France and Germany rebound; new hope for cancer treatment.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 14 2009 5:02 AM

Europe Bids Adieu to Recession

The Washington Postleads, and the Wall Street Journal goes high, with news that Europe's two largest economies have surprisingly escaped from the recession, raising hopes that the worldwide downturn may be on its final legs. Germany and France both reported modest recoveries that put them ahead of other industrialized economies, including the United States and the United Kingdom. The New York Timesleads with news that researchers may have opened a new strategy to treat cancer by identifying drugs that can kill cancer stem cells. Many believe that cancerous stem cells, which are very resistant to treatment and can constantly renew themselves, cause tumors to grow back after chemotherapy. Now this latest research has found there are certain drugs that can attack the cancer stem cells without harming ordinary cells.

The WSJ leads its online world-wide newsbox with a look at how the Obama administration is changing the strategy to deal with the poppy fields in Afghanistan. Eradication programs, which have been hugely unpopular and haven't really hurt the drug trade, will be pretty much abandoned, and the administration will instead focus on helping farmers make a living through other ways. It is spending $300 million—six times more than in 2008—in the effort that, among other things, will give micro-grants and sell heavily discounted seeds and livestock. USA Todayleads with a look at how some federal lawmakers are abandoning the town-hall-style meetings that have become an August tradition in order to avoid being in the middle of fights over health care. A number of Democrats have decided to hold telephone town halls and smaller meetings with community leaders. "I'm not going to give people a stage to perform," Rep. Silvestre Reyes from Texas said. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with news that the Department of Justice has been investigating Orange County's jail system since December. Officials are trying to determine whether there is a pattern of jail personnel violating inmates' rights. The investigation could take more than a year.

While Europe as a whole continues to go through a sharp recession, there are signs that several countries could bounce back like France and Germany. Several countries in Asia have also shown marked improvement lately. Analysts are pointing to these recoveries as examples that the large increase in government stimulus spending has worked as intended. But others are quick to caution that just because France and Germany reported good numbers doesn't mean they are out of the woods just yet. As for the United States, things might be getting a bit better, but there's still a long way to go, exemplified by the news that retail sales unexpectedly fell last month.

The WSJ points out that this time around it seems the American consumer won't be as crucial to a global economic rebound as in the past. Lagging behind could help the United States by boosting exports. At the same time, if the recovery is too quick elsewhere, it could lead to a spike in the price of commodities, meaning that the United States and other countries could be hit with inflation before they get a chance to fully get out of the recession. Some analysts say we shouldn't worry about the United States lagging behind for too long because "just as it was a synchronized recession, it will largely be a synchronized upturn," as one put it.

The NYT notes that if the latest research on cancer stem cells can lead to new drugs, it could mean that cancer would be fought through a cocktail of chemicals. That's the way the AIDS virus is attacked now, which, just like cancer cells, "can change DNA to dodge an effective drug, but are thought to perish if confronted with many drugs at once," explains the paper. Effective drugs could also mean that chemotherapy might not have to be given in such large doses, potentially making cancer treatment much less painful for the patient. But some aren't even convinced of the theory that cancerous stem cells are behind the growth of tumors. "It's the most amazing polarity that I've seen," a Stanford researcher said of the debate. "It's like two religions fighting."

The NYT takes a front-page look at how the rumors got started that Obama's plan for health care overhaul include "death panels" that would decide who gets to live and who gets to die. It gathered the most steam since Sarah Palin mentioned it and now has even been picked up by Sen. Charles Grassley from Iowa, who is part of the "gang of six" negotiating a bipartisan health care bill in the finance committee. But the seeds to the idea were planted months ago, and carried by many of the same people and media outlets that were instrumental to defeating reform under President Clinton. The editorial page of the Washington Times started writing around the issue mere weeks after Obama was elected, and the idea was picked up by several prominent conservative commentators. But it didn't blow up until this summer, when critics seized on one part of the legislation to say they had been right all along, even if it just isn't true.

The NYT's Paul Krugman writes that those who were skeptical of the post-partisan vision Barack Obama peddled on the campaign trail have now officially been proven right with the rise of the angry right wing during the current health care debate. And the truth is, there's nothing Obama can do about it since the attacks on his presidency have nothing to do with what he is doing or wants to do. So far, the administration's response "has had a deer-in-the-headlights quality," writes Krugman. "It's as if officials still can't wrap their minds around the fact that things like this can happen to people who aren't named Clinton, as if they keep expecting the nonsense to just go away."

In the LAT's op-ed page, Nancy Altman writes that the rhetoric Obama has to face from critics of health care reform is surprisingly similar to what Franklin D. Roosevelt faced when he was pushing for legislation to create Social Security. Of course, there was no talk of "death panels" but plenty about socialism. And opponents warned Social Security would "establish a bureaucracy in the field of insurance in competition with private business," which sounds eerily familiar. But despite the fact that almost every Republican in Congress was against Social Security, "Roosevelt prevented them from controlling the debate," explains Altman. Obama could learn a thing or two from FDR, who anticipated opposition and neutralized it while framing the debate on his terms.

The LAT goes high with news that Bruce Lisker was released from prison more than 26 years after being arrested. In 2005, the LAT published the results of a seven-month investigation that vividly illustrated the shortcomings in much of the evidence and arguments used to convict Lisker of killing his mother. Last week, a judge declared that he was convicted on "false evidence" and was poorly represented. The LAT's Matt Lait, one of the authors of the 2005 investigation, describes how "little things amused and confused" Lisker yesterday as he adjusted to life outside of prison. He was baffled by a motion sensor in a sink, and when it came time to pick what kind of sandwich he wanted, the number of choices were "overwhelming."

The NYT notes that over the past decade, appeals court judges in capital cases have increasingly been writing opinions that criticize Congress and the Supreme Court for making it practically impossible for death row prisoners to appeal their convictions. Some of the judges writing these passionate opinions have ruled in favor of the death penalty many times but often feel frustrated they can do nothing to stop what they see as a miscarriage of justice. The most frequent target of their complaints is the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 that was passed by lawmakers who felt prisoners were abusing the appeals system. Although these kinds of dissents usually have no practical effect on a case, judges often write them with colleagues, lawmakers, and academics in mind.

The WP takes a look at the mystery surrounding the Arctic Sea, a cargo ship registered in Malta and owned by Russians that disappeared two weeks ago with a crew of 15 Siberian sailors. The ship, carrying $1.7 million of timber, simply dropped off the map after clearing the English Channel, despite the fact that it's equipped with lots of modern tracking equipment. Some suggest the ship could have been attacked by pirates, or maybe sunk, but the facts don't quite add up, which has left many speculating that perhaps there was contraband on board or the captain could be trying to steal the cargo.

As the 40th anniversary of Woodstock approaches tomorrow, there have been plenty of retrospectives, and there are likely more to come. But the WSJ's Jim Fusilli writes that people often prefer to forget that in terms of music, the festival really wasn't so great. Promoters couldn't get some of the biggest names of the time and managers packed the schedule with unknown artists in exchange for their famous clients. The proliferation of drugs also meant that many of the musicians weren't really at the top of their game. Some forgot lyrics and were too disoriented to play. Others simply weren't very good, including Jimi Hendrix. The Who had no idea their drinks had been spiked with LSD and Roger Daltrey later said it was "the worst performance we ever did."

The LAT reports that Elsie Poncher has put the crypt currently occupied by her husband on eBay with a starting price of $500,000. Why would anyone pay that much? It's right above Marilyn Monroe's final resting place. Apparently, Richard Poncher bought the crypt from Joe DiMaggio during his divorce from Monroe. But it won't be the first time Richard's "long sleep has been disturbed," as the LAT puts it. When he was dying, Richard had a request for Elsie: "He said, 'If I croak, if you don't put me upside down over Marilyn, I'll haunt you the rest of my life.' " After the funeral, Elsie told the funeral director about her husband's dying wish. "I was standing right there, and he turned him over."

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.