Early campaigning for congressional election; NASA learns from its mistakes.

Early campaigning for congressional election; NASA learns from its mistakes.

Early campaigning for congressional election; NASA learns from its mistakes.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 20 2007 5:59 AM

Fall Offensive

The Washington Postleads with a look at the way lawmakers from both parties are launching unusually aggressive campaigns "during August's political lull" to lock up funding and support for the 2008 congressional election before the presidential race begins to control the news cycle. The New York Timesleads with a look at how NASA has been dealing with the problem faced by space shuttle Endeavour, which illustrates how much the agency's "safety culture" has changed since the Columbia accident in 2003.

USA Todayleads with mining officials in Utah admitting that the six miners may never be found. Family members reacted angrily and accused officials of giving up on the miners. The mood turned particularly grim after a fourth hole drilled into the area found the oxygen level wasn't enough to support life. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Hurricane Dean, which hit Jamaica as a Category 4 storm and could become a Category 5 before hitting Mexico's coast. The hurricane isn't expected to hit Texas, but its path is still uncertain so officials are preparing for the worst. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with word that the state's failure to pass a budget has left contractors who run facilities, such as nursing homes and day-care centers, scrambling for cash. Many contractors are being forced to take out loans at high interest rates in order to stay open.

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Although it might seem a little early to start swaying voters about elections that are more than a year away, "There's a limited time period in which to brand the new Congress," Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen said. Democrats want to convince voters as early as possible that they should remain in the majority. Both sides are running local radio spots attacking specific politicians. "There's a sense that you can make anybody vulnerable … by starting out early and beating the stuffing out of him," a Congress expert tells the Post. Although there's a possibility that the GOP will return to power next year, so far the odds are clearly stacked against them as voters continue to tie Republicans with President Bush and the Iraq war.

When a piece of foam fell off the Endeavour's fuel tank and created a hole in the shuttle's underside, the event was eerily reminiscent of what happened to the doomed Columbia in 2003. But experts say "there is better reason to believe the assurances" from NASA this time around  that the hole poses no risk to those aboard the shuttle. After the tragedy in 2003, NASA seems to have listened to its critics and underwent an overhaul that put new procedures in place to analyze the problem from a wide variety of angles, which means the agency is more confident of its assessments.

The Post fronts a story on the Utah mine and focuses on how the tragedy is likely to once again raise questions about whether the U.S. Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration is doing enough to protect those who work underground. Miner fatalities were greater last year than in 2005, and some say this is due to the MSHA's more business-friendly approach that has led it to focus less on regulation and enforcement. At a time when coal prices are increasing, there are worries that MSHA isn't doing enough to prevent owners from putting workers at risk to remove all they can from existing mines.

When Bush won re-election, he clearly stated that one of the main goals of his administration would be to promote Democracy around the world. Today, the Post off-leads a look at how Bush's ambitions never fully materialized into policy as many in the government saw them as simply unrealistic. Some think that merely pushing for elections brought about new problems, such as Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections. The administration still talks about democracy but now is just as likely to look the other way in many parts of the world.

Everybody goes inside with, but the WP and USAT emphasize, a U.S. commander saying there are approximately 50 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard training Shiite militias in southern Iraq and emphasized that weapons are being smuggled into the country from Iran. But the commander also acknowledged no Iranians have been captured in the area and they've never found illegal weapons while patrolling the Iran-Iraq border. Interestingly (or confusingly) enough, the WP notes the commander also said Sunni insurgents are using Iranian weapons, which they might have acquired in the black market, but no one really knows. The NYT emphasizes news that the French foreign minister made a surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday.

The Post's Walter Pincus goes inside with a look at the use of private contractors in Iraq and mentions that a 1995 study by the Defense Department Commission on Roles and Missions warned against the widespread use of hired hands. Relying on contractors prevents the Department of Defense "from building and maintaining capacity needed for strategic or other important missions," the report said.

The WP notes that the American Psychological Association has ruled that its members can't be involved with several interrogation techniques that have been reportedly used by U.S. officials in the past. The APA said that these techniques are dangerous and not very effective in eliciting information. Although the APA didn't bar psychologists from participating in interrogations, it did determine that they have a duty to stop the questioning if someone crosses the line.

The NYT and WP go inside with a new report that says the news media have been decreasing their coverage of the Iraq war and concentrating more on the presidential campaign. In the second quarter of 2007, the Iraq war amounted to 15 percent of the news coverage, a decrease from 22 percent in the first quarter. In terms of cable news channels, both CNN and MSNBC had about twice as much coverage of the Iraq war as Fox News, while MSNBC devoted more time than anyone else to the election.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.