Today's Papers

Is California Too Big To Fail?

The New York Timesleads with word that a soon-to-be-released Pentagon report claims that 74 of the 534 prisoners released from Guantanamo “have returned to terrorism or militant activity.” The Pentagon had promised in January that the report would be released soon, but administration officials say Defense Department employees are holding it up, fearful that it could be seen as an attempt to undermine the White House efforts to close the detention center. The Washington Postleads with, and the Los Angeles Timesfronts, a preview of the speech President Obama will give this morning at the National Archives, where he will attempt to answer critics of his plan to close Guantanamo. Obama will emphasize that it’s in the interest of national security to close the prison while also raising the issue that it might be necessary to hold some of the detainees indefinitely without trial.

The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with, and the NYT fronts, the arrest of four men in New York late last night who were apparently planning to bomb a synagogue and a Jewish community center in the Bronx (the NYT says they’re both synagogues) and to attack military planes at a New York National Guard air base with Stinger missiles. Investigators had been following the men for almost a year with the help of an informant, who helped them get dummy weapons. The men were arrested after planting what they thought were bombs outside the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center. At least three of the men are U.S. citizens, and they’re all Muslim. USA Todayleads with claims by the Army’s vice chief of staff that commanders often fail to punish or seek treatment for soldiers who test positive for drug use, maybe because “commanders feel a requirement to keep their numbers up,” Gen. Peter Chiarelli said. Dealing with cases of drug abuse could help the Army decrease the number of suicides, which reached a record 142 confirmed or suspected cases last year. As could be expected, the LAT goes big with the fallout from the overwhelming defeat of almost all the ballot measures in California’s special election that were supposed to help the state deal with its massive budget deficit. In short: California is in deep, deep trouble as leaders are busy preparing for “brutal” budget cuts.

The revelation that around one in seven of the prisoners released from Guantanamo has resumed terrorist-related activities will undoubtedly give fodder to those opposed to closing down the facility. But previous claims of recidivism among Guantanamo detainees have been met with skepticism because the Pentagon provides so few details that it’s impossible to verify its claims. This latest report appears to be no exception, even though it identifies 29 by name, 16 of whom are named for the first time. Of the 29 former detainees identified by name, only a few “can be independently verified as having engaged in terrorism since their release,” notes the NYT. The other 45 aren’t named, apparently out of national security concerns. Even if the figures are accurate, terrorism experts say some recidivism is to be expected, and a rate of 14 percent is far lower than the rate for prisoners in the United States. “We’ve never said there weren’t some people who would return to the fight,” a professor who has represented Guantanamo detainees said. “It seems to be unavoidable.”

On the same day as the Senate overwhelmingly voted against giving the White House funds to close down Guantanamo, the Justice Department decided to send the first Guantanamo prisoner to the United States to stand trial in a criminal court. Meanwhile, lawmakers who are insisting that Guantanamo detainees shouldn’t be held in the United States got some help from FBI Director Robert Mueller III, who told Congress there are real risks to housing the detainees in U.S. prisons. In a meeting with human rights leaders at the White House, Obama said that he hopes to “regain the initiative” on the Guantanamo issue with today’s speech.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the Obama administration wouldn’t go forward with its threat to repeal $6.8 billion in federal stimulus cash. But that was the only bit of good news in a gloomy day when “the most certain thing was the dark and angry mood of the voters” who overwhelmingly rejected a package of measures designed to bring in more money to the state. Schwarzenegger said the election results were a sign that voters were ready to support the deep cuts he had previously outlined. “There was a sense that the warnings this time, unlike some earlier ones, were real,” notes the LAT. In a front-page piece, the NYT points out that as California’s troubles continue to grow, there are increased calls for a constitutional convention to change the way the state does business, particularly its reliance on ballot initiatives.

In a front-page column, the LAT’s Michael Hiltzik eviscerates Schwarzenegger for failing to take advantage of his huge level of support when he first came into office “to tell the voters the harsh but necessary truths about California governance and force real reforms down their throats.” But he chose to spew “the same lies about state government and proposed the same nostrums as many of his predecessors.” Now, there’s nowhere to run.

Well, there actually might be somewhere else to turn for help: the federal government. After bailing out numerous financial institutions and automakers, California leaders say it’s time for a bailout of their own. And they’re warning that unless the Obama administration comes through, the state could start running out of money in July and won’t be able to pay its bills, which could have a negative effect on an already devastated economy. “A fiscal meltdown by California,” the state treasurer wrote in an appeal to the Treasury Department, “would surely destabilize the U.S., if not worldwide, financial markets.” Experts say this kind of federal assistance to a state would be a first. Even if lawmakers manage to balance the budget through devastating cuts, the state would still need as much as $20 billion in short-term loans, but no private lender is likely to put up that kind of cash without a guarantee from the federal government that they would be paid back. “The state’s view is, if they can bail out the auto industry, they can do this for us,” one expert said.

While Californians wonder whether their state is too big to fail, the WSJ reports that the Treasury is getting ready to pump more than $7 billion into GMAC as part of a new package that could eventually reach $14 billion. This latest infusion of cash could mean that in the next few months the government might own majority stakes in both GMAC and General Motors. This latest aid would be on top of the $5 billion GMAC received in December and is designed to help the auto-financing company continue to provide loans for car purchases at GM and Chrysler. Meanwhile, banks continue their efforts to raise the capital that the government said they needed after conducting the stress tests. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said yesterday that the nation’s big banks had already raised, or are planning to raise, $48 billion to fill the $75 billion capital shortfall that regulators found as the result of the stress tests.

The private capital being raised by banks is the latest example of how the financial system “is in a spring thaw,” declares the WP, pointing out that this is happening despite the fact that many of the rescue programs launched by the Obama administration still haven’t really taken off. Experts say current conditions have to do with a variety of actions, but the most important is that there’s confidence that the government is aggressively taking action to tackle the myriad problems that froze the financial system for so long. And that’s exactly what the administration intended. The “markets look forward, and to some degree improve in anticipation of measures that are to come,” one expert said.

The LAT, NYT, and WP front the 2,600-page report released in Dublin yesterday that concluded boys and girls were sexually, emotionally, and physically abused in orphanages and reform schools that were run by the Roman Catholic Church from the 1930s to 1990s. After a nine-year investigation, the report concluded that sexual abuse was “endemic” and that the state and church turned a blind eye to the pervasive problems. Some of the report “sounds as if it comes from the records of a P.O.W. camp” as it lays out in detail the abuse suffered by the children, notes the NYT. Some of the schools essentially operated as sweatshops. Despite the comprehensive nature of the report, many are angry that it doesn’t name any of the individuals accused of abuse, meaning that it’s unlikely the document could ever be used to prosecute the perpetrators.

In the WP’s op-ed page, former Democratic senator Bob Graham says it’s time to stop obsessing over what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was or wasn’t told seven years ago and start talking about the “the reform urgently needed in the relationship between the intelligence community, the executive branch and Congress.” But Graham includes an interesting nugget that should give pause to anyone leaning toward trusting the CIA’s word over Pelosi’s. The former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee apparently keeps “a detailed log” of his daily activities, and he “confirmed, and the CIA concurred, that three of the four briefings I supposedly attended never occurred,” writes Graham.

In the LAT’s op-ed page, Bill Maher writes that California “is designed to be ungovernable because we govern by ballot initiative, and we only write two kinds of them: ‘Spend money on things I like’ and ‘Don’t raise my taxes.’ ” And while Californians thought that “making an action hero our leader” could solve their problems, the truth is that “even superheroes couldn’t get us out of the mess we’re in now.” But before the schadenfreude takes over, remember that wanting everything for nothing “is a national condition, not just a California thing,” writes Maher. “Like everything else, we just take what’s real, exaggerate it, add some explosions and give it a giant pair of fake breasts.”