Today's Papers

Days of Blunder

The Washington Postand New York Timeslead with Fed chairman Alan Greenspan’s warning that the largely baby-boom bump in spending on Social Security and particularly Medicare could bust the budget unless taxes are raised or benefits are cut. Greenspan said he prefers the latter. USA Today’s lead folds Greenspan’s comments into a larger Social Security check-in emphasizing the administration kicking off a PR offensive dubbed “60 Stops in 60 Days.” Said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, “We are going to be blanketing the country talking with the American people and educating them.” The Los Angeles Times leads with Gov. Schwarzenegger backing away from his proposal to privatize the state employees’ pension system.

The NYT’s lead has a creative interpretation of Greenspan’s comments. The story, “GREENSPAN SAYS FEDERAL BUDGET DEFICITS ARE ‘UNSUSTAINABLE,’ ” begins:

Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, warned on Wednesday that the federal budget deficits were “unsustainable,” and he urged Congress to scrutinize both spending and taxes to solve the problem.

Thing is, Greenspan wasn’t really bemoaning the current deficit. Again, he was talking about entitlements:

So long as health-care costs continue to grow faster than the economy as a whole, the additional resources needed for such programs will exert pressure on the federal budget that seems increasingly likely to make current fiscal policy unsustainable.

The Wall Street Journal and NYT notice Treasury Secretary Snow saying President Bush isn’t necessarily opposed to making private accounts an add-on rather than a replacement to current benefits. “Right now, the more ideas the better,” Snow said. The Post onlymentions the comment in passing, explaining, “White House officials are privately telling Republicans that Bush is opposed to the idea but does not want to say so because it would appear he is not willing to compromise.”

The NYT fronts the latest poll showing the Social Security plan on life support. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they are “uneasy” about “Bush’s ability to make the right decisions” on Social Security. (That sound like a bit of a loaded question to you?)

The LAT fronts Italian prosecutors investigating the case of a radical imam in Italy who disappeared two years ago and later insisted he’d been kidnapped by American agents and shipped to Egypt where he was tortured. An American official seemed to acknowledge this was a case of extraordinary rendition, saying the imam was “considered a veteran jihadist.”

A frontpage Post piece looks at the veil of silence surrounding the CIA’s secret jails and the alleged abuse inside them. In one previously unreported case, in December 2002 an Afghan at a prison near Kabul was left naked and chained to the floor overnight. By morning, he had frozen to death. He was buried in an unmarked grave, his family has never been notified, and it’s never been publicly acknowledged he was a prisoner. The agent who oversaw his treatment has since been promoted. The CIA says it’s investigating. 

The above Post piece says the CIA set up the prison as a “host-nation facility,” meaning it was technically an Afghan jail, with Afghan guards. But it was funded by the U.S., which also seemed to make all significant decisions, including who was jailed there. The idea was to create “insulation from actions taken by Afghan guards inside, a tactic used in secret CIA prisons in other countries.”

According to early morning reports, two car bombs outside Iraq’s Interior Ministry killed five policemen. Another two suicide bombings yesterday in Baghdad killed about a dozen Iraqi soldiers.

USAT fronts GI deaths dropping in February to the lowest daily rate since October. Among the reasons cited: Officers said the military is getting more tips, and, of course, insurgents are increasingly focusing on killing Iraqi forces.

The Post says inside that Afghan President Karzai has appointed a top warlord as his chief of staff for military affairs.

In one of the weirder pieces TP has come across, the LAT effectively hands over a Page One spot to a shady North Korean “businessman,” whose opinions seem quite in tune with his government’s. “We have chosen collective human rights as a nation,” said the unidentified man, who offered, “Call me Mr. Anonymous.” He went on, “There’s never been a positive article about North Korea, not one.” Until now…