The Pentagon hasn't acknowledged the full extent of electrical risks at bases in Iraq.

The Pentagon hasn't acknowledged the full extent of electrical risks at bases in Iraq.

The Pentagon hasn't acknowledged the full extent of electrical risks at bases in Iraq.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 18 2008 6:09 AM

Electric Slide

The New York Timesleads with word that the Pentagon has failed to acknowledge how many people have been injured or killed due to faulty electrical work  on military bases in Iraq. The fact that private contractors have done shoddy electrical work in Iraq was already known, but the paper got some internal documents and says the problem is much worse than the Pentagon has admitted. Even worse is that top military officials knew about the long-running problem but failed to do anything about it. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with Republicans in the House blocking a Democratic energy proposal to expand oil and gas drilling without lifting the federal ban on new offshore exploration. Republicans are embracing the "drill now" message as it's clear that the issue is resonating with voters who are tired of paying high gas prices.

USA Today leads with an analysis that suggests customers will have to pay more to travel during the fall and winter holidays this year. Airlines are making big cuts in their schedules, which means an airline ticket is likely to cost more, particularly if it's for popular winter destinations. And the big sales that were once staples of the holidays aren't likely to happen this year. The Washington Postleads with new documents that show undercover Maryland State Police officers spied on war protesters and opponents of capital punishment for more than a year. The Los Angeles Timesalso leads locally with word that California legislators are working on a plan to help close the state's deficit by "raiding funds" that voters set aside for specific projects. In an interview, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "seemed exasperated by his inability to fix California's fiscal dysfunction."

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In just one six-month period that ran through January 2007, there were at least 283 electrical fires that damaged U.S. facilities in Iraq, reports the NYT. On top of that, soldiers had already died from an electrical fire in 2006. And, as if that weren't enough, an Army survey released in February 2007 said electrical problems were the most urgent noncombat safety issue for soldiers in Iraq. The paper isn't able to come up with an exact number of people who were injured or killed by the electrical problems, but by all accounts the fact that it was a problem was well-known. Even KBR, the private contractor that provides many basic services to U.S. troops, recognized there's a "systematic problem" with electrical work on U.S. bases. Despite all these warning signs, the Pentagon did little to address the issue until the family of a Green Beret who was electrocuted earlier this year began to push for answers and lawmakers started paying attention.

The WP off-leads a look at how the top leadership at the Air Force wanted to use money meant to fight against terrorism to build "comfort capsules" so top military and civilian leaders could travel in style. To be fair, the money is hardly significant, relatively speaking. And the WP acknowledges as much by saying that the total $20 million cost is "nearly equivalent to what the Pentagon spends in about 20 minutes." But it has faced resistance from members of Congress and brought complaints from lower-ranking officers who aren't happy that money is being spent on luxury during wartime. But the Air Force is moving forward, and "at least four top generals" have weighed in on the capsule and asked for such important things as a specific color for the seats and seat belts.

The WSJ fronts word that Freddie Mac is considering whether to raise capital by selling as much as $10 billion in new shares. The move could help the mortgage giant avoid a full government rescue that would probably come with strict oversight. But some insist that just because the institution won't need the government's help now doesn't mean it won't be needed in the future.

On the presidential campaign front, all the papers go inside with Obama's June fundraising numbers. Despite all the tales that predicted doom, which, admittedly, TP ate up, the presumptive Democratic nominee raised $52 million last month, more than twice the amount that McCain raised. Obama also helped his party almost catch up to McCain and the Republican National Committee. Still, as impressive as the figure might sound, the NYT notes, it's "on pace with, or slightly below, projections that campaign aides have set for party fund-raisers." The figure would have been a record, except Obama raised about $3 million more in February.

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The idea that the United States might set up a diplomatic outpost in Iran for the first time since 1979 has been floating around for almost a month now. It wouldn't be a full-fledged embassy, but rather an interest section, similar to the one in Havana. Today the NYT has a story inside that makes it seem as though the mere idea is news, but it does have an interesting quote from a "senior European official" who suggests Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made up her mind but still faces some opposition from the more conservative members of the administration. "My feeling is that the decision was more or less taken and the administration's problem was when and how to announce it," the official said. "They want to do it, but for domestic political reasons they don't know how and when, and maybe even if, they can do it."

In a front-page piece, the NYT says the discussions over whether to open up a diplomatic presence in Tehran are merely the latest example of how "the talk in the Middle East is suddenly about talking." There haven't been any big breakthroughs, but there's a clear change in mood whereby Europe, the United States, and Israel seem to be moving toward discussions and negotiations. They've "begun to recognize that their policy of trying to defeat their enemies by isolating and vilifying them has failed."

Some, however, aren't so sure about all this talk of peace and love. And the NYT's op-ed page gives Benny Morris, a professor at an Israeli university, more than 1,000 words to publish a piece that is fatalistic, paranoid, and alarmist. The way Morris tells it, a nuclear war in the Middle East within the next year seems almost inevitable. Here's how. Israel "will almost surely" attack Iran's nuclear facilities "in the next four to seven months." Problem is that Israel really isn't as well-suited for the job as the United States, so it's unlikely the strike would be successful. Then Iran would speed up its nuclear project and in the meantime attack Israeli cities with missiles. And since it would be only a matter of time before Iran uses its nuclear weapon, Israel would be forced to carry out a nuclear strike first.

Moving away from the doomsday scenario, the LAT says the 16 Emmy nominations for AMC's Mad Men, a show hardly anyone watches, are the latest example of "a growing cultural trend: the yawning gap between what critics and industry veterans cherish and what the rest of the public actually watches." The paper says that comedies and dramas on television are "becoming expensive diversions for the cultural elite, akin to opera in the 19th century." The "masses," on the other hand, prefer to watch sporting events or reality shows. This could have a profound effect on television programming because network broadcasters might leave the scripted programming to cable and seek out more sports and reality shows.

USAT fronts a look at how The Dark Knight was once "considered another float in the summer blockbuster parade" but is now "saddled with expectations few in the industry could have predicted." The death of Heath Ledger this year is, of course, driving lots of interest to the movie, but critics are also praising his performance so much that the word Oscar is frequently uttered. But the truth is that a nomination for a late actor is rare, and only one has actually won (Peter Finch). "The dark soul of Hollywood is if you're 6 feet under, you're out of sight and out of mind," an awards expert tells USAT. "They publicly moan a great loss like Ledger. But history shows they're coldhearted cads."

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