Today's Papers

Balkan Balkanization

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with the emergency Arab League summit meeting about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The New York Times goes with two class action lawsuits filed in Tennessee alleging racial discrimination in the car loan industry.

At the emergency summit in Cairo, Arab leaders aimed for peace by disavowing calls for a jihad against Israel, but they also issued some defiant rhetoric and considered serious diplomatic reprisals against Israel. Representatives for 22 Arab nations, gathered for the first time in more than a decade, discussed giving Palestinian groups $1 billion in aid, demanding war crimes trials against Israelis, and requesting that Egypt and Jordan sever diplomatic ties with Israel. They hope their strong and unified stand against Israel will help ease violent tensions throughout the Middle East. Israelis and Palestinians continued to clash in Gaza during the summit, and three or four or more (NYT says three, LAT says four or more) Palestinians died.

The NYT stuffs the summit article and fronts instead a story reporting that Israel is drawing up a plan for unilateral separation if peace talks totally break down. If Israel separates, it would seal its borders (after annexing the Jewish settlements) and end the free flow of goods and labor to and from the territories. Separation is a complicated matter because the Israelis and the Palestinians share water and electricity and otherwise depend on each other economically, but many Israelis seem psychologically ready for it. Palestinians would suffer more from separation because their economy is significantly smaller, but it would be bad for both economies in the long run. Normally, 120,000 Palestinians cross into Israel for work each day.

The NYT lead about car loan bias congratulates itself for its own scoop in the second paragraph, explaining that the cases were sealed for two years until the NYT (and the ABC News television show 20/20) filed a motion to unseal them. The lawsuits are important because they could focus attention on a discriminatory consumer credit industry and persistent racism in the marketplace, which is difficult to prove. Automobile finance companies set interest rates for the car loans they offer, but individual dealers are allowed to raise the rates if they feel like it. The plaintiffs claim that blacks in Tennessee are twice as likely as whites to pay inflated interest rates and that the inflated rates for blacks are twice as high as inflated rates for whites. The defendants are two giant finance companies, General Motors Acceptance and Nissan Motors Acceptance. They argue that they should not be held accountable if individual dealers discriminate (the plaintiffs claim the companies and the dealers work in concert) and that the interest rate disparity is actually attributable to credit rating, not race. The Justice Department has joined the plaintiffs in one case, and the American Financial Services Association is assisting with the defense.

The NYT fronts a report that both Al Gore and Madeline Albright blasted a George W. Bush proposal to recall U.S. troops in the Balkans. Bush security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. should provide intelligence and logistics support but not troops for the NATO peacekeeping units in hot spots like Bosnia and Kosovo because American troops are overextended. U.S. troops currently make up about a fifth of the 65,000-member NATO force in the Balkans. Gore claimed such a move could threaten NATO and peace in Europe in the long term. Albright pointed out that even the statement could do considerable short-term damage to the integrity of upcoming elections in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Serbia. “I am secretary of state of the United States until noon on January 20,” Albright said, “and this is damaging to American foreign policy.”

In other political news, the LAT reports on the battle between the NRA and the AFL-CIO for blue-collar votes. The gun lobbies and the unions are the strongest political organizations in key swing states like Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio, and they vie for the same voters. The WP fronts a huge Gore ad buy. The new Gore spots will focus on the claim that Gore first made during the last debate, that Bush promises $1 trillion in Social Security funds twice. The race is still very tight, but Gore did not get the post-debate bounce he was hoping for. The rest of the campaign revolves around electoral strategy about where and how to spend resources.

Saturday Afternoon Lights: The NYT runs a weird story about Al Gore’s perfect attendance at his son’s high school football games. His staff really admires his devotion to family, but they resent that he gives up valuable Saturday campaigning time. Campaign Chairman Bill Daley recently asked Gore to skip a game, but he refused. The paper suggests that part of the reason he cares so much is that his father never made time to attend his high school football games.