Today's Papers

Clerical Era?

The New York Timesleads with partial vote returns in Iraq showing the main Shiite coalition with an even larger lead than expected. Meanwhile, a piece inside the Times suggests you ignore that: Only 10 percent of the vote was counted, and it’s not a representative sampling. Most Sunni areas weren’t included nor, more importantly, was the Kurdish north. Election officials refused to add up the numbers they released. Asked why, an official snorted, “You mean, why haven’t we made it easy for you to do an analysis that we consider unsound?” The other papers heed that advice.

The Los Angeles Timesand Washington Postlead with the Senate confirming Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 60-to-36. All but six Democrats, and no Republicans, voted against him. The WP says that’s the lowest support by a minority party in decades. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and USA Todaylead with Bush hitting the road to sell his Social Security plans. Forty-three of 44 Democratic senators signed a letter saying his proposal would blow a big hole in the budget and thus is “immoral, unacceptable, and unsustainable.” (The holdout: Sen. Ben Nelson.) The Journal says the White House is “quietly assembling a coalition of allies—most notably many Wall Street firms,” who will raise an estimated $35 million to push the plan. Meanwhile, another powerful Republican rep, this one in charge of the subcommittee that oversees Social Security, said the president’s plan is probably DOA. 

Insurgent attacks picked up again in Iraq yesterday. An ambush west of Baghdad left two police dead and, says the NYT, 36 missing. Two Marines were also killed in the separate attacks in the Anbar province. The Post says another dozen civilians were killed in assorted attacks, some reportedly targeted for having voted.

The WP fronts the Pentagon saying it will send about 15,000 GIs home, bringing the troop level to 135,000, the same as it was before the election ramp-up.

USAT fronts and others mention SecDef Rumsfeld telling Larry King yesterday that he submitted his resignation—twice—when the Abu Ghraib abuses broke, but the president told him to stick around.

Everybody mentions Pentagon officials acknowledging that most Iraqi troops aren’t fully trained—and that about 40 percent of them often don’t show up for work.

In yesterday’s Post, reporter Jonathan Weisman said the president’s privatization plan envisages benefits being decreased by the amount taken out for market accounts plus 3 percent interest. In other words, one (Democratic-leaning) analyst told Weisman, “It’s not a nest egg. It’s a loan.” Weisman does a row back today, saying the paper “incorrectly reported Thursday that the balance of a worker’s personal account would be reduced by the worker’s total annual contributions plus 3 percent interest.” But he also says, “Workers who opt for the accounts would lose a proportionate share of their guaranteed payment from Social Security, plus interest equal to the amount that money would have earned if the government had invested it in Treasury bonds. They would recoup those lost benefits through their accounts if their investments realized a return equal to or greater than the 3 percent.” This all makes TP very sleepy. But is there a substantive difference between the two scenarios?

While the Post’s coverage is confusing, the NYT’s is simply lacking. It buttonholes the young, the old, and the middle-aged. Who’s missing: independent-minded experts dissecting the plan. And no, former Kerry advisers don’t qualify.

The NYT and WP front the independent investigation of the U.N.’s oil-for-food program finding evidence that the bureaucrat who was in charge appears to have been on the take and lied about it to investigators. The Financial Times says former U.N. chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali also seems to be implicated.

The NYT fronts, and others note more gently, that a day after President Bush said the U.S. is “working with European allies” to keep Iran nukes-free, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. won’t work with European allies on their plan to offer carrots to Tehran. She also described Iran’s human-rights record as “something to be loathed,” apparently the kind of rhetoric Europeans don’t find helpful.

The papers go insidewith an internal EPA report saying the agency, as the Post puts it, “ignored scientific evidence and agency protocols” in order to come up with a mercury proposal to the White House’s liking. The administration accused the author, an apparent Democrat, of being partisan. But the Post gets corroboration from a few EPA employees. “Everything about this rule was decided at a political level,” said one.

The NYT says inside the administration announced plans to consolidate and cut by about a third community development grants, currently worth about $6 billion annually. The administration said it’s just cutting some “overlap,” while the paper quotes Democrats going bananas, with one saying, “It would be more honest if the federal government simply said, ‘We don’t care about these poor people.’” And again, what the paper doesn’t do is offer adjudicating facts or quotes from a solid observer.

The LAT says mortgage lender Ameriquest, which fancies itself the cream of the crop, appears to be a bit of a boiler room, where employees said “they forged documents, hyped customers’ creditworthiness and ‘juiced’ mortgages with hidden rates and fees.”

In a NYT op-ed, two writers talk about what they learned during an investigation of medical practices at Abu Ghraib: “The hospital lacked basic supplies, according to members of the clinical staff, and at times it maintained a surgical service without surgeons. Sometimes the hospital ran out of chest tubes, intravenous fluids or medicines. Medical staff members improvised, taking tubes from patients when they died and reusing them, without sterilization.” The shortages may help explain, though not excuse, that photo of a leashed prisoner:

[A] doctor, Maj. David Auch, told us that some of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib were psychotic and out of control. One, he said, would repeatedly strip off his clothes and smash his head against the wall. After handcuffs and a helmet failed to stop him and with straitjackets unavailable, some soldiers suggested the leash. Major Auch granted their request. The soldiers who snapped and posed for the photos of abuse are being called to account. But the focus on their culpability diverts attention from the causal relationship between the Pentagon’s priorities and the hellish conditions that both prisoners and their captors endured. This larger story, of conditions that ensured neglect and invited cruelty, is being ignored.