Health care protests are influencing independents; Fed ends one piece of intervention.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 13 2009 6:11 AM

Fed Steps Back (Slowly)

USA Todayleads with a new poll that found the loud protests at the town-hall-style meetings have helped increase opposition to overhauling the health care system. A total of 34 percent of Americans say the protests have made them more sympathetic to opponents of reform, while 21 percent say they are less sympathetic. The New York Timesand Washington Postlead with the Federal Reserve sending the strongest message yet that the economy is improving. Almost two years after launching what would eventually become an unprecedented intervention in the U.S. economy, the central bank announced it would end its purchases of $300 billion in U.S. government debt, which was designed to decrease long-term interest rates, by the end of October. The Fed said economic activity is "leveling out" but also cautioned it is still "likely to remain weak for a time."

The Wall Street Journalleads its world-wide newsbox with reports that clashes between rival militant factions in Pakistan's tribal region left dozens dead. Taliban militants loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, who was reportedly killed last week in a U.S. airstrike, attacked followers of a pro-government tribal warlord, and a five-hour firefight ensued. The Los Angeles Times  leads locally with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowing to reform the system that disciplines health professionals accused of misconduct. Last month, the paper, along with the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, revealed that it takes more than three years to discipline registered nurses accused of wrongdoing. The LAT devotes its top nonlocal spot to looking at how lobbyists for antique-car dealers and suppliers were successful in excluding cars built before 1984 from the Cash for Clunkers program. The lobbyists didn't want to see old cars destroyed, but that means many who have some of the most polluting vehicles in the country can't take advantage of the program, even though many hardly consider their old, beaten-down vehicles to be valuable antiques.

The new USAT/Gallup poll found that the anti-reform protesters at the town-hall meetings have been particularly effective with independents, as 35 percent say they are more sympathetic to their cause, versus 16 percent who say they are less sympathetic. Even though it's clear that many are unsure what to think, the issue seems to have captured the attention of the public, as 70 percent say they are following the news closely. Administration officials pushed back against the poll, saying that those who say they're more sympathetic to protesters probably shared some of their views from the beginning.

Cautioning that unemployment will remain high for some time, the Fed also made it clear that it will be keeping its benchmark short-term interest rate at nearly zero. Despite warnings that troubles are far from over, the NYT notes that it was still the central bank's "most upbeat assessment in more than a year." The WP says the Fed is entering "a new phase" in its response to the recession that amounts to a risky balancing act as it must make sure to remove programs designed to prop up the economy "soon enough to prevent inflation but not so soon that the fragile recovery is quashed." But Fed officials are still more concerned about unemployment than inflation, and some of the central bank's biggest emergency credit programs will continue, including the plan to buy $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities.

In a front-page piece, the NYT takes a look at how Obama's rhetoric on health care hasn't always matched up with reality. Although the president has tried to portray himself as someone who offers broad guidelines but is leaving the nitty-gritty legislative negotiations to lawmakers, the truth is that he and a few advisers have been key players in negotiations. And they have even negotiated deals that contradict what the president himself has said in public. Most notably, it seems the White House reached a deal with hospitals to put a limit on the industry's costs and nix the idea of a government-run health plan that pays Medicare rates in exchange for early support. It also seems the White House has been playing favorites, pushing lobbyists to negotiate with the Senate finance committee and even participating in those negotiations. The president talks to the chairman of the committee, Sen. Max Baucus, several times a week, even as he insists to House leaders that the Senate committee won't determine what the final bill will look like.

The WP's Barton Gellman takes a look at how former Vice President Dick Cheney isn't keeping it a secret that he isn't happy with how his former boss ended his eight years in the White House. Gellman, author of a must-read book on Cheney, gets some information from people who attended informal conversations the former vice president is holding to discuss the memoir he is in the process of writing, longhand on legal pads. "In the second term, he felt Bush was moving away from him," said a participant. "The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him." Although the two men still occasionally talk, it's clear that Cheney is disappointed with the man he once saw "as a man of resolve" who ultimately "turned out to be more like an ordinary politician," writes Gellman. Cheney has said privately that his memoir will recount in detail the heated arguments he had with the president while he was pushing for the pardon of his former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, which Time wrote about last month. Some are surprised that Cheney is willing, and seemingly eager, to air the administration's dirty laundry, particularly since he has always been highly critical of insiders who went on to write tell-all accounts after leaving the White House.

The NYT takes a look at how the Taliban have been intensifying their threat-and-intimidation campaign in Afghanistan ahead of next week's presidential election. Whether it's through leaflets, radio announcements, or in person, the message is clear: Those who vote will face harsh consequences. One Taliban commander said militants would cut off any finger that is stained with the indelible ink that marks that someone voted. It seems clear Taliban militants want to demonstrate their influence at a time when it's particularly important for the Afghan government, not to mention the Obama administration, to demonstrate that the country is making progress.

In the second article examining the history of the Bush-era interrogation programs, the NYT takes a look at how the rise of Dusty Foggo—the CIA official who went on to become the agency's executive director before pleading guilty last year to a fraud charge and is now serving a three-year sentence—was intrinsically linked to the construction of secret detention sites. The man who was once the CIA's third-highest official talked to the NYT about how he oversaw construction of three secret detention centers, which have become known as the "black sites." The three were designed to look identical so prisoners, who were kept in isolated cells, wouldn't know where they were. Eventually, the CIA would have a network of at least eight detention centers, including one maximum-security site in Guantanamo that was named Strawberry Fields, apparently after the Beatles song because CIA officials "joked that the detainees would be held there, as the lyric put it, 'forever'."

The LAT takes an intersting look at how scientists are working furiously in NASA's space kitchen to figure out what food astronauts will eat when they blast off for Mars in approximately 20 years. NASA's food technology team needs to try to figure out how "to pack more than 6,570 breakfasts, lunches, snack, and dinners all at once—enough food to feed six people every day for more than three years." Although space food has gotten a tad bit more sophisticated since the first trips into space, the trick now is to figure out how to give it a much longer shelf life while also creating new packaging materials that can properly preserve the food without being too heavy.

Say you find yourself in a situation like the passengers of last week's Continental flight, who were stuck overnight inside a 50-seat jet on the tarmac and not allowed to leave. What can you do? Pretty much nothing,  explains USAT. If you decide to revolt you could get in trouble. And it's extremely rare for a lawsuit to succeed."You are their property, and you have lost your rights inside the plane," said a lawyer who was one of the passengers in the Continental flight.

The NYT's Guy Trebay notices that, this summer the "unvarying male uniform in the precincts of Brooklyn cool" has added an unexpected element: "a burgeoning potbelly one might term the Ralph Kramden." Too big to simply be blamed on the T-shirt's cut but too small to be called a beer gut, the "Ralph Kramden" is seemingly everywhere the perpetually hip hang out. Why? No one knows, really. Some think it's a pushback from the years of obsession with perfectly sculpted abs. Others say Obama might be to blame as contrarian hipsters are eager to refuse to follow the lead from a man who hits the gym every morning. "If we had a slob in the White House," said the editor of Details, "all the hipsters would turn into some walking Chippendales calendar."

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