Two major attacks in Afghanistan and no word on a running mate

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 20 2008 6:01 AM

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The Washington Post and New York Timeslead with dual Taliban assaults, one that killed 10 French soldiers and another on a NATO base, as the death toll continues to climb in Afghanistan; the Times New York City-edition headline highlights the base assault while the Post singles out the attack on the French. USA Today leads with a piece on how record government spending on construction is helping prop up the economy. The Wall Street Journal gives its lead space to fears of Freddie Mac's stability and tops its world-wide newsbox with a NATO call for Russia to withdraw from Georgia, though Russia seems only to be showing signs of staying. The Los Angeles Times leads with a poll showing Barack Obama and John McCain in a statistical tie. Nine percent of voters said they would be "uncomfortable" voting for a black candidate. Obama still led McCain 45-43, within the margin of error.

The NYT generally makes a PDF image of its national edition available by 4 a.m. Eastern time, but by 6 a.m., TP's deadline, the only version available was the New York City one, fueling TP's speculation, entirely unfounded, that the Times was holding out as long as possible for a potential morning text message from Barack Obama—the method he has said he will use—announcing his running mate. By TP's deadline, Obama had yet to hit send.

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The LAT fronts the feel-good story—though perhaps not for some of that 9 percent—of Henry Cejudo, the son of illegal immigrants who won a stunning upset to take Olympic gold in wrestling. Cejudo, in tears and clutching the American flag, is splashed above the fold. Cejudo, who didn't have his own bed until his late teens, said he considered sleeping with the flag, not wanting to let it go. His mother could not attend the bout to watch her son as she couldn't obtain a passport.

The federal effort to prop up Freddie Mac has had a paradoxical impact, reports the Journal, as investors "are unlikely to buy new Freddie shares if they fear the government might mount a rescue that would hurt the value of those shares." A debt auction cost Freddie much more than it would have hoped, raising "concerns about the health of the mortgage giant."

The Times calls the Taliban assaults the "most serious attacks in six years of fighting in Afghanistan," reporting that at least 10 suicide bombers attacked one of the country's largest bases, and about 100 insurgents killed 10 elite French paratroopers, known as some of the world's best fighters. The Post reports that fears of the Taliban plotting an assault on the capital have increased.

Just a few years ago, private spending on construction roughly doubled that of government kick-downs. In what USA Today calls a "dramatic reversal," all levels of government, taken together, now spend more than the private sector on building roads, bridges, college buildings, airports, and other long-term projects. Don't expect it to last, though. The paper reports that government borrowing fell 9 percent over the first six months of the year; much construction is financed by government debt.

The federal government has been collecting extensive data on American travel habits, creating a massive database that records each time a citizen crosses the border by land. The U.S. has long kept such data regarding air travel, but adding ground travel greatly expands the depth of the database. "Critics," reports the Post's Ellen Nakashima on A-1, see it as part of an "unprecedented expansion of data gathering for national security and intelligence purposes" on the part of the exiting Bush administration.

Obama is playing good cop/bad cop with his advertising message, reports the NYT. While his national television spots, such as those airing during the Olympics, take a positive approach, he has begun to hit hard at McCain in swing states with negative ads painting the Arizona senator as "disconnected from the economic struggles of the middle class." Timesman Jim Rutenberg says Obama has eschewed the modern campaign technique of sharing the negative ads with national media to earn free publicity.

For the first time in decades, the Democrat doesn't need the free media, as Obama has outpaced McCain's fundraising by wide margins. Obama plans to exploit that advantage. "It's 'game on, the money's in the bank, we're going to have a huge financial advantage, let the McCain campaign chase us around the country, if they can find us,' " Steve McMahon, a Democratic advertising strategist, tells the Times.

The LAT fronts what it calls a so-far "quixotic" effort by some academics to subvert the ruling textbook paradigm. "Anything that stands in the way of the dissemination of knowledge is a real problem," says Caltech economics professor R. Preston McAfee, a self-described "right-wing economist." McAfee has written a free online textbook to counter the ever-so-expensive publishing-house textbooks that can now cost students four digits per semester.

The Post fronts a look at the next potential bubble—commodity prices. Business reporter Neil Irwin travels to Nebraska and finds high commodity prices keeping the regional economy humming along. Truck sales are up, banks are lending money, land values continue to rise, and farmers are heavily investing in new equipment.

If the choice of kicker is any guide, however, the Post isn't confident the good times will continue to roll. "There are no straight-line graphs," a local tells Irwin. "Things just don't go up forever. I don't know when this will end, or whether it will be bad when it does, but this will go the other way."

And Ralph Nader thinks Obama will choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate; TP dreamt last night that he'd already done so. In the ongoing speculation into the tightly guarded veep selection process, that kind of sourcing is about as tight as you're gonna get.

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