Straw Men

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 12 2007 7:09 AM

 Straw Men

The New York Timesand the Washington Post lead with updates on the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. The Post leads with a dispatch from the GOP's nonbinding straw poll in Ames, Iowa, which Mitt Romney won and Rudy Giuliani skipped. The Times leads with a feature on the distance between the Democratic presidential candidates' actions and words on Iraq: Despite calling for the troops the come home, the NYT says, the Democratic frontrunners are crafting plans that would keep plenty of soldiers on the ground. The Los Angeles Timesgives its top spots to two local stories: computer problems at LAX airport, and the Critical Mass bike movement, which has for 15 years taken over the streets of San Francisco on a monthly basis.

The Post says that Romney's win at the Ames straw poll "underscored his attempt to concentrate time and resources on the opening states of Iowa and New Hampshire, believing that early victories will propel him to the nomination" and was "sealed by his appeals to the party's conservative base and generous spending all around the state." And it would be hard for the event to prove more, because both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani declined to attend. The Post basically ignores McCain, but says Giuliani's decision to skip reflects his campaigns focus on larger, less conservative states that don't vote first in the primary.

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The Times piece wants to be about hypocrisy, but it ends up being primarily a wrap up of the Democrats' various proposals for Iraq. Thus does it plod through the plans: John Edwards "would keep troops in the region to intervene in an Iraqi genocide and be prepared for military action if violence spills into other countries," Hillary Clinton "would leave residual forces to fight terrorism and to stabilize the Kurdish region in the north," and Barack Obama "would leave a military presence of as-yet unspecified size in Iraq to provide security for American personnel, fight terrorism and train Iraqis." But the Times has a tough time making the hypocrisy storyline feel urgent, and admits that "Antiwar advocates have raised little challenge to such positions by Democrats."

The Critical Mass bike movement was founded in 1992 "by a handful of idealists" and has since spread "to every continent but Antarctica and to 300 cities worldwide." On the last Friday of each month, the riders tear through the streets and tie up traffic, asserting their right to the road. This leads to fights and arrests. The LAT also catches some late developments at LAX: the US Customs computer system went down at 2pm on Saturday, stranding 20,000 travelers. The system was back up just after midnight.

Following a week of credit market woes, all the papers devote space to the economy. The NYT runs a piece on the suffering market for large mortgages. The LAT has a feature on the housing market in southern California, where, the paper says, major lenders are repossessing homes "much faster than they can sell them." The Post takes the non-mortgage route: a think piece on how the credit market turmoil has raised "serious questions" about "the future of the buyout craze that gave rise to the biggest deals in US corporate history."

The Post and the Times each have an good retrospective piece on the front page. The Times runs a feature (complete with handy graphic) on how the "President Bush's critics have long contended that the Iraq war has diminished America's effort in Afghanistan, which the administration has denied," writes the Times. But "an examination of how the policy unfolded within the administration reveals a deep divide over how to proceed in Afghanistan and a series of decisions that at times seemed to relegate it to an afterthought as Iraq unraveled." The Post retells the story (complete with plenty of new quotes from anonymous senior administration officials) of the haggling between Democratic congressional leaders and the White House over amendments to a federal surveillance law.

The Times is also on the surveillance beat this morning. The paper takes a look at the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which is installing at least 20,000 police surveillance camers that will soon be "guided by sophisticated computer software from an American-financed company to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity."

The Washington Post has a decent investigative piece on the US military's cost overruns in Iraq, where the army apparently paid $200 million more than it intended to two British security firms protecting reconstruction projects. The paper says the new data "show how the cost of private security in Iraq has mushroomed."

The Times has a report (complete with yet another handy graphic) on the hundreds of millions of the dollars in earmarks that have been added to a bill that would expand the Children's Health Insurance Program and increase benefits under Medicare. Most of the earmarks take the form of increased Medicare payments to state and local hospitals.

And the Post has a long feature on the popularity of football in impoverished American Samoa, where "dozens of Samoan boys have played their way off this island and hundreds more dream of achieving the same."

The Times has a feature on what it dubs (in shockingly corny fashion) the iPhone of the food world: the cage-free egg. As the name implies, cage-free eggs come from chickens raised in open barns, not wire cages. The eggs are catching on at colleges, organic supermarkets and the cafeteria at Google.

Conor Clarke is a former editor at the Atlantic and the Guardian as well as the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism.

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