The Big Chill

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 16 2008 6:15 AM

The Big Chill

The New York Times leads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with updates on the situation in Georgia, where fighting has largely stopped but the U.S. and European powers are demanding that Russia withdraw its troops altogether. The Los Angeles Times leads local with a spotlight on California's 7.3 percent unemployment rate, the consequence of a sluggish construction industry and gas prices being where they are. The Washington Post leads with a scoop on how the Justice Department wants to make it easier for state and local police to gather information on potential terror suspects—which they've apparently already been doing, just without the formal sanction of law—as part of a "flurry of domestic intelligence changes" pushed through over the last few months.

The war of words continued over Georgia on Friday, as U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice pushed Russia to sign a revised agreement clarifying that it must completely withdraw from the country: Russia thought an ambiguity in an earlier draft would allow it to continue to maintain a military presence outside the disputed provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The NYT describes a "remarkable scene" in which a "hyperbolic and emotive" Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili fulminated over the evils of his neighbor to the east, while another Times article  outlines all the ways in which the conflict has launched the United States and Russia into a new kind of cold war. Russia certainly wasn't buying the United States' rationale for simultaneously signing an agreement to build anti-missile systems in Poland, which the United States said would serve to curb "rogue states" … like Iran.

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Taking stock of the conflict to date, the WSJ writes the first draft of history with a blow-by-blow account of the ramp-up to war, concluding that both Georgia and Russia had been jonesing for a dust-up. Each has stubbornly blamed the other for the outbreak of hostilities and continues to claim possession of the disputed areas. The LAT focuses on the humanitarian cost of the conflict, a mounting refugee situation that threatens to destabilize the region even further. On the brighter side, all of this is good news for U.S. defense contractors, the WSJ reports, who suddenly have a much better case that the United States shouldn't let go of its military arsenal—just as Defense Secretary Robert Gates was looking to rein it in. 

In the other world news of the moment, swimmer Michael Phelps tied Mark Spitz's record for number of gold medals won at one Olympics, beating out his nearest rival by one-hundredth of a second after a dramatic recovery at the midway point of the 100-meter butterfly. The LAT's online headline, dek, and lede describe Phelps' victory as "amazing,"  "thrilling," and "heart-stopping," while Phelps himself characterized the win as "pretty cool." In addition to its straight-up coverage of the race, the NYT fronts a profile of the super-athlete, drawing a picture of an isolated automaton who communicates with the outside world only through his PDA.

Rather than giving into Phelpsmania, the Journal takes a look at the 92 countries that have competed in the last 112 years and never even landed a medal—which even the International Olympic Committee tends to ignore. In classic Journal form, the paper calculates the Top 10 countries by per capita gold medal product—by that metric, Slovakia comes in first, followed by Georgia. In another tribute to losers, the Post spotlights the Chinese athletes who fall short of gold—a fate darn near death in a country that places the burden of upholding the national honor on the shoulders of children.

After the games end, the real games begin: The WSJ features a look at all the ridiculously tricked-out parties scheduled for the Democratic and Republican conventions in a few weeks, and the lobbying groups who've cleverly circumvented campaign finance regulations to throw them. While legislation in 2007 put the brakes on some of the most egregious gift-giving, exceptions abound: Invite enough noncongressional staffers and slip in a public service announcement, and you're golden. Of course, the back-scratching goes both ways. Faced with a shortfall in raising the needed $60 million for the Democratic Convention, the LAT reports, party officials have been aggressively courting private dollars through perks like party invitations and access to top advisers. The Obama campaign seems aware of its concession to practicality, saying that the candidate will prioritize convention finance reform … sometime in the future.

In the day's substantive campaign coverage, the NYT wades into the weeds on the differences between John McCain and Barack Obama's financial policy. (They are small, and confined by circumstances.) The paper also notes that former Sen. Phil Gramm may still be in the running for Treasury Secretary in a McCain administration, despite calling Americans names a few weeks ago.

In the continuing ballad of Pervez Musharraf, the rest of Pakistan's provincial assemblies have filed impeachment charges, which the embattled president vows to fight. If the Supreme Court finds him guilty of treason, he could face life in prison or be executed.

The nation's shrinks are divided over the ethics of serving as consultants for the military in interrogating terror suspects, the NYT reports. The American Psychological Association's governing documents both condemn torture techniques normalized under the Bush administration and sanction consultation in information-gathering sessions—as long as they don't spill over into a list of designated torture techniques.

Leave it to the WSJ for an economics lesson in how different factors affect the dollar and why it's risen lately after a seven-year slide: Rising oil prices make other economies do badly, which both makes the dollar do relatively well and depresses demand for raw materials, which lowers commodity prices, which, along with a stronger dollar, lowers inflation … which pressures the Fed to raise interest rates … which means that you may pay more to buy a house but pay less for a sandwich.

The real news of the day, however, comes from what Americans know as the real Georgia: Bigfoot has been found. Those who found it are keeping the location secret, in order to protect others of the species still at large.

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