal government for help or are increasing taxes on businesses. Funds to pay unemployment benefits could run out in 30 states over the next few months, while Indiana and Michigan are already borrowing money from the federal government to make up for shortfalls in their funds.
"This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog!" Muntader al-Zaidi, a reporter with the al-Baghdadia television network, shouted as he threw the first shoe. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!" Zaidi said as he threw his other shoe. Iraqi security guards wrestled Zaidi to the ground and removed him from the room. Throwing a shoe at someone is considered the worst possible insult in Iraq. The NYT points out that the Iraqi guards "kicked him and beat him" until "he was crying like a woman," as another Iraqi TV reporter put it. The president quickly joked about the incident: "All I can report is it is a size 10." But there was no getting around the fact that the caught-on-camera moment would be replayed across the world. It immediately became the defining moment of a trip that was supposed to highlight the security improvements in the war-torn nation.
Although Bush's trip was still planned with the same level of secrecy that marked his previous visits to Iraq, the NYT and LAT note that in a sign of the improved security conditions, the president's jet landed in broad daylight, and he didn't stay confined to military bases and the Green Zone. But in what could also be seen as a sign of how the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated while Iraq has improved, the WP points out that "the veil of secrecy for the Afghanistan leg was even more opaque than that for Iraq."
On his way to Afghanistan, Bush said the United States is implementing many of the same policies there as what helped bring progress to Iraq. The president said the mission in Afghanistan was "the same" as that in Iraq because the goal is to help the "young democracy develop the institutions so it can survive on its own" while denying "a safe haven for al-Qaida."
States are supposed to build up their unemployment funds during healthy economic times. But the fact that more than two dozen state funds could become insolvent in the next few months suggests that many failed to plan for a rainy day. And states that have been keeping unemployment tax rates at artificially low rates are being particularly hard-hit now. The funding shortfall puts states in a difficult position: Many already have huge deficits, and anything they borrow from the federal government has to be paid back.
The pain resulting from the increasing unemployment rate is spreading and is leading a growing number of homeowners to go into foreclosure, reports USAT. As opposed to last year, when foreclosures were largely driven by homeowners who took on risky loans, almost half of all foreclosures on conventional mortgages are now the result of unemployment. This is leading to worries that the housing market will take longer to recover, since growing unemployment could lead to even more foreclosures next year.
The NYT and WSJ front a look at the growing number of victims of what may be the largest Ponzi scheme in history. The list of prominent figures who plunged money into Bernard Madoff's investment firm now includes magnate Mortimer Zuckerman and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. In addition, the foundation of Nobel laureate and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and a charity run by Steven Spielberg also had money in Madoff's firm. The scandal also began to reverberate around the world as several European banks announced their clients could face billions of dollars in losses. Banks and financial advisers that sent money to Madoff could soon face lawsuits from angry clients who will question whether they knew enough about how Madoff ran his operations. Meanwhile, authorities are trying to figure out how one person could have operated such a huge scheme for so long. When Madoff was arrested after he apparently told his sons about the scheme, he told authorities that he acted entirely on his own to carry out the scheme that he said lost around $50 billion.
The WP fronts a look at how a last-minute change in the language of the $700 billion bailout package may end up making it more difficult for the government to make sure that companies that receive money from the government adhere to limits on executive compensation. At the behest of the Bush administration, lawmakers changed a sentence in the plan to specify that only firms that received money through selling their toxic assets to the government would be subject to penalties for breaking the rules on executive compensation. Now that the Treasury Department has decided to inject capital directly into the troubled firms many worry that there is no enforcement mechanism to make sure companies stick to the limits on executive compensation.
The WSJ fronts word that Google has approached major Internet service providers with a proposal to give faster access to the company's content on the Web. This is merely the latest example of the way the issue known as network neutrality is losing some of its biggest backers. Only two years ago, some of the biggest companies in the industry, including Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google, seemed determined to protect network neutrality. But now, these companies, along with some prominent Internet scholars, have switched tracks and are working on deals that would provide faster access to their Web sites. President-elect Barack Obama spoke up about defending network neutrality during the campaign, but some of his technology advisers are among those who have changed their view on the issue.
Shopaholics are having a harder time than usual keeping their credit cards inside their wallets during this holiday season, notes the WSJ. The holidays are always difficult for compulsive buyers, but the huge sales of this season mean that many are finding it impossible to keep their spending in check. The growth of Internet commerce, coupled with a constant barrage of too-good-to-be-true offers makes it easier for shopaholics to go on spending binges they'll later regret. And some stores seem to be courting compulsive buyers to spend more than they can afford. Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, offered 12 months of no interest and no payments for those who spend $2,000 in one day, a deal that one expert says is like "a crack dealer saying, 'Come here, try a sample.' "