Today's Papers

Labor Pains

The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Timeslead, and the Wall Street Journal, at least online, tops its worldwide news box with the Friday release of a Labor Department report indicating that 4,000 American jobs were cut during August—the first downturn in employment numbers since 2003. The news caused stock prices to fall while further sparking fears of a potential recession.

The Washington Postleads news that, in a letter to American troops, Gen. David Petraeus expressed disappointment with the pace of political progress in Iraq in what is ostensibly a sneak preview of his upcoming report to Congress. In his letter, Petraeus also praised the gains that have been made in terms of ground security and civilian rapprochement.

Although economists expected a six-figure increase in payroll numbers, the slumping housing industry proved too strong a negative force for the job market to overcome. Noting the economy’s general strength and the low unemployment rate, the Treasury Department cautioned investors against rushing to judgment. “Data does not always move in a straight line, so occasionally you will find some surprises,” said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

While mathematically accurate, Paulson’s words were cold comfort for those who believe that there are more “surprises” to come. (One of these hit on Friday afternoon, as mortgage lender Countrywide Financial announced plans to eliminate close to 12,000 jobs.) The LAT thinks the numbers made a fool of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who previously said that the national credit crisis wouldn’t affect the economy as a whole. Everybody sees a rate cut on the horizon. The NYT fronts a news feature noting that, for the first time in years, domestic economic issues are arguably commanding as much political attention as is the Iraq war.

While administration officials indicate that Petraeus will propose that another assessment be made in six months’ time, the bulk of the Post’s underwhelming piece involves guesswork on what Petraeus will say in his assessment next week. Will he support a very limited withdrawal of 3,500 to 4,500 troops? Will he utilize detailed charts to make his arguments?

The NYT goes inside with two Petraeus-related features—one on the general’s schedule leading up to his testimony (dress rehearsals, jogging), one on Democratic attempts to preemptively spin Petraeus’ report as a gussied-up version of the same old party line. The LAT goes above the fold with its story on the Democratic take on the “Bush-Petraeus report,” closing with a characteristically overwrought quote from Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.: “We don’t need a report that wins the Nobel Prize for creative statistics or the Pulitzer for fiction.” The administration will probably be satisfied with a People’s Choice Award.

The NYT also fronts a general assessment of the troop surge, conceding that some progress has been made while questioning whether this progress can be sustained throughout Ramadan, the upcoming Muslim holy month, which has, in recent years, been a fertile time for carnage.

The Post splashes, the NYT reefers, but nobody leads news that Osama Bin Laden has issued a new video in which he derides President Bush, praises Noam Chomsky, and invites Americans to convert to Islam. The video, which has been conditionally verified by intelligence officials as legitimate, marks Bin Laden’s first public appearance in more thanthree years. The Post spends an inordinate amount of space explaining why Bin Laden’s once-graying beard is now entirely dark. Is it due to “a locally made henna dye that leaves a dark red color”? Or is it just that nobody’s immune to Fashion Week Fever?

The LAT goes up top with news that Congress passed sweeping federal student loan reform legislation on Friday. (The NYT and the Post run the story inside). The bill, which passed by a wide margin in both the House and the Senate, will increase funding for federal Pell grants, cut subsidies to student lenders, and institute loan forgiveness programs for graduates who work in public service jobs, among other provisions. Despite lenders’ complaints that the legislation “punishes the industry,” President Bush appears likely to sign it into law. In other Friday action, the House also passed a patent reform bill, reports the WSJ.

Everybody reports that North Korea has invited an international team of nuclear scientists to inspect the nation’s nuclear sites, all of which are expected to soon be dismantled under the terms of an aid agreement. The scientists will come from China, Russia, and the United States.

The NYT off-leads a feature on how Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s stance on gay marriage has apparently changed over time. While Romney preached a laissez-faire approach to the issue as a Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate in 2002, these days he’s calling for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The article’s conceit seems to hinge solely on the less-than-damning testimony of some Massachusetts-based members of the Log Cabin Republicans.

Mike Nifong, the criminally overzealous prosecutor who withheld evidence in the Duke lacrosse case, began serving a one-day sentence for criminal contempt yesterday, everybody reports. Although Nifong got off easily, the city of Durham, N.C., won’t be so lucky—the men accused in the case are asking for a $30 million settlement from the city.

The two New Orleans nursing home owners who decided against evacuating their patients in the days before Hurricane Katrina have been acquitted of charges of negligent homicide, everybody reports. Salvatore and Mabel Mangano still have numerous civil suits to contend with.

The NYT and the WP stuff the disturbing news that more than two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be dead by the year 2050 if global warming proceeds at its current pace. “As the sea ice goes, so goes the polar bear,” said one scientist. 

The WSJ profiles Democratic donor and former fugitive Norman Hsu, who was arrested Thursday in Colorado after failing to appear earlier in the week at a California bond hearing. In addition to long-pending grand theft charges, Hsu is accused of various campaign donation-related improprieties. His life story reads like that of a wonky modern-day Gatsby, with a mysterious past, an unexplained fortune, and a yen for powerful company. TP wonders why it’s necessary for every piece on Hsu to talk about how his life “came crashing down” around him. It makes it sound like he got hit by a tornado.

The LAT, in its Column One slot, runs a typically well-written feature on the uneasy tension between Iraqi refugees and the Egyptians who resent them.

The final tesseract: Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, has died. Although L’Engle worked at various times as a stage actress, playwright, and librarian, she was best known for her dark and beautiful children’s novels, which were predicated on the author’s “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.” Her books matter cosmically to most everybody who is lucky enough to have read them. She was 88 years old.