Today's Papers

From Maliki, With Love

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with, and the New York Times off-leads, Barack Obama’s stop-off in Afghanistan. The L.A. Times heads and the Post subheads news that the Iraqi prime minister endorsed his 16-month timetable for U.S. troops withdrawals. The NYT leads with a long piece, part explanatory, part takedown, focused on the financial industry and the way it buried consumers in debt—burying itself and the American economy along the way.

Obama toured “war-torn Afghanistan” via helicopter and was briefed by military leaders before dining with troops in Kabul. The third paragraphs of both the Post’s and the New York Times’ write-up of the trip  hold what could be an Iraq game-changer: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki specifically endorsed Obama’s 16-month timeline for withdrawal in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel. His interview was published just a day after the White House announced it had agreed to a “time horizon” for troop withdrawals, a major concession.

The political pop of the comments is evidenced by a clarification that Maliki offered hours later. Saying that he had been misunderstood, Maliki insisted that his comments did not amount to an endorsement of the presidential candidate himself and that the timeline must be based on conditions on the ground. In other words, the Iraqi leader will “continue to refine” his Iraq plan. Flip-flopper!

Meanwhile, a man the Post identifies as one John McCain, apparently some sort of political opponent of Obama’s, gave a radio address in which he offered a “fresh rebuke” of the traveling Democrat.

The New York Times uses Diane MacLeod as the anecdotal lede in its story of how the financial industry nickel-and-dimed the nation to death. In 2007, she earned $48,000 before taxes and paid roughly $20,000 merely in interest payments. MacLeod is now out of a job, the Times tells us, because she sent “inappropriate e-mails” and her life is in ruins.

The story highlights how the financial service industry lost interest in making loans that could be paid back and instead was looking to pile on fees and charges before packaging the loan and selling it to some other bank. When the music stopped, however, all the chairs were gone.

If MacLeod’s case is telling of anything, it’s that the financial industry continues to operate just as it did. Facing foreclosure, eviction, and financial ruin, the story ends with MacLeod continuing to get credit come-ons in the mail. One such offer promises a $300 credit line—nothing like she had before—but the fine print shows that half of that will be needed to pay the annual fee. *

The Times fronts  a deeply disturbing look at a new (and old) trend in Somalia. Since January, more than 20 aid workers have been murdered and others abducted, presumably by hard-line anti-Western Islamists. One group has named itself the Martyrs of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,

The Post fronts the latest installment of its 12-part look-back at the investigation into the murder of Chandra Levy. The series still gets the front-page award-application layout, and TP is certain that the final dispatch contains some explosive revelation—they solve the murder?—because he is otherwise having difficulty divining its purpose.

Speaking of pegless features, the Post also fronts a look at the search for alien life forms, the piece accompanied by a splashy photo. The search continues.

The L.A. Times fronts a thinky piece that seems to be a sophisticated way of saying that America is a “nation of whiners.” The economic troubles facing the country are a “succession of panics,” the paper reports, which is kind of like describing a gruesome murder as a “bunch of screaming” while ignoring the knife-wielding maniac responsible for it. Further down, the piece does concede that “when home values fall, shocks destabilize the financial system and the economy, setting off still more ripples.”

The NYT gets more realistic in its take “The Nation—Too Big To Fail?” It notes the irony that America has long wagged its finger at other nations, telling them to toughen up and let failing companies fail. Faced with homegrown failures, America is stepping in and bailing them out.

“All through Japan’s lost decade of the 1990s and afterward,” the story offers, “American officials chided Tokyo for its unwillingness to let the forces of creative destruction take down the country’s bloated banks and the zombie companies they nurtured. The best way out of stagnation, Americans counseled, was to let weak companies die, freeing up capital for a new crop of leaner entrants.”

Negotiations with Iran over the halting of elements of its nuclear program went nowhere, ending in stalemate.

Someone, at least, is doing OK. The new Batman movie is setting all kinds of records for its first weekend.

Correction, July 21, 2008: This piece originally stated that the credit card offered MacLeod a $300 monthly limit; the $300 figure is the total credit line on the card. This piece also stated that half of the credit limit was needed for monthly fees. Those fees are annual. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)