Today's Papers

The Power of Two

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Todaylead with news that Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines agreed to merge in a deal that would create the world’s largest airline. The companies had been going back and forth for months, and last night the announcement came that they had reached a deal. The new combined airline, which would keep the Delta name, would have more than 800 planes and 75,000 employees. The value of the combined airlines would be approximately $ 17.7 billion.

The New York Timesleads with a look at how the slowdown in the economy, coupled with the credit crunch, is leading to a number of bankruptcies in retail stores across the country. So far, at least eight “midsize chains” have filed for bankruptcy protection, but the trouble is expected to spread to larger stores. The paper gets word that Linens ‘n Things, for example, may be preparing to file for bankruptcy. And even companies that can stay out of bankruptcy are closing down stores to make ends meet. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with the continuing debate between the Democratic presidential contenders over Sen. Barack Obama’s remarks that rural voters in Pennsylvania “cling to guns or religion.” The paper points out that as Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton continue to discuss guns and family values, Republicans clearly see an opportunity. Sen. John McCain said he would use Obama’s remarks to paint him as an out-of-touch elitist.

The Northwest-Delta deal is far from a foregone conclusion, as the companies still have to get the approval of shareholders as well as pass an antitrust review by the Justice Department. The merger could also come undone becuase of labor problems that almost killed the deal in February (while Delta has come to an agreement with its pilots, the same can’t be said for Northwest). Democrats have vowed to hold hearings on Capitol Hill to analyze the effects of the merger. The LAT is the most clear in saying that the merger might be good for the companies but not customers, who will probably end up paying more for tickets. “More concentration means higher prices and less service. No matter what they say, you’re going to see layoffs,” a professor tells the paper.

Everyone points out this Delta-Northwest merger could be the beginning in a long line of airline consolidations. Next up on the list: United Airlines and Continental Airlines. The NYT points out that the rush to merge is at least partly because companies want to take advantage of the little time there is left in Bush’s administration, which has normally been sympathetic to consolidations.

Retailers are being hit by a double whammy, as not only are consumers spending less but no one will extend credit to the companies, so many are finding themselves stuck. Although retailing might seem like an incredibly profitable business, the truth is that its seasonal nature means many retailers need to borrow money to make ends meet. Without available credit, many are being forced to close their doors. To make matters worse, when these stores close, they also directly affect other companies because many keep on owing money to their suppliers.

As the Democratic presidential contenders prepare for Wednesday’s debate in Philadelphia, Sen. Barack Obama spent a fourth day trying to explain his now-infamous remarks where he said voters in small towns in Pennsylvania are “bitter.” Clinton kept on pounding on Obama for the statement and released a television ad that shows voters saying they were “insulted” by the comments. But yesterday it moved beyond infighting among Democrats as McCain picked up Clinton’s line of attack and used the “bitter” statement to portray Obama as out of touch with the everyday realities of small-town life. Meanwhile, the WSJ points out that McCain continues to “raise and spend money” despite the legal questions surrounding his fundraising. The paper says it’s a sign that the McCain camp is confident the race will be over by the time election officials actually take action.

For those interested in a little McCain history, the LAT fronts a look at how he went from being a POW to a lawmaker, representing a state where he had never lived. The key was his position as the Navy’s liaison to the Senate. The job didn’t have much prestige (“a glorified valet”), but it helped him see how Congress worked from the inside, and he befriended some of Washington’s most powerful lawmakers, who were ready to help him once he decided that he wanted to go into politics.

The NYT fronts, and everyone mentions, that Silvio Berlusconi scored a comeback in yesterday’s election, two years after he was voted out of office. As the leader of a center-right coalition, Berlusconi will almost certainly become prime minister for a third term. The NYT says it’s not clear whether Italians voted for Berlusconi “out of affection” or if he was simply seen as the “least bad choice” after two years of a government that was particularly stagnant.

The WP fronts an unsigned dispatch from Lhasa and reports that since violence broke out a month ago, Chinese police officers, who are armed, have set up a “relentless” patrol and stop people randomly to ask for identification. Life is slowly returning to normal, and shops are reopening. Although the Chinese government says tourism is returning to Tibet, it seems most major temples remain closed and tourist hotels are relatively empty.

In an interesting Page One story, the NYT says two scientists have new evidence to back up their theory that the Titanic sank quickly after hitting an iceberg because of faulty construction. The company dismissed this theory when it was first brought up years ago, but in What Really Sank the Titanic, the authors use a combination of physical evidence from rivets recovered from the Titanic as well as archive material from the builder to show how the time pressures were so great on the builders that it led to the use of these substandard rivets. Not only that, but there was also a shortage of qualified riveters, which compromised the quality of the ship. The scientists say that better rivets could have kept the Titanic floating long enough for rescuers to arrive.

The LAT fronts some bad news for California residents. According to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey, California will almost certainly be hit by a strong earthquake by 2028. And those living in Southern California are even worse off because the chance of a 6.7 magnitude quake is 97 percent. The outlook is slightly better for those living in Northern California, where the chances drop to 93 percent.

The WP and LAT note that former president Jimmy Carter is “getting the cold shoulder” (WP) in Israel. None of Israel’s top officials will meet with him, and Israel’s security service will not protect him. Israeli officials are unhappy that Carter said he would meet with the leader of Hamas, and for his book in which he sharply criticized Israel. “A meeting like this gives some semblance of legitimacy to those who do not deserve it,” one Israeli official said. “The book doesn’t help him, either.”

The NYT publishes word that Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, will write his memoirs. Rumsfeld has apparently chosen to forgo an advance and will donate the profits to a nonprofit foundation.

In the NYT op-ed page, Richard Conniff says that the word tax has become one of the most reviled words in the English language and needs a change. Instead of calling them taxes, we should call them dues. The word tax has “punitive overtones … as if wage-earners have done something wrong by their labors.” But dues “is rooted in social obligation and duty.”