Today's Papers

Return of the Insurgency

The New York Timesleads with word that militants in Iraq have been rejoining the insurgency in areas that have been relatively free of violence lately. If the insurgency does resurface, it would no doubt be smaller, and many believe there’s little danger the country will see the level of violence that was all too common just a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be dangerous. The Washington Postleads with word that lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded earlier this year that a pending bill to give Washington, D.C., a vote in the House of Representatives for the first time is unconstitutional. Attorney General Eric Holder, who supports the bill, then asked the solicitor general’s office for its opinion, and lawyers there said the legislation could pass a constitutional test.

USA Todayleads with a look at some of the first projects funded by the stimulus package and notes that the federal money appears to be creating jobs, as intended. State highway departments have been able to take advantage of the package the quickest by pumping money into “shovel-ready” projects. In an unscientific review of 16 construction projects, the paper found that all of them will start by summer, and the vast majority would not have been carried out without the stimulus cash. The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with a look at the challenges awaiting President Obama as he arrived in London yesterday for a series of meetings in the run-up to Thursday’s Group of 20 summit. Obama plans to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao today. Meanwhile, in a sign that there could be some drama at the summit, France hinted that President Nicolas Sarkozy could walk out of the meeting if other countries don’t agree to a new set of strict rules for the international financial system. The Los Angeles Timesleads with new figures that show crime has decreased in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California this year, contradicting many experts who had predicted the economic downturn would lead to an increase in crime. Many other large American cities, including New York and Houston, have also experienced declines in serious crimes this year.

The NYT doesn’t have any definitive evidence that the insurgency is regrouping, but it brings together several troubling developments that suggest the danger that could be in store for Iraqi citizens at a time when the United States is in the process of decreasing its presence in the country. In the past few weeks, there has been a spate of attacks and assassination attempts that have mostly targeted Iraqis. But the paper points out that these troubling signs also coincide with the emergence of a new weapon in Iraq, a 5-pound grenade that has the ability to penetrate the latest heavily armored vehicle. Military officers say that while the threat is real, the number of jihadi militants has been brought down to fewer than 2,000 from around 3,800. “In most places there isn’t an insurgency in Iraq anymore,” said an American military intelligence officer. “What we have now is a terrorism problem, and there is going to be a terrorism problem in Iraq for a long time.” But others aren’t so sure, and leaders of the Awakening movement, mostly former Sunni insurgents who switched sides, say they have seen an increase in jihadi activity in their areas.

The revelation that the Office of Legal Counsel said the D.C. voting rights bill is unconstitutional could complicate its approval in Congress and is likely to embolden critics to challenge the law if it’s enacted. Justice Department experts say it’s “unusual though not unprecedented” for the solicitor general to give an opinion about a case before it ever reaches the courts. The WP points out that Holder’s attempt to find a way around the OLC’s opinion opens “President Obama’s Justice Department to some of the same concerns raised by Democrats during George W. Bush’s presidency.” Democrats often said that Bush’s Justice Department had become too politicized and lawyers often found a way to make their opinions fit in with the administration’s views.

Even though it seems clear that most of the world isn’t ready to follow Obama’s lead in approving big stimulus packages, he “is still likely to dominate the discussions” in London, and so far no one has come up with a “clear alternative to his strategy for reviving the world economy,” says the NYT. One expert tells the NYT that the “central paradox” is that while countries around the world have “lost confidence in the U.S. system … everyone is now waiting for the U.S. to bail them out.” The LAT points out that while “Obama remains nearly as popular as he was during his last European visit … the initial love affair may be cooling somewhat.” He is now the face of a country that many blame for plunging the world into a financial crisis.

The NYT gets word from administration officials that Obama plans to initiate discussions with Medvedev about drafting a new arms control treaty that could end up reducing the strategic nuclear arsenals in both countries by about one-third, if not more. Officials from both countries say they could agree to reducing their stockpiles to around 1,500 warheads each. Their talks will, of course, encompass much more than arms control, and the NYT suggests the reason why officials seem to be emphasizing this part of the equation is that it’s one area where both sides seem to agree. The WP highlights that the two leaders are expected to release “a broad statement of principles for cooperation” that is meant to be the official opening salvo on improving relations between the two countries.

The WSJ points out that as the leaders from the world’s economic powers prepare to meet, there is new evidence of how bad the economic situation is around the world. U.S. home prices plunged 19 percent in January compared with a year earlier, and Japan’s business-confidence fell to a record low. The Organization for Economic Cooperation projected that the world economy will shrink by 2.75 percent this year, while the World Bank says the contraction will be of 1.7 percent. Both organizations say there will be a deep plunge in world trade: The World Bank says it will be 6.1 percent while the OECD projection is far more pessimistic. “The world economy is in the midst of its deepest and most synchronized recession in our lifetimes,” OECD’s chief economist wrote.

“This generation,” Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “has a rendezvous with destiny.” The WP’s Harold Meyerson says that “[o]ur generation—at least, its leaders, judging by the likely results of tomorrow’s Group of 20 meeting in London—is doing its damnedest to duck anything so momentous.” There have been plenty of ideas thrown around, “[b]ut neither global rules nor global stimulus is likely to emerge from tomorrow’s G-20 summit,” writes Meyerson. “This generation of world leaders has a rendezvous with inadequacy.”

The NYT fronts another look at the 17 prisoners who are members of China’s Uighur Muslim minority and “have become something of a Guantánamo Rorschach test: hapless refugees to some, dangerous plotters to others.” By now, their story is well-known, but the paper says there are “signs” that the administration is making progress in reviewing the cases to decide whether the prisoners should be released, maybe in the United States. But while reviewing their files, administration officials seem resigned to the fact that it will be hard to find any definitive answers about who they really are. Federal courts have declared that the evidence against them is more than a little thin, but even after that determination, five former Bush administration officials say there wasn’t a concerted effort to find out the truth. “[N]obody was going to go back and look at the facts again,” one former official said.

In the NYT’s op-ed page, Joseph Stiglitz writes that while Obama’s plan to remove toxic assets from banks’ balance sheets has been described as a “win-win-win proposal,” it’s actually a “win-win-lose proposal: the banks win, investors win—and taxpayers lose.” Even though the plan purports to determine a price for these toxic assets, the reality is that the market “will not be pricing the toxic assets themselves, but options on those assets.” Since the government would insure against almost all the losses, investors have to put a value only on how much they stand to gain, which “is exactly the same as being given an option.” The problem is that banks will be properly recapitalized only if the assets are overvalued, meaning that the plan will work only “if and when the taxpayer loses big time.” Some are afraid of the government taking over banks, but Obama’s approach “is far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses,” writes Stiglitz. “It is a ‘partnership’ in which one partner robs the other.”