Today's Papers

No Speedy Gonzales

The New York Timesand USA Todaylead with five car bombs in Baghdad that killed about 25 Iraqis, including nine security men. (The Washington Post, which only teases Iraq,puts the figure at 16.) Four of the attacks happened within 90 minutes of each other during morning rush hour. Gunmen also attacked the Baghdad HQ of a major Kurdish party, killing one and wounding a handful. The Los Angeles Timesleads with Senate Democrats delaying the expected confirmations of Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales. The latter could be held up for a week with some Democrats enraged about Gonzales’ know-nothing responses to their questions on the administration policies about detainees and torture.

The Wall Street Journal goes high with the administration’s “permanent grass-roots” and lobbying campaign to push its domestic priorities, with Social Security privatization currently Job One. “We will use the tools we used to re-elect the president,” said Ken Mehlman, former W04 campaign manager and now Republican Party chairman. “Not only does it help pass the agenda, it helps build the party.” The Post leads with word that Medicare is about to pay for surgically implanted defibrillators. With about 500,000 people eligible, the Post says it could be “the most expensive single decision” in the program’s history. Officials said the decision was also driven by a desire to use Medicare patients as guinea … helpful participants in a wide-scale study on the benefits of the devices.

Yesterday’s attacks in Iraq, of course, weren’t limited to Baghdad, with the NYT describing widespread fighting across the north in “Erbil, Dohuk Kirkuk and Mosul.” (Though the Times doesn’t say it, those are mostly Kurdish areas that had been peaceful.) Also, a few foreign contractors were attacked near Baji; two were killed, and one, apparently a Japanese man, was taken hostage.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also hinted about—and hedged on—the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, endorsing what he said would be a ” ‘conditions based’ rather than a ‘calendar based’ gradual withdrawal program.”

The LAT fronts word that the FBI is now investigating whether an American contractor and his coworker gunned down last month in Iraq were killed because one of them blew the whistle on corruption in the Iraq defense ministry. In the days before he was killed, the contractor had lodged complaints against Iraqi officials who were apparently siphoning funds from the first major contract the ministry was involved in. The Times says a Defense Ministry spokesman offered the paper an interview with a ministry official but then forbade the reporter to ask questions about the contract, explaining it was too “dangerous.”

The Post follows up inside on the dispute about the number of capable Iraqis in uniform, which Condoleezza Rice pegged at 120,000 and Sen. Biden put at 4,000, though he bumped that up yesterday to 14,000. The WP doesn’t get very far in pinning down a number. But the explanation why is worth it: “It’s sort of like counting the insurgency,” said one well-regarded analyst. “All of the numbers are probably valid and almost none of them are relevant. What we have seen since June is a clear commitment to create more effective Iraqi forces. What we have never seen from any administration official is even a hint that we are going to create credible, independent, Iraqi security capabilities that can survive on their own.”

The NYT moseys in with another poll: This one comes to roughly the same conclusions as others have this week. The nation is still split, Bush has a fairly low favorability rating (49 percent), etc. One of the few noteworthy things in the piece is some nice, no B.S. phrasing: “Fifty percent said Social Security is in crisis, echoing an assertion that Mr. Bush has made and that has been disputed by Democrats and independent analysts.”

The Post fronts and others stuff researchers concluding that elderly women who throw down a drink a day tend to keep their minds sharper than their non-partying compatriots.

While the LAT’s lead notices that Democrats are ticked about Gonzales’ evasions, it doesn’t really detail them. The Post’sDana Milbank, writing inside the paper, does, pointing out that stonewalling is the latest most fabulous trend among Cabinet nominees. Asked about some pre-war briefings on Iraq’s weapons programs, Rice said, “I’m sorry, I just don’t remember.” And asked to detail his role in the memo that build the legal framework for torture, which the papers have reported that Gonzales requested, Gonzales wrote to senators, “I have no present knowledge of any such notes, memoranda, e-mails or other documents and I have not conducted a search.”

Milbank even counts up Gonzales’ written evasions: “I am not at liberty to disclose” at least 10 times; “I do not recall” or “I have no recollection” six times; I did not “conduct a search” seven times; “I am not at liberty [to discuss certain matters]” 10 times; and “I have no present knowledge” seven times. “It’s a little bit appalling,” said one Reagan administration official. “A conservative should want greater congressional scrutiny—it limits government.”