Obama gets ready to play hardball with GM.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 3 2009 6:36 AM

When the Deal Goes Down

The New York Times leads with a look at how the Obama administration took a hard line on Chrysler's bankruptcy proceedings in order to strengthen its hand in upcoming negotiations with GM—a much bigger company with many more stakeholders. The Los Angeles Times leads with an investigative feature  called "Failure Gets a Pass," about the near-impossibility of firing nonperforming teachers in California, and it goes up top with analysis that says Obama can no longer blame his problems on Bush. The Washington Post leads with a look at Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe's "hucksterish" business ties, and its top national story is a scenic profile of Justice David Souter's quiet New Hampshire hometown.

When President Obama allowed Chrysler to go bankrupt last Wednesday and blasted "a small group of speculators" for scotching a negotiated deal, he was sending a message to GM's creditors. The White House wanted to show that a Detroit-friendly Democratic president "really [is] willing to let a company dissolve, and there's not going to be an open checkbook"—toughness that will give Obama leverage as he prepares to take a majority stake in GM and fundamentally restructure the company. (That task will be far more fraught than reorganizing Chrysler, because GM is much larger and Obama will be in direct control of the company, forcing job cuts in the middle of a recession.)

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The LAT investigation goes into depressing detail about "firing a teacher is almost too hard to try" in L.A. schools—citing, as an example, a teacher who was reinstated even though he made fun of a suicidal student and told him to cut his wrists deeper. Poor teaching is almost never grounds for dismissal, according to the study, and serious misconduct—such as a teacher keeping marijuana and vials with cocaine residue at school—is only punished about half the time.

McAuliffe, the Democratic fundraiser-turned-gubernatorial candidate, is selling himself to Virginians as a potential dealmaker-in-chief, able to rope in jobs the way he has often used his political contacts to rope in lucrative real-estate and banking deals. (As the piece makes clear, this often involves really whacky schemes.) But the WP thinks his image could be a liability in the age of populist anti-business rage.

The NYT off-leads an informative look at Obama's judicial philosophy and how it will likely shape his judicial appointments. Interviews with past law students and colleagues reveal that he is: a "minimalist" who is skeptical of courts' ability to restructure society and believes that decisions should be left with legislatures, a "pragmatist" who is concerned with the law's impact on real life and disdains overly theoretical decisions, a "structuralist" who is concerned about the way law affects society's distribution of power, and something of a centrist who values public opinion and often disappoints doctrinaire liberals.

The LAT's off-lead recaps this week's political events, arguing that Obama has accomplished enough that he now has ownership over the country's problems and he can no longer blame George Bush.

After 19 years, Justice David Souter will leave the Washington social scene he hates—he still hasn't unpacked the boxes he moved in with—and return to the quiet New Hampshire town of Weare. Take-away from the WP piece: Boy is Weare, N.H., quaint.

The WP fronts news that wage growth is stagnating throughout the country—an unusual and menacing development since wages are usually "sticky" and businesses rarely resort to pay cuts. According to a WP poll, the number of Americans whose households have experienced wage or hour cuts is up by 9 percent since February. And because wages are stagnating, the NYT says, Social Security will not increase its cost-of-living adjusted payouts in 2010 or 2011.

The NYT and LAT both front the death of former quarterback and congressman Jack Kemp, who was largely responsible for convincing the Republican Party to adopt the doctrine of supply-side economics. As both papers note, Kemp considered himself a "bleeding-heart conservative" who developed an affinity for racial minorities during his football days and strove to open the Republican Party to them: "I can't help but care about the rights of the people I used to shower with."

The WP fronts a Dan Brown-ish look at the CDC's "disease detectives" on their race to piece together the mysteries of the H1N1 virus, as cases started appearing in Southern California and then Mexico, Texas, and Canada. The LAT stuffs a nearly identical piece.

The WP and LAT both front looks at victims of China's Sichuan earthquakes, one year after the disaster. The WP focuses on official repression—the parents of schoolchildren killed in the quakes have been tailed and harassed by local authorities, even as the government hurries to construct new schools—while the LAT says the quakes have prompted a "baby boom," as the grieving parents rush to have new children who can support them as they age.

The NYT fronts a ground-level look at improving race relations in America, following a new poll that shows dramatic shifts in racial attitudes since last summer. Dozens of interviewees say that President Obama's election has altered their everyday interactions, creating a sense of unity and trust.

And the NYT and WP go inside with the collapse of credible political opposition to Hamid Karzai's re-election in Afghanistan. Gul Agha Shirzai, the only candidate popular enough to challenge Karzai and win, abruptly terminated his candidacy after a four-hour meeting with Karzai on Friday night. But even though he has cleared the way for another term, Karzai still has to deal with deep popular dissatisfaction at home and in Washington, where he's scheduled to meet with Obama this coming week.

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