Israel declares a cease-fire as the U.S. gears up for Inauguration Day.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 18 2009 6:24 AM

All Eyes on Washington

The Washington Postand the Los Angeles Timeslead, and the New York Times off-leads, with word of Israel's unilateral cease-fire, declared late Saturday. Israeli soldiers remain in Gaza nonetheless, and Hamas has asserted that it will keep fighting until the troops leave. More than 1,200 people have died during 22 days of airstrikes and ground assaults, and much of the Gaza Strip has been obliterated in the process. The NYT leads with figures from a NYT/CBS News poll reporting that 79 percent of Americans are optimistic about Obama's presidency—a sharp contrast to the record-low 22 percent approval rating with which President Bush leaves office. The other papers off-lead with inauguration-related stories and photos of the Obamas' and Bidens' symbolic train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., yesterday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that "Hamas was hit hard" during more than three weeks of fighting, but he also said that Israeli troops would continue fighting if Hamas failed to put down its weapons. The tenuous cease-fire followed a day of heavy Israeli bombardment and criticism from the United Nations after an Israeli attack killed two young brothers (ages 5 and 7) in a U.N. school. The LAT frames the cease-fire as an Israeli decision to start out on good footing with Barack Obama when he is takes office on Tuesday, but Israeli citizens and military experts alike express skepticism that it will hold. At a summit in Egypt today, hosted by the presidents of Egypt and France, representatives from the U.S., the U.N., and other nations will discuss reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip and endeavor to prevent weapons smuggling into that region.

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On a more celebratory note, the papers look ahead to Tuesday and glance back into history with stories on the Obamas' and Bidens' train ride to Washington yesterday. The inaugural tradition, begun by Abraham Lincoln in 1861, continued this year with an abbreviated version of Lincoln's journey, punctuated by speeches in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore. Invoking a serious tone throughout the seven-hour trip, Obama called for "a new declaration of independence … from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry—an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels." The WP frames the ride as Obama's "history lesson" tying together subtle references to Lincoln throughout his campaign, including the announcement of his candidacy in Springfield, Ill., in 2007. An adjacent front-page piece suggests how times have changed, arguing that blacks and whites are finally mingling socially among Washington's elite.

The NYT stuffs its train story inside the A section but fronts an analysis of how the world—and Obama's views of it—has changed in the nearly two years since he began his campaign for the presidency. The LAT off-leads its own symbolic journey, as a reporter and a photographer wrap up the six-week cross-country road trip to D.C., during which they surveyed the opinions of resilient and hopeful Americans from state to state. One 22-year-old they met on a bicycle in New Mexico in December was bound for the inauguration, and "he will pedal into Washington today"—albeit in much colder temperatures than those where he began.

After an interesting NYT piece last weekend on Minnesota charter schools geared toward immigrants, the LAT fronts a different perspective on the experience of certain immigrant youths in that state. It turns out a number of young Somali-Americans have returned to Africa to join the Islamic militia in their native country. The FBI estimates that between 12 and 20 youths from Minnesota have left the U.S. to join a Taliban-like group that American authorities view as a terrorist organization. One 27-year-old man is thought to be the first American-citizen suicide bomber, following rumors that he was responsible for a bombing that killed 30 people in Somalia last fall. Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali immigrant community in the U.S., but the FBI is also keeping an eye on other cities, including Boston, San Diego, and Seattle, as it investigates the possibility of terrorist recruitment.

Meanwhile, tensions are also flaring in North Korea, where the military proclaimed an "all-out confrontational posture" against South Korea yesterday. In a remark to an American scholar, North Korean officials suggested they had enough plutonium to make six or more nuclear bombs.

A profile in the LAT looks farther north to Siberia and an ecologist who is trying to save Lake Baikal from the environmentally apathetic Russian government. Despite harassment, Marina Rikhvanova is trying to protect the world's largest, 25-million-year-old freshwater lake from Vladimir Putin's plans in recent years to run a gas pipeline near the lake and open a uranium-enrichment plant nearby.

In the "Week in Review," the NYT draws attention to all that has changed in American society and government since Kennedy's New Frontier, one of the more plausible analogues to the nascent Obama administration. In doing so, it hearkens back to an era in which women and African-Americans were second-class citizens, national security did not include pre-flight screening, people consumed their news in 15-minute evening TV broadcasts, and the U.S. was in high standing with the rest of the world. Also inside "Week in Review" is a comprehensive guide to Inauguration Day speeches, crowds, parties, and more. But it's the WP that really gets the goods with one piece in the Style section on the $4.96 inaugural ball-gown that has one woman giddy with the satisfaction of spending a total of $70 on her entire ensemble, and another on baffled first-time tuxedo-wearers trying to outfit themselves for the big night. There's hope yet, though: The LAT concedes that the Obamas might—gasp!—bring fashion to Washington.

The Washington Post "Book World" reviews Gwen Ifill's new book, The Breakthrough, about the coming generation of black politicians. The book views Obama "as one, fairly typical member of a breakthrough generation of African American politicians," who grew up during and after the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr. as a role model and widened access to education.

In the NYT, Maureen Dowd has some parting words for George W. Bush, as she compares the 43rd president to the incoming one. In considering the upcoming transition of power, Dowd says of the two men, "One seems small and inconsequential, even though he keeps insisting he's not; the other grows large and impressive." Don't let the door hit you on the way out, W.

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