The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the latest wave of violence in Iraq, evidently aimed at destabilizing the new government and sending a strong message to the newly formed Cabinet. The Washington Post leads with news of continuing skepticism in both parties to Bush’s Social Security plan.
Everybody fronts news that Iraqi insurgents unleashed a series of coordinated attacks, detonating 12 car bombs in Baghdad and hitting military and police bases across the country. More than 40 people were killed. The NYT calls it a “direct challenge to the new Shiite-dominated government.” Followers of Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility over the Internet, saying, “You, Bush, we will not rest until we avenge our dignity … as long as there is a pulse in our veins.”
The insurgents used the fiendish but increasingly common tactic of setting off multiple bombs, thus killing not only those present at the initial detonation, but also rescuers and bystanders who rush to save the wounded. Apparently hoping to curb victims of secondary bombings, the WP reports, Iraqi forces turned back rescuers—some halting them politely, while “Others fired directly on civilians who came rushing up.” Calling the elected government “the biggest achievement Iraq has had in 50 years,” the new PM issued a statement through a spokesman: “This will just increase our determination to move forward and leave these people behind.”
The WP leads with word that Bush’s approach to Social Security is continuing to receive a “wary reception from both parties.” Republicans leaders prepared to press ahead with the legislation, expecting it to be done in June, but other Republicans longed for a solution that would spare middle-income earners. The current plan would cut benefits for anyone making more than $25,000 a year, which amounts to 70 percent of future retirees. The bill’s authors have no problem with that. Democrats, meanwhile, prepared for a fight, saying, “We’re going to essentially slug it out with the president and the Republicans.”
The LAT and NYT both front news analysis about the plan. The plan, says the LAT, would improve benefits for the poorest third of Americans, while the rest would suffer. The richer two-thirds of Americans will be encouraged to make up the difference by saving and investing.
The NYT analysis focuses on Bush’s two big gamble s, one political, one substantive. The political gamble: that Democrats will eventually decide that painful decisions are necessary for Social Security, rather than firming their opposition to Bush’s benefit-cutting approach to the point where no compromise is possible. With public sentiment against the president, it’s a risky bet, especially because Democrats will be seen as defending the rights of the middle class. The substantive gamble: “drawing clear lines between winners and losers.” In other words, Bush is betting that by sparing the poorest Americans, Democrats will have no choice but to back his proposal, or risk being seen as abandoning one of their core constituencies.
The NYT goes below the fold with (and the others tease) news that Lynndie England, the grinning, leash-wielding poster girl for Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, has struck a plea deal. England will plead guilty to reduced charges. She originally faced 16.5 years in prison, but under the new plea, she will serve no more than 30 months. Her defense will argue that she has mental health problems and learning disabilities, and will make the case that she was corrupted by Spc. Charles Graner, her then-boyfriend. At one point, investigators asked England if she had physically abused any detainees. “Yes, I stepped on some of them, push them or pull them,” she replied. “But nothing extreme.”
The NYT fronts word that after 60 years of hostility, leaders of China’s Communist party and Taiwan’s Nationalist party shook hands and made up, pledging to work together against their common enemy: the Taiwanese independence movement. Analysts said that by allying itself with China, Taiwan’s opposition party is taking a risk: Most Taiwanese do not see themselves as Chinese and do not want to reunify. “It may open dialogue between the two parties,” said one commentator, “but not between the two sides of the Strait.”
The NYT fronts word that NASA again delayed the launch of the space shuttle Discovery, citing safety concerns about ice. Even in hot weather, the craft’s cold liquid fuel causes ice buildup, which officials said could present a serious hazard. The launch would have been the first since the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.
Department of homeroom security … The WP reports on the hottest new major on college campuses: terror. Students everywhere are learning “to think like terrorists” as part of curricula in prevention and preparedness. But the tide of federal money for homeland security R&D—$4 billion this year, of which $64 million goes to university programs—has prompted a gold rush that has some critics worried. “Become a refrigerator mechanic, a paralegal and a homeland security expert!” offers one newspaper ad. Complains one industry leader, “People are jumping on this bandwagon … and there’s no quality control.”