Today’s papers – August 10, 2009

U.S. to Hunt Down Afghan Drug Lords Tied to Taliban

The New York Times leads with word that the Pentagon has placed 50 major Afghan drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban on a list of targets to be captured or killed. The paper got an early look at a congressional study set to be released this week and notes that by putting drug traffickers on the same list as insurgent leaders, the United States is drastically changing its counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan.

Military commanders have told lawmakers the new policy to go after major drug traffickers with the same level of intensity as militant leaders is perfectly legal and essential to making it more difficult for Taliban fighters to operate in Afghanistan. And they emphasized that only drug traffickers who helped finance the Taliban were put on the list. NATO allies were skeptical at first, but now say that there are sufficient safeguards in place to make sure everything remains legal. The report to be released by Congress this week also states that previous studies may have overestimated the amount of money the Taliban receives from the drug trade.


Full article:


Preparing for Swine Flu’s Return

 The Washington Post leads with a look at how the United States, along with other countries in the Northern Hemisphere, is preparing for a second wave of swine flu, which could start hitting with a vengeance in the next few weeks. Several countries in the Southern Hemisphere have been hit particularly hard during their winter, and everyone expects it to continue spreading. Britain has reported a recent increase in swine flu cases and set up a system to distribute drugs. Meanwhile, there are growing concerns the H1N1 virus could cause a huge number of fatalities if it begins to infect many people in some of the world’s poorest countries.


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Poll: Americans want health care bill, but not the cost

USA Today leads with a poll on health care that shows how people’s opinions are all over the map and sometimes conflict. Seniors are certainly the most resistant to change, and with the exception of the youngest age group, the idea of controlling costs is seen as a higher priority than expanding coverage to the uninsured. Those with insurance and no significant health problems don’t think the issue is so urgent that something must be done this year.


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Taliban Now Winning

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with an interview with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, who warned U.S. casualties would remain high in the coming months as more soldiers are sent to population centers. Several officials say they expect McChrystal to ask for as many as 10,000 more troops.

The full article reads:

Taliban Now Winning

U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Warns of Rising Casualties

The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency’s spiritual home.

taliban august 1

Two boys watch a U.S. soldier Sunday during a dawn patrol in Kunar Province in northeastern Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander, is making protection of civilians a priority over hunting Taliban rebels.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the commander offered a preview of the strategic assessment he is to deliver to Washington later this month, saying the troop shifts are designed to better protect Afghan civilians from rising levels of Taliban violence and intimidation. The coming redeployments are the clearest manifestation to date of Gen. McChrystal’s strategy for Afghanistan, which puts a premium on safeguarding the Afghan population rather than hunting down militants.

Gen. McChrystal said the Taliban are moving beyond their traditional strongholds in southern Afghanistan to threaten formerly stable areas in the north and west.

The militants are mounting sophisticated attacks that combine roadside bombs with ambushes by small teams of heavily armed militants, causing significant numbers of U.S. fatalities, he said. July was the bloodiest month of the war for American and British forces, and 12 more American troops have already been killed in August.

taliban august 2

“It’s a very aggressive enemy right now,” Gen. McChrystal said in the interview Saturday at his office in a fortified NATO compound in Kabul. “We’ve got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative. It’s hard work.”

In an effort to regain the upper hand, Gen. McChrystal said he will redeploy some troops currently in sparsely populated areas to areas with larger concentrations of Afghan civilians, while some of the 4,000 American troops still to arrive will be deployed to Kandahar.

The Obama administration is in the midst of an Afghan buildup that will push U.S. troop levels here to a record 68,000 by year end. There are roughly an additional 30,000 troops from North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries and other allies.

Gen. McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, had a request outstanding for 10,000 more troops. Gen. McChrystal said he hadn’t decided whether to request additional U.S. forces. “We’re still working it,” he said.

Several officials who have taken part in Gen. McChrystal’s 60-day review of the war effort said they expect him to ultimately request as many as 10,000 more troops — a request many observers say will be a tough sell at the White House, where several senior administration officials have said publicly that they want to hold off on sending more troops until the impact of the initial influx of 21,000 reinforcements can be gauged.

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is costing American taxpayers about $4 billion a month.

Gen. McChrystal also said he would direct a “very significant” expansion of the Afghan army and national police — which would double in size under the plans being finalized by senior U.S. military officers here — and import a tactic first used in Iraq by moving U.S. troops onto small outposts in individual Afghan neighborhoods and villages.

The Los Angeles Times leads locally with a look at how lawyers are having considerable success at getting courts to declare that certain budget cuts passed by the legislature are illegal. These lawsuits are one reason why most expect the recently approved spending plan that closes California’s massive budget gap will end up collapsing.

One person briefed on the assessment said it will call for boosting the Afghan army to 240,000 from 135,000 and the Afghan police to 160,000 from 82,000.

One official noted the emerging plans to double the size of the Afghan army and police will require thousands of additional U.S. trainers. The U.S. will also need more troops if security conditions in north and west Afghanistan continue to deteriorate, the official said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the math,” he said. “The demand and the supply don’t line up, even with the new troops that are coming in.”

In earlier phases of the assessment process, Gen. McChrystal’s staff conducted a “troop-to-task” analysis that weighed increasing U.S. troop levels by two brigades — each such unit has 3,500 to 5,000 troops — or by as many as eight brigades, according to officials familiar with the matter. A middle option of four to six brigades was also considered, these people said.

The prospect of more troops rankles some of Gen. McChrystal’s advisers, who worry the American military footprint in Afghanistan is already too large.

“How many people do you bring in before the Afghans say, ‘You’re acting like the Russians’?” said one senior military official, referring to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. “That’s the big debate going on in the headquarters right now.”

taliban august 3

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, center, meets Afghan citizens in Canada’s “model village” of Deh-e Bagh, Afghanistan, in June.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said publicly during his campaign for the approaching Aug. 20 elections that he wants to negotiate new agreements giving the Afghan government more control over the conduct of the foreign troops currently in the country.

Gen. McChrystal, however, says too many troops aren’t a concern. “I think it’s what you do, not how many you are. It’s how the force conducts itself.”

Regardless of how he resolves the internal debate on troop numbers, Gen. McChrystal’s coming report won’t include any specific requests for more U.S. troops. Those numbers would instead be detailed in a follow-on document that is set to be delivered to Washington a few weeks after the assessment.

The timing of Gen. McChrystal’s primary assessment remains in flux. It was initially due in mid-August, but the commander was summoned to a secret meeting in Belgium last week with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and told to take more time. Military officials say the assessment will now be released sometime after the Aug. 20 vote.

The shift came amid signs of growing U.S. unease about the direction of the war effort. Initial assessments delivered to Gen. McChrystal last month warned that the Taliban were strengthening their control over Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan.

taliban august 4

American forces have been waging a major offensive in the neighboring southern province of Helmand, the center of Afghanistan’s drug trade. Some U.S. military officials believe the Taliban have taken advantage of the American preoccupation with Helmand to infiltrate Kandahar and set up shadow local governments and courts throughout the city.

“Helmand is a sideshow,” said the senior military official briefed on the analysis. “Kandahar is the capital of the south [and] that’s why they want it.”

Gen. McChrystal said in the interview that he planned to shift more U.S. troops to Kandahar to bolster the Canadian forces that currently have primary security responsibility for the region. Hundreds of American troops equipped with mobile armored vehicles known as Strykers are already in the province.

“It’s important and so we’re going to do whatever we got to do to ensure that Kandahar is secure,” he said. “With the arrival of the new U.S. forces we’ll have the ability to put some more combat power in the area.”

Despite the mounting concern about the Taliban’s infiltration of Kandahar, there are clear limits to how soon additional U.S. forces can be sent to the city.

Moving forces from neighboring Helmand is nearly impossible, because those troops have already set up forward bases and recruited help from local tribal leaders, who have been promised American backing. As a result, the additional American troop deployments to Kandahar have only begun in recent days, with the arrival of new reinforcements that will continue into the fall.

Gen. McChrystal defended the decision to focus first on Helmand. The current operation, one of the largest since the start of the war in 2001, was meant to disrupt the Taliban’s lucrative drug operations there, he said.

The armed group reaps tens of millions of dollars annually from the sale of opium from Helmand, and the commander said he wants to have troops on the ground before local farmers start to plant their next batch of poppies in November. The U.S. is working to persuade Helmand’s farmers to replace their poppy fields with wheat and fruit.

The roughly 4,000 Marines in Helmand have been charged with putting Gen. McChrystal’s thinking about counterinsurgency into practice. They are trying to build local relationships by launching small development and reconstruction projects.

Gen. McChrystal said his new strategy had to show clear results within roughly 12 months to prevent public support for the war from evaporating in both the U.S. and Afghanistan.

“This is a period where people are really looking to see which way this is going to go,” he said. “It’s the critical and decisive moment.”


Full article and photos:


Lawsuits are the latest roadblock for California budget

The Los Angeles Times leads locally with a look at how lawyers are having considerable success at getting courts to declare that certain budget cuts passed by the legislature are illegal. These lawsuits are one reason why most expect the recently approved spending plan that closes California’s massive budget gap will end up collapsing”

The full article reads:

Lawsuits are the latest roadblock for California budget

Litigators go to court to undo cuts made by legislators and the governor. The state is spending billions of dollars fighting the lawsuits and dealing with increasingly unfavorable rulings.

Well-connected lobbyists, political pressure and a good turnout at committee hearings used to be the special interest recipe for protecting turf in the state budget. Now, a potent new ingredient is being increasingly thrown into the mix: top-shelf litigators.

Lawyers are being drafted in droves to unravel spending plans passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The goal of these litigators is to get back money their clients lost in the budget process. They are having considerable success, winning one lawsuit after another, costing the state billions of dollars and throwing California’s budget process into further tumult.

In the last few months alone, the courts added more than a billion dollars to the state’s deficit by declaring illegal reductions in healthcare services, redevelopment agency funds and transportation spending. Another ruling threatens to deprive California of all its federal stimulus money if the state does not rescind a cut to the salaries of home healthcare workers.

Lawyers are scrambling to prepare additional suits related to the budget plan the governor signed last month. On Friday, Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) — who negotiated the budget — announced that even he plans to sue. Steinberg said the governor illegally made more than $500 million worth of cuts in the budget plan passed by lawmakers.

“We are seeing more lawsuits and more victories by the groups filing them,” said Bob Hertzberg, a former Assembly speaker who now is chairman of California Forward, a think tank focused on reforming the budget process. “They don’t want to compromise. . . . It’s easier to hire lawyers than lobbyists, and you probably get better outcomes.”

The attorneys are seizing on state laws that were drafted in sunnier economic times, some of which were put in place by citizen initiative. They created new programs or expanded existing ones and contained language intended to solidify the place of those programs in state government. Now, the state is broke, and lawmakers and the governor are finding their attempts to take money from the programs rebuffed by the courts. Just the lawsuits themselves cost the state millions of dollars in attorney salaries and other legal fees.

“It’s the nature of trying to navigate a budget that has become more and more complicated and more and more difficult to make changes in,” said Michael Cohen, a budget expert at the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, to which lawmakers look for advice on fiscal matters.

He said ironclad assurances that programs will be funded have been etched into the law by lawmakers and voters who “can’t always see the future in terms of changing priorities or different circumstances that might come along later.”

Lawsuits are one reason most in Sacramento expect a quick collapse of the spending plan the governor signed last month to wipe out a deficit of about $24 billion. There is talk of the governor needing to call an emergency session in the fall so lawmakers can get back to work keeping the state solvent.

Even before last month’s signing, multiple groups announced their intention to sue. No sooner was the ink on the budget dry than the California Redevelopment Assn. posted an alert on its website calling for members to sign on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was being drafted by the law firm of McDonough, Holland & Allen.

The suit would challenge, among other things, a shuffling of state funds away from redevelopment and into school districts. If the association’s litigation succeeded, it would throw the budget out of balance by as much as $2 billion.

That suit would join more than a dozen other big ones pending against the state.

Among them is one in which a court ruled in June that several past raids of public transit money were illegal. The decision did not force the state to return funds, but it blocked taking any more.

Josh Shaw, executive director of the nonprofit California Transit Assn. and a lead plaintiff, said the suit “strikes at the heart of the gimmicks that have been employed year after year in putting together the state budget.”

The ruling left lawmakers and the governor scrambling to find a replacement for up to $1 billion of the money they had hoped to use to wipe out the deficit.

The alternative they came up with was to take other transportation funds. But the new pot of money lawmakers wanted to raid was sacred to local governments. They use the funds for road maintenance, street sweeping and other services. The proposal died under the weight of city and county opposition during the all-night legislative session last month when lawmakers passed the budget, leaving a billion-dollar hole in their spending plan.

Medi-Cal doctors, meanwhile, this year have managed to roll back a $1.1-billion cut in their reimbursements. A federal appeals court declared illegal a 10% cut in what physicians are paid by Medi-Cal, the government healthcare program for the poor, that was implemented in July 2008. The court ruled the cut would drive doctors out of the program, endangering the ability of patients to get care and thereby violating minimum federal standards for the program.

Some analysts say that although interest groups have become savvier in their use of litigation, state officials have also invited the suits through their desperate and often sloppy budgeting.

The lawsuits are “a product of the desperation of the people trying to forge budget agreements,” said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a think tank that analyzes the effects of spending policies on low-income Californians. “All of the easy solutions are gone. The choices are hard, the gap is wide. People look to riskier and riskier options to come up with savings.”

It is hardly a secret in the Capitol that lawmakers sometimes approve budget measures despite their dubious legality because it buys them time. The hope is that by the time the appeals process is finally exhausted — which can take years — the economy will have rebounded, filling the gap with new revenue. It’s a kind of borrowing.

Such was the case with a plan a few years ago to put off some payments into the pension fund for government workers.

The plan was passed in 2004, on the tail end of the last budget crisis. It stayed on the books for several years. By the time it wound its way through the litigation process, state revenues were on the rebound and there was enough cash to take the plan off the books.

“These cases can go on for a while,” said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a professor of public policy at UCLA. “It’s a way of pushing liabilities into the future.”


Full article:,0,6482327.story


Obama’s grass-roots network is put to the test

As conservative groups and other opponents of health care reform launch efforts to disrupt Democratic town hall meetings many have been wondering where in the world are the foot soldiers that were so instrumental to President Obama’s victory in November. The LAT takes a look at how the Organizing for America network has been slow to get started because it is still trying to figure out how to best operate, and there have apparently been disagreements on what tactics should be pursued. The troubles the network now has to deal with illustrate how it’s not so easy to take a campaign operation and turn it into a network of supporters who can persuade their neighbors to support specific policies. Part of the problem is that many who joined the network during the campaign lean heavily to the left and have found themselves disenchanted by Obama since he moved into the White House.


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A Primer on the Details of Health Care Reform

For those still confused about what the battle is all about, the NYT publishes a useful summary.

The full article reads:

A Primer on the Details of Health Care Reform

With the debate over the future of health care now shifted from Capitol Hill to town halls, supporters and critics of the Democrats’ legislative proposals are polishing their sound bites and sharpening their attack lines.

Increasingly, the battle looks like a presidential contest, with expensive advertising campaigns and Internet-driven efforts to mobilize local support. It can be difficult to sort fact from fiction, as angry protesters denounce the legislation at raucous public forums.

President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress have made the health care overhaul their top priority, putting their political futures on the line. Democrats had hoped to spend the month whipping up support for the legislation, but instead find themselves on the defensive, responding to what Mr. Obama describes as “outlandish rumors” spread by critics.

Many Republicans view fighting the president as a smart political strategy, turning a potentially wonkish debate over Medicare reimbursement rates and subsidies for the uninsured into an ideological battle over the government’s role in health care.

Each side hopes to win ground by boiling down one of the most complex policy discussions in history into digestible nuggets. For beachside viewers who might be more interested in iced-tea service than fee-for-service, here is a guide to the main fight points.


Mr. Obama has said repeatedly, as he told the American Medical Association in June: “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

These assurances reflect an aspiration, but may not be literally true or enforceable.

The legislation does not require insurers or employers to continue offering the health benefits they now provide. The House bill sets detailed standards for “acceptable health care coverage,” which would define “essential benefits” and permissible co-payments. Employers that already offer insurance would have five years to bring their plans into compliance with the new federal standards.

The Senate health committee bill goes somewhat further by offering an “option to retain current insurance coverage.”

The legislation could have significant implications for individuals who have bought coverage on their own. Their policies might be exempted from the new standards, but the coverage might not be viable for long because insurers could not add benefits or enroll additional people in noncompliant policies.

Dallas L. Salisbury, president of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a private nonpartisan group, said: “The president and Democrats in Congress are saying what they would like. Their promises may not be literally true because your health plan may change, and your doctor may no longer accept your insurance.”


Or Uniquely American?

Republicans harshly criticize Democratic proposals to create a government-run insurance plan, or public option, to compete with private insurers. Republicans say the public plan would drive insurers out of business and lead to “socialized medicine” or a government takeover of health care. Democrats say they want a “uniquely American” system with public and private elements.

For now, the Republican criticism seems overblown. Major versions of the legislation all rely heavily on a continuation of private health plans, offered by employers and by insurance companies, subject to sweeping new federal regulations.

Whether a public plan would crowd out private insurers depends on details yet to be decided, including its premiums and its payment rates for health care providers.

The public plan is not even a certainty. To win bipartisan support for the overhaul, some Democrats have proposed private nonprofit health care cooperatives, instead of a public plan, to compete with private insurers.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that, under the House bill, the number of people with employer-sponsored insurance would climb to 162 million in 2016, which is 3 million more than expected under current law. Further, it said, enrollment in the proposed public plan might total 11 million, far lower than estimates cited by Republicans.

An additional 10 million people, most of them now uninsured, would enroll in Medicaid, the budget office said.

At any rate, the federal government already holds sway over the health care system through Medicare, Medicaid and various insurance programs for children, veterans, military personnel and other federal employees. The federal government will account for 35 percent of the expected $2.5 trillion in health spending this year, and that does not include subsidies built into the tax code.


Or Ensuring Blame?

Democrats have unleashed a blistering attack on private health insurers as they try to convince the vast majority of Americans who already have coverage that the current system is tilted in favor of corporate profits, not patients, and that insurers are a main obstacle to passing legislation.

Insurers say they support some of the most important Democratic proposals, including a ban on denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on pre-existing medical conditions.

The insurance industry does oppose a government-run insurance plan and could eventually mobilize against the overhaul. But insurers appear to be less of an obstacle than public apprehension over such sweeping change and skittishness among lawmakers, including centrist Democrats from Republican-leaning districts.

Most Americans do not know the full cost of their employer-sponsored insurance. And it is easier for Democrats to paint insurers as greedy than to explain the complex math that shows current health care spending is unsustainable.


Or Budget-Buster?

Mr. Obama has avoided dictating specific provisions of health care legislation. But he has insisted that the bill not add to the federal debt, leading Democrats to say that the overhaul will be “deficit neutral,” with the roughly $1 trillion, 10-year cost to be offset by reduced spending or new taxes.

The Congressional Budget Office has yet to issue cost estimates for the latest versions of the bill approved by three House committees. But it has warned that the legislation “would probably generate substantial increases in federal budget deficits” beyond 2019, in part because health costs are rising faster than the rate of inflation and proposed new taxes would not keep up.

Republicans use those warnings to cast doubt on the claim by Mr. Obama that the legislation will “bend the cost curve” by slowing the growth of health spending in the long term. Democrats say the overhaul will lead to savings that cannot be calculated under budgeting rules. At this point, it is difficult to know who is right.

Over the next 10 years, the budget office said, the House bill would “result in a net increase in the federal budget deficit of $239 billion,” partly because of an increase in Medicare spending to avert sharp cuts in payments to doctors scheduled to occur under existing law.

House Democrats say the higher doctor payments should not count in the cost because they fix a problem that predates the Obama administration and Democratic control of Congress.


And Abortion

Conservative critics say the legislation could limit end-of-life care and even encourage euthanasia. Moreover, some assert, it would require people to draw up plans saying how they want to die.

These concerns appear to be unfounded. AARP, the lobby for older Americans, says, “The rumors out there are flat-out lies.”

The House bill would provide Medicare coverage for optional consultations with doctors who advise patients on life-sustaining treatment and “end-of-life services,” including hospice care.

The legislation instructs Medicare officials to propose ways to measure the quality of end-of-life care. Doctors would have financial incentives to report data on such care to the government.

On abortion, the situation is more complex. Opponents of abortion, like the National Right to Life Committee, say the legislation would use tax dollars to subsidize insurance that could cover abortion.

Under a bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, health plans, including the new government insurance plan, could choose to cover abortion. But they generally could not use federal money to pay for the procedure and instead would have to use money from the premiums paid by beneficiaries.

Douglas D. Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said, “Under either the Senate bill or the House bill, the federal government would run a huge system of subsidizing elective abortion.”

Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, said the bill would keep current restrictions on the use of federal money for abortion, but “would not expand the prohibitions, as many Republicans want to do.”


Or Preserving It?

To help finance coverage for the uninsured, Congress would squeeze huge savings out of Medicare, the program for older Americans and the disabled. These savings would pay nearly 40 percent of the bills’ cost.

The legislation would trim Medicare payments for most services, as an incentive for hospitals and other health care providers to become more efficient. The providers make a plausible case that the cutbacks could inadvertently reduce beneficiaries’ access to some types of care.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Democrats would make “massive cuts to Medicare to pay for more government-run health care.”

Mr. Obama told AARP last month, “Nobody is talking about reducing Medicare benefits.” All the savings, he said, would come from measures to “eliminate waste and inefficiency in Medicare.” As an example, he cited duplicative tests ordered by different doctors for the same patient.

But some proposals could affect beneficiaries. The major bills in Congress would cut more than $150 billion over 10 years from federal payments to private health plans that care for more than 10 million Medicare beneficiaries.


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Sticking Pins in a Surging Dow

Economic growth forecasts and the jobless rate are both steadily improving, as is housing demand. The Dow is up 43 percent over the past five months. Then why so many pessimistic articles this morning saying we’re experiencing a false rebound? As the Wall Street Journal writes, “there is a smudge on the picture”—a polite way to say don’t believe the hype. “A surprisingly large number of money managers and economists are warning that, despite the hopeful signs, the economy is still deep in the woods, not strong enough to support a long-running stock and bond recovery,” the newspaper continues. The turnaround in the stock markets can be more attributed to actions in Washington, not Wall Street. And, furthermore, the newspaper continues, America’s crushing personal debt load will limit any sustained growth for years. Market experts, the newspaper writes, “are warning that the economic-growth surge expected for the second half of this year could be followed by slower growth and a softer stock market in 2010.”

Business Week, too, believes the current stock market resurgence is an illusory one. Why? Analyze the results so far of company earnings, and there is little growth to be found. “Companies produced profits by slashing spending, not by growing sales. While more than 70% of companies beat profit expectations, only about 35% beat analysts’ revenue estimates,” Business Week writes, citing research from Thomson Reuters.


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China using stickers to quell tension

USAT fronts a look at how China’s reaction to the ethnic riots that killed almost 200 people in the country’s far western province of Xinjiang has followed a familiar script that shows how the country’s leaders have become good at short-term damage control. After rounding up at least 1,600 people, the government has launched a propaganda campaign that included unfurling numerous red cloth banners that proclaim, among other slogans, “Ethnic unity is good!” Almost 2,000 volunteers are handing out 100,000 smiley-face stickers that have the slogan, “A smile is the common language of all nationalities” in both Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. Government officials have also identified a common enemy by blaming unrest on Rebiya Kadeer, the Uighur leader who lives in the United States. And, finally, there has been a surge in public spending in the area. Experts say that all these tactics do is cover up tensions that are bound to blow up again in the future.


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Pakistani Taliban preys on youths to bolster forces

The LAT fronts claims by the Pakistani military that the Taliban recruited and kidnapped young boys in the Swat Valley and took them to one of their training camps in the area. Four boys met with reporters and told of their experience being kidnapped, emphasizing that while some busily planned their escape from day one, others had volunteered and were happy to join the militants. Those the Taliban recruited were overwhelmingly poor and were convinced to join the militants with promises of a comfortable future. Some of the boys who have escaped claim boys as young as 7 or 8 were at the camps, but military officials say they can’t confirm that.


Full article:,0,5494826.story


As Dubai’s Glitter Fades, Foreigners See Dark Side

The expatriate playground of Dubai has turned dangerous, reports the Post. Western expatriates who went to the city in search of the good life are now often increasingly fearful of getting arrested now that the economy is on the decline and the government is looking for someone to blame. As stock and property prices plummet, there have been more arrests for business-related crimes, such as a bounced check. Foreigners are often kept in jail for weeks or months before they’re charged with anything. As a result, a growing number of foreigners have decided to leave, or escape, the United Arab Emirates.


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Seattle Paper Is Resurgent as a Solo Act

The NYT reports that the Seattle Times is thriving. Or at least not dying. Just yet. When the paper’s rival, Post-Intelligencer, folded in March, many predicted it would only be a matter of time before the Seattle Times followed suit. But the paper managed to pick up most of the subscribers from the Post-Intelligencer and is actually making a profit, although it won’t reveal how much. And perhaps even more surprising, is also doing quite well with a bare-bones staff that relies heavily on content produced by unpaid bloggers.


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Breakfast Can Wait. The Day’s First Stop Is Online.

The NYT takes a look at how technology has added “an extra layer of chaos to the already discombobulating morning scramble” in households across the country. While mornings used to be a time to quickly have breakfast and maybe read a bit of the paper before rushing out the door, now going online is the first thing many people do, even before going to the bathroom. One Michigan couple sends their sons text messages, which they apparently use as “an in-houe intercom,” to wake them up. “Things that I thought were unacceptable a few years ago are now commonplace in my house,” the mom said, “like all four of us starting the day on four computers in four separate rooms.”


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