The New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Postall lead with the about 140 Iraqis killed in two suicide bombings; seven U.S. troops were also killed. USA Todayleads with and others front IBM, continuing a nationwide trend, announcing it will freeze pension benefits and instead offer employees more generous 401(k)s. Current retirees won't face cuts, and current employees' pensions won't stop accruing until 2008. Big Blue says the change will save about $3 billion over five years. The Los Angeles Timesleads with Gov. Schwarzenegger's state of the state address during which he rolled out a $222 billion infrastructure plan for California. (Yep, you read that number correctly.) He's banking on the feds and private partnerships to pick up a good chunk of the tab for the roughly 10-year program.
It was one of the deadliest days in Iraq since the invasion. One suicide bomber attacked just a few yards from a Shiite shrine in the holy city of Karbala. Another attacker hit a police recruiting station in Ramadi, killing about 70 Iraqis and two U.S. troops, says the LAT, which had a reporter in the area. Another roadside bomb killed five GIs on patrol in Baghdad.
The NYT quotes the head of the one of the biggest Shiite parties lashing out at … the U.S. "We're laying the responsibility for the blood of innocents shed in the past few days on the multinational forces and the political powers that declared publicly their support for terrorism," he said. "Our people will not be patient for much longer with these dirty sectarian crimes." The same official told the Post a month ago that Shiite-cum-government forces want to take the gloves off but complained the U.S. has been holding them back.
The Post says that after the bombing in Sunni-dominated Ramadi, residents "did something they had never publicly done": They blamed jihadists. "Neither the Americans nor the Shiites have any benefit in doing this. It is Zarqawi," said one resident.
Meanwhile, the LAT says some of those who were wounded in the blast at the recruiting center got treated "then returned to fill out their applications."
Everybody has the latest on Sharon, who is now in what doctors say is a medically induced coma. Doctors said they won't really get a sense of his condition until the coma ends, but there's little hope. Citing what seems to be a mix of Sharon's doctors and outside experts, the Israeli paper Haaretz concludes, "Damage could range from impaired physical and mental functioning to spending the rest of his life in a permanent vegetative state—if he survives at all." (Sharon was rushed back into surgery this morning when doctors detected more bleeding in his brain.)
There's plenty of ink devoted to how Sharon's condition might affect his new centrist party, the prospects for peace, and the White House's initiatives. The upshot: Sharon has been a dominating figure, there's no obvious replacement for him, and nobody knows what the hell's going to happen.
Only the NYT seems to have a staff story on a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians. It seems to have been timed to a meeting the U.S. ambassador had in the neighborhood. He wasn't injured nor was anybody in his party.
The Post fronts the inevitable post-Abramoff post-DeLay internal GOP power struggle. The WP says technically temporary House Majority Leader Roy Blount is planning to make a bid next month to make his title permanent.
USAT fronts and the NYT teases Florida's Supreme Court invalidating a state program that gave private-school vouchers for kids at subpar public schools. It's the first time a top state court has ruled on the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court has already said that vouchers are essentially a state issue.
The WP teases and others mention the president inviting former top national security officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations for a sit-down to chat about Iraq and such. Most of the papers play up the gentle criticism. "A NOT-ALWAYS-DIPLOMATIC GATHERING," says the LAT. Only the NYT catches what seems like a relevant detail: "Mr. Bush allowed five to 10 minutes for interchange with the group."
Everybody flags the note found on one of the miners who died in West Virginia. "Tell all—I see them on the other side," wrote Martin Toler Jr., whose family released the note. "It wasn't bad, I just went to sleep. I love you." Doctors said the one miner who survived may have brain damage; he's still in a coma but it's early yet.
Earlier this week, TP flagged a "signing statement" President Bush submitted with the McCain anti-torture amendment seeming to assert that the administration was not ultimately bound by the law. TP suggested that the papers ask the White House where it stands on the amendment.
Well, the Boston Globe, at least, has done just that. The White House's answer: Sure we're bound by the torture ban—except when we decide we're not. Or as an (anonymous) administration spokesperson put it, ''Of course the president has the obligation to follow this law, [but] he also has the obligation to defend and protect the country as the commander in chief, and he will have to square those two responsibilities in each case." That did not make Sens. McCain, Warner, or Graham happy.