Today's Papers

Taking Down the Pirates

The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with the dramatic rescue of the American captain who had been held hostage for five days by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Navy Seal snipers shot and killed three Somali pirates when a commander concluded that Capt. Richard Philips was in imminent danger after one of his captors aimed an AK-47 at his back. Philips, 53, was uninjured and in relatively good health.

The Los Angeles Timesoff-leads with the rescue operation but leads with a look at how a California program to provide caregivers for the elderly and disabled has become a favorite target for scam artists. The program is supposed to save the state money in nursing-home costs, but there’s so little oversight that it’s easy for someone to claim to be providing services for someone who isn’t even disabled or who may be dead. Critics of the program say union interests are preventing efforts to fight against fraud, since those getting paid by the state have to pay monthly union dues.

The WP reports that “dozens” of Navy Seals had parachuted into the Indian Ocean on Saturday and immediately took up position on the destroyer Bainbridge. President Obama had given standing orders for the Navy to take action if the captain’s life was in danger, and as the situation seemed to grow tenser by the minute, Cmdr. Frank Castellano decided he had no choice and gave permission to fire. The NYT notes that two of the pirates suddenly made themselves open to clear shots, while a third could clearly be seen through the window. Earlier, a fourth pirate with a hand injury had effectively given himself up.

The American service members acted when the pirates appeared to be getting nervous and recognizing they had no way out. The LAT talks to one elder in the port city of Eyl, a pirate haven, who says the pirates had dropped their demands for a ransom and were only asking for a way to escape.

USAT notes that yesterday “marked the first time an American president had acted against maritime marauders since Thomas Jefferson ordered Marines to the shores of Tripoli to fight the Barbary pirates.” In a piece inside, the WP points out that the standoff was “one of the earliest tests” for Obama. It was a military operation that paled in comparison with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that didn’t make it inconsequential for a president “who had yet to prove himself to this generals or his public.” Seemingly aware of the risk, the White House had been busy playing down Obama’s role in the operation. That is, until it all went well and administration officials couldn’t stop talking about how often the president was briefed on the situation and how he was the one who gave the go-ahead for the rescue operation. Although the WP may have gotten caught up in the exuberance of the moment when it declared that Obama’s actions “could help build confidence in his ability to direct military actions abroad,” the truth is that it’s hard to see how things could have gone better for the young president.

There’s now widespread concern that yesterday’s rescue operation could make the piracy situation off the coast of Somalia worse. “This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it,” Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney said. The LAT notes that pirates warned yesterday that they would be increasing their efforts to seize ships and wouldn’t hesitate to kill hostages if they ever felt as though their lives were in danger. The NYT points out that at least one Somali pirate has vowed to take revenge on the next American captured at sea. In a separate story inside, the NYT says the events of the past week have reignited discussions over whether the crew of commercial ships should be armed. Many ship owners continue to be reluctant to follow this path, fearing that it would merely make the high seas more dangerous, particularly since pirates “will always be able to buy larger weapons than ship owners in any maritime arms race.”

The WSJ fronts a look at how the committee that was appointed by Congress to oversee the bank bailouts is investigating the lending practices of banks that received taxpayer money. Many have complained that some of the biggest recipients of federal money have been keeping themselves busy by raising fees and providing loans that consumer advocates describe as predatory. For example, Bank of America, which has received $45 billion from Uncle Sam, is raising credit-card interest rates and fees. For its part, Citigroup has received $50 billion in taxpayer capital and is now trying to get consumers to take out loans with exorbitant interest rates. “In a sense, we’re asking taxpayers to pay twice,” the chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel said. Banks say taxpayers should be cheering their efforts to return to profitability as soon as possible.

The NYT reports that Obama’s plan to carry out a “sweeping overhaul of financial aid programs” has “ignited one of the most fractious policy fights this year.” The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that by getting private banks out of the business of handing out subsidized loans for students, the government could save $94 billion, which Obama has said he wants to use to expand Pell grants. Republicans say that this is another way the government is trying to expand the size of government, and lenders are balking at the thought of losing what has been one of their best ways to collect easy money. (The loans are virtually risk free.) In order to get lawmakers on their side, lenders are emphasizing not only the services they provide but the jobs they create.

The NYT goes inside with a look at how the Treasury Department is pushing General Motors to be ready to file for bankruptcy by June 1. Even as the automaker continues to insist it can reorganize outside court, the government wants GM to be ready to go through what is being described as a quick “surgical” bankruptcy in case it can’t get sufficient concessions from bondholders. As has been explained before, one of the options being discussed would be to create a “good” and a “bad” GM, and the government wants the “good GM” to get in and out of bankruptcy in as little as two weeks. As is always the case with this kind of story, it’s not entirely clear whether the government isn’t just trying to make bondholders believe it is serious about pushing the automaker toward bankruptcy so they drop their reluctance to make concessions. The WSJ notes bondholders aren’t likely to take such action sitting down, and they’re already preparing legal arguments against the government plans for a quick bankruptcy. It is precisely due to this uncertainty over what can happen in bankruptcy court that GM has been so reluctant to go that route.

Yesterday, the WP gave readers a revealing and, yes, funny, look at the ways of Washington media coverage, revealing that after the Post got mad when it found out that the administration had promised the story about the White House vegetable garden as an exclusive to the NYT, the WP was promised the exclusive on the First Dog. Of course, those plans went out the window when pictures of the dog leaked on the Internet over the weekend. But it seems the Post got at least some of what it was promised and today dedicates a look at the long, winding road that 6-month-old Bo traveled before reaching the White House. In a piece of the tale that seems almost too good to believe, the breeders were fans of Obama and named Bo’s litter, which included 10 puppies, the Hope and Change Litter. And to bring everything full circle, it seems the Obamas will have to be particularly vigilant about their vegetable garden because, weirdly enough, it turns out that Portuguese water dogs love tomatoes.