Today's Papers

Big Three Fight for Their Lives

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journallead with the restructuring plans that Detroit’s Big Three presented to lawmakers yesterday in hopes that they will help garner support for billions of dollars in government assistance. On the same day as new industrywide figures revealed that November was the worst sales month in 26 years, two of Detroit’s giants made it clear they’re hanging on by a string. General Motors could collapse by the end of the year and said it needs an immediate injection of $4 billion and will need as much as $18 billion in loans over the next year. Chrysler could suffer a similar fate and asked for a $7 billion loan before the end of the year. Ford asked for a $9 billion line of credit but took pains to emphasize that it might not need it. The automakers will make their case to lawmakers this week, and Democratic leaders said they hope to have a bill ready by next Friday.

USA Todayleads with a look at how the U.S. military is working to build up criminal cases against at least 5,000 detainees in Iraq who are considered the most dangerous to make sure they remain incarcerated once the Iraqi government takes over. Under the terms of the new security agreement, detainees can be held only if charged under Iraqi law. Investigators are working to find additional information, including witnesses, who can corroborate the U.S. claims. Even so, officials know that Iraqi judges may decide to release some detainees for lack of evidence.

Despite their grim financials, GM and Chrysler continue to dismiss the idea of filing for bankruptcy protection, and Democratic lawmakers seem to agree. “I think it’s pretty clear that bankruptcy is not an option,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. But the WSJ hears word that congressional representatives have been reaching out to financial experts over the past few days to discuss whether the government could help out in their Chapter 11 filings in what is known as a “prearranged bankruptcy.” One idea that has apparently moved to the forefront is to have the government plunge as much as $40 billion to help GM and Chrysler reorganize. Regardless of what the automakers might think—”There is no Plan B,” GM’s president told reporters yesterday—the financial experts “are telling lawmakers that bankruptcy is the best option for creating smaller but viable U.S. car companies,” points out the WSJ.

The $34 billion in federal loans that the three auto giants are asking for—the WP specifies that the restructuring plans call for at least $28 billion and as much as $38 billion in government assistance—is significantly more than the $25 billion they requested just two weeks ago. Lawmakers were unconvinced then so they asked the companies to come back with a more detailed plan. And what they got wasn’t pretty. “Though the three companies described a dire situation two weeks ago, the situation seems even more grave now,” declares the WP. Last month GM said it might run out of money in the first six months of next year, but now the company is warning it could collapse before 2008 is over.

In exchange for the money, the companies vowed to slash the salaries of their chief executives to $1 next year and cut compensation across the board. The automakers also said they’d step up efforts to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. Of the three proposals, GM’s was the most sweeping while Chrysler’s was relatively short on details. In its efforts to create “a new General Motors,” the company said that by 2012 it would cut 11 North American factories, slash at least 20,000 jobs, and reduce its network of dealers by more than 1,800. GM also said it would sell or close down its Saturn and Saab brands.

After all the criticism the Detroit executives received for taking corporate jets to last month’s hearings, it’s hardly surprising that all three decided to drive to Washington this time. Ford and GM said they would get rid of their corporate jets permanently. In a piece inside, the NYT points out that despite all the hubbub, many think it makes perfect sense for top executives at big corporations to use private jets because their time is worth quite a bit of money. For example, in 2007, Ford’s chief executive made about $10,000 an hour.

The WP’s Steven Pearlstein writes that as far as he can tell, it seems like Chrysler is basically looking to get enough money to get through the current slump until it can merge with GM or be sold off. Despite all the tough words from lawmakers, “there’s not much doubt that the government is going to step in here.” But at the moment the situation resembles “a standoff worthy of a spaghetti western” as each party wants something and is seeking “advantage by pointing the equivalent of loaded guns at the other parties.” But no one wants to actually shoot because they know the consequences would be disastrous.

The NYT and WSJ front, while everyone covers, the latest details on the Mumbai attacks. American officials agree with Indian authorities that it seems virtually certain the attacks were directed by militants inside Pakistan. Indian officials now believe that all the gunmen went through rigorous training in a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The one gunman who was caught told authorities that one of the main people behind the attacks was Yusuf Muzammil, a leader of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. His name is on a list of 20 people that India gave to Pakistan earlier this week demanding they be extradited. The attackers apparently called Muzammil repeatedly during the attacks. The WSJ notes that while U.S. officials are looking into Muzammil, they’re still not ready to call him the mastermind.

U.S. officials are working to try to tamp down the tensions between India and Pakistan and both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will appeal to the nuclear-armed neighbors to set aside rhetoric and work together to find the perpetrators of the attack. After arriving in India today, Rice urged Pakistan to cooperate “fully and transparently” with the investigations.

In other interesting details, the NYT gets word that the United States had warned India in mid-October that terrorists might target “touristy areas frequented by Westerners” in Mumbai, although the information wasn’t specific. The WSJ notes that Muzammil had been in touch with an Indian Muslim who was looking into possible locations for an attack before he was arrested early this year and officials discovered he had drawn layouts of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel and Mumbai’s main railway station, two of the top targets in last week’s attacks. And the fact that an attack could come from the coastline shouldn’t have been seen as such a huge surprise. Two militants who were arrested early last year told officials they were part of a band of Lashkar members who traveled by boat from Karachi to Mumbai.

The WP notes inside that the gunman who was captured is poor and has little formal education. When he was first captured he was taken to the hospital. “He kept saying, ‘Please kill me. I do not want to live,’ ” a hospital volunteer said. The group of 10 gunmen was apparently first briefed about the operation three months ago and shown videos and satellite images of the sites they would eventually attack.

In a front-page piece, the WP takes a look at how the gunmen “made sophisticated use of high technology in planning and carrying out the assault.” They used Global Positioning System equipment to get to Mumbai and had BlackBerrys and several cell phones. They also used satellite telephones to call voice-over-Internet-protocol phone numbers, which are harder to trace. And they had CDs that contained high-resolution satellite images of Mumbai. They used these satellite images to rehearse the attacks so once they got to Mumbai they were able to move around with ease because everything looked so familiar. They were also helped along by the 24-hour news cycle because once they were in the hotels they turned on the televisions in the rooms to find out how their attacks were developing. In sharp contrast, India’s police force and intelligence agencies seem stuck in the past and have been slow to embrace new technology.

In an op-ed piece in the NYT, Amitav Ghosh writes that calling the Mumbai attacks India’s 9/11 isn’t just a simple, ill-conceived metaphor; it is dangerous because the memory of that day is tangled up with the Bush administration’s response. By making the comparison, the world is pressuring the Indian government to issue a comparable response, and if India follows Bush’s path “the consequences are sure to be equally disastrous.” India should instead follow Spain’s example of how it responded to the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid. If there is one lesson we can all learn from the terrorist attacks over the last 10 years, it is that “[d]efeat or victory is not determined by the success of the strike itself; it is determined by the response.”