Today's Papers

GM Bankruptcy: An American Revolution

This is it. After months of speculation, General Motors will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy early this morning. The iconic automaker, which was once seen as synonymous with American capitalism and only 10 years ago was the world’s largest company, will be nationalized. The United States will invest $30.1 billion in the company, on top of the $20 billion it has already spent on propping up the automaker. The Los Angeles Timespoints out that GM will now be “the second-largest recipient of bailout money, behind insurance giant American International Group.” USA Todaynotes that GM, unlike Chrysler, will not announce a companywide plant shutdown. Under the current restructuring plan, the U.S. government would get about 60 percent of the new GM, the governments of Canada and Ontario would get 12 percent, 17.5 percent would go to a union retiree-health trust, and bondholders would get 10 percent. The Washington Post  devotes much of its piece to looking, once again, at how the government will have to deal with claims that its restructuring plan favors the United Auto Workers at the expense of regular investors. “The fairness issue will be central as the GM bankruptcy case goes before a judge this week,” notes the Post.

The New York Timespoints out that the restructuring plan “places the government in uncharted territory as a business owner,” while the Wall Street Journalsays that it sets up “a high-stakes gamble for U.S. taxpayers.” Administration officials insist they don’t plan on putting any more money into the company, even as they recognize that there are still unknowns, such as when the car market is going to stage a comeback, that could change the equation. In his speech today, President Obama is expected to argue that the government had no choice but to get involved because a GM liquidation would have reverberated across the wider economy and sent the unemployment rate soaring. At the same time, he will insist that the government doesn’t want to get involved in the automaker’s day-to-day operations.

The WSJ notes that filing for bankruptcy protection  “should allow GM to pull off one of the most expedient downsizings in the industry’s 120-year history.” The country’s largest automaker has often been accused of moving slowly when faced with problems, but now the goal is that a smaller GM will emerge in two to three months and will be more competitive in the marketplace. “Today will rank as another historic day for the company,” the White House said in a statement, “the end of an old General Motors and the beginning of a new one.” But even after this new GM emerges, the government will still have to deal with the parts of the company that nobody wants, which could take years and might cost taxpayers even more money.

All the papers take pains to point out that while GM’s bankruptcy filing had been expected, it is still “a startling development,” as the LAT puts it. In a front-page look at how the country’s largest automaker got into the situation it’s in today, the NYT declares that “[r]arely has a company fallen so far and so fast as General Motors.” The automaker often used “its sheer size … as a trump card to end debates,” notes the NYT. Executives “became practiced at the art of explaining their problems, attributing blame to everyone but themselves” while ignoring growing problems in the company’s business strategy.

The LAT’s Dan Neil writes that “it’s hard not to see GM’s bankruptcy as a signal moment in a larger history. If mighty GM can fail, cannot also the United States? And the answer is, absolutely.” The company’s stark decline is “a rebuff of the notion of exceptionalism,” notes Neil. “Any organization that fails to sufficiently safeguard its means of self-correction and reform, that forsakes long-term investment for short-term gain, that piles up debt year after year, will eventually fail, no matter how grand its history or noble its purpose.”

Everyone fronts the murder of George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who provided late-term abortions. Tiller, who had survived numerous attacks throughout the years, was shot and killed yesterday in the lobby of his church in Whichita, Kan., where he was serving as an usher. Police later apprehended a 51-year-old man. Police believe the gunman acted alone, but they’re still investigating to see whether he had any connections to any one of the anti-abortion groups that frequently protested outside Tiller’s practice was one of only three in the country that, under certain conditions, provided abortions to women in their third trimester. Of course, prominent anti-abortion groups denied they had anything to do with this and condemned the act. Tiller, 67, provided abortions for more than three decades and was often on the receiving end of threats and harassment from the most virulent opponents of the practice. His clinic was bombed in 1986 and he was shot in both arms in 1993. Tiller also successfully defended his practice in a number of legal challenges.

Tiller is the fourth abortion provider to be killed in the United States since 1993 and the first since 1998. The LAT notes that the murder, “plunges the debate over legalized abortion back in time,” to an era when attacks on abortion providers were distressingly commonplace. Attorney General Eric Holder said last night that the U.S. Marshals Service will move to protect abortion providers and facilities to “help prevent any related acts of violence.” Some note that while attacks may have dropped when abortion foes had an ally in the White House with President Bush, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t increase again now that there’s a pro-choice president. “When social movements feel they’re not getting anywhere, they get desperate,” one sociology professor tells the LAT. “This is deeply tragic but unsurprising.” Others caution against tying the acts of radical extremists to political trends.

Slate’s Emily Bazelon writes in Double Xthat the killing of Tiller “is a reminder, as if we needed one, of why so few doctors dare to become abortion providers outside big cities, why even fewer perform late-term abortions, and of the bravery it takes to be a member of these small bands.”

The WP fronts word that officials are optimistic that Pakistani military offensive against the Taliban around the Swat Valley, coupled with the continuing drone attacks along the border with Pakistan, could offer new opportunities to disrupt the al-Qaida network. One U.S. counterterrorism official tells the paper that al-Qaida militants “seem to be feeling a heightened sense of anxiety.” The offensive against the Taliban in Swat is likely to force al-Qaida to come out from hiding and communicate more openly. But it’s unclear whether Pakistani forces will be able to take advantage of these opportunities “before they vanish,” notes the Post. Even though cooperation between the United States and Pakistan has improved lately, relations remain tense. And Pakistan remains reluctant to accept too much U.S. assistance to track down militants using drones.

The WSJ fronts a look at how the U.S. command in Afghanistan has been releasing numbers of every enemy fighter killed in combat. It marks the first time the military has released such detailed body counts since the Vietnam War, when the practice was common. But there’s still great debate within military circles about the value of keeping close track of these numbers, particularly in a war that is not being fought over clear front lines and that has more to do with getting the allegiance of the local population. Some think that advertising the dead might turn Afghans against Western service members; they argue it takes attention away from rebuilding efforts. But proponents of the practice insist it’s a useful tool to counter Taliban propaganda and make it clear to the American people that they’re making progress. It has also become a contentious issue with allies, who are against releasing body counts, which means the NATO-led forces almost never release tallies of dead enemy fighters.

The NYT says that when Conan O’Brien officially takes overThe Tonight Show, “it will mark an unusually peaceful transition of power in Hollywood.” The “revolution” will come when Jay Leno begins his own 10 p.m. show, which “may be among the most pivotal changes since the network evening newscasts were expanded to 30 minutes, from 15, in 1963.” If it’s successful, The Jay Leno Show could change the face of prime time and motivate networks to nix scripted programming in favor of less expensive shows. One television expert tells the paper that prime time has long “looked pretty much the same,” but putting Leno’s show against an expensive scripted program “is the biggest sign yet that we’re really, finally entering a whole new ballgame.”