The Los Angeles Times leads with news of the suicide bomber who killed eight (including five U.S. soldiers) and injured 60 in Mosul yesterday in a grim reminder of the continuing tensions in Iraq. The New York Times leads with an article forecasting a potential "showdown" between the banking industry and the government as they tussle over the next stage of the financial bailout. The Washington Post leads with a piece on the administration's struggle to assess the threat posed to the United States by Somali extremists with purported ties to al-Qaida. Al-Shabab, the nationalist group in question, is unaffiliated with the Somali pirates recently in the news for assaulting an American merchant ship. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that the American sea captain behing held hostage by those pirates failed in a swim-away escape attempt. (In another, separate Somali-pirate incident, a hostage was killed when the French navy attempted to recapture a hijacked yacht.)
Yesterday's bombing in Mosul marks the first time in more than a year that this many soldiers have died in one combat incident. The incident comes less than a week after the president's visit to Baghdad, where he reiterated his plans to withdraw all combat brigades from Iraq by 2010. The LAT article notes that Baghdad has seen a marked rise in violence in recent weeks and subtly but effectively challenges the notion that Iraq has, in fact, stabilized.
Who could have predicted that America's bailed-out banks would eventually resort to petty, unreasonable behavior? Many banks still need the TARP money but resent being told that they must rush to divest themselves, at a loss, of so-called toxic assets. Some banks, worried that Obama may start demanding Detroit-style management changes, are hastening to return the bailout cash while chastising the government for having the nerve to want a return on its investment. (They're trying to persuade the government not to exercise the stock warrants that it granted as a condition of each loan.) "Even though the government told us to take this money to increase our lending, the extra charge meant we had less money to lend. It was the equivalent of a penalty for early withdrawal," huffed one bank president. The nerve!
The Post's lead story on nonpirate Somali militants is an odd one, relying entirely on unnamed sources (two named sources are quoted indirectly) yet delivering none of the sensitive information that would seemingly justify anonymity. The gist is that nobody's quite sure whether al-Shabab are terrorists or just plain nationalists, and the administration is reluctant to rush to judgment one way or the other. Legitimate lead-story material—or something of a beat-sweetener? Someone's ego is being boosted by this last paragraph: "But many on the national security team insist that it is their caution and willingness to consider all aspects of the situation that differentiate them from the overly aggressive posture of the Bush administration that they say exacerbated the terrorist threat."
Anyway, back to pirates. The NYT profiles Richard Phillips, the cargo ship captain still being held hostage by Somali pirates in the wake of Wednesday's bungled hijacking. Although the Times tries mightily to find drama in the man's utterly ordinary life (he once broke his neck playing touch football! he occasionally plays the saxophone!), it turns out that there is nothing at all notable about Richard Phillips other than the fact that he was kidnapped by pirates. TP did appreciate this weird quote from a childhood neighbor: " 'Never any fanfare out of this guy,' said Mr. Carey, who has not seen the captain in years. 'If you went to a picnic and forgot your lunch, he'd give you half of his.' " Eat your heart out, Chesley B. Sullenberger.
An off-lead Post feature finds that George W. Bush is spending his retirement in much the same way that he spent his presidency—by surrounding himself with loyalists and staying inside his house. Although Bush left office with a 66 percent disapproval rating, the Post notes that the former president "lives squarely in the remaining 33 percent." The long, good feature is rife with the sort of sad, telling details that would not be out of place in a John O'Hara story—Laura Bush obsesses over whether the Obamas like the two chairs she left them as a gift; the couple, rather than cooking or eating out, subsist on "prepared meals from EatZi's, a local market."
The NYT fronts an interesting story about the corrupt Chinese coal-mining industry, in which mine owners bribe local officials and journalists for their help in covering up dangerous conditions and deadly accidents. In one recent and notorious case, it took three months for the central government to learn that 35 miners had died in an underground fire 100 miles west of Beijing. '"Everyone in Yu County thinks this accident was very typical,'" said one man. "'If Mao was still in power, these local officials would be executed."'
The WSJ asks the question that's been weighing on all of our minds: How is Loganville, Ga., dealing with the recession? The answer: Badly. It's not all shuttered storefronts and creeping unemployment, though—the LAT goes below the fold with a feature on various small American cities, like Sioux Falls, S.D., that have been relatively untouched by the recession. '"People didn't overextend themselves because they did not have the means to overextend themselves,"' said a local business-school professor.
World's worst Career Day speaker: The day's best lede, from the WSJ: "University of Texas plant physiologist Jerry Brand has spent the past decade lovingly tending the world's largest collection of pond scum."