Today's Papers

On Black Friday, a Respite

All of the papers lead with the denouement of terrorist attacks in Mumbai, where Indian forces killed the last holdouts in the Taj Hotel to conclude three days of fighting that claimed an estimated 195 lives. Attention is now turning to the diplomatic ramifications of the militants’ potential Pakistani connection: As the New York Times summarizes, intelligence from U.S., British, and Indian sources points toward a Kashmir-based group that at one point received training from the Pakistani government. Still, the Wall Street Journal (which didn’t quite catch the end of hostilities) explains that the prolonged siege is somewhat baffling; terrorists typically aim for maximum damage in a short amount of time, but these attackers made no demands in exchange for hostages.

Although Indian officials continue to make veiled allegations of Pakistan’s involvement, Pakistani Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari has flatly denied any role in the attacks and says that “non-state actors” are attempting to undermine his country’s relations with India. The group in question—Lashkar-e-Taiba—has been blamed for attacks on high-profile targets since 2001, with the goal of destroying India and creating a Muslim superstate on the subcontinent, experts tell the Los Angeles Times. In an apparent attempt to defuse tensions, the Washington Post reports, Zardari has sent an intelligence official to assist with the investigation while U.S. officials have kept in close contact with both governments. Domestically, the NYT features the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party as it capitalizes on the attacks in elections going on now in five states while looking forward to national balloting in the spring. The BJP charges that the ruling party, which has made national security a major campaign issue, failed to do enough to crack down on terrorist activity. And, of course, the attacks are bad news for the Indian economy, with foreigners spooked by the targeting of their hangout spots.

Everyone but the Journal profiles the Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, that was devastated over the loss of the couple killed with four others inside the Chabad-Lubavitch mission they ran in Mumbai, which served the city’s small Jewish population. In its off-lead feature, the LAT highlights the 4,000 Lubavitch rabbis on lifetime missions in 70 countries around the world. Back in the United States, nervous South Asians have started calling the attacks “India’s 9/11,” fearing another escalation in tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors.

Almost makes you forget that there are still terrorist attacks going on in Iraq, largely hidden yesterday in Mumbai’s shadow, where a suicide bomb killed 12 people one day after the country signed a security pact to extend the United States’ presence. The NYT talks with Iraqis who aren’t sure what to think.

Yesterday marked a different kind of Black Friday in America. The numbers are not yet in on exactly how bad this season is expected to be for the nation’s retailers, but in a week when the Commerce Department announced the lowest consumer spending in 28 years, prospects are not looking good: “I don’t think the holiday has a chance at all. No way,” a market analyst told the LAT. While shoppers still lined up in the wee hours of the morning, this year they’re more zealously bargain-conscious than ever, and “hit and run” customers may pass up the gift if the price isn’t right. Retailers themselves blunted the impact of the biggest shopping day of the year by offering one bargain-basement sale after another over the last few weeks, the Journal reports, but are also holding out for healthier online sales on so-called Cyber Monday. TP couldn’t tell from the papers what it should look out for as the hot new toy of the year (remember Furby?), although flat-screen televisions factor prominently in the write-ups. But the season did see its first death in a stampede on Long Island, N.Y., where an employee at Wal-Mart—one of the only retailers that seems to be doing well in the down economy—was trampled by shoppers who broke down the store’s doors.

Elsewhere in economic news, investors take heart: The WSJ says the United States is still the best ship in a storm! Although the stock index is down 33 percent overall this year, China’s is doing almost twice as badly, and the United States is outperforming markets across Europe and Asia. Also, the LAT fronts a look at how the Big Three automakers’ bailout plea is playing in Georgia (sneak peek: not well), where South Korea’s Kia is building a plant that promises 2,500 well-paying, if nonunion, jobs. Small consolation for the 5,000 employees that Chrysler is hoping to get rid of by the end of the year. Meanwhile, oil barrels top the Journal’s front page, pointing to a Weekend section feature defending the fuel’s continued influence on the international stage.

The NYT off-leads with a profile of President-elect Obama’s pick for national security adviser, the moderate four-star Gen. James E. Jones, who will be expected to mediate between Bush holdover Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton at State. The Post notices that Harvard professor Samantha Power is back on Obama’s national-security team after having resigned over her criticism of Clinton in the spring, which the paper plays up as the next Aniston-Jolie. Awkward!

Women and minority advocates are keeping an eye on Obama’s picks for the rest of his Cabinet, says the Post, seeing a chance for greater representation. In a separate article, the paper runs down a similar list of candidates and observes that many of them would leave elected seats vacant, potentially jeopardizing Democratic positions like that of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, whose seat would go to a Republican.

It’s pardoning season for the Bush administration, and the Journal has noticed a common thread lately among seven of the 14 inmates whom President Bush has let off the hook this week: a passion for gun sports. Most have also been churchgoing, blue-collar Bush supporters from rural areas, and five of them told the paper that they cited a desire to use firearms again in their petitions for pardons. The administration is also taking advantage of its midnight hours to move ahead with oil and gas leases on public land, the latest advance in a four-year acceleration of energy exploration in Western states.

In keeping with the media’s habit these days of examining the recession’s effect of everything under the sun, Lee Siegel notices in the WSJ that comedians are being asked to deliver serious insights on the economic and political predicament. It’s a serious world out there, folks. Ba da bum!