Today's Papers

Israel Strikes Back

Everyone leads with Israeli airstrikes against Hamas facilities in the Gaza Strip. The attacks killed at least 225 Palestinians and injured at least 400 more, making it one of the deadliest days in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The New York Times says the bombings had a “shocking quality,” starting in broad daylight and not shying away from civilian-populated areas. The Washington Post writes that the attacks are the first stage of an Israeli attempt to clamp down on Hamas launching rockets into Israel. The Los Angeles Times writes that the bombings were not aimed at ousting Hamas but at forcing them to accept a new cease-fire that includes a pledge to stop smuggling weapons.

The WP reports that Israel saw a marked increase in rocket attacks following the collapse of the old cease-fire on Dec. 19. Israel is calling these airstrikes the first stage of an open-ended campaign to stop the rocket barrage. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight.” The NYT reports the campaign may include the use of ground troops. The LAT speculates that the attack could have an impact on the upcoming election to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The WP says that senior Hamas official Ismail Jumaah was among the dead. Following the Israeli attacks, Hamas launched 110 additional rockets into Israel, killing one person and injuring at least four others. Hamas has also called for the resumption of suicide attacks on Israel, a practice the group had all but abandoned.

President Bush has issued a statement condemning Hamas’ actions, while the U.N. and the European Union, Russia, Egypt and other nations have admonished both sides. Inside, the WP writes that these attacks could snuff out any hope the incoming Obama administration might have had of finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict, since it seems likely that these attacks will only breed more violence in the future.

The NYT publishes its reactions to a lengthy interview with Caroline Kennedy regarding her push to be appointed the next senator from New York. To put it mildly, they aren’t impressed. The paper calls her, “less like a candidate than an idea of one” because of her lack of strong issue positions. Kennedy declined to specify how she’d improve on Hillary Clinton’s tenure as senator and demurred as to how she’d differ from the Democratic Party’s platform or from other prominent New York politicians. There are moments in the piece in which the writers sound a little irked by some brusque comments made by Kennedy, which may have contributed to the pessimistic tone of the piece. The quotes in the article appear a little scant at first, but a full transcript of the interview appears online, and it shows the reporters didn’t miss much of substance.

The WP goes under the fold with a feature following up on Saturday’s coverage of the disintegration of the Chesapeake Bay’s distinctive culture. Efforts to restore the bay’s biodiversity have repeatedly failed and so the bay’s oyster and crab populations continue to dwindle. Without the bounty the bay used to provide, residents have a hard time maintaining the seafood-centric traditions that made the area unique. Online, the paper includes a variety of multimedia elements, including photos, video, and graphics, to enhance the story.

White farmers in Zimbabwe won their case against President Robert Mugabe, reports the NYT, but the victory is largely symbolic. Since 2000, Mugabe has been seizing land owned by white farmers and then using it as a reward for supporters. In an effort to get an impartial ruling, the farmers took their case to a tribunal of judges representing a regional trade federation. The tribunal ruled in the farmers’ favor, but the paper makes it very clear that no one expects Mugabe’s government to abide by the decision.

The LAT explores the web of connections between politics and drug kingpins in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. The piece examines the ways drug traffickers have infiltrated law enforcement, the statehouse, and the federal government. The story is divided into several vignettes about people trying to stand up to the cartels, and it’s not until the final third of the article that the stakes become clear. The paper warns that as the cartels gain increasing control over local affairs and hire their own paramilitary forces, Mexico runs the risk of becoming a fragmented coalition of warring states each run by their own drug lords, akin to Afghanistan.

As part of their “The Reckoning” series on the financial crisis, the NYT publishes a look at the incredibly lax lending practices at Washington Mutual, where employees were all but required to approve every loan application. Employees were discouraged from verifying facts on loan applications, no matter how ridiculous the claims sounded.

The WP covers the ongoing fight over the fate of the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93. A group representing the families of the 40 passengers who perished in the crash on Sept. 11, 2001, want President Bush to use eminent domain to seize the land surrounding the crash site so that they can build a permanent memorial to the crash victims.

The prospect of finally tapping the vast reserves of oil shale located in and around the Rocky Mountains has many energy companies excited and water providers concerned, the LAT says. While America is believed to possess 800 billion barrels of oil trapped in underground shale, the technology to extract the oil has yet to be perfected. What scientists do know is that any method for extracting the oil from the shale will require a great deal of another natural resource that’s in short supply out West: water. Some scientists think it may take as much as 10 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil from shale.

The declining number of American Catholics entering the priesthood has forced some diocese to look abroad to fill vacancies. The NYT follows a priest from a rural diocese in Kentucky as he searches for priests from Africa, Latin America, and India. The solution is far from perfect. Foreign-born priests sometimes have trouble overcoming the culture shock and often come from countries where the priest shortage is even more severe. Some critics say that importing priests might ease the burden on American parishes, but it does little to address why the church has a priest shortage in the first place.

Inside, the WP runs an interesting look back at how the role of technology in political discourse changed in 2008. The story makes the case that a shift from community-based political organizing to viral political movements means that politics is no longer about catering to local concerns; it’s about engaging individuals.

Dogfighting is making a comeback in Afghanistan, according to the NYT. The fights, which were once banned by the Taliban, have steadily grown in popularity since 2001. Victory can now bring in thousands of dollars in prize money. Unlike American dogfights, in Afghanistan the dogs rarely fight to the death, since few can afford the expense of losing a dog in the ring. Instead, the dogs fight until one dog shows clear signs of submission or dominance.

The LAT counts Broadway among the many marketplaces that are suffering in the current downturn. In the current climate only the most bankable shows (or those with the most bankable stars) are able to find financial backing.

The WP wraps up 2008 by reveling in the absurd with Dave Barry’s take on the year that was.