Maliki fires back while Bush warns against withdrawal.

Maliki fires back while Bush warns against withdrawal.

Maliki fires back while Bush warns against withdrawal.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 23 2007 6:00 AM

Low Expectations

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Postall lead with Iraq. The LAT goes high with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki firing back at his American critics. While on a trip to Syria, Maliki warned that Iraq "can find friends elsewhere" and said U.S. politicians have no business imposing deadlines on the Iraqi government. The WP and NYT both lead with President Bush's speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, where he made the case for a continued commitment to Iraq and put the situation in a historical context by linking it to previous conflicts, most notably the Vietnam War. He also stepped back from previous criticism of Maliki by saying the prime minister is a "good man with a difficult job."

USA Todayleads with an analysis of records that show officials in the executive branch take trips paid for by companies and trade groups that have "a stake in their agencies' decisions." The paper found more than 200 trips in a 12-month period that members of Congress wouldn't be allowed to accept under the new ethics laws. Agencies deny any wrongdoing as federal law says officials can go on these kinds of trips if there's no conflict of interest. But agencies have different views on what exactly constitutes a conflict. The WSJ leads its world-wide newsbox with House Democrats announcing they will keep close tabs on a Homeland Security plan to use spy satellites for domestic purposes, which could lead to another fight between Congress and the White House. The chairman of the House homeland security committee said he wasn't fully briefed on the program until after the WSJ wrote a story about it last week, but administration officials insist Congress was kept informed.

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The NYT characterizes Bush's speech as "the beginning of an intense White House initiative to shape the debate on Capitol Hill in September." The papergets word that the administration will release parts of a new intelligence report today that says there's little chance Maliki will be able to overcome sectarian divisions and make progress on the political benchmarks. The report, titled "Prospects for Iraq's Stability," also points to some military gains and warns that a withdrawal would lead to more bloodshed.

This new report, along with the recent criticism of Maliki, seems to be part of an effort by the White House to reduce expectations before the much-awaited progress report in September. "We are entering a period of passing the blame," an expert  tells the LAT.Everybody notes Sen. Hillary Clinton called on Maliki to quit and said the Iraqi parliament should choose a "less divisive and more unifying figure."

The WSJ notes that Gen. George Casey must be feeling pretty vindicated these days. A few months after Casey was pushed aside from his role as the top U.S. commander in Iraq because he wasn't too enthusiastic about the "surge," the administration is now warming up to his main idea of withdrawing a significant number of troops to focus on training Iraqi forces.

In other Iraq news, the NYT fronts word that militants have taken over control over much of Iraq's electricity. Iraq's electricity minister acknowledged this reality during a news conference that was at least partly meant to tout the reconstruction efforts. When militants take hold of power plants they "can cause the entire system to collapse and bring nationwide blackouts," the NYT explains. The minister said militants sometimes want to cut electricity from Baghdad in order to weaken the government. But they also often refuse to share power simply because they want to keep it for their regions, which is seen as payback for the many years under Saddam Hussein when Baghdad always had power and provinces were left in the dark.

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The papers note the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, gave an interview to the El Paso Times, where he revealed several details about the country's surveillance programs. McConnell said that "on the U.S. persons side, it's 100 or less" people who are under surveillance, while on the "foreign side, it's in the thousands." The LAT goes high with McConnell confirming that the push for a new surveillance law came after the FISA court ruled that the program was illegal. The intelligence chief also said Congress should protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits that are the result of their cooperation with the government.

The WP fronts news that the administration will begin collecting personal information of key people who work in organizations that receive money from the U.S. Agency for International Development to make sure they're not connected to any terrorist groups. Officials won't specify how this information will be used and don't plan to tell "groups deemed unacceptable why they are rejected."

The WP and USAT front, and everyone else mentions, a new study that reveals the majority of Americans continue to be sexually active as they get older. Although the rates do decrease as people get older, it's not as low as most probably expect. The study found that 73 percent of those 57 to 64 said they were sexually active, a number that decreases to 26 percent for those between 75 and 85.

The NYT notes that about 12 people have asked to compare their DNA to that of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. So far, the tests have found three positive matches. It's unclear if these newly found children will be able to claim any of Brown's inheritance.

The NYT gets ahold of a contract parents signed when they allowed their children to participate in the upcoming CBS show Kid Nation. The program put children ranging in age from 8 to 15 in a "ghost town" in New Mexico, and authorities are now investigating claims that state laws were violated. In the contract, parents agreed not to hold CBS responsible for pretty much anything, including "emotional distress, illness, sexually transmitted disease, HIV, and pregnancy."

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