Afghanistan commanders wants more troops; cash for clunkers runs out of cash.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 31 2009 6:45 AM

No Cash Left for Clunkers

The Washington Postleads with word that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has written an assessment report that proposes to make several changes to the way U.S. and NATO troops operate in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal wants to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to help fight against the Taliban through a more local approach that relies on building trust with the Afghan people and vastly increasing the number of Afghan security forces. The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with, while the WP and Los Angeles Times front, the Iranians who took to the streets to publicly mourn those who were killed in the post-election violence. Thousands gathered at Tehran's main cemetery to mark the religiously significant 40th day since the most violent clashes took place, including the shooting of 27-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan.

The New York Timesleads with a report by the New York attorney general's office that reveals nine big banks that received government bailout money paid almost $33 billion in bonuses last year. About 5,000 of their employees received bonuses of more than $1 million each. The Los Angeles Timesleads with, and everyone fronts, news that the $1 billion Congress appropriated for the "cash for clunkers" program may have run out in less than a week. The program was designed to increase auto sales by offering vouchers of up to $4,500 to consumers who traded in gas-guzzling vehicles for more fuel-efficient new trucks or cars. USA Todayleads with Army records that show the number of Army medical centers and clinics that can't provide timely access to routine medical care is the highest in five years, and around 16 percent of patients end up being sent to doctors off-base. Twenty-six of the Army's medical centers can't meet the Pentagon standard that requires 90 percent of patients get appointments for routine care within seven days.

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McChrystal is waiting to hear back from advisers who are currently reviewing his assessment report before making any final recommendations to the White House, particularly on the sensitive issue of troop requests. It's not clear exactly how many more troops McChrystal thinks are needed in Afghanistan, but it's likely that a request of that nature would "receive a chilly reception at the White House," as the Post puts it. Administration officials say the president wants to first see how the additional troops that were sent in the spring are used before even thinking about approving more. Other items in McChrystal's assessment aren't exactly surprising, seeing as though they continue on the same theme that has been talked about for a while now. He wants to make changes to how the troops operate so that they're living in the middle of population centers, carrying out foot patrols, and working with local power brokers. McChrystal wants more attention paid to fighting corruption in the government while also almost doubling the size of Afghan security forces.

Iran's security forces prevented opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from visiting the cemetery in Tehran and fiercely tried to disperse the demonstrators, who had not been given permission to gather. The WP is the only paper to have a staffer inside Tehran—the LAT has a special correspondent—and paints the most dramatic picture of yesterday's clashes, noting that protesters often fought back, for example by beating members of the Basij militia with their own batons and breaking the windows of a van to free demonstrators who had been arrested. The WP describes unhinged security forces that smashed cars when their drivers dared to honk in support of the protesters. The LAT notes that the size of the protests seemed to catch security forces off guard  and says that at certain points they "appeared divided" over whether they should beat demonstrators. Coming almost 50 days since the election, the protests showed there is still widespread anger at the results and virtually guarantees there will be more confrontations next week when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is inaugurated for a second term.

Releasing the new report on Wall Street bonuses, Andrew Cuomo, the New York attorney general, said last year's hefty bonuses were particularly insulting considering the companies got billions of dollars from taxpayers in order to survive. "When the banks did well, their employees were paid well," the report said. "When the banks did poorly, their employees were paid well. And when the banks did very poorly, they were bailed out by taxpayers and their employees were still paid well."

While the new numbers are almost certain to reignite outrage in Washington and beyond, those in Wall Street defend the practice saying that bonuses are usually based more on individual performance rather than the company's overall results. In a display of how important the bonus culture is on Wall Street, the WSJ points out that six of the nine banks paid out more in bonuses than they received in profit. Cuomo highlighted that if bonuses had any relation to overall performance, the pay levels should have declined in 2007 and 2008. But that wasn't the case, and several banks continued to increase their compensation even as revenue dropped.

There was lots of confusion last night over whether the "cash for clunkers" program would be suspended. The WP says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called lawmakers yesterday to warn that the program would end at midnight. USAT confirmed the suspension with the legislative director for the National Automobile Dealers Association. But then, administration officials came out to say that the program was not being suspended. Yet it's unlikely that dealers will continue to honor the deal until they get assurances from the government that more money is available since they don't want to get stuck holding the bag. Congress could decide to appropriate more money for the program, but obviously nothing in Washington is that simple, and passing funding bills is often a challenge. Two senators said yesterday that if lawmakers are going to approve more money, they should do so under the condition that the new cars get better fuel economy than required by the original program.

In the continuing fight over health care reform, Sen. Max Baucus said that the finance committee wouldn't be voting on any legislation before the August recess. Baucus, the committee's chairman, said he would continue working on the bill next week but couldn't promise that a draft would be made public before the recess. The NYT notes that two of the top Republican negotiators in the committee vehemently disagree that they're anywhere near reaching a deal. Republicans have apparently been warning their party's negotiators in the committee that they might be compromising leadership posts in the future if they make too many concessions to Democrats. Meanwhile, liberal Democrats in the House expressed their anger at the concessions their party leaders have made and threatened to vote against the bill if the public health plan isn't strengthened in the final version of the legislation.

The WP fronts an analysis of campaign-finance data that shows conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs typically receive about 25 percent more donations from the health care and insurance sectors than other Democrats. Their pivotal role in shaping legislation has been good to their coffers, as their political action committee has raised more than $1.1 million this year through June, more than half of that money came from health care, insurance, and financial-services industries.

In the WP's op-ed page, Philip Howard, chairman of a legal reform coalition, writes that as lawmakers look for waste in the nation's health care system, they're refusing to look at "the erratic, expensive and time-consuming jury-by-jury malpractice system," thanks to the influential trial-lawyers lobby. Pilot programs could be set up to test whether "expert health courts" should replace the system, but lawmakers won't even consider it even though it could help cut down on "defensive medicine," a far-too-common practice of ordering unneeded tests and procedures as lawsuit protection. Debating health care without addressing defensive medicine "would be a scandal," writes Howard, "a willful refusal by Congress to deal with one of the causes of skyrocketing health-care costs."

All the papers front a picture of the hotly anticipated "beer summit" with President Obama, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Sgt. James Crowley. At the last minute, the White House decided to include Vice President Joe Biden, which, as the NYT points out, allowed the administration to "add balance to the photo op that the White House presented: two black guys, two white guys, sitting around a table." Obama and Biden were dressed "in exaggerated casual attire," as the WSJ puts it, in order to highlight that this was supposed to be a friendly, happy hour conversation. But the two guests wore ties and dark jackets, despite the heat. A small group of reporters and photographers were allowed to watch the exciting action for only 30 seconds from about 50 feet away. What happened? Not surprisingly, nothing really. They talked, exchanged pleasantries, and no one apologized. But Gates and Crowley did apparently agree to have lunch together soon.

In the Post's op-ed page, Slate founder Michael Kinsley writes that Obama's "rhetorical goofs" are different from the standard political "gaffe," which usually involves a politician accidentally telling the truth. Obama's "goofs" usually are a result of talking before he thinks through everything he wants to say. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't say it. "The more concerned you are to avoid saying anything wrong or offensive," writes Kinsley, "the less likely you are to say anything inspiring or true."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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