All the papers lead with Ford Motor Co.’s announcement that it will close 14 factories and cut up to 30,000 jobs (the Wall Street Journal puts the number at 34,000) in the next six years. Ford’s plan, which it is calling the “Way Forward,” is the latest restructuring of the traditional American automakers as they’re forced to deal with stiff competition from foreign companies that are increasing their local market share. In November, General Motors announced that it would cut 30,000 jobs and close nine factories.
The Washington Postis quick to point out that Ford’s restructuring would eliminate almost a quarter of the company’s North American workers. The New York Timesquotes an analyst who says that because of the growth of foreign manufacturers, there has been “no net loss in American automotive jobs over the last 10 years,” although for the most part they’re not hiring the same kind of worker, choosing a younger workforce that is cheaper. The Los Angeles Timessays that Ford only specified five of the factories that will be closed, creating uncertainty among the company’s employees. While most papers report that Ford’s shares rose 5.3 percent after the announcement, the WSJ is the only one that points out the share is still $13.46 less than it was a year ago.
Last year, Ford lost $1.6 billion before taxes on their North American operations, while the company as a whole made a profit of $2 billion from its financial-services division and international operations. USA Todayquotes Bill Ford saying, “Today, we’re moving from a culture that discourages innovation back to a company that celebrates it,” by announcing that his company will focus on more hybrid cars, smaller vehicles, and cheaper prices. A WP piece in its business pages says that most are disappointed by Bill Ford’s first four years at the head of the company.
The NYT fronts a look at a draft document by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction that says U.S. reconstruction efforts have been plagued by problems from the beginning. A lack of staff, coupled with constant infighting, helped contribute to project delays. The Inspector General’s Office refused to comment, saying the draft copy is “incomplete.” The article also points out that after several changes in power, there was another one last month when the Army Corps of Engineers was given authority over $13 billion in reconstruction money.
The WP off-leads with a closed-door session of congressional Republicans last month where they agreed on a change to Medicare legislation that would save the health-insurance industry $22 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Although the House still has to approve it, the WP uses this as an example of the increasing trend of Republican leaders making key decisions without the public, or Democrats, present. Now that there is a lot of Washington introspection over the role of lobbyists, many are asking for an end to this kind of decision-making.
In other Abramoff fallout, the LAT gathers several examples of how lawmakers and their staff in Washington are more reluctant to be seen talking to, or accepting any gifts from, lobbyists. Restaurants around Capitol Hill are empty as politicians and their staff are even refusing lunch invitations. The NYT fronts a look at how several states have instituted or are working on new ethics guidelines as a reaction to what is going on in Washington.
All the papers go inside with the beginning of a weeklong media offensive by the White House to defend its national wiretap program. The deputy director of national intelligence told reporters that the program was “targeted and focused” and said that it had succeeded in gathering information they would not have otherwise been able to get. He went on to state that if the wiretapping had existed before 2001, it could have “detected some of the 9/11 al-Qaeda operatives in the United States.” In a speech at Kansas State University, President Bush also defended the program and denied that the it broke any laws.
All the papers also mention that, as in previous events in the last month, President Bush was relaxed and got a couple of laughs as he accepted unscripted questions from the audience in what the WP calls an effort to “rebut charges that he lives in a White House bubble.” He was caught most off guard when a student confronted him on cuts in student loans. The most uncomfortable moment though, and one that all the papers mention, seems to have been when a student tried to call to Bush’s rancher past and asked him for his opinion on Brokeback Mountain. Not surprisingly, the president said he hadn’t seen the movie, although he acknowledged that he has “heard about it.”
The NYT and WP go inside with word that the White House was told about the likely damage of Hurricane Katrina hours before the storm hit. A report by the Homeland Security Department delivered in the early hours before the storm struck said that there would be severe flooding and raised the possibility that the levees would fail.
The WP, NYT, and LAT front news that, as expected, Canadians gave the Conservative Party a victory, for the first time in 13 years. These elections are seen as a sign that Canadians are tired of the scandals that plague the Liberal Party and are ready for a change. Dramatic change is unlikely to come too quickly, though, because Stephen Harper and his party failed to win a majority in the House of Commons, so they will be forced to compromise.
A military jury chose to reprimand an Army interrogator who was convicted of killing an Iraqi general instead of imposing a prison sentence. Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. will also have to give up his $6,000 salary for four months, and for the next 60 days he will not be able to go anywhere other than his home, office, and church. He was originally charged with murder but was convicted of negligent homicide, which could have translated to three years in prison.
A new judge has been appointed to lead the trial of Saddam Hussein. Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman will replace the outgoing judge, who submitted his resignation after receiving criticism on the way he was handling the trial. Officials still say they are trying to talk him out of resigning.
USAT is the only paper that fronts the Supreme Court rejecting to hear a patent case involving the BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. An intellectual-property firm called NTP says RIM is infringing on its patents and has sued the company to get royalties. Theoretically, if the case is not settled, the company could be given 30 days to shut off its service, but everyone seems to agree that when the time comes RIM will pay NTP rather than lose its customer base.
What constitutes “essential truth,” anyway? … The NYT reports that other aspects of James Frey’s “memoir” A Million Little Pieces could be, well, lies. A former counselor at the rehab center that Frey allegedly went to approached producers on the Oprah Winfrey Show before the author was set to appear on the show to tell them that the depiction of his experience wasn’t exactly true. Since then, other counselors who worked there have also come forward to contest Frey’s allegations. These latest accusations now put what Frey has called the “essential truth” of the book into question.