Today's Papers

It’s All in the Works

The Washington Post leads with the first look into Barack Obama’s “massive public works program,” the most expansive and ambitious since Dwight Eisenhower instigated the federal interstate highway project in the 1950s. The plan will attempt to pump money into highway renovation, school repairs, and expansion of broadband Internet coverage. The New York Timesleads with additional U.S. troops moving to Kabul, a move that signals the increasing delicacy of the situation near Afghanistan’s capital. It also “underscores” the hard choices, regarding how to best divide troops between Iraq and Afghanistan, that U.S. military officials face. The Los Angeles Timesleads with its occasional series on Mexican drug trafficking. Today’s installment tells the story of four people gunned down in a jewelry store near Monterrey, where the drug war has infiltrated what was previously one of Mexico’s safest large cities.

In an address delivered on radio and YouTube yesterday, Barack Obama divulged a few more details about the massive public works program he promised a few weeks ago. The president-elect responded to November’s depressing unemployment numbers (we shed more jobs in the past month than we have since 1974) by reiterating the need to create 2.5 million new jobs, most of them to replace the 2 million we’ve lost since the recession began last year. Obama said explicitly that his plan would be massive and far-reaching, though the ultimate price tag remains among the classified details. The NYT calls it “government-directed industrial policy,” which means the administration will pick among competing private contractors on which to “rain money.”

Any talk of raining money is sure to make conservative economists unhappy—the NYT is the only paper with that angle—but the governors love it! Several state governors highlighted road and school programs just waiting for an injection of federal cash, projects that add up to an estimated $136 billion. * Obama gave them no promises, which the WP says is “in keeping with the secrecy that surrounds the development of his recovery plan.”

Congress worked through the weekend to hammer out a bailout proposal for the “big three” U.S. automakers, and it’s looking as if General Motors might have the most convincing case for a federal lifeline: the fact that nearly three-fourths of its employees work outside the United States. A GM failure at home could have global implications, meaning it would be best for us and the rest of the world if the company stays afloat. (Re publicans still aren’t convinced, arguing that the automakers must be forced to cut labor costs and reduce debt. * The WP editorial page agrees.) But some people are in deep trouble whether it survives or not, particularly those who run certainly doomed vehicle dealerships. GM wants to shed increasingly unpopular lines like Hummer, a family of vehicles that have become a national symbol of gas-guzzling inefficiency, which would leave tons of dealership owners stranded. (Though it may be necessary, it would also be extremely costly because of “stringent franchise laws across the country.”)

Political stability in Iraq may have come at the cost of increased tribal suppression of women, a front-page WP story postulates. Many of the religious leaders the U.S. supported for the sake of stability have rejected Saddam’s secularism, “imposed strict interpretations of Islam and enforced tribal codes that female activists say limit their freedom and encourage violence against them.” Thirty percent more women were killed in the first six months of 2008 than the previous six months, most of them “honor crimes” involving fundamentalist Islam and more than half ending with the woman being burned to death. Some women are boldly and publicly decrying the violence, including one Kurdish journalist who rails against oppression and head scarves in her magazine columns.

In the NYT “Week in Review” section, Ross Douthat rebuffs the broadening consensus that the Republican Party should ditch its anti-abortion contingent. * Contrary to the notion that this interest group harbors the radicals who most hurts the right’s image, pro-lifers have met their opponents halfway, accepting public opinion and stricter restrictions, and many have abandoned politics altogether for personal activism. But to give up on overturning Roe v. Wade is to abandon the heart of the cause, to leave “pro-choice absolutism” in place to dominate the abortion debate.

The NYT reports the survival of two cultural institutions, one good and one bad. The bad news first: a dogfighting subculture is now thriving in Texas. In addition to established rings, the cruel sport is attracting a younger generation from “hardscrabble neighborhoods,” where “gangs, drug dealing and hip-hop culture make up the backdrop.”

The good news is that college radio is still alive and well, despite the near-fatal hit music radio has taken from the likes of iPods and imeem. College DJs say they don’t listen to much radio aside from their own—they have iPods, too, and many are also bloggers. But America’s 700 college stations have kept the music spinning—”settling into a role as the slower but more loyal foil to the fickle blogosphere”—and deserve more credit than they get for breaking new acts.

Correction, Dec. 8, 2008: This article originally mislabeled the name of the New York Times “Week in Review” section as the “Weekend” section. (Return  to the corrected sentence.) It also incorrectly stated that Senate Republicans want lawmakers to cut costs and reduce debt at auto companies—it’s the automakers themselves who Republicans want to do the cost-cutting. (Return  to the corrected sentence.) The article also misstated the cost of state road and school programs awaiting federal cash. Those project total an estimated $136 billion, not $136 million. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)