Today's Papers

Roadblocks to Peace

The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Timeslead today with international aid groups’ mounting complaints of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza due to the Israeli siege. The Washington Post leads with Treasury secretary nominee Tim Geithner’s plans to overhaul the $700 billion financial industry bailout, which, according to anonymous sources, Geithner will broaden to include municipalities, small businesses, and homeowners. USA Today goes with President-elect Barack Obama’s speech yesterday, in which he urged swift congressional action on his forthcoming economic stimulus plan. The Wall Street Journaltops its world-wide newsbox with Obama’s remarks.

The LAT says Israeli gunfire in Gaza killed two United Nations relief workers and wounded one; the NYT has one dead and two wounded. The U.N. declared a suspension of aid operations after the killing. The U.S. abstained from a 14-0 Security Council vote that demanded an immediate cease-fire and called for the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. The Times reports that Israel condemned a statement from a high-ranking Vatican official, who likened the situation in Gaza to a concentration camp.

The WP’s front page is dominated by a large photo accompanying a low-to-the-ground account of events in the Gaza City neighborhood of Zaytoun. One-hundred Palestinians were rescued after Israeli soldiers allowed paramedics and relief workers into the neighborhood for three hours, after the military had barred access for several days. The United Nations has asked Israel to investigate Red Cross allegations that Israeli soldiers stationed outside damaged houses refused access to relief workers despite knowledge of wounded civilians languishing inside. All the papers report that relief workers found four children nestled under blankets next to their dead mothers.

The NYT offers a brief but excellent dispatch from a Gaza City hospital, where a young militant demanding preferential treatment sees paradise in the human suffering all around him. The reporter asks how the man can be so happy, and the guy keeps smiling and talking martyrdom.

USAT’s piece on Obama’s speech yesterday provides some historical perspective, likening Obama’s economic predicament to that of past presidents like Franklin Roosevelt. The WP also fronts a little analysis of Obama’s address but calls it “eerily similar” to early statements by the past four presidents, all of whom sought to lower expectations by saying they were inheriting big problems.

The WP fronts word that Obama has chosen John Brennan as his top counterterrorism adviser. Brennan withdrew himself as a candidate to head the CIA amid criticism of his alleged support for torturous interrogation techniques and tactics such as “forced renditions.” Brennan spent 25 years with the CIA and currently heads a firm that advises federal agencies and private companies on counterterrorism. The new appointment will not require Senate confirmation.

Ski resorts throughout the western U.S. and Canada are suffering a series of avalanches, reports the NYT. There have been 23 total deaths from avalanches in North America since Dec. 14, some of them occurring within normal skiing boundaries. Snow and rain during the fall made for a weak, icy base for several feet of snow from more recent storms.

The NYT says the investigation that sunk New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s commerce secretary nomination is offering a glimpse into a long-time-coming multistate investigation of the municipal bond business. An antitrust lawyer says investigators are looking at “one of the longest-running, most economically pervasive antitrust conspiracies ever to be uncovered in the U.S.”

Retailers announced we’ve just finished our worst holiday retail season since 1970, according to the WSJ’s front page report. Markdowns moved merchandise but slimmed profit margins as holiday sales declined 2.2 percent from last year.

The WP fronts the frustrations of Virginians who had been hoping to drive to the inauguration. The U.S. Secret Service announced Wednesday that it would be forbidding vehicular access to our nation’s capital from each of the commonwealth’s bridges into the city. It’s merely a matter of logistics and security, say officials, but the Post’s story totally brings up old stuff: “Officials said the decision had nothing to do with Virginia’s Confederate past.”

The LAT says that next month’s transfer to digital television might be an embarrassing disaster for the government. Obama has asked that the transfer be delayed to give more time to educate viewers, 7.7 million of whom may be left without TV on Feb. 17 because the transition has been poorly managed.

Belgians play hooky all the time, according to today’s wacky Page One WSJ story. While the average European worker plays hooky merely twice as much as the average American worker, employees of certain Belgian government agencies stay home sick seven times as often. The Belgian government has begun sending out inspectors, who catch malingerers in hilarious pants-afire circumstances.

USAT’s print editionhas the best front-page headline of the day: “One in seven U.S. adults unable to read this story.” (The Web version is slightly different.) A literacy study by the U.S. Department of Education finds that roughly 32 million grown-ups in this country may be capable of reading children’s picture books but not USAT copy.