Today's Papers

Caucus Countdown

The New York Times leads with an analysis of the situation in Pakistan, saying it is now local militants and not just foreign agitators who are threatening the country’s security. The Los Angeles Times leads with presidential campaigns making their final dashes to the Iowa caucuses. The Washington Post leads with former President Bill Clinton stumping for Sen. Hillary Clinton in Iowa.

The NYT argues that last week’s assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto showed that Pakistan’s terrorism problem has spread beyond foreign fanatics to encompass local militants. An American intelligence official tells the paper that the point of last week’s murder likely wasn’t Bhutto’s elimination but to destabilize the government with civil unrest.

The LAT continues casting serious doubt on the official explanations of Bhutto’s death. The paper comes out up front and claims that either the government is unable to control the militant groups or it is working with them, or both. Bhutto supporters want to exhume her body to compare it with the government’s official cause of death: blunt head trauma. The WP notes that unsolved political murders are far from atypical in Pakistan.

Rioting continues in Pakistan, with the violence claiming at least 40 lives according to the WP, which reports that government officials may postpone the Jan. 8 elections. The paper also says the United States is still intent on backing President Pervez Musharraf as a bulwark against extremism. The NYT says onetime Bhutto foe Nawaz Sharif is seeking to use the assassination to create an opposition alliance against Musharraf.

The LAT says (and everyone else agrees) that Thursday’s Iowa caucus should be one of the most competitive and unpredictable ever. The latest polls show a virtual three-way tie between Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, and former Sen. John Edwards on the Democratic side, as well as a statistical dead heat between former Govs. Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney for the Republican nod.

The WP’s choice of lead is puzzling. Not just because they’re treating a man endorsing his wife as front page news, but because of how neatly it parrots the Clinton campaign’s rhetoric. A dissenting voice doesn’t appear until the story’s 10th paragraph, and after that the focus goes right back to expounding on the Clinton campaign message.

Farther down the page, the LAT reports that Obama’s popularity among registered independents in New Hampshire could be dangerous to Sen. John McCain. Independents can only vote in one party’s primary, and both men will need substantial independent support if they’re going to win in the Granite State.

The WP’s off-lead reports that candidates for president will, from time to time, say things which may not be precisely true. The paper concludes that even though everybody loves catching liars at their work, the cost-benefit ratio for deceit still tilts in favor of making stuff up.

The NYT’s take on Iowa looks at efforts by the Clinton and Obama campaigns to get more Iowans involved in the caucus. While both groups are using sophisticated targeting methods and computer programs to find new supporters, getting voters to show up can take a more hands-on approach. The Clinton campaign is preparing to shovel walkways if it snows on Thursday, while Obama staffers will babysit for supporters.

First the CIA began taping interrogations because it was trying to avoid a scandal, because it looked like a wounded prisoner might die in custody. Then it stopped taping interrogations because it wanted to avoid a scandal when water-boarding was introduced. Then it destroyed the tapes because it was worried they’d be leaked to the press. But the truth came out anyway, and now the agency has to cope with the public relations nightmare it’s been trying to avoid all along. It’s all there in the NYT’s horribly ironic off-lead story.

Rolled-over car loans are the new ridiculous mortgages, says the LAT. Buyers are rolling outstanding debt from one vehicle to the next, saddling themselves with cars loans worth a great deal more than their car.

A boom in the use of off-road vehicles on public lands has created a whole new set of headaches for government administrators, environmentalists, and off-road enthusiasts, according to the NYT.

The WP reports that children are showing an interest in charity earlier than ever, as philanthropic efforts by kids, acting both solo and in groups, are on the rise.

The NYT writes that the Chinese government may allow Hong Kong to elect its leader … in 2017.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to redefine the poverty line and hopes other areas will follow his lead, says the NYT.

The NYT reports on the almost masochistic lure that Division I basketball holds for small colleges.

The WP fronts an excellent feature on a raucous, violent game called ba’ that’s only played twice a year in one small town off the cost of Scotland.

… And Never Brought to Mind …

The NYT Magazine features obituaries of some less famous, but still quite interesting, people who have died in the past year.