Pentagon to create a military cybercommand; EU tells U.S. to lead by example on detainees.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 29 2009 6:30 AM

Obama Gears Up for War in Cyberspace

The New York Timesleads with word that a new military command for cyberspace is currently in the works at the Pentagon, bringing the United States one step closer toward conducting "both offensive and defensive computer warfare." Although President Obama still hasn't been formally presented with the plan, he is expected to sign a classified order in the next few weeks to create the "military cybercommand." The Washington Postleads with a look at how many of the European countries that had previously agreed to accept some Guantanamo Bay detainees are now saying, Hold on a minute, we won't take anyone until the United States does as well. Reacting to congressional opposition to resettling prisoners on American soil, European officials are saying their constituents won't stand for it if they give asylum to detainees and the United States doesn't do the same.

The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with news that Israel rejected the Obama administration's demands that it stop building settlements in the West Bank. After meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama said that if it wants to work toward peace, Israel's obligations must include "stopping settlements" as well as supporting a Palestinian state. The Israeli government said it won't budge on its position that building should be allowed as part of "natural growth," which U.S. officials say is a vague term that has been used as an excuse to continuously expand the settlements. USA Todayleads with an analysis of federal data that reveals the federal commitments made in the past year amount to an extra $55,000 for each U.S. household, a 12 percent increase driven mostly by the recession, as well as Medicare and Social Security costs. This increase brings federal obligations to a whopping $546,668 per household, which is quadruple what the average household owes in combined debt. The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the Los Angeles Unified School District is canceling most of its summer school programs as a result of the multibillion-dollar cuts in education financing that California is pursuing in its attempt to make sense of the state's budget mess.

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The WP had already previewed earlier this week that Obama was set to announce the creation of a new White House office to protect the nation's computer systems against attack that will be headed by a "cyber czar." That announcement will come tomorrow, at which point Obama will talk only about defensive capabilities. But the NYT reveals that the Pentagon will be creating its own military cybercommand that will work alongside the civilian agency. This cybercommand will not only work on defending U.S. networks but also figure out how best to use the "growing number of computer weapons in its arsenal." It's still not clear whether the military or the National Security Agency will be conducting the offensive operations, partly due to the concern that American spies can't operate on American soil. But what does seem indisputable is that the Pentagon now sees cyberspace as a crucial component of future wars. "[W]e consider cyberspace a war-fighting domain," a Pentagon spokesman said. "We need to be able to operate within that domain just like on any battlefield."

Interestingly enough, the WP talked to an official earlier this week who said the goal was that the new czar would be able to "pick up the phone and contact the president directly." But today, the NYT says the "position will not have direct access to the president," which is raising concern that it won't do enough to streamline the disparate efforts currently being worked on by different agencies.

Interior ministers from the European Union are trying to get the White House to agree, on paper, that some Guantanamo detainees will be transferred to the United States. But lawmakers are saying, Not in my backyard. Britain and France have each accepted one detainee, but the Obama administration has been unable to garner any other firm commitments from allies. The White House thought it had a good chance of resettling in Germany nine Uighurs, the much-written-about members of a Muslim ethnic group in China who a judge declared pose no security threat. But negotiations have come to a stand-still as German officials say they haven't received enough details about the Uighurs to independently confirm they're not a threat and reacted skeptically when the administration suggested they wouldn't be allowed to travel to the United States. "If the U.S. says they should come here, but they cannot travel to the U.S., we would have to ask why not?" said a German official. "Does that mean they are dangerous?"

In an interesting front-page analysis, the LAT says that most American presidents have worked hard to keep quiet on any disagreements with Israel. But the exchange of words between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the White House "underscored the unusually hard-line position Obama has taken publicly with Israel early in his administration." This has come as a surprise to many experts in the region who had confidently predicted both leaders would find a way to work together without publicly clashing. But Obama and Netanyahu weren't shy about highlighting their differences when they met at the White House earlier this month. "By contrast, Obama appeared to be in agreement Thursday with Abbas on most subjects the two discussed," notes the LAT. One former Mideast peace negotiator tells the paper that the words coming out of the White House represented "potentially a radical break" with previous administrations on the American position toward settlements.

In a dispatch from Gaza, the NYT likens the strip of land to "an island adrift" where its people "are cut off from any productivity or hope." Gaza has largely fallen off the world's radar since the war earlier this year, but it is bound to take center stage again as the Obama administration moves along in efforts toward peace negotiations. For now, Gaza is "suspended in a state of misery that defies easy categorization." Although living conditions are obviously poor, "it is better off than nearly all of Africa as well as parts of Asia." Still, it has no formal economy to speak of, so "tens of thousands" of professionals "have nothing to do but grow frustrated."

In a front-page piece, the WSJ takes a look at how there seems to be little doubt that General Motors will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday. There were encouraging signs that the company could get in and out of bankruptcy relatively quickly when the government offered bondholders "a sweetened deal" as long as they promised not to speak up against the automaker's reorganization in court. Key investors agreed. In the past few days, the administration has been working on figuring out a plan to handle the public relations around the GM bankruptcy differently than it did with Chrysler's. When Obama announced the Chrysler bankruptcy, he did so without any of the company executives present and chastised hedge funds for trying to profit from the company's woes, which angered many investors. It could take two to three months for GM to re-emerge from bankruptcy court and six to 18 months before the automaker becomes a publicly traded company again. In the meantime, the WSJ points out that the bankruptcy filing "would launch an unprecedented experiment in U.S. industrial policy" as the government seeks to watch out for the risky taxpayer investment, while also remaking a company and trying not to get "dragged into the weeds of daily decision-making," as the Post puts it.

The NYT goes inside with a look at how organic dairy farmers are facing hard times. For a while it seemed that going organic was a wise business decision, but the market for organic milk has faced a decline with the recession, and many farmers have had to decrease production or shut down. But as the LAT points out in a front-page piece, the plight of the dairy farmer is hardly isolated to those who chose to carry out the expensive conversion to organic. Dairy farmers in California and across the country can't keep up with the low milk prices, and many are finding themselves forced to sell their cows or get out of the business. Currently, California dairy farmers are being forced to sell milk at about half of what it costs them to maintain their herds. "The amount of wealth being destroyed in this industry every week is just mind-boggling," said a dairy farmer.

The NYT notes that as Microsoft planned its latest attempt to take on Google in the Internet search business, it knew it had to come up with a good name to rival a company whose name has entered the popular lexicon as a verb. Yesterday it unveiled its result: Bing. "Microsoft's marketing gurus hope that Bing will evoke neither a type of cherry nor a strip club on The Sopranos," notes the paper. Instead, they want people to associate it with "the sound of found." Techies were quick to point out it's also an acronym: "But It's Not Google."

Thirteen-year-old Kavya Shivashankar from Kansas, was crowned the nation's spelling champion yesterday. The eight-grader won $40,000 in cash and prizes when she was able to spell laodicean, which means lukewarm or indifferent to politics or religion.

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