Today's the day in Washington D.C.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 20 2009 3:56 AM

The Better Angels of our Nature

In a morning rife with sentiment and speculation, the New York Times leads with a long rumination on President-elect Barack Obama's leadership style as understood through his transition, casting him as a cool cucumber not afraid to get others hot under the collar. Michelle gets the same treatment, although focusing on how she might run the administration's domestic side. (Hint: She's delegated choosing the china.) The Washington Post devotes its entire front page to the city's party of the century, leading with a more academic preface to Obama's tenure: The inauguree will enjoy perhaps the most power in presidential history, both by virtue of his personal characteristics and President Bush's legacy of a stronger executive.

USA Today and the Los Angeles Times lead with more straightforward rundown s of questions that Obama will have to consider in his first weeks in office, focusing on security and foreign policy—more details inside the Post—but also including deficit management and the auto deal.

The Wall Street Journal, mercifully, largely confines its inauguration coverage to one lead article, with a peek at what Obama will address in his address (pssst: responsibility!) and a preview of what's on deck for the first day (closing Guantanamo and rescinding bans on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research and funding for abortion programs abroad).

The papers today suggest that this inauguration has been covered from more angles than any other in history, among them the reaction in places outside the political mainstream. The NYT fronts a snapshot of an unemployment center in Columbia, S.C., which illustrates that while the out-of-work may be jazzed about change in Washington, you can't eat hope. The paper also reports that Obama has made some headway in places where he didn't start out popular, namely Oklahoma. The WSJ takes another look at life not changing with new leadership, albeit much closer in: the poor neighborhood of Anacostia, just south of the Capitol in Washington D.C.

Beyond reports of long journeys and massive crowds, the inauguration's procedural aspect has an element of fun. The WSJ has an awesome profile of Emmett Beliveau, the walkie-talkie-toting man in charge of making sure the event—and, as the newly named director of advance, all of Obama's future appearances—goes perfectly. The Post's portrayal of D.C. hotel acrobatics is nearly as entertaining, and the LAT fronts a poignant illumination of the history behind the inaugural route: From the steps of the Capitol built by slaves, past the National Council of Negro Women headquarters, toward D.C.'s first integrated hotel one block from the White House.

There's still some old business to take care of, though. At the end of George W. Bush's pardoning power, he commuted the sentences of two border guards who shot an unarmed smuggler in the back. In all, Bush racked up 189 pardons and 11 commutations, in contrast to Bill Clinton's 396 and 61 respectively. The Patriot Act is still kicking, the LAT uncovers, having been used to prosecute 200 passengers for disorderly—but hardly terroristic—behavior on airplanes. Read carefully the Post's article about the conclusion to a fight over Vice President Dick Dick Cheney's records, because it's confusing: A federal judge ruled that there was no proof that he had been planning to destroy documents, as transparency advocates had alleged, so they will enter the National Archives unchecked. However, on other arguments of principle—such as whether the court even had jurisdiction in the matter—Cheney's office lost. Which, for the vice president yesterday, was just adding insult to injury.

Meanwhile, it seems like nothing has changed in Iraq, where tribes still vie for representation in ostensibly democratic provincial elections at the end of the month. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is telling everyone to participate, the Post reports, counteracting a sense of disillusionment with the result of the last elections in 2005.

Postmortems continue in the wake of Sunday's cease-fire in Gaza, as Israel pledged to accelerate its withdrawal enough to get all troops out by the time of Obama's inauguration. The official Palestinian death toll has passed 1,300—the Israeli body count stopped at 13—and Hamas said 5,000 homes had been destroyed. The Post and NYT both chronicle the human cost of that destruction, while the WSJ argues that Hamas has more support than ever.

After many false starts, the leaders of Russia and Ukraine finally put pen to paper on a 10-year agreement that will get gas flowing again to Ukraine and beyond. Russian oil monopoly Gazprom lost $1.5 billion on the two-week shutdown, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised negotiations would be "absolutely transparent" from here on out.

Fiat of Italy is nearing a deal to buy a large chunk of Chrysler, the Journal reports, in a move that could save both struggling automakers. Rather than paying in cash, Fiat is expected to take a 35 percent stake in the American company through retooling one of Chrysler's plants to produce Fiat models for sale in the States, as well as more efficient auto technology. In another survival move, the New York Times Co. sold about 18 percent of itself to Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim, raising $250 million in the short term—at 14 percent interest. London announced its own bank bailout boost, pumping billions more into the Royal Bank of Scotland as it became clear its first cash infusion hadn't stopped the bleeding. The latest move brings the British government's stake in RBS from 58 percent to 70 percent.

The WSJ also has one last inauguration gem, from one pair of sisters to another—an op-ed only two people in the world will ever need.

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.

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