The New York Timesleads with new revelations that further muddle the picture of how the war between Georgia and Russia this summer unfolded. The paper got its hands on accounts by independent military observers that suggest Georgia began indiscriminately attacking civilian areas in South Ossetia’s capital, virtually assuring a Russian response. The NYT takes pains to emphasize that the reports are hardly conclusive, but at the very least they put in doubt Georgia’s long-held assertions that it acted largely out of self-defense. The Washington Postleads with, and the Wall Street Journal banners, a look at the expanding global efforts to fight the economic downturn. Democrats in Washington are moving ahead with plans to try to combat the declining economy through a spending package of as much as $100 billion that could be passed this month. In Europe, several central banks sharply cut interest rates. Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama announced he will be meeting with his economic advisers and will hold his first news conference today. He plans to meet with President Bush on Monday in a bid to emphasize that they both want a smooth transition in a time of crisis.
USA Todayleads with a new poll finding that two-thirds of Americans believe relations between blacks and whites “will eventually be worked out,” which marks a historic high. Around 67 percent of Americans say they feel proud and optimistic after Barack Obama’s victory, which is particularly significant considering that 53 percent voted for the Democratic candidate. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to battle California’s rapidly growing budget deficit by increasing the sales tax and sharply reducing services.
According to the accounts of an international monitoring team working under the mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Georgian artillery rounds and rockets were hardly as limited as the Georgian government claimed, since they fell at a rate of one every 15 to 20 seconds in the separatist capital of Tskhinvali. The monitors say that within the first hour of the bombings, “at least 48 rounds landed in a civilian area,” reports the NYT. The monitors also put in doubt Georgia’s claim that Georgian-controlled villages in the separatist area were under intense attack by noting that they heard nothing of the sort. The NYT went to three of the villages that Georgia said were under heavy fire and couldn’t get a consistent picture explaining what exactly happened. But OSCE monitors with extensive military experience insist Georgian villages didn’t come under heavy fire from Russian forces. These findings complicate things for the United States because it has relied on the OSCE for years and has frequently praised its professionalism, making it difficult to discount these reports as meaningless.
The growing efforts to fight the economic downturn coincided with the release of more depressing figures, which the LAT and NYT also front. Retailers had a sharp decrease in sales last month and reported what the LAT describes as the “worst sales figures since at least 1971.” The NYT highlights that the decline was widespread, “suggesting that customers at all income levels are snapping their wallets shut.” The one exception, as was expected, was in deep-discount stores like Wal-Mart.
Everyone is bracing for more bad news in today’s unemployment figures, which economists expect will show the country lost 200,000 jobs last month. If the estimates are correct, it would mean the United States has lost about 1 million jobs this year. “It’s going to be a very difficult holiday season for the retailers,” one expert tells the LAT. “I think a lot of them are going to be fighting for their lives.” Wall Street, of course, reacted in kind and suffered its second straight day of big losses, marking the biggest two-day percentage loss in the Dow Jones index in more than 20 years.
The International Monetary Fund urged governments to increase spending to stimulate their economies. The fund predicted that the world’s “advanced economies” would shrink by a combined 0.3 percent next year, which would mark the first time they have collectively contracted since the IMF was founded in 1945. Separately, the IMF also estimated that global growth would be a mere 2.2 percent next year, which, as the WSJ clearly explains, is “well below the line that the IMF traditionally considers a recession.” The fund wouldn’t officially utter the R-word, but that seems to be mostly for political reasons.
In Washington, Democrats are working on several plans to spur economic growth. The WSJ and WP both detail how congressional leaders are working on one stimulus package that could total as much as $100 billion to be passed this month and another that would be pushed through after Obama takes office, which would include the tax cuts and could be even larger. It’s far from clear, though, that Democrats will be able to pass the first plan this month, as the White House opposes several of its key components, including spending on public-works projects.
The WSJ has an interesting historical nugget near the end of its piece noting that while the IMF is advocating for stimulus packages around the world, Japan’s experience “tends to spur caution among other nations.” In order to combat a 15-year economic decline, Japan lavished money on public-works projects, but it didn’t help as much as was hoped, and the country was left with little-used infrastructure.
There was some fresh good news for Obama, who has now officially won North Carolina by a slim margin. There are still 12 electoral votes to be decided, 11 in Missouri, and one in Nebraska. Congressional Democrats also received some good news as another Senate Republican, Gordon Smith of Oregon, conceded yesterday, which means Democrats will control at least 57 seats in the Senate. That is, of course, counting independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday to discuss his future in the Democratic caucus after his repeated criticisms of Obama while campaigning for Sen. John McCain. No decision has been made, but some think Lieberman’s committee chairmanship would be revoked.
In transition news, Rep. Rahm Emanuel was officially appointed to serve as Obama’s chief of staff. Other appointments are likely to come soon. David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign strategist, is expected to become a senior White House adviser, and Robert Gibbs, his communications director, is expected to become White House press secretary.
In an interesting tidbit near the end of the NYT’s main transition story, the paper says the Obama team is feeling pressure, particularly from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, “to ‘co-own’ the bailout program.” Paulson has allegedly sought Obama’s advice on who should direct the program, in hopes that the same person can stay on in the new administration. For his part, Obama isn’t eager to join hands with Bush in an unpopular bailout package. In a front-page piece, the WP notes that some say the reason the Treasury still hasn’t officially announced its plan to broaden the range of financial companies that would be eligible for an infusion of cash from the government, which the WSJ detailed earlier this week, is because officials want to make sure Obama agrees. Administration officials say that’s simply not true. Still, one thing is clear: The Treasury has reserved some office space for Obama’s team, but no one has moved in yet. The NYT says some Democrats are pushing Obama “to stay aloof,” which apparently was Franklin Roosevelt’s strategy before he took over during the Depression.
What has Obama’s victory meant for negotiations with Iraqi leaders on the new security agreement? Depends on whom you believe. The NYT says that Obama’s election has drastically changed the mood to optimism and that the agreement could be signed as early as the middle of this month. The WP, on the other hand, talks to Iraq’s chief spokesman and says Iraqi officials appear to be using Obama’s election “to pressure the Bush administration to make last-minute concessions,” specifically insisting on a firm withdrawal date for U.S. troops. According to the NYT, Iraqi officials used to think that Republicans wouldn’t respect any timetable that is included in the agreement but now have more faith that Obama would. Also, Iran appears to be exerting less pressure on Iraqi politicians to reject the agreement, apparently because officials in Tehran are less concerned that an Obama administration would seek regime change in their country. For its part, the WP says Iraqis are insisting they need to return to the negotiating table, but U.S. officials insist they’ve accommodated Iraqi concerns as much as possible in what was described as the “final text” of the agreement.
Feel like crying this morning? If so, head on over to the WP,which gives big play to the story of Eugene Allen, a black man who worked at the White House for more than three decades. The WP’s Wil Haygood admirably tells Allen’s story while also giving a quick history lesson of blacks in the White House. But it’s the unexpected tragic ending that hits you right in the gut. There’s no way around it: Obama must give Allen VIP tickets to the inauguration.
And if you need a pick-me-up after your eyes have dried, the LAT’s P.J. Huffstutter writes an amusing piece about his experience being a part of Obama’s “protective press pool.” Huffstutter was on duty for almost 12 hours yesterday and got to see the president-elect a grand total of 71 seconds. In the end, he was rewarded when Obama was gracious enough to give a monosyllabic answer when the reporter asked how one of his meetings went: “Good.”