The Washington Postleads with an overview of the continuing health care battles in Congress as lawmakers appear ready to ignore President Obama's Aug. 7 deadline. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's announcement that his colleagues wouldn't be able to vote on legislation before the August recess confirmed the "growing consensus on Capitol Hill that the White House's fast-track approach has failed, and that a more plodding and contentious process has taken hold," reports the paper. USA Todayleads with word that lobbyists and related businesses donated $5.7 million last year to nonprofit groups connected to the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. The caucuses themselves can't accept private money, but lobbyists who want access to lawmakers can generously donate to nonprofit groups that have a connection with the caucuses.
The Wall Street Journal banners news that surprisingly good profit reports sent the Dow Jones industrial average soaring past the 9,000 mark for the first time since early January. The Dow has increaesd 38.5 percent in less than five months, marking the biggest gain in such a short period of time since 1975. It is still down 36 percent from its 2007 record. The New York Times leads with federal agents arresting 44 people in New Jersey and New York, including 29 New Jersey public officials, as part of an investigation into public corruption and international money laundering. Among those arrested were three mayors, two state assemblymen, five rabbis, and one Brooklyn man accused of trafficking human kidneys. "Court documents read like a pulp crime novel," notes the WSJ. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally but goes high with President Obama appearing to "soften his stance" on the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. a day after he said the police "acted stupidly." Yesterday, he portrayed the incident as avoidable, noting that both sides "should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed."
Many Democratic lawmakers who had decided to stay quiet and support the health care legislation in order to stick to Obama's deadline have been raising more objections over the past few days as it has become clear that it wouldn't be met. Obama made it seem like it was no big deal, as long as he gets to sign a bill "by the end of this year." Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the finance committee, has apparently given Democratic leaders assurances that his panel will have a bill ready before the recess, meaning that Reid will have a month to work with officials to merge the two Senate committee bills.
On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to deal with a mini-insurrection at a meeting that Majority Whip James Clyburn described as one of the most "contentious" he has ever attended. Pelosi said she might delay the recess a bit or simply wait until after the break to vote on the legislation. And Republicans? They're mostly just happy about all the Democratic infighting.
New Jersey residents are used to corruption scandals, "but the one that unfolded yesterday was surprising even by the standards of the state that inspired The Sopranos," writes the WSJ. A single confidential informant, a developer who was arrested in 2006 on bank-fraud charges, was the key to unlocking the case. He wore a wire and gave a total of $650,000 in bribes to public officials; at the same time, a group of rabbis and their associates laundered millions of dollars for him. And completely out of left field, there is even an organ trafficker in the mix, a Brooklyn businessman accused of buying kidneys from Israeli donors for $10,000 and selling them for $160,000. The NYT points out that the court documents really do make it seem as though local officials didn't think twice about taking the money the informant offered.
Stories related to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. make the front page of all the papers except the WSJ, more than a week after the incident took place. Yesterday Obama said he never intended to call Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, "stupid" and instead said he is an "outstanding police officer." The WP doesn't interpret Obama's remarks as backtracking and instead says that the president "stood by his criticism," highlighting how the president said he was "surprised" the comment caused such controversy when all he was saying was that "you probably don't need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who's in his own home."
Earlier in the day, Crowley told his side of the story and refused to apologize because Gates "at any point in time could have resolved the issue by quieting down and/or by going back in the house." Crowley expressed surprise that the president would comment on the issue. In fact, many were surprised if for no other reason than that it's rare to hear the president talk candidly about race. The LAT calls the comments Obama's "most overt step of his tenure into racial politics." USAT says the event has sparked so much debate among Americans "because it touches some of the deepest differences in race relations." In a front-page piece, the NYT notes that many say that what happened to Gates "was a common, if unacknowledged, reality for many people of color."
In the NYT's editorial page, Brent Staples writes that Obama's remarks this week could ultimately change how the media analyzes his views on race. "Up to now, he has been consistently and wrongly portrayed as a stern black exceptionalist who takes Negroes to task for not meeting his standard," Staples writes. "He is not happy with this characterization."
In a front-page dispatch from Gaza, the NYT takes a look at how Hamas has pretty much stopped firing rockets into Israel, choosing instead to concentrate on ways to build support at home and abroad through cultural initiatives as well as a public relations campaign. While Hamas leaders say they're not abandoning armed resistance, they're now trying to emphasize a "culture of resistance." Palestinians had grown weary of the rockets that seemed to bring no results, and suspending them also helps Hamas improve its image with the international community that has largely condemned Israel for its disproportionate use of force in the latest war.
Days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likened North Korea to an unruly child, the exchange of not-so-nice words between the two countries continued. At a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Thailand, Clinton continued to seek support for countries to pursue a tougher stance against North Korea's nuclear program. "There is no place to go for North Korea," Clinton said. "They have no friends left." Meanwhile, North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a statement with some choice words for Clinton. "We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady," the statement said. "Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."
As Smokey Bear gets ready to turn 65, the LAT takes a look at the history of the animal behind the longest-running public-service campaign in the country's history. It all started in August 1944 to protect wood in wartime. But his message—"Only you can prevent forest fires"—stuck and kept going. Think he's inoffensive? Think again. Many see Smokey as directly responsible for the widely held belief that all forest fires are bad, an attitude that helped to create the thick forests that burn across much of the West every year. But Smokey has lots of fans who don't want to hear any of it, and the government has to constantly watch out for people who think they can appropriate his image for a laugh. "We take it very seriously," said Libby Kavoulakis, who oversees Smokey for a marketing firm. "It's ridiculous what you see people do with Smokey. There's always someone out there who has Smokey with a joint."
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