Bill Clinton takes surprise trip to North Korea to push for release of American journalists.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 4 2009 6:35 AM

A Clinton in North Korea

The Los Angeles Timesand Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with the late-breaking news that former President Bill Clinton landed in North Korea this morning in an unannounced trip to seek the release of the two American journalists arrested on the border with China in March. It marks Clinton's first diplomatic mission abroad for the Obama administration and concerns an issue that his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been following closely. USA Todayleads with a look at how several states and counties are reporting a large increase in the applications for concealed weapons permits since the November election. Many apparently want to pack heat because they're worried of an increase in crime caused by the recession as well as fearful that President Obama will push for tougher gun regulations.

The New York Timesleads with the uncertain future of the "cash for clunkers" program as senators debate whether they're going to add $2 billion to the program before they go on recess Friday. New sales figures show that auto sales got a huge sales boost in July and reached their highest levels of the year. The Washington Postleads with word the administration is working on new federal guidelines that would recommend schools close because of the H1N1 virus only under "extenuating circumstances," such as if many students have underlying medical conditions or there are large numbers of people infected. This is a change from the spring, when federal officials recommended that schools close at the first sign of the virus. "The framework is to try to keep schools open to the extent possible," one official said. Swine flu infections are expected to surge when the school year begins.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee of Current TV were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korea prison camp. The White House has been trying to obtain their release and has apparently been considering for weeks whether to send a special envoy to the area. Clinton is now the highest-profile U.S. official to visit North Korea since Madeleine Albright, his secretary of state, went to the country in 2000. And his visit is seen as especially significant because North Korean leaders have particular respect for the former president and his stature as a world statesman. But Clinton's visit is also a little awkward, considering that his wife and North Korean officials recently engaged in "a round of unusual name calling," as the LAT puts it.

The WSJ talks to a "senior U.S. official" who says that despite the persistent rumors about North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's health, the White House doesn't think he's in such bad shape. The administration believes that Kim is still running the country. "We believe he's going to be around for a while," the official said.

The NYT points out that in the final week of July, "cars and trucks were rolling off dealers' lots at almost the same rate they had before the recession began." Still, dealers have stopped promising the $3,500 to $4,500 rebate until they're sure that the program will be continuing. In addition to more sales, the Transportation Department also said the average gas mileage of the vehicles people bought were higher than what was required to qualify for the rebate. The LAT notes that not everyone is convinced the program is directly responsible for the huge sales increase. The White House is pressuring senators to approve the extension of the program, but some leading Republicans are resisting. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell used the opportunity to say that the fact that the administration miscalculated how popular the program would be is a reason why lawmakers need to move slowly on health care reform.

Automakers and car dealers aren't the only ones benefitting from the cash-for-clunkers program, reports the WSJ. Chemical suppliers were surprised when they suddenly started receiving lots of orders for sodium silicate, a compound commonly used as a bug repellent or to seal concrete. Turns out, the government failed to warn them that it had selected sodium silicate as the designated method to kill the "clunkers" that are turned in for "cash." All the dealers have to use the solution, often referred to as "liquid glass," so the old cars won't return to the road. Mechanics are fighting over who gets to do the honors of destroying a car, while chemical suppliers are thanking their lucky stars. One dealer, who usually sold about 150 gallons of the product a year, moved 4,600 gallons of it last week.

The NYT goes inside with a look at how coalitions of conservative voters and advocacy groups have a head start in getting their voices heard against health care reform at Democratic events. For example, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Texas, held "neighborhood office hours" but was forced to flee when confronted with a "boisterous crowd of about 150" who chanted "Just say no!" while carrying signs that made reference to "Socialized Health Care." The protesters, put together by a man who has organized anti-tax "tea party" demonstrations, proceeded to try to block his car when he was attempting to leave. "This is not a grass-roots effort," Doggett said. "This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to my event." This is likely to continue this month as lawmakers go back home for recess and hold town-hall style meetings to push for health care overhaul.

The NYT reports the shocking news that Justice David Souter has decided his life needed an upgrade now that he's a civilian again. Everyone expected Souter to go to his famous farmhouse in Weare, N.H., that has peeling paint and no phone lines. But he decided to buy a $500,000 3,448-square-foot home instead. His new home is a mere eight miles from the old farmhouse, but it has phone lines and even a home gym. But, don't worry, Souter didn't move because he suddenly appreciates fine living. He told a neighbor that the old farmhouse "wasn't structurally sound enough to hold the thousands of books that make up his library," according to the Concord Monitor.

The WSJ hears word that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner disparaged top U.S. regulators last Friday "in an expletive-laced critique" over their continued objections to the administration's efforts to overhaul the financial regulation system. Many regulators have come out against the changes, mostly due to typical Washington turf wars. Geithner apparently told them that "enough is enough," noting that the regulators had been given time to talk about their concerns but now it's time to shut up and let the White House and Congress make policy. The paper says that besides Geithner's "repeated use of obscenities," the meeting was also unusual because he took an aggressive stance with officials from regulatory agencies that are usually considered independent from the administration.

The NYT takes a look at how the much-talked-about Large Hadron Collider, the giant particle accelerator outside Geneva that was switched on last year amid hyped concerns that it could create a black hole, has been a big disappointment as it "has to yet collide any particles at all." After working on it for 15 years and spending $9 billion on the project, the machine has been plagued with problems, and now scientists say it could take years before it runs at full strength, assuming it ever does. Some physicists are even jumping ship to work "at a smaller, rival machine across the ocean," reports the paper.

In the WP's op-ed page, Gwen Ottinger writes that while trading in clunkers might help the economy, the truth is that, like other programs to encourage green consumption, it doesn't really help the environment. Replacing a car creates real environmental costs because it takes energy and resources to build new things and dispose of old ones, an inconvenient set of facts that are often ignored. Encouraging energy-efficient consumption can also result in greater energy use "by confusing efficiency with consumption." For example, people might buy Energy Star refrigerators, when the truth is that if consumers simply bought a smaller model they'd likely save even more energy.

The papers report that Michael Jackson's mother was awarded permanent custody of the singer's three children yesterday. The judge also approved a monthly allowance of an undisclosed amount for Jackson's mother and the children. The control of Jackson's estate is still an open issue. Two men close to Jackson were named in the will, but it seems the Jackson family might consider contesting it on the grounds that they took advantage of Jackson's addictions.

The NYT's Frequent Flier column talks to Timothy Janus, a 32-year-old former day trader who is now a regular participant in eating contests and holds seven world records involving tamales, grits, and cannoli, among others. When flying home after a competition, Janus often feels sorry for the people sitting next to him. "I can affect the environment around me in a very unfortunate way," Janus says."Without getting too specific, I think it's enough to say that when you've eaten 53 hot dogs, you smell as if you've eaten 53 hot dogs, no matter how hard you try to get rid of the stench."

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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