The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with Georgia President Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation. "I'm going home now," he said Sunday after conceding to the 100,000 protestors gathered around Georgia's parliament building. The parliamentary speaker, an opposition leader, became acting president and promised elections within 45 days. USA Today's lead says the Senate is "on the verge" of passing the Medicare bill that the House passed Saturday morning in a squeaker. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (online) with Medicare, reminding that Democrats are seriously ticked after the GOP left the House vote open for three hours while President Bush and others lobbied legislators. Such votes usually last 15 minutes. The Washington Post's lead, in a nice move, takes the big picture and says that the various spending measures now moving through Congress, namely the energy and Medicare bills, are going to (further) break the budget. The Congressional Budget Office director estimated that between 2013 and 2023, when scads of baby boomers will be retiring, the Medicare bill will cost around $1.5 trillion. "The U.S. budget is out of control," investment firm Goldman Sachs warned in a newsletter Friday. "Any thoughts of relief ... are a pipe dream until political priorities adjust."
Shevardnadze had tried and failed to convene a parliament that had been elected in a vote that was widely considered a sham. According to the NYT, Secretary of State Colin Powell called Shevardnadze over the weekend and suggested he get walking. As the papers all note, Georgia has massive poverty and corruption, but has been a big American ally over the past decade and sits along the planned route of a big oil pipeline important to the United States.
A Page One Post piece ponders the Medicare bill's provision for $87 billion in corporate subsidies meant to encourage companies not to dump retirees from their health plans. Corporate leaders met with the head of Medicare in the spring, complained about rising health care costs and begged for some kind of subsidy. But the $87 billion, the federal official told the Post, was "way beyond [the business leaders'] wildest requests." He added, they "should be having a giant ticker-tape parade."
TP has on occasion criticized the papers for headlines that fall far short of an article's conclusions. This isn't one of them. The WP states, "MEDICARE BILL WOULD ENRICH COMPANIES."
In another hint that you should be skeptical of the published numbers of the Medicare bill's cost, the Journal notices that "the administration has refused to release its own cost estimates, which run considerably higher in some cases than those of the Congressional Budget Office."
The NYT's off-lead highlights the Medicare bill's controversial provision prohibiting the government from using its purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices.
Post columnist Robert Samuelson says that despite the mountain of money we're about spend, the need for Medicare coverage of prescription drugs isn't particularly big. Samuelson quotes a government survey done last year that asked, "In the last six months, how much of a problem, if any, was it to get the prescription medicine you needed?" The answers were, according to Samuelson: 86.4 percent, not a problem; 9.4 percent, a small problem; 4.2 percent, a big problem.
The LAT and USAT front the killing and mutilation of two GIs in the northern Iraq town of Mosul. It's not exactly clear what happened, since as USAT explains, "U.S. command in Baghdad ordered that no details be released." The soldiers' Humvee crashed after they were shot at (USAT) or had rocks thrown at them (NYT). At that point teenagers looted the wreck and apparently stabbed the soldiers, who might have already been dead. Until recently, Mosul had been fairly calm. Also, a GI was killed by a roadside bomb near Baghdad.
The LAT avoids details of the Mosul killings, but its story gives great context, detailing U.S. reconstruction efforts in town and how residents have reacted. Iraqis "don't understand being nice," said the city's U.S. commander. "We spent so long here working with kid gloves, but the average Iraqi guy will tell you, `The only thing people respect here is violence. ... They only understand being shot at, being killed. That's the culture.' Nice guys do finish last here."
The NYT mentions that three American contractors were wounded by a bomb yesterday outside Kirkuk. Also, two local Iraqi police commanders were assassinated, one in Mosul and the other just south of Baghdad.
The NYT says inside that Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group, has established a small presence in Iraq but has avoided attacking GIs. "I think sending Hezbollah to Iraq is about Iran's desire for us to take them seriously," said "one former American official familiar with the intelligence reports" about the group's move. "They want a dialogue with us, and they are signaling they can help us or hurt us."
Most of the papers note inside that five U.S. soldiers killed and seven were wounded in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. It's not clear yet what happened, though there weren't any reports of enemy gunfire. Two other soldiers in Afghanistan were wounded when their Humvee hit a mine. An Associated Press piece, in an unusual move, details the injuries: One GI "suffered burns to his face, neck and back, and had his left leg amputated." Meanwhile, a top commander in Iraq, refusing to talk about the Mosul killings, told the NYT, "It is our policy that we do not go into specific details on injuries sustained by soldiers."
The Post's Karl Vick, travels to the hometown of three of the four suspects named in Turkey's recent bombings, and says that the men were affiliated with an Islamic extremist paramilitary group that the Turkish government once "tacitly encouraged ... judging it a useful tool in a sometimes dirty war against Kurdish separatists." Turkey began to move against the group in 1999, after Kurdish guerrillas were largely defeated.
The Post says on A16 that the Pentagon is batting around the idea of creating a unit—maybe a brigade, maybe a couple of divisions—specially trained for peacekeeping.
Mazel tov! Chatting with the Post's Howard Kurtz, NYT top editor Bill Keller says he is about to send out an order (or a plea—take your pick) telling reporters to cut back "on the reflexive use and the pointless use of anonymous sources," which he says has "gotten out of hand."