President Obama targets insurgents in Afghanistan.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 8 2009 6:05 AM

Taking Down the Taliban

Drawing moderate members away from the Taliban may be the key to making progress in what President Obama considers to be a losing war in Afghanistan. The New York Times leads with an interview with the president in which he suggests that the strategies of stripping insurgents away from Sunni militias in Iraq may also allow the United States to make inroads against the Afghan insurgency. The Washington Postleads with news that the number of people defaulting on Federal Housing Administration loans before making a single mortgage payment has tripled in the last year. Following the crash of the subprime mortgage market, the FHA is the only option for homeowners with shaky credit histories, but quick defaults suggest improper lending. Furthermore, the FHA's once-reliable reserves are dwindling, which could eventually force Congress to bail out borrowers. The Los Angeles Timesreports that arrests of illegal immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border have dropped to numbers last seen in the 1970s. Poor economic prospects and increased law enforcement in the United States both seem to be dissuading Mexicans from attempting covert border crossings. 

Despite his addition of 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan last month, President Obama said that the United States is not winning the war in Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan is filled with various factions at odds with one another, identifying elements of the Taliban who might be open to reconciliation would pose a challenge to the United States. The president also said that there might be scenarios in which the United States will have to capture suspected terrorists abroad in countries with which the government does not have an extradition agreement. In the same interview with the NYT, the president said that he does not expect the economy to rebound this year but that Americans should not lose faith in United States financial institutions and hoard their money.

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As Obama tries to fight multiple fires in the early days of his presidency, the Democratic Party faces internal challenges of its own. The WP fronts news that Democrats are behind the many defense earmarks that have increased the Pentagon's budget in recent years, but President Obama declared last week that he would come down hard on profligate defense spending. Companies with defense contracts are worthy adversaries against Obama's efforts, though: With workers spread across many states or in key districts, they try to curry influence with an array of congressmen. Conversely, key Democrats are also questioning the president's spending plans. Whether the issue at hand is tax cuts or the Iraq war, not all Democratic leaders are behind Obama's plans to move forward, according to a broad front-page analysis in the LAT. Meanwhile, Page One of the NYT points to dissension among Republican ranks. A profile of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele points to his willingness to attack his own party's weaknesses.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to hold the next presidential election in August, at the suggestion of election officials who did not believe the country would be prepared to organize a fair, democratic vote this spring, as Karzai had previously advocated. The president's term expires in May, but it is unclear who will rule between then and the August election, which could lead to a messy transfer of power in an already "fragile" nation. The Afghan constitution calls for voting to take place before the end of a leader's term. Also in Middle Eastern politics, all the papers all report that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will resign from his post to facilitate "an interim power-sharing arrangement" between the rival Hamas and Fatah parties. The NYT and the WP express mild doubts that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could refuse the resignation. 

The WP fronts a trend story suggesting that growing immigrant populations in the United States are having an effect on interracial marriages. While the number of interracial marriages overall has increased during what some have dubbed a "post-racial" generation, U.S. census data actually show a decrease in these statistics in Hispanic and Asian-American populations. Among children of Asian and Hispanic immigrants, family expectations and their own desires to connect to their cultures are driving some to look for mates with comparable backgrounds.  

Two similar stories—one on the front page of the NYT, another inside the LAT—illustrate the anxiety college admissions counselors are facing about fall enrollment numbers. In California, public schools are being forced to cut enrollments just as more students are turning toward the less-expensive opportunities they offer. Private schools across the country, on the other hand, might have to both admit and wait-list more students than usual in order to meet enrollment targets despite families' tight purse strings and low consumer confidence.

A WP opinion piece worries that college students are regressing towards novel intended for tweens at the expense of taking an interest in more experimental literature. Stephanie Myers' Twilight series of vampire stories, books about Barack Obama, and a comedy compilation from the Onion have been the most popular among this year's co-eds. Apathy toward revolutionary literature, the author argues, corresponds with the lack of campus activism and a general tendency among today's parents to keep their children young as long as possible. 

But there's at least one precocious kid looking beyond the young-adult section in the bookstore. The NYT Style section profiles Jonathan Krohn, an eighth-grader from Atlanta who has become a conservative media darling overnight. The 14-year-old nabbed himself a spot on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington last week and impressed the audience with his articulate and fervent three-minute speech, which quickly surfaced on YouTube. After writing and self-publishing a short book on conservatism last year, the pint-size pundit foresees a career for himself as a political commentator. But first, he has to finish middle school.

TODAY IN SLATE

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