Today's Papers

The Year Storms Out

The New York Times leads with a call by Pakistani opposition politician Nawaz Sharif for the immediate resignation of current president Pervez Musharraf. The statement came amid predictions by Pakistani officials that next Tuesday’s elections will be delayed until the end of January. The Los Angeles Times leads with the front-runners in the Democratic race vying to become the second choice among supporters of less popular candidates, who will possibly be shifting if their selected candidates fail to win the required minimum support at Thursday’s Iowa caucuses. The Washington Post leads with a rise in D.C. gun violence in 2007, with the homicide rate increasing 7 percent after years of decline.

The NYT sees Sharif’s call for Musharraf to resign as another chapter in the pair’s “poisonous history,” which includes a Musharraf-led coup against Sharif in October 1999, during Sharif’s second term as prime minister. Sharif said that his party will participate if elections are held next Tuesday, but opposition leaders say that an election so closely following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto would likely be rigged by Musharraf’s government and therefore “deeply flawed.” The WP reports, a day after the NYT got the story, claims by doctors that they were placed under “extreme pressure” by Pakistani officials to keep the details of Bhutto’s final moments quiet. Proof that close-range gunfire killed the ex-premier, the story informs, could suggest that the government’s security was breached and bolster opposition claims that Musharraf failed to adequately protect Bhutto.

The LAT focuses on the “brief and unpredictable moment” in the Iowa caucuses where supporters of less popular candidates will, if their candidates do not win a “minimum level of support,” be released to select an alternative. The front-runners—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards—are employing an “array of strategies,” mostly preparing campaign volunteers with tailored arguments designed to highlight the front-running candidate’s similarities to the less popular candidate whose support they hope to absorb. The story spends five paragraphs on Clinton’s strategies, one on Obama’s, and offers no details from the Edwards campaign. The best inside bits come from the Obama campaign, which has armed volunteers with caucus-goer profiles, so they can make last-minute, face-to-face pitches. The NYT is also interested in “decisive moments,” but wonders the opposite: What if Iowa doesn’t single out a front-runner? It very well might not, the story reports, as several polls indicate that the Democratic caucus “could end up more or less a tie.”

The WP fronts and the NYT mentions Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee’s fun with an anti-Romney ad, which he played for reporters yesterday before announcing that it would not be running in Iowa. Reeling after a week of negative spots from Romney’s campaign and a harsher degree of media scrutiny, Huckabee has slipped behind Romney in a new poll and even told reporters that he would be satisfied with finishing second. The WP suggests that the “unorthodox gamble” with the ad was an intentional ploy, noting, “within minutes, the ad was being played on national television and had been posted on blogs and other Web sites—without costing his campaign a penny.” Calling the move a “bizarre bit of political theater,” the NYT also picked up on the irony, observing that the viral media coverage “went on to give [Huckabee’s] anti-Romney message free publicity while he claimed the moral high ground.”

Inside the NYT, the paper reports from the other side of the Huckabee-Romney dead heat Iowa, delving into Romney’s attempts to “grapple with Mr. Huckabee’s easygoing way.” Huckabee’s own admission that the steady stream of attacks, carefully orchestrated by the Romney camp to question Huckabee’s record in Arkansas, has proved to a jubilant Romney campaign that their efforts are paying off. But Romney has far from pulled in front, and his gains may have come with a price. “Iowa voters have a history of being unsettled by negative advertisements, a sentiment that Mr. Huckabee was presumably trying to fan on Monday,” the story warns.

The LAT fronts casualty numbers from Iraq, this time with a positive twist: While 2007 was the bloodiest year of the war, December proved the safest month for U.S. forces since the 2003 invasion. Twenty-one U.S. military personnel died in Iraq this month, a number that is “striking” compared with 2006’s tally of 112. It’s unclear if the good news means much, or if it can be expected to continue; Iraqis “remain edgy,” a feeling reinforced by a suicide bombing north of Baghdad that killed 12 people Monday. The WP colorfully illustrates the edgy feeling of the populace with a depressing account of an Iraqi New Year’s celebration, where attendees of a Baghdad club loosen into celebration only reluctantly, after beer and extensive persuasion. “Iraq has just gotten safer—you can laugh a little,” a singer calls from the stage. “We are not charging you for your applause.”

A more lighthearted essay in the WP Style section has academic researchers take a stab at explaining why we hold fast to the chronically unsatisfying ritual of New Year’s resolutions. The resulting theories are sketchy but strangely comforting: Resolutions are evolutionary. They’re part of nature, sort of like the rising of the sun. They’re an instinctive response to indulgent behavior. We can remember our actions well, but we rarely recall accurately how those actions felt. Thus, “we make these New Year’s pledges not because we forget that we’ve failed, but because we think we have outsmarted the failure.”