By Daniel Politi
The Los Angeles Times leads with a dispatch from the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians slowly emerged from hiding yesterday and were shocked at the devastation around them after a 22-day Israeli offensive. Following Israel’s unilateral declaration of a cease-fire on Saturday, Hamas declared a seven-day truce yesterday but vowed to resume fighting if Israeli forces don’t leave Gaza within seven days. Early-morning wire stories report that Israeli officials say they intend to have all of their troops out of Gaza before President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated tomorrow. The New York Times leads with a look at how the Great Recession has been good for the military: More Americans are choosing to sign up at a time when unemployment continues to increase. In the last fiscal year, all active-duty and reserve forces met or exceeded their recruitment goals for the first time since 2004.
The Washington Post and USA Today lead with the official start of the three days of ceremonies and parties to celebrate the inauguration of the country’s first black president. Around 400,000 people gathered in the frigid Washington, D.C., weather to attend a concert at the Lincoln Memorial that included some of the most recognizable names in the entertainment industry. “There is no doubt that our road will be long, that our climb will be steep,” Obama told the crowd. The WP slathers on the groan-inducing imagery in its Page One story: “At times, the multitudes seemed to dance as one, Americans from every corner of the country, of every generation.”
Some areas of Gaza returned to a tenuous state of normalness yesterday as a few shops reopened and maintenance crews repaired power lines and water pipes. But the devastation was hard to miss. The Israeli incursion completely destroyed hundreds of homes as well as government offices, schools, and roads. Palestinian rescue crews were finally able to reach some areas that had been inaccessible during the offensive and came across more than 100 bodies, many of them badly decomposed. “The smell of rotting flesh was suffocating,” the NYT declares. The Palestinian death toll rose to at least 1,300. The LAT cites Gaza Health Ministry figures that claim that at least a third of those killed were children, while the WP says that more than half were civilians.
The WP makes the obvious but necessary point that no one expects the current cease-fire to end the violence. Ultimately, the offensive “ended without surrender” as neither Israel nor Hamas “made any concessions, except to stop fighting temporarily,” notes the WP.
In a front-page analysis piece, the NYT says that after 22 days of fighting “what has been accomplished is unclear.” Israeli officials said they expect Hamas to keep firing rockets into Israel, if for no other reason than to prove that it has not been decimated. Indeed, 15 rockets were fired into southern Israel after the cease-fire took effect. Hundreds of Hamas militants may have been killed, but that only amounts to a fraction of its thousands of fighters, and the group’s leadership structure remains pretty much intact. How was Hamas able to avoid a higher death toll? Quite simply, by staying away. In what appears to have been a carefully calculated move, Hamas fighters didn’t directly confront Israeli soldiers in large numbers. One source “close to Hamas” tells the paper that while Hamas fighters once had a “love of martyrdom,” they’ve been receiving training from Syria and Iran that “helped them rethink their strategy.”
The fact that more Americans choose to sign up for military service when unemployment increases is hardly a new trend, but officials insist it’s not the only reason for the recent spike in recruitment. Many high-school graduates are also particularly tempted by the new G.I. bill, which will expand education benefits. And, of course, the decline of violence in Iraq has also helped some decide to take the plunge and move into a military career.
Assuming the general rule that a weak economy is good for recruitment continues to hold, the military won’t have much trouble meeting its recruiting goals for a while. In a front-page analysis, the LAT notes that an increasing number of economists think the American economy won’t be returning to its former glory anytime in the near future. “Instead, it probably will continue to sputter and threaten to stall for years to come,” says the LAT. Some think that unemployment may actually be a bit higher by the time Obama’s first term ends and that there’s unlikely to be anything but modest growth throughout the next four years. “We’re in a post-bubble global recession, and post-bubble recessions are lethal for growth,” one expert said. “It will be a long time before the world experiences anything more than anemic recovery.”
Obama and his team are well aware of these projections and often remind Americans that they shouldn’t expect a quick recovery. The incoming White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that the economy “is likely to get worse before it gets better.” Obama is expected to continue with this theme in his inaugural address that is expected to focus on “responsibility and restoring public confidence,” notes the Post.
The NYT’s Michiko Kakutani writes about the important role that books have played in Obama’s life and how “his ardent love of reading” is behind his ability to communicate and explain important topics in simple terms. And, perhaps more importantly, books helped Obama develop his vision of the world as well as of himself. President Bush quickly read books as part of competitions and often embraced “an author’s thesis as an idée fixe,” which is why members of his administration seemed to prefer books that advocate a certain path. Obama, on the other hand, often picks nonideological books that present complex issues for which there are no easy solutions.
In the NYT’s op-ed page, Paul Krugman writes that many influential people appear ready to embrace a new kind of voodoo economics: “the belief that by performing elaborate financial rituals we can keep dead banks walking.” Washington is still “deathly afraid” of the word nationalization, which is why nobody wants to “implement the obvious solution: an explicit, though temporary, government takeover” of troubled banks. Instead, the government might soon hand out “huge gifts to bank shareholders at taxpayer expense” by purchasing toxic assets. “I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect that taxpayers are about to get another raw deal,” writes Krugman, “and that we’re about to get another financial rescue plan that fails to do the job.”
In an op-ed piece in the WP, Martin Luther King Jr.’s son writes that his father would be “proud of the America that elected” Obama and made him the country’s first black president. At the same time, “it is important to remember that Barack Obama’s election is not a panacea for race relations in this country,” Martin Luther King III writes. “Though it carries us further down the path toward equality, Barack Obama’s election does not render my father’s dream realized.”