Obama will announce new standards for vehicle emissions and increase fuel-efficiency targets.

Obama will announce new standards for vehicle emissions and increase fuel-efficiency targets.

Obama will announce new standards for vehicle emissions and increase fuel-efficiency targets.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 19 2009 6:54 AM

Fuel Efficiency in the Fast Lane

All the papers lead with news that President Obama will announce new standards for automobile emissions and increase fuel-efficiency targets. The new regulations will mark the first time that the government will set rules on automobile emissions and combine them with fuel-economy standards. The rules would require new cars and light trucks sold in the United States to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, four years earlier than required under federal law that was passed in 2007. The Wall Street Journaldeclares that the move "would accelerate the largest government-mandated transformation of vehicles on the American road since the late 1970s and early 1980s." The Los Angeles Times calls it a "potentially pivotal shift in the battle over global warming" as well as "a vindication of California's long battle to toughen standards."

The Washington Postreports that the new rules came as a result of negotiations between the administration, California, and the auto industry that have been going on "since the first days of the administration." Everyone characterizes this as a win for all the parties involved. California has long asked for a waiver to set its own emissions standards but has now agreed to accept the federal limits, which amounts to pretty much what it wanted except the automakers have more time to adjust. For their part, the automakers get the national standard they have long been craving and will be dropping their legal challenges against California. The new standard, coupled with other requirements Congress passed in 2007, would increase the average cost of a car by $1,300. The New York Timesstates that the new standard "will create a car and light truck fleet in the United States that is almost 40 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016 than it is today." The administration says the new regulation will reduce U.S. oil consumption by 5 percent a year. USA Todaypoints out that if the new rules push automakers to build smaller cars, "highway safety could decline" since they're less safe in crashes.

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The LAT and WP front, while everyone covers, claims by the Sri Lankan government that Tamil Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed yesterday, effectively bringing to an and the 26-year civil war that killed around 100,000 people. Throughout his years at the helm of the rebel group, Prabhakaran "created one of the most ruthless and sophisticated insurgencies, with many of the tactics he pioneered becoming standard procedure for militant groups around the world," declares the LAT. The NYT points out that some believe the insurgency will come back using the militant tactics that were a hallmark of its existence, such as suicide bombings. But many others say that without Prabhakaran, the Tigers don't have anyone else to lead them. Everyone points out that it was Prabhakaran's ruthlessness and unwillingness to compromise with the government as he fought for a Tamil homeland that led to the destruction of the movement he had built over the years.

While people in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital, celebrated in the streets, many within the Tamil community stayed indoors, afraid of what this development could mean for them. Even though many Tamils had long grown wary of the war, they still often saw the Tigers as their "only hope against the discrimination and alleged human rights abuses" of the government, notes the Post. Now many within the Tamil community are worried this victory over the Tigers will translate into violence against them.

The NYT fronts a look at how banks will now be looking at ways they can make more money from some of their best customers. Well, "best customers" might be how you commonly think of the people who pay their bills in full and on time every month, but they're actually called "deadbeats" in the industry because they don't generate much revenue for the companies. These customers have not only failed to give much revenue to the poor credit card companies, but they dared to demand things like cash-back rewards and frequent-flier miles. That may soon be a thing of the past. Now that Congress wants to impose limits on how much the companies can charge riskier borrowers, they're looking at how they can increase revenue from those with good credit. Banks are likely to bring back annual fees, cut back reward programs, and charge interest immediately upon a purchase. Or at least that's what banks want people to believe as they furiously lobby lawmakers, who are discussing a wide variety of rules that could soon be imposed on card companies. "Those that manage their credit well will in some degree subsidize those that have credit problems," said the head of the American Bankers Association.

The NYT fronts word that Zamay Khalilzad, the former ambassador to Aghanistan, might soon take up a powerful position inside the Afghan government. Khalilzad has been in discussions with Hamid Karzai to take on a government position that would essentially be the chief executive officer of Afghanistan. There has been lots of talk that Khalilzad might run for president, but he missed the filing deadline. The move would benefit Karzai, not only because it would help get a potential rival on his side but also because Khalilzad is widely respected in the United States and his appointment would come at a time when the administration has made it obvious that it is growing tired of Karzai. But officials insist the administration had nothing to do with the arrangement.

In a really strange piece—particularly for the front page—the LAT's Ann Powers writes a preview of the American Idol finale beginning tonight that is so schmaltzy it's uncomfortable to read. Apparently, American Idol can teach us After-School Special lessons! The Fox money-making machine "is vividly illustrating how people with cultural differences can make beautiful music together." Huh? In case you haven't been tuning in, it turns out that the finalists are: one gay guy and one Christian guy. Both white. And preppy. And innocuous. But really diverse! And they're "polar opposites" but specialize in variations of emo. One's gay—but doesn't really talk about it beyond saying "I know who I am"—and the other's Christian and did missionary work, but—get this—they're friends on TV! "The friendship between the two finalists suggests that tolerance can trump ideology," writes the LAT, "a powerful sentiment that echoes President Obama's suggestion that bridging differences could be more effective than trying to eradicate them." As long as the gay one doesn't talk about liking men, of course.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.