The Washington Postleads with a look at the parade of Bush aides who have left the White House in recent months. In a series of revealing interviews with everyone from Karl Rove down, the Post paints a picture of dispirited and exhausted staffers, many tormented by doubts over the administration's legacy. The New York Times leads on news of problems with the private insurers running Medicare's drug benefit program; audits found that the companies improperly denied claims, used deceptive sales tactics, and were unresponsive to both patients and doctors. The Los Angeles Times has word that a nationwide shortage of agricultural laborers has prompted the Bush administration to begin quietly redrafting visa regulations.
With the clock running down on Bush's presidency, longtime aides have been lining up to check out early; now disenchanted former officials are soul-searching over the administration's legacy. Concerns about the future of Iraq loom large: former security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan confesses to having nightmares about the state of the country, while ex-strategy chief Peter Wehner says former friends no longer speak to him because of his part in planning the invasion. Others are more sanguine: Dan Bartlett's biggest worry is his suddenly empty in-box, while Karl Rove is perhaps a little too quick to insist that he doesn't feel sorry for himself at all. The Post avoids Schadenfreude, instead giving a more nuanced sense of missed opportunities and thwarted ambitions.
A survey of 91 audit reports reveals widespread violations of patients' rights by the insurance companies responsible for administering Medicare's new drug benefits program; some companies improperly denied coverage to patients with HIV or AIDS, while others left patients facing unnecessary and potentially dangerous delays. Democratic critics of plans to "privatize Medicare" claimed vindication, saying the report showed that companies couldn't be trusted to adequately serve vulnerable patients. Officials countered that the audits showed companies were being held accountable and that the new program had substantially reduced costs for beneficiaries.
The Post off-leads on word that the planned U.S. embassy in Baghdad could cost $144 million more than projected and looks set to open months behind schedule thanks to poor planning, shoddy workmanship, and infighting at the State Department. The price tag for the massive 21-building complex, set to be the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world, has now spiraled to nearly three quarters of a billion dollars; it won't be finished until early 2009.
The NYT off-leads with a look at the tens of thousands of Iraqi contractors employed by the United States; fearing reprisals if they are discovered, many now lead elaborate double lives, pretending to be taxi drivers or carpenters in an attempt to conceal their connections to America.
Shiite leaders Muqtada al-Sadr and Abdel Aziz al-Hakim announced a peace accord yesterday in a bid to halt clashes between their followers. The NYT calls the deal a positive sign, noting that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needs the backing of both men to maintain control of Iraq's parliament. The Post is more skeptical, reporting that tensions remain high as police and lawmakers investigate Shiite violence in the south of the country; the LAT points out that Britain's decision to reduce troop numbers in the region could spark a bloody power struggle.
Meanwhile, the NYT reports that Syria is strengthening its ties to Iraq's Sunni insurgents; the fighters have held several conferences in Damascus this year, shaping a broad coalition with the goal of coordinating and intensifying attacks. Intended to boost Syria's standing in Iraq as U.S. influence wanes, the move has angered Damascus' allies in Iran, who are staunch supporters of Iraq's Shiite government.
The Post reports that Democrats will this week introduce a new surveillance bill to replace controversial temporary legislation rushed through earlier this year. The new law would overhaul current regulations, authorizing a secret court to issue one-year "umbrella" warrants allowing the government to tap foreign communications without seeking individual approval for each target.
Thanks to an opposition boycott, Gen. Pervez Musharraf coasted to victory in Pakistan's presidential elections yesterday, with participating legislators giving him 98 percent of the vote. Everyone reports that Musharraf's win was incomplete: For final validation, he'll have to wait for the Supreme Court to decide whether he's eligible to run for office while head of the country's armed forces. The LAT notes that while waiting on the court's decision, Musharraf has reluctantly given up the military uniform he calls his "second skin."
The race for the GOP nomination is getting tighter; the Post reports that new polls put Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani neck-and-neck in New Hampshire. A resurgent John McCain is nipping at their heels; the NYT fronts a look at the onetime front-runner's attempt to bounce back into contention.
For the Democratic hopefuls, meanwhile, Iowa has become ground zero; the Post reports that both Barack Obama and John Edwards are hoping to sneak past Hillary Clinton, who despite her broader national appeal is so far struggling to win over Iowan voters.
Both the Post and the NYT review the journals of martini-swilling historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., relishing the late Kennedy courtier's geeky anecdotes and snarky asides about everything from Marilyn Monroe to the Monroe Doctrine. "His diaries are a Tiffany's window of name-dropping," writes Maureen Dowd in the NYT. "This is not so much history as historical trail mix."
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