Troops might have to leave Iraq earlier than scheduled; Army launches new training program.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 18 2009 6:43 AM

The Army Gets Sensitive

The Washington Postleads with news that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki endorsed a referendum that could force U.S. troops to withdraw a year ahead of schedule at a time when American commanders are proposing sending troops to the country's north to deal with the rising violence. U.S. officials had been lobbying against the referendum that would force American troops to leave the country at the beginning of 2011, rather than the end, which is what the current agreement allows. The New York Timesleads with word that the Army is planning to require all of its soldiers to open up about their feelings as part of a training program that is supposed to improve performance and prevent mental health problems, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how, by making it clear that the overhaul efforts do not have to include a government-run insurance option, President Obama may have angered some supporters but also increased the likelihood that some type of legislation will pass. Conservative and centrist Democrats praised the president for his flexibility, and the White House seems convinced it will ultimately get the support of liberals, despite their insistence on a public option. The Wall Street Journal leads its word-wide newsbox with prosecutors announcing that they have indicted a 28-year-old American and two of his Russian accomplices on charges that they carried out the the largest case of computer crime and identity theft ever prosecuted. USA Todayleads with an analysis that found the number of unemployed who opt to continue receiving their former employer's health insurance has doubled since the federal government passed a subsidy to motivate laid-off workers to continue coverage, known as COBRA. Without the subsidy, the average COBRA family premium takes up 84 percent of the average unemployment benefits. Some employers are afraid that higher enrollment in COBRA will increase their health care costs.

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The Iraqi parliament still has to approve the referendum that was endorsed by Maliki yesterday. But if it does, then that means that Iraqi citizens could effectively make invalid a standing security agreement between the United States and Iraq and force American troops to leave earlier than scheduled. Yesterday, the top American general in Iraq proposed a plan to send troops to the north of the country, which has seen lots of violence lately.

The WP calls the move "a clear indication that the military sees a continuing need for U.S. forces even if Iraqis no longer want them here." As the WSJ highlights, American commanders think much of the violence in the country's north has to do with the continuing tensions between Arabs and Kurds, which has created a security vacuum that has made it easier for al-Qaida in Iraq to operate. Under the plans proposed yesterday, American troops would work alongside the Iraqi army and the Krudish regional government's paramilitary force, known as the pesh merga. It would mark the first time that U.S. forces join forces with the militia.

The NYT notes that the new Army program to prevent mental health problems has mostly been tested in middle schools and some experts caution that it's hardly a guarantee that soldiers will become more resilient as a result of the training. The Army's chief of staff candidly tells the paper that he's not sure a military culture that often shuns talk of emotions and sees it as a sign of weakness is really ready for this type of training program, but the rising suicide rates, not to mention myriad other mental health problems, has convinced commanders to at least give it a shot.

Authorities say 28-year-old Albert Gonzalez, described as a "rising star in the cyber underground" by the WSJ, and his two accomplices hacked into the computer systems of five major companies and stole more than 130 million debit and credit cards numbers from late 2006 to May 2008. If the Gonzalez name sounds familiar, it's because he has already been indicted in other cases of identity theft, including the 2005 data breach of TJ Maxx that cost the company around $200 million. He had also been arrested in 2003 but avoided being charged by agreeing to become an informant for the Secret Service. That didn't last long, however, as he went back to the life of crime and launched what he referred to as "operation get rich or die tryin" that would target Fortune 500 companies.

Analysts largely expect that the House will ultimately pass health care legislation that includes a public option, while the Senate's version won't include it. That means there could be some intense negotiating sessions, "probably late this fall," says the LAT. The White House once again continued to insist that the president hasn't changed his position regarding a public option because he never said it was the only way to create a better insurance market. Still, several key Democrats sensed the shift in tone and stated that the public option should not be abandoned. The differences of opinion could end up creating a big rift in the party. One lawmaker predicted that legislation without a public option could lose as many as 100 Democratic votes in the House.

The WP's Eugene Robinson notes that so many aspects of health care reform "have been taken off the table … that expectations are ratcheted down almost daily." A failure to pass anything would surely be devastating to Obama, so perhaps the White House has decided to signal it is ready to give up on the public option because something is better than nothing. But it is way too early for such huge concessions. "Giving up on the public option might be expedient," writes Robinson. "But we didn't elect Obama to be an expedient president. We elected him to be a great one."

As it tries to take some of the focus away from the public option, the White House has made clear it is ready to look into nonprofit health cooperatives as an alternative. But the NYT notes in a front-page piece that no one really knows what the health cooperatives would look like and whether they could really be effective competition against private insurers. While Republicans and insurers generally find the co-op idea more palatable than the public option, they're hardly ecstatic about it. Some insist that as long as the government is ready to offer a good chunk of start-up money, member-owned co-ops could be effective. But setting up co-ops certainly wouldn't be easy. Private insurers already have a stranglehold on much of the market, and there's no reason to think people would switch unless the co-op offers better services, which, of course, it wouldn't be able to do until it has enough members to negotiate effectively with health care providers. And the WP points out that there's no reason why existing insurers won't try to convert themselves into co-ops, and there's a risk that the co-ops could then attempt to become for-profit corporations if they get a large share of the market.

The NYT notes that many are dumbfounded that even as Obama spends much of his waking hours talking about health care, he still hasn't appointed anyone to lead the agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid. As the largest buyer of health care in the country, the leader of the agency would certainly play a role in the discussions about health care. But for now, the position remains vacant. "Trying to remake the health care system without a Medicare administrator is like fighting a war without a general," writes the NYT.

Administration officials announced yesterday that they discovered 10 previously unreported deaths in immigration detention. The 10 names were added to the official list, and there was an 11th death that occurred late last week. The list that is known as "the death roster" now includes the names of 104 people who died in immigration detention since October 2003. When the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency gave the list to Congress in March, it had only 90 names.

The LAT takes a front-page look at how Vice President Joe Biden appears to be improving his relationship with Obama and is winning some choice assignments despite his well-known tendency to speak his mind at inappropriate moments. Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, goes as far as to say that his gaffes are "part of what makes the vice president so endearing" because apparently people can relate to misspeaking about Russia's position in the world. He has been working hard to build a friendship with Obama, which one aide described as "courtship after the marriage." Biden worried endlessly about what to get Obama for his 48th birthday. He was set on getting the president a Nintendo Wii and was disappointed when he learned Obama's daughters already have one. So he got him a golf range-finder instead. And, for whatever it's worth, aides say he hasn't discounted running for president in 2016.

The WP fronts, and everyone covers, ABC's announcement that Tom DeLay, the former Republican House majority leader who resigned from Congress in 2006 after being indicted, will be a contestant in Dancing With the Stars. The producers have apparently wanted a politician on the show for a long time and approached DeLay thinking he would say no. But The Hammer surprised them by quickly agreeing to participate and has been preparing for the show all summer. "If I hadn't been on the public stage, this would frighten me to death," he told USAT. "But this doesn't scare me. I'm going into this to have a great time." Political types quickly tried to out-pun themselves. "It would be interesting to see if Mr. DeLay can do the Perp Walk," said the research director of Texans for Public Justice.

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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