Town Hall Nation
The Washington Post leads with President Obama's push for insurance reform on his swing through Western states, where he found a much gentler reception than many elected representatives. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with new economic numbers that show steady consumer prices and little to no inflation, which could be evidence of an inflection point as the nosedive levels off—even as consumer confidence languishes. The Wall Street Journal leads with the failure of Alabama's Colonial Bank, the biggest collapse since Washington Mutual and the sixth largest in U.S. history.
President Obama's own town hall in Montana went better than some, with protesters confined across the street and mostly softball questions from the audience—an absence of hostility that the Post thinks is problematic, since Obama performs best under pressure. The NYT homed in on his remark about insurance companies: With the exception of Aetna, a campaign donor, he said, they had been "funding in opposition" to health care reform, a charge that a representative from an insurance industry trade group denied.
Other members of Congress faced much gnarlier receptions, including Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, who was booed and hissed by crowds that topped 1,000 people in his tour around the state. The barrage stiffened his resolve, he told the Post, but also exacted some specific commitments around containing the cost of the legislation that he may not have otherwise made publicly. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, one of the "Gang of Six" Obama is targeting for his support, was sympathetic to both sides and gave little indication of how he would vote on key issues. Also stumping through Iowa, the NYT explains part of the reason why town halls all over the country are so stacked with conservatives: Those who came out of the woodwork to support President Obama's campaign are taking a break from politics. Despite its early success with online organizing, the post-Obama-campaign field operation can't keep its members fighting Republicans in the ongoing policy battles.
Today the presidential road show takes its act to Grand Junction, Colo., which has one of the nation's most efficient and effective health care systems in the country, the LAT reports. Finally, the Journal has a look at the next potential headache for legislators, in the form of agitating in California against illegal immigrants receiving care.
The bank failures aren't over: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reached a deal to sell off most of Colonial Bank's branches and $25 billion in assets to BB&T, another Southern-based bank that has weathered the financial crisis relatively well. Colonial had made aggressive real estate loans, which didn't put it in a good position when the string of failures hit last fall. Meanwhile, executive compensation proposals were due Friday from the corporate titans that received bailouts from the federal government—now the administration's "pay czar" has 60 days to make a determination that will bind all seven of them. The Journal notices that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's January promise of rules to curtail lobbyists' say over the $700 billion bailout is still just a promise. Oh, and the automobile industry's free gift, Cash for Clunkers? The top beneficiary so far is Toyota—although the most popular car models, the Corolla and the Camry, are built domestically.
While industrial production nudged up a little, consumer spending isn't showing much sign of recovery. The NYT's economic statistics report accompanies news that nine months after a devastating Christmas shopping season, that other big rush of the year— Back2School!—is looking anemic, at least for the name brands. Wal-Mart and other discount chains are doing a brisk business in bargain-basement deals, while Hollister and Abercrombie struggle to keep inventory moving. The Post takes a gloomier view of the stats, focusing on consumer confidence, which dropped a couple of points despite expectations that it would see a bump in August.
School supplies aren't even on the list for the thousands more families who've become homeless since the economic downturn started, the Post reports, in a trend that's changing the face of the indigent in America. And in another sign of the changing times, the Post takes a look at the burgeoning relaxation drink industry: a nonalcoholic reply to the Red Bull-fueled culture of excess that characterized America pre-September 2008. (TP is uncertain how "Purple Stuff" is better than, say, beer, but will reserve judgment.)
With Afghan elections only six days away, the LAT picked up an explosion that hit the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Kabul Saturday morning, killing at least three and injuring at least 70 more. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. The Post continues its profiles of contenders to replace President Hamid Karzai with the Western favorite, Ashraf Ghani. The Columbia-educated former finance minister communicates his detailed anti-corruption programs well in English but hasn't gotten them across well to the electorate, which now puts him fourth in polls. Meanwhile, the Post also follows U.S. troops into Helmand province, where citizens are unsure whether they should be on America's side or the Taliban's.
The Journal has the goods on last Saturday's crash of small aircraft over the Hudson River, or at least two federal agencies' respective versions of what went on. The National Transportation Safety Board says that a controller in New Jersey was on a phone call with his girlfriend as he failed to notify the plane of traffic in the area and then attempted to switch frequencies. The Federal Aviation Administration denies that any action by controllers could have contributed to the crash. Either way, regulators are starting to think about tightening safety restrictions over the river, where two high-profile crashes in recent months have put the public on edge.
Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.