Today's Papers

Can GM Get It Together?

The New York Times and the Washington Post lead with stories on saving General Motors. The NYT focuses on Friday’s tentative deal by GM to sell the European arm of the company, Opel, to Canadian parts manufacturer Magna in an alliance with Russian bank Sberbank. The WP looks forward to Monday’s deadline from the Obama administration for GM’s restructuring plans, with word from the Treasury Department that the U.S. government would recoup the $50 billion it plans to pour into the company within five years. The Wall Street Journaltops its world-wide news box with Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ warning to North Korea against developing and, in particular, exporting nuclear weapon technologies that could threaten the United States and its allies. The Los Angeles Times leads local with a story on severe budget cuts in California. In an effort to trim another $2.8 billion to prevent the state from running out of money this summer, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed deep cuts to education, transportation, and a slew of other government functions.

Although the Opel deal has not been finalized, Magna and Sberbank appear to have won out over Fiat, which was also looking to buy the stake in GM’s European operations. Had Fiat done so, it would have become the second-largest car manufacturer in the world, after Toyota. The NYT implies that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne lost out in the deal, but an earlier story online in the WP yesterday suggested Marchionne was just recoiling due to requests by the German government, which is leading the search for Opel’s buyer, “to fund Opel on an emergency basis while the government determines the timing and conditions of financing.”

In the United States, the government has already put $20 billion into GM and would give the ailing automaker another $30 billion as part of the anticipated bankruptcy proceedings. When all is said and done, the U.S. and Canadian governments will own 72.5 percent of GM. The third part of this weekend’s GM saga, which appears inside all the papers, is the United Auto Workers’ agreement to a new labor contract with GM, which affects 54,000 workers, as well as retirees and family members numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

But inside the WSJ, P.J. O’Rourke attributes  American automakers’ hardships to causes deeper than the recession: “[I]f we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama.” Americans quit romanticizing the automobile, O’Rourke says, when we became reliant on it to get around the suburban sprawl that car culture created.

The NYT and the WP off-lead with stories about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s focus on race issues. The WP goes straight for the story that has dominated this week’s coverage of the nominee, with comments from President Obama that Sotomayor regrets her 2001 remarks about the greater value of “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences” over that of a white male judge. It also focuses on GOP efforts to quell the Republican backlash against those comments (a story that the LAT stuffs, along with the WSJ, and the NYT downplays). The NYT frames the issue more broadly on Page One, with a look at the questions Sotomayor’s nomination raises about the role of affirmative action after the election of the first black president. The article looks at Sotomayor’s support of affirmative action during her college years. The opinion pages of both the WSJ and the LAT carry pieces calling for senators to step up to make Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings meaningful.

The WP fronts a mournful image of South Koreans gathered to remember former President Roh Moo-hyun, who committed suicide a week ago. Roh jumped off a cliff near his rural home, as the new administration was investigating whether he had been involved in a bribery scandal. The tone at the national funeral yesterday evoked some bitterness toward the incumbent president, who supported the investigation. The LAT’s former Seoul bureau chief remembers Roh for his exceptional popularity among young people but notes that ultimately, “Roh followed in a sad tradition of South Korean presidents who’ve either self-destructed or were destroyed by the system.”

The front page of the WSJ doubles as a briefing on the role of technology in 21st-century America. The paper turned up evidence that Washington politicians (legally) used their taxpayer-funded expense accounts to purchase high-end laptops and digital cameras and to lease luxury vehicles last year. Another story details EU regulators’ plan to levy new sanctions against Microsoft, such as requiring the company to package additional Web browsers with Windows software along with its own Internet Explorer. And finally, a feature looks at the increase in laptop use among the homeless, centering on the San Francisco population. The story only has numbers on Internet use in homeless shelters, but its anecdotes about resourceful laptop owners living under bridges and in vans are intriguing, if not entirely convincing of a trend.

In other news from the West Coast, music producer Phil Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life yesterday for the second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. The LAT imbues its story with some local flavor, pointing out the meting of justice to a Los Angeles “music icon.” The brief story devotes a few short paragraphs to the emotional response of the victim’s mother and relegates the requisite supportive quote from Spector’s wife to the kicker.

Inside the A section, the NYT takes a look at the only remaining air route for postal delivery, in Idaho. The Postal Service tried to cancel the route to as part of budget cuts, but the resident ranchers quickly made it clear that they couldn’t get by without postman Ray Arnold’s special deliveries. To get to a P.O. box, “[i]n the summer they could face hours of hiking and dirt-road driving; in the winter the journey would be all but impossible.” Instead, through rain, sleet, snow, and recessions, the postman will continue to make his weekly rounds in one of the last outposts of the American wilderness.