The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Times lead with news that the unemployment rate reached 7.2 percent in December—the highest in 16 years. A report just released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that 524,000 jobs were lost last month alone and, at a level unseen since the end of World War II, 2.5 million jobs in the last 12 months. The Washington Post stuffs the story in the business section but mentions the statistic in its lead story with news that the Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to release the remaining $350 billion of bailout money. Senior Bush administration officials are working with the Obama transition team to determine which president will have the unsavory task of signing a veto to proceed with the unpopular bailout plan, as Congress is expected to deny the request for the funds. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with Israel and Hamas' rejection of a proposed United Nations Security Council cease-fire resolution. Yesterday, Palestinian militants fired 30 rockets at Israel, and Israeli planes attacked 50 targets in Gaza, where 789 Palestinians have died so far.
The total rate of unemployment may be even higher than 7.2 percent. If you include underemployed and discouraged workers, who have stopped looking for a job, the rate jumps to 13.5 percent, according to the NYT and WSJ, which fronts the story. An expert quoted in the LAT puts the total at 14.5 percent. Not only jobs but also hours have been cut, and the WP breaks the figures down by race and gender, showing losses for all. All signs indicate that unemployment will continue to worsen in 2009.
In the meantime, a request for the rest of the bailout funds could come as early as this weekend, with a vote taking place in Congress as soon as next week. Both Obama and Bush spokespeople indicate that it's just a matter of deciding whether President Bush will make the request on Obama's behalf, if the incoming president decides that he would like to have the funds at his disposal at the start of his term. If Obama were to ask for the money himself, he would start out on a shaky footing with congressional Democrats, who oppose the plan. Once the request is made, Congress has 15 days to vote it down before the funds are released to the Treasury; the only way in which the money would not be made available is if Congress voted to overrule a presidential veto of its vote.
The WP and the NYT front stories about backlash in the Arab world against the war in Gaza. The Egyptian government, which holds a peace treaty with Israel, will not allow people or food to cross the border freely into Gaza, "a decision that has been attacked by Islamic and Arab leaders and proved deeply troubling to many Egyptians," says the NYT. Inside the mosques of Cairo, Arabs are preaching against Israel, and support for extremist groups like Hamas is growing. In the street, Egyptian police stand guard to prevent rioting. The NYT also fronts a look at the tragic fate of the Samouni family, in whose house the papers reported four children were found lying dead next to their mothers earlier this week. Of the nearly 100 relatives who took shelter together, 30 have died from Israeli shelling and shooting that knocked down an entire wall of the house. Yesterday, Israel and Hamas also rejected a peace treaty proposed jointly by France and Egypt, in addition to the U.N.'s plan.
Inside the A section, all papers report that the Illinois House of Representatives voted to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on Friday for abuse of power. The Democratic governor is the first in the state's history to meet that fate and will face trial by the State Senate next. The vote was an overwhelming 114 to 1, but the governor shrugged it off as the inevitable result of years of the House going after his efforts to improve health care for the people of Illinois, reports the NYT. Meanwhile, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the missing signature from the Illinois secretary of state on a document appointing Roland Burris (D) to fill Obama's vacant Senate seat would not be necessary in order for Burris to assume the position. The WSJ notes that Burris' lawyers filed new paperwork with the U.S. Senate at the end of the day Friday and may bring the issue to federal court if he is not seated. Illinois State Rep. Jack D. Franks (D) called for an end to "the freak show which has become the Illinois government," but the Illinois Senate will still need a two-thirds vote in order to remove Blagojevich from office.
Also in Congress, the WSJ reports, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is advocating that the government put at least $50 billion of what's left of the bailout funds toward preventing home foreclosures. Rather than allow the money to help the remaining big banks buy up other healthy banks, Frank is pushing to use some of the funding in the Troubled Asset Relief Program to guarantee home loans.
The LAT suggests that the Obama administration will bring the United States into a new phase of post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism. Following Obama's (somewhat controversial) introduction of his intelligence team Friday, his administration is poised to cut many practices that became problematic under President Bush, including the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and "enhanced" interrogation tactics by the CIA. What remains to be seen, though, is what programs the Obama team will institute to move forward with counterterrorism efforts.
While some see Barack Obama's election as the beginning of a "post-racial" era in the American melting pot, the NYT fronts a story about immigrant families sending their children to charter schools because they see them as "havens where their children are shielded from the American youth culture that pervades large district schools." In Minnesota, an influx of immigrants in recent years has led to the founding of 30 international schools among the state's 138 charter schools, each of which tends to be focused on a specific immigrant community, thereby enabling students to learn or preserve their parents' culture along with mainstream American culture.
The WP reports that an Oxford physicist has invented "self-adjusting" eyeglasses to distribute to people in poor countries who cannot afford to see an optometrist and buy their own. Wearers use syringes to pump silicone oil into the lenses upon their first use until they reach optimum clarity. Sixty percent to 70 percent of Americans and Britons wear corrective lenses, and Joshua Silver hopes his, at $19 a pair, will help those in less fortunate countries see more clearly.
Former war correspondent Patte Barham, a member of an elite California family, is on a quest to find the lost crown jewels of the czar of Russia. Barham says her stepfather, formerly a Russian prince and aid to the executed Czar Nicholas II, told her he buried the "diamonds, Faberge eggs, imperial Russian crowns and tiaras, jewel-encrusted gold picture frames and opera-length strands of pearls, rubies, sapphires and diamonds … in seven coffins in a hole 7 feet square and 10 feet deep in the middle of Mongolia's Gobi Desert," the LAT reports in a front-page feature. Barham lost the hand-drawn map her stepfather gave her before his death but says she had memorized the location it marked and will mount an expedition to find the buried treasure.