Today’s papers – July 31, 2009

In Afghanistan, U.S. May Shift Strategy

The Washington Post leads with word that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has written an assessment report that proposes to make several changes to the way U.S. and NATO troops operate in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal wants to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to help fight against the Taliban through a more local approach that relies on building trust with the Afghan people and vastly increasing the number of Afghan security forces.

McChrystal is waiting to hear back from advisers who are currently reviewing his assessment report before making any final recommendations to the White House, particularly on the sensitive issue of troop requests. It’s not clear exactly how many more troops McChrystal thinks are needed in Afghanistan, but it’s likely that a request of that nature would “receive a chilly reception at the White House,” as the Post puts it. Administration officials say the president wants to first see how the additional troops that were sent in the spring are used before even thinking about approving more. Other items in McChrystal’s assessment aren’t exactly surprising, seeing as though they continue on the same theme that has been talked about for a while now. He wants to make changes to how the troops operate so that they’re living in the middle of population centers, carrying out foot patrols, and working with local power brokers. McChrystal wants more attention paid to fighting corruption in the government while also almost doubling the size of Afghan security forces.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/30/AR2009073003948.html

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Thousands Mourn In Tehran

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with, while the WP and Los Angeles Times front, the Iranians who took to the streets to publicly mourn those who were killed in the post-election violence. Thousands gathered at Tehran’s main cemetery to mark the religiously significant 40th day since the most violent clashes took place, including the shooting of 27-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan.

Iran’s security forces prevented opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from visiting the cemetery in Tehran and fiercely tried to disperse the demonstrators, who had not been given permission to gather. The WP is the only paper to have a staffer inside Tehran—the LAT has a special correspondent—and paints the most dramatic picture of yesterday’s clashes, noting that protesters often fought back, for example by beating members of the Basij militia with their own batons and breaking the windows of a van to free demonstrators who had been arrested. The WP describes unhinged security forces that smashed cars when their drivers dared to honk in support of the protesters. The LAT notes that the size of the protests seemed to catch security forces off guard and says that at certain points they “appeared divided” over whether they should beat demonstrators. Coming almost 50 days since the election, the protests showed there is still widespread anger at the results and virtually guarantees there will be more confrontations next week when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is inaugurated for a second term.

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124894946440393289.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/30/AR2009073000291.html

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-iran-protests31-2009jul31,0,7400028.story

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Big Banks Paid Billions in Bonuses Amid Wall St. Crisis

The New York Times leads with a report by the New York attorney general’s office that reveals nine big banks that received government bailout money paid almost $33 billion in bonuses last year. About 5,000 of their employees received bonuses of more than $1 million each.

Releasing the new report on Wall Street bonuses, Andrew Cuomo, the New York attorney general, said last year’s hefty bonuses were particularly insulting considering the companies got billions of dollars from taxpayers in order to survive. “When the banks did well, their employees were paid well,” the report said. “When the banks did poorly, their employees were paid well. And when the banks did very poorly, they were bailed out by taxpayers and their employees were still paid well.”

While the new numbers are almost certain to reignite outrage in Washington and beyond, those in Wall Street defend the practice saying that bonuses are usually based more on individual performance rather than the company’s overall results. In a display of how important the bonus culture is in Wall Street, the WSJ points out that six of the nine banks paid out more in bonuses than they received in profit. Cuomo highlighted that if bonuses had any relation to overall performance, the pay levels should have declined in 2007 and 2008. But that wasn’t the case, and several banks continued to increase their compensation even as revenue dropped.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/business/31pay.html

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-exec-pay31-2009jul31,0,4042465.story

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124896891815094085.html (subscriber content preview)

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‘Cash for clunkers’ program runs out of gas

The Los Angeles Times leads with, and everyone fronts, news that the $1 billion Congress appropriated for the “cash for clunkers” program may have run out in less than a week. The program was designed to increase auto sales by offering vouchers of up to $4,500 to consumers who traded in gas-guzzling vehicles for more fuel-efficient new trucks or cars.

There was lots of confusion last night over whether the “cash for clunkers” program would be suspended. The WP says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called lawmakers yesterday to warn that the program would end at midnight. USAT confirmed the suspension with the legislative director for the National Automobile Dealers Association. But then, administration officials came out to say that the program was not being suspended. Yet it’s unlikely that dealers will continue to honor the deal until they get assurances from the government that more money is available since they don’t want to get stuck holding the bag. Congress could decide to appropriate more money for the program, but obviously nothing in Washington is that simple, and passing funding bills is often a challenge. Two senators said yesterday that if lawmakers are going to approve more money, they should do so under the condition that the new cars get better fuel economy than required by the original program.

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Full article: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-car-clunkers31-2009jul31,0,7307910.story

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/30/AR2009073004122.html

http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2009-07-30-cash-for-clunkers-program-suspended_N.htm

 

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Routine GI health needs not met

USA Today leads with Army records that show the number of Army medical centers and clinics that can’t provide timely access to routine medical care is the highest in five years, and around 16 percent of patients end up being sent to doctors off-base. Twenty-six of the Army’s medical centers can’t meet the Pentagon standard that requires 90 percent of patients get appointments for routine car within seven days.

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Full article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2009-07-30-careaccess_N.htm

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Key Senate Panel Won’t Vote Till Fall

In the continuing fight over health care reform, Sen. Max Baucus said that the finance committee wouldn’t be voting on any legislation before the August recess. Baucus, the committee’s chairman, said he would continue working on the bill next week but couldn’t promise that a draft would be made public before the recess. The NYT notes that two of the top Republican negotiators in the committee vehemently disagree that they’re anywhere near reaching a deal. Republicans have apparently been warning their party’s negotiators in the committee that they might be compromising leadership posts in the future if they make too many concessions to Democrats. Meanwhile, liberal Democrats in the House expressed their anger at the concessions their party leaders have made and threatened to vote against the bill if the public health plan isn’t strengthened in the final version of the legislation.

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124896091749093589.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/us/politics/31health.html

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-health-overhaul31-2009jul31,0,2426079.story

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Industry Is Generous To Influential Bloc

The WP fronts an analysis of campaign-finance data that shows conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs typically receive about 25 percent more donations from the health care and insurance sectors than other Democrats. Their pivotal role in shaping legislation has been good to their coffers, as their political action committee has raised more than $1.1 million this year through June, more than half of that money came from health care, insurance, and financial-services industries.

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/30/AR2009073004267.html

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Health Reform’s Taboo Topic

In the WP‘s op-ed page, Philip Howard, chairman of a legal reform coalition, writes that as lawmakers look for waste in the nation’s health care system, they’re refusing to look at “the erratic, expensive and time-consuming jury-by-jury malpractice system” thanks to the influential trial-lawyers lobby. Pilot programs could be set up to test whether “expert health courts” should replace the system, but lawmakers won’t even consider it even though it could help cut down on “defensive medicine,” a far-too-common practice of ordering unneeded tests and procedures as lawsuit protection. Debating health care without addressing defensive medicine “would be a scandal,” writes Howard, “a willful refusal by Congress to deal with one of the causes of skyrocketing health-care costs.”

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/30/AR2009073002816.html

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Over Beers, No Apologies, but Plans to Have Lunch

All the papers front a picture of the hotly anticipated “beer summit” with President Obama, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Sgt. James Crowley. At the last minute, the White House decided to include Vice President Joe Biden, which, as the NYT points out, allowed the administration to “add balance to the photo op that the White House presented: two black guys, two white guys, sitting around a table.” Obama and Biden were dressed “in exaggerated casual attire,” as the WSJ puts it, in order to highlight that this was supposed to be a friendly, happy hour conversation. But the two guests wore ties and dark jackets, despite the heat. A small group of reporters and photographers were allowed to watch the exciting action for only 30 seconds from about 50 feet away. What happened? Not surprisingly, nothing really. They talked, exchanged pleasantries, and no one apologized. But Gates and Crowley did apparently agree to have lunch together soon.

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/us/politics/31obama.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124899365578295227.html

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-beer-summit31-2009jul31,0,1427021.story

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The Gifts of Gaffes

In the Post‘s op-ed page, Michael Kinsley writes that Obama’s “rhetorical goofs” are different from the standard political “gaffe,” which usually involves a politician accidentally telling the truth. Obama’s “goofs” usually are a result of talking before he thinks through everything he wants to say. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t say it. “The more concerned you are to avoid saying anything wrong or offensive,” writes Kinsley, “the less likely you are to say anything inspiring or true.”

The full article reads:

The Gifts of Gaffes

Isn’t it great to have a president who says something foolish or impolitic from time to time?

With his remark that the Cambridge, Mass., police acted “stupidly” in arresting Henry Louis Gates Jr., President Obama managed to extend the story by a week or more and to turn a nice little summer amusement for the political opinion industry into a “teachable moment,” which means something everyone must get serious about. Obama also solidified his reputation as a foot-in-mouther almost as accomplished as his vice president. Before Gates and the police, there was his joke about Nancy Reagan conducting séances in the White House, and then an unfortunate (though very common) use of the Special Olympics as a punch line, and so on.

But Obama’s rhetorical goofs usually are different from Joe Biden’s momentum-mouth, just as they are different from the empty-headed nonsense of George W. Bush and the bizarre country-club-bar chatter of Bush’s father. They are also different from the standard political “gaffe,” which, as we know, is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Obama’s goofs are generally not a result of speaking the truth. They come from thinking things through incompletely. It turns out that the police officer who arrested Skip Gates was not necessarily acting “stupidly” and that Gates might have been doing just that. The president ultimately came up with a typically elegant formulation, describing the episode as a misunderstanding between “two good men.” Wouldn’t it have been better if he had just kept quiet until all the facts were in and all his thoughts were in order?

No, it would not have been better. The media, in their ill-fitting role as guardians of civility, now lecture the president on the special responsibilities of his office. His own aides no doubt shake their heads and tell one another that this is what happens when the man goes “off the reservation” — that is, when he fails to follow the script they have written for him. And of course the Limbaughs and Gingriches of the world are so upset that they can barely contain their delight at having this stick to beat Obama with.

The rituals of umbrage that have become so big a part of our political narrative aren’t just tedious. They do real harm. Very often the offense taken is completely phony, such as during last fall’s campaign when Obama stood accused of insulting Sarah Palin and all of womankind by using the phrase “lipstick on a pig.” Three problems here. First, the whole fuss was stagey and false. Second, it consumed valuable attention when citizens had more important subjects they should have been thinking and talking about. And third, it encouraged further fancied slights.

But even when the remark at issue is genuinely unfortunate and the offense taken isn’t completely imaginary, the fuss is usually excessive and damaging. The people who declare that a president has a special responsibility not to say anything offensive have it wrong. The president has a special responsibility to address important topics and to say important things. That can’t be done in a thin-skinned political culture obsessed with gaffes, and with a citizenry overly quick to take offense.

The more concerned you are to avoid saying anything wrong or offensive, the less likely you are to say anything inspiring or true. We have elected a president with a speculative mind. He wrote a book worth reading — wrote it himself! — even before running for president. It’s interesting to hear what he thinks about various subjects — even those that don’t immediately affect his own presidency. But every teachable episode we put him through teaches him that speculation is risky. And the riskier we make it, the less of it we’re likely to get.

Jokes are a slightly different category, but the dynamic is the same. The more we punish jokes that fall flat, the fewer good ones we’re likely to get. Just as presidents start by chafing at the Secret Service and end up enjoying life inside the cocoon, they start by speaking their minds and gradually learn that it’s safer and easier to live by the Teleprompter.

We complain about politicians who talk in pre-tested and rehearsed sound bites, but we punish anyone who strays too far into his or her own thinking.

Michael Kinsley, Washington Post

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/30/AR2009073002820.html

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Full article: http://www.slate.com/id/2224022/

http://www.thebigmoney.com/features/todays-business-press/2009/07/31/can-clunker-be-saved

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