The New York Timesleads with, and the Los Angeles Timesfronts, the Pakistani government’s announcement that it would accept the enforcement of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the Swat Valley as part of a cease-fire deal with Islamic militants. Pakistani analysts and human rights groups said the move amounts to a dangerous concession to Islamic extremists, who control much of the region that is a mere 100 miles northwest of Islamabad. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsboxlead with, and the NYT off-leads, the last-minute negotiations going on at Chrysler and General Motors as the auto giants rushed to meet the deadline to submit recovery plans to the government by 5 p.m. today. The companies are largely expected to ask for more money when they outline plans to cut production and brands as well as lay off more workers. The WP points out that “as detailed as the plans are, they are more of a starting point than an end.”
USA Todayleads with word that cyberattacks on government computer networks increased 40 percent last year. While some of that increase may be from better reporting, officials say the threat is real and continually increasing. “Government systems are under constant attack,” said the counterintelligence chief in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The LAT continues to lead with California’s fiscal crisis as state lawmakers are still unable to get enough votes to pass a budget. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is preparing to send pink slips to 10,000 government workers and plans to stop the remaining public works projects that were protected from earlier cutbacks. The NYT declares that the nation’s most populous state “appears headed off the fiscal rails.”
The Pakistani government’s acceptance of a truce that was offered by the Taliban is unlikely to make Washington very happy, particularly considering that the administration’s new special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, visited the area last week. The United States has been pushing the Pakistani government not to give up the fight against the militants, and many analysts say that agreeing to impose Islamic law in the Malakand region would only motivate militants in other parts of the country. “This means you have surrendered to a handful of extremists,” said the leader of a movement in favor of an independent judiciary. “The state is under attack; instead of dealing with them as aggressors, the government has abdicated.” The LAT points out that many see the development as particularly troubling because the area is far from the Afghan border and “not part of the semiautonomous tribal belt, where militants have a well-established foothold.”
Pakistani officials defended the decision and said it was a response to demands from the people that the courts were plagued with corruption and horribly slow. They also claim that Sharia is consistent with existing law and emphasize that the new system won’t be similar to what the Taliban imposed in Afghanistan, where women were banned from getting an education and adulterers were stoned to death. But, in fact, no one is quite sure what the effect of imposing Sharia will be, and the LAT specifically notes that it “remains unclear” whether practices that are already evident in tribal areas, such as cutting off a thief’s hand, will become the norm.
The NYT takes an interesting front-page look at how Pakistani immigrants from the Swat region say their families are being targeted by Taliban militants because they live in the United States. Militants see Pakistani immigrants as American collaborators, who also happen to be a good source for ransom cash. These immigrants are often left with the feeling that they’re actually hurting their families in Pakistan by living in the United States and sending back money. Most troubling of all, many immigrants say they have been targeted by Taliban sympathizers in the United States and many believe the Taliban has “spies” in the United States whose job is to keep tabs on the immigrants, although there’s little concrete proof that’s the case.
In advance of the deadline for GM and Chrysler to submit their proposals, the Obama administration hasn’t been subtle about hinting that the companies may have to restructure under bankruptcy protection. The NYT focuses on the “intense negotiations” going on between GM and the United Automobile Workers over health care for retirees, which was the centerpiece of the 2007 agreement that the automaker reached with the union. The discussions are expected to continue even after the companies present their plans to the government.
Although the White House has decided to get rid of the “car czar” figure, the WSJ makes it clear that investment banker Ron Bloom will take the “lead role” in President Obama’s new Cabinet-level task force. People familiar with Bloom’s work expect him to be tough on all involved in the restructuring process. “The management of the Big Three are probably not going to like what Ron Bloom has to say; the UAW is not going to like what Ron Bloom has to say; and certainly the stockholders and creditors will not like what he has to say,” one person who has worked with Bloom tells the WSJ. The NYT says that once the plans are handed in to the government, the president’s task force will take at least a week to complete a review.
While the massive stimulus bill passed by Congress “represents one of the largest federal investments in healthcare in history,” the LAT takes a look at how the rules determining who would get help with health insurance were picked “on the fly.” Because of last-minute changes on the bill, millions of middle-class Americans who lost their jobs during the recession won’t be able to count on the federal government for help with their health insurance. Lawmakers cut a provision allowing the unemployed into the Medicaid insurance program and determined that only workers who were laid off after September are eligible for health insurance subsidies.
The NYT profiles Lawrence Summers, the White House’s chief economic adviser, and at one point asks him whether he supported Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s decision to announce the bank bailout plan before all the details were hammered out. “I just don’t do ticktock,” he said using the “newspaper slang for behind-the-scenes tales.” But the WP does. In a business section piece, the WP says that the reason Geithner had so few details to offer when he presented the plan was that “he and his team made a sudden about-face” just days before it was scheduled to be released. When Geithner decided that what they had been working on for weeks was no good, they didn’t have enough time to work out the details before the plan’s much-anticipated unveiling.
The WP’s Style sectionhas an interesting profile of Christopher Poole, the creator of the infamous 4chan.org, which the paper describes as “one of the weirdest, vast-est, most disgusting-est sites online.” Poole, who goes by moot, is “the most influential and famous Internet celebrity you’ve never heard of” and he’s often greeted like a rock star at conferences for those in the know. Even though his site’s message boards have spawned some of the most famous memes in Internet history, and they receive around 5 million visitors a month, the 21-year-old Poole is no Mark Zuckerberg. He still lives with his mom, is in debt, and hasn’t been able to find a job. “4chan is the big question of the Internet wrapped into one big case study,” says one Internet expert.
The NYT points out that despite the fact that several studies in the past few years have shown that taking vitamins in pill form doesn’t do anything to prevent chronic disease or prolong life, that hasn’t stopped people from taking them. About half of American adults take some form of dietary supplement even though it’s just not clear whether taking nutrients in pill form helps in any way for those who don’t have a particular nutrient deficiency. “I’m puzzled why the public in general ignores the results of well-done trials,” one doctor said. “The public’s belief in the benefits of vitamins and nutrients is not supported by the available scientific data.”