The New York Times leads with secretary of state Colin Powell's plans to offer increased U.S. diplomatic involvement to both Israel and the Palestinians in an attempt to calm the ever-escalating fighting between them. The Middle East story the Wall Street Journal puts atop its front-page world-wide news box points out a fresh obstacle to any increased U.S. mediation: Israel's use of American-made F-16s last week in an airstrike against Palestinian positions is expected to fuel anti-American sentiment in the region. The Washington Post leads with President Bush's call (top-fronted by the NYT but stuffed elsewhere), in his commencement address at Notre Dame, for a new stage in the war on poverty, in which religious institutions dominate. The Los Angeles Times lead says that the visit by the president of Taiwan to the United States--which starts today--is the latest evidence that the Bush administration is "openly cozying up to the island, defying the spirit of agreements with Beijing, ignoring its protests and risking further setbacks in an already tense relationship." The paper says that "analysts say" that President Chen Shui-bian's visit (in which he is technically not being treated as a head of state but will involve meetings with some top members of the House and Senate) is "a well-orchestrated charade masking the warmest welcome the Bush administration can offer without openly inviting trouble." USA Today leads with an interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (the latest of many he's given to the majors in the past week), which emphasizes his view that any major changes in defense spending and force structure he initiates could take at least a decade to implement. Rumsfeld even suggests that some current U.S. weapons will be in use in 30 years. He's also quoted saying that thus far in his review of the Pentagon, the issue of cutting ground troops has "never come up."
The NYT lead says that Powell intends to use the recently-released report of the Middle East commission chaired by former Sen. George Mitchell as the vehicle for trying to lessen the violence. The Times reminds that the report's recommendations include a cease-fire and such mutual confidence-building measures as the Israelis pulling back their tanks and the Palestinians arresting Hamas members. But, the paper adds, the report also recommends a freeze on Israeli settlements, a measure the Israeli government has rejected.
The WP lead says that President Bush got cheered when he addressed claims that religious groups shouldn't receive federal dollars for social outreach by observing that Catholic Charities already receives government money, Medicaid and Medicare sums already go to religious hospitals, and government loans send countless students to religious colleges. Both the NYT and WP are rather hardboiled about the speech. The Times says Bush was trying "the kind of political repositioning that attended the unveiling last week of his administration's energy policy, belatedly dressed up in the forest-green ribbons and bows of energy conservation and efficiency." The Post says that with the appearance at Notre Dame, Bush "is continuing his penance for a primary campaign speech at Bob Jones University." And both papers observe that in the presidential election Bush narrowly lost to Gore among Catholic voters.
The WP fronts a report by Molly Moore on a sick twist in the abuse of women in Turkey. The story says not only were a number of women beaten, tortured, and raped by police there, but now, after they told of their ordeals last summer at Turkey's first public conference about police abuse of women, they have been charged with insulting and raising suspicions about Turkish security forces, an offense punishable by more prison time. The story reminds that Turkey has applied for membership in the European Union.
The NYT fronts the continuing divorce boom in the Bible Belt, where in some states the sweet sorrow rate is 50 percent above the national average. Some people quoted in the story, including ministers, blame the church, saying it helps plan weddings, not marriages. And indeed, the story reports one emerging countermeasure: Some ministers require couples they marry to attend premarital counseling and to move to separate residences for six months.
The WP fronts the backstory to a tale recently widely whispered Webbed, published and cartooned (by Doonesbury) about a U.S. government map maker fired by the Interior Department for posting a map on the U.S. Geological Survey's Web site that showed the caribou migration routes imperiled by the Bush administration proposal to drill for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. The Post says "it's not quite a true story." Its findings: The map maker, Ian Thomas, a contract worker, not a regular federal employee, had been in trouble with the USGS before, once for posting sensitive Defense Dept. data on the Web. The decision not to renew his contract was made not by Norton or any other Bush appointee, but by the liberal Democrat (and drilling opponent) honcho where Thomas worked. The story says the caribou map was pulled because it was inaccurate and adds that USGS officials say the oil industry would in fact have loved it because it understated the caribou activity in the area. OK then, but the story doesn't say when we'll see that accurate caribou map up there.
"Hey, you expect us to break Watergate every day?" The WP's Al Kamen underwhelms with his lead "In The Loop" item. He's caught a former congressman still using congressional plates that haven't been valid for several months!