More help for homeowners; demonstrators set fire to U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

More help for homeowners; demonstrators set fire to U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

More help for homeowners; demonstrators set fire to U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Feb. 22 2008 6:10 AM

Rescue Me

The New York Timesleads with word that the federal government is currently looking at ways it could come to the aid of homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than what their homes are worth. The paper says there haven't been so many American homeowners in this situation since the Depression, and some large banks are pushing the Bush administration and Congress to come to the rescue. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with the several hundred Serb demonstrators who attacked and set fire to parts of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. A demonstration involving 150,000 people who were protesting Kosovo's independence became violent, and at least 96 people were injured. The embassy was closed, but there are reports of a charred body, apparently of a protester, that was found inside the building.

USA Todayand the Washington Postlead with, while the Los Angeles Timesdevotes its top nonlocal spot to, yesterday's debate between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, which, despite speculation that the former first lady would be more agressive, was a largely cordial affair with a few jabs and disagreements interspersed throughout. Everyone goes high with one of the most memorable quotes of the night, which came when the issue of Obama's "plagiarism" was brought up and Clinton riffed on one of his trademark phrases: "Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox." Obama also criticized Clinton for frequently saying he is all talk and no action, which he said implies that those who have supported him "are somehow delusional."

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The plan to help homeowners whose mortgages are worth more than their homes is far from being implemented. Lawmakers and administration officials are currently in the process of collecting ideas, some of which involve using government money to buy billions of dollars in mortgages. Bank of America has gone so far as to suggest that a new federal agency be set up to buy lots of mortgages "and replace them with fixed-rate federally guaranteed loans." Lawmakers don't seem to like that idea much, but the fact that they're even talking about the issue is seen as recognition that the steps taken so far to try to help homeowners in trouble have fallen short.

During the debate, there were disagreements over health insurance (surprise!) and although the resignation of Fidel Castro was tied in to the usual argument over whether the U.S. president should meet with any head of state without preconditions, the LAT notes the contenders "managed to sound similar despite differing views." Everyone mentions Clinton's closing statement, which the WSJ says was "one of her most elegant, memorable moments of the long campaign." Overall though, both the NYT and WSJ say it didn't seem like Clinton was able to do anything that would change the campaign or take away from Obama's momentum.

The WP has a new poll that shows Clinton holds a narrow lead over Obama in Ohio, while the two candidates are pretty much tied in Texas. The polls show that Clinton's traditional supporters have largely stayed with her, "but she has yet to make deep inroads into Obama's core supporters," says the Post. It's difficult to overstate the importance of Texas and Ohio for Clinton, as even her husband said this week it'd be difficult for her to continue without victories there.

The NYT fronts a look at how Clinton's supporters are seeing her latest campaign finance report as a "road map" of the mismanagement of her campaign. Clinton spent lots of money on food and lodging, but what has resulted in the most raised eyebrows is how much she paid her senior consultants. As the LAT notes in its own story about Clinton's finances, the figures reveal that she paid "her communications director twice as much in one month as Obama paid his communications director in a year." Overall, "Clinton has paid vastly more for staff and accouterments and less on the services that directly win votes," says the LAT, which also notes Obama spent more on polling and advertising. There are suggestions that Clinton's campaign spent as much as it did out of the belief that the race would be over quickly and was caught unprepared for the long struggle. But, of course, as Democratic consultant Jim Jordan tells the NYT: "These budgetary post-mortems tend to follow a familiar pattern; winners are by definition smart, and losers are dumb and wasteful."

On the other side of the race to the White House, everyone covers the fallout from yesterday's NYT article that insinuated Sen. John McCain had an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist. "Obviously, I'm very disappointed in the article; it's not true," McCain said. (Small quibble: Since the NYT gave such prominent Page One play to the original story, shouldn't it devote at least some front-page real estate to the repercussions and denial? Instead, the paper chooses to reefer the story.) The LAT fronts a look at how the story ignited a debate that "raged across the Internet, cable television, and talk radio." Regardless, McCain and the Republican Party tried to turn the situation to their advantage by mentioning the story in fundraising pitches.

Meanwhile, the Post fronts a look at how some of McCain's key advisers are lobbyists, even as he has often railed against their profession and the influence of special interests in Washington. The WP points out that "lobbyists are essentially running his presidential campaign," which many see as hypocritical. "He has a closer relationship with lobbyists than he lets on," the head of a government watchdog group tells the paper. Coincidentally, the NYT mentioned these types of relationships in its story yesterday, but they were overshadowed by the implications of the affair. Ultimately, even if the allegations of the affair don't get very far, we might end up looking at yesterday's NYT story as the point where journalists began to look at McCain's record with a more critical eye. The Post notes that, by one count, there are at least 59 lobbyists currently raising money for McCain.

As if that wasn't enough trouble for McCain, the Post fronts, and the NYT mentions inside, news that the senator received a letter from the Federal Election Commission yesterday warning him that he can't withdraw from the public financing system. The FEC chairman said McCain has to clear up issues regarding a loan he took out that was partly secured with the federal money as collateral. It's a complicated issue and one that has potentially devastating implications for McCain, who would be limited to spending $54 million during the primary season (he's already spent $49 million). In his letter, the chairman said the senator wouldn't be able to leave the public system until there's a vote, which is impossible since there aren't enough commissioners for a quorum. McCain's campaign contends that the lack of quorum makes the letter unenforceable, which is a view the NYT seems to agree with by saying the issue probably won't be resolved before Election Day.

He couldn't just wait 12 days? "Let's face it. It's over," writes the Post'sAl Kamen, who takes a look at the numbers and concludes that, "barring a serious meltdown … or a sensational revelation," Obama will be the nominee. So, he's opening up the contest to guess whom Obama will pick as his running mate. "Don't worry," Kamen writes, "If Clinton's campaign somehow miraculously resuscitates, we'll do a Clinton veep contest."

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