Today's Papers

Knocked Up

USA Todayand the Washington Postlead with and the Wall Street Journal banners the latest wild ride on Wall Street as investors ignored a flurry of bad economic news and sent the Dow Jones industrial average up almost 900 points, or 10.9 percent. It marked the second-largest point increase and the sixth-biggest percentage gain in history. The New York Timesleads with a look at what it calls the upcoming “credit card crisis.” Lenders are cutting back on credit card offers and reducing credit lines at a time when the declining economy is making it more difficult for consumers to make ends meet. Even those with good credit are being affected as lenders try to prevent more losses, which could amount to $55 billion over the next year and a half on top of the approximately $21 billion in bad credit-card loans that lenders wrote off in the first six months of 2008.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with a new poll that shows Barack Obama with a significant lead in two crucial battleground states. In Ohio, Obama leads 49 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, while in Florida his lead is 50 percent to 43 percent. Voters still see John McCain as more qualified to deal with terrorism and Iraq, but that’s hardly the top issue at a time when about 90 percent of registered voters in Ohio say the economy is doing badly. The poll also includes an interesting nugget that shows how it has been difficult for Obama to shake a persistent rumor that he’s Muslim. Around 7 percent of voters think Obama is Muslim, while more than 40 percent say they’re not sure what his religion is.

Investors were encouraged by signs that the credit crunch is easing a bit and by expectations that the Federal Reserve would cut interest rates today, possibly to as low as 1 percent. There are early signs that the Fed’s move to begin buying up commercial paper, which started on Monday, has helped restore some confidence in the credit markets.

Still, everyone cautions that yesterday’s surge is unlikely to hold and could turn into “the sixth in a string of failed one-day rallies in less than a month that lured buyers in only to shred more wealth,” notes USAT. Or as the LAT so eloquently puts it, “the rally might have been little more than a head fake.” After all, yesterday’s point gain was second only to the one that took place on Oct. 13, and we all know what happened afterward. There are also plenty of signs that the economy is in for a lot more hardship in the months ahead. Yesterday morning a private research firm reported that consumer confidence has fallen to the lowest level in its 41-year history.

USAT points out that some market watchers believe the biggest reason for yesterday’s rally “may have been fear of being left behind.” As the NYT notes, while investors may be more willing to believe that stocks have decreased enough to justify jumping into the markets again, no one knows whether their value has fallen enough considering that if there’s a long global recession corporate profits will surely plunge.

The NYT’s David Leonhardt takes an impressively sober look at whether stocks are actually cheap now and if investors should be jumping in to avoid missing the boat on an upcoming market surge. Many of the country’s top financial minds say yes. But others aren’t quite so sure and say stocks are only cheap now if you compare them with their performance over the past 20 years, which could in fact prove to have been one great big bubble. “It was a nice party,” one expert tells the NYT. “The problem is that all the bills are coming due at the same time.” Some think stocks could still fall as much as 35 percent before the market hits bottom. This means that those who sink their money into the markets now might have to wait decades until their investment pays off.

USAT fronts a look at how several states are cutting back on health care programs at a time when the economic slump is likely to lead more people to require help to pay for medical assistance. Many states are trying to deal with budget shortfalls by cutting back on Medicaid, which pays medical costs for millions of low-income Americans.

Speaking of health care, the LAT takes an interesting look at how states often have different rules on what kind of health services they provide to illegal immigrants. The piece focuses on dialysis because it offers a particularly poignant example since many states don’t cover the treatment for illegal immigrants. Dialysis involves a lifetime commitment that can easily reach $1 million per patient, but some say that not covering the treatment could be even more costly. That’s because states that don’t cover it still have to treat illegal immigrants when they reach the emergency room with almost-fatal levels of toxins in their system. And some argue that repeatedly rescuing patients from the brink of death not only hurts their long-term health, but also costs more in the long run.

The WP fronts word that U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say they need around 20,000 more troops to fight the Taliban. Around 4,000 troops are set to arrive in January, and up to 12,000 more could arrive sometime in the spring or summer. But now there’s also a request for up to 10,000 more support forces, such as intelligence officers and engineers, that commanders say are crucial to build up resources to a point where the additional troops could actually help the U.S. mission. As opposed to Iraq, which easily absorbed the extra troops that were part of last year’s “surge,” Afghanistan doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure to take in all the additional troops. But the problem is that support forces are already stretched thin.

While the Supreme Court gets most of the attention when the media talk about a president’s judicial appointments, the NYT takes a look at how President Bush has managed to change the face of appeals courts across the country during his two terms in office. And since many of the judges Bush placed “were among the youngest ever nominated,” they are poised to have a long-term impact on the country. By the time the Bush era is over, conservative judges will have control of 10 of the 13 circuits, while judges appointed by Democrats have a majority in only one circuit. The trend could be reversed if Obama wins, but if McCain is elected, “Republicans could achieve commanding majorities on all 13 circuits,” reports the NYT.

The WP’s Ruth Marcus says that while Obama promised to bring in a new style of politics, it’s not the way he “has run his campaign or the message he has run it on.” There’s little doubt that the Democrat has run a good campaign, but it never contained “much more than a passing hint of the new politics he envisions.” And even though Obama went back to this theme in his closing argument, there’s little evidence that the Democrat would change dramatically if he gets to the White House. “I know how he wants to govern,” writes Marcus. “I’m not convinced he can pull it off.”