Settling Dust

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 14 2008 5:44 AM

Settling Dust

The New York Timesleads with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which officials say could be the worst since Hurricane Alicia 25 years ago. The Los Angeles Times leads with the aftermath of a giant train wreck, which has so far killed 25 people due to an engineer who ignored a traffic signal and a lack of recommended safety equipment, which would have provided some insurance against human error. The Washington Post leads with the slightly more remote aftermath of the Cheney vice presidency with another installment in its award-winning series, this time laying out the high-level play-by-play around the presidential wiretapping program. A picture emerges of lawyers in the office of the general counsel attempting to bring the program in line with the law and loop in the attorney general's office, each time to be thwarted by the vice president's top lawyers. The story ends with a cliffhanger, to be resolved in tomorrow's paper.

While not as bad as federal officials feared, Ike has done a serious number on the Gulf Coast—so serious, in fact, that Barack Obama canceled an appearance of Saturday Night Live, and a game between the Texans and Baltimore Ravens might have to be postponed, since the storm has torn large chunks of steel off Reliant stadium. The NYT has the stories of those who rode out the storm rather than fleeing for Texas' tranquil interior—fully 140,000 ignored evacuation orders, frustrating state officials—while the Post surveys the resulting bump in gas prices around the country. The LAT's later deadline picks up three deaths as being storm-related. The paper also documents rescue efforts slowed because highways were blocked by the wreckage of boats tossed ashore by a "wall of water."

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All of the papers cover the unfolding bank crisis, as the federal government continues to balk at taking over Lehman Brothers in the way it bailed out Fannie, Freddie, and Bear Stearns—steps that have largely failed to stabilize turbulent markets—insisting that other large financial institutions find a way to shoulder the burden. But Lehman may be beyond the help of struggling groups like AIG and Merrill Lynch. Meanwhile, the hedge-fund managers who bet against the banks' stock prices come out with millions.

In what may be a credit to new executive editor Marcus Brauchli's first week on the job, the Post fronts an excellent biopsy of Fannie and Freddie's collapse, starting back in 1992 with the creation of a weak regulatory agency that the mortgage giants ensured was poorly funded and largely powerless. The companies had become part of the ideology of home ownership and soon became untouchable even as they extended fat lines of credit with the government and manipulated financial data. Their collapse, the paper contends, was entirely a result of the federal government's failure to police their activities … whoops. But, channeling Phil Gramm, an adviser to the McCain campaign argues on the front page of the Post's Outlook section that the economic situation "just isn't that bad," meaning not as bad as it's been made out to be by media accounts and a certain Democratic presidential candidate.

The NYT reports that U.S. arms manufacturers are doing nearly three times the business to foreign governments that they did in 2005, concentrated mostly in the Middle East but reaching across the globe. The U.S. government helps out countries like Israel and Egypt in purchasing sophisticated weapons systems, but the majority of sales are financed by the countries themselves and have often supplanted contracts with Russia. "This is about building a more secure world," said a U.S. Army rep. The Post has more good news for the U.S. defense industry, reporting that the U.S. military is handing out private contracts in Afghanistan like candy—mostly to make up for shortages in its own thinly stretched forces—which the paper sees as a foreshadowing of a longer-term buildup in military operations.

It's a light day for political coverage, but the NYT finds space for an above-the-fold laundry list of complaints about Sarah Palin's leadership in Alaska, from being completely inaccessible as governor to attempting to fire those who stood in the way of campaign fundraising, to appointing childhood friends to statewide posts ("The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government"). The Post fronts a similar story homing in on her reign in Wasilla, where she didn't have to deal with many of the typical duties of a small-town mayor like social services and environmental regulations, which fall under the jurisdiction of the regional government.

In other political news, the full story behind Sarah Palin's hairdo, a dissection of the Facebook page devoted to John McCain and Sarah Palin, and documentation of how Barack Obama has steered clear of attacking Sarah Palin (played brilliantly by Tina Fey).

Meanwhile, the Swift Boaters have returned in the form of the ironically named American Issues Project, and the LAT stunningly reveals that both presidential candidates lie—but only mentions one example that's not McCain.

The NYT business section has way more than you ever needed to know about the Florida sugar industry, a story of titanic landowners and a state determined to protect the Everglades—even at the cost of handing an industry monopoly to a vertically integrated sugar producer and refiner owned by a Cuban exile family.

In advance of the much-anticipated rollout of the Chevrolet Volt this week, the NYT gives General Motors the best kind of publicity a car company could ask for: f ree publicity. The paper asks whether G.M. will make its second century about something other than internal combustion, complete with "spy photos" to shed light on the latest in the car's design.

In a story that might have gotten cover treatment were it not for the train wreck, the LAT takes a look at the new "green chemistry" movement, making noxious household products less so.

RIP David Foster Wallace, the literary innovator known most widely for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, whom his wife found had hanged himself in their Claremont, Calif., apartment.

And mazel tov to the latest Teddy Roosevelt—may your marriage prove as strong as your great-great grandfather's!

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.

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