The Washington Post lead reports that the Bush administration has cut off America's few diplomatic contacts with Iran after intercepting intelligence linking al-Qaida operatives in Iran with the May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The New York Timesleads with a conflict between state governors and the Bush administration over the president's plan to put caps on federal Medicaid spending. The Los Angeles Times' top non-local story notes "growing resistance" within the Israeli Cabinet to the U.S.-backed "road map" to peace in the Middle East that was reluctantly embraced by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Friday. There are already strong objections from two small hard-line factions in Sharon's coalition government, as well as dissension within the ranks of the prime minister's own Likud party. Of course, this is hardly unexpected. All the papers predict that Sharon will ultimately prevail in passing the plan as early as today.
The Bush administration seems to have used the WP to fire a shot across the bow of the Iranian regime. According to the exclusively leaked lead, tough-talking Pentagon officials are apparently "ready to embrace an aggressive policy of trying to destabilize the Iranian government," including, "actions that ... could lead to the toppling of the government through a popular uprising." According to officials cited on deep background, the State Department appears "inclined to accept such a policy." (If the State Department is indeed prepared to abandon its strategy of engagement with Iran, it would mark a major victory for the Pentagon in its foreign-policy turf wars with State and would be a remarkable fact that the Post ought to have commented on.) Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld already accused Iran of harboring terrorists earlier this week. Now, the Bush administration says some "very troubling intercepts" suggest that al-Qaida operatives working in Iran were involved in planning the May 12 Riyadh attacks. The NYT'sMaureen Dowd is dismissive of the administration's new hard line on Iran: "The hawks are hawking the next regime change. If Iraq was not harboring al-Qaida and going nuclear, then certainly Iran is."
The NYT lead, a scoop, reveals that "two months of intense secret negotiations" between a bipartisan group of governors and officials in the Bush administration have gotten nowhere on a plan to limit federal Medicaid spending. Bush wants to give each state a set amount of federal money to cover all Medicaid costs for each of the next 10 years. The governors—including Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla.—want to build more flexibility into the system to protect against unforeseen costs and catastrophic events, like another Sept. 11, which could explode the Medicaid roles at some point in the next decade. The wonkish article is standard meat-of-the-paper, Page-A14-or-so fare that seems to have earned the front page's top real estate because it's a scoop on a sluggish news day.
The NYT off-leads a piece on Republican dreams of G.O.P hegemony. The Republicans have reason to be optimistic. Thanks to savvy strategizing, they have managed to pinch off bits of the old Democratic majority while at the same time solidifying their base. Today the gap between the number of Americans who call themselves Republicans and the number that call themselves Democrats is the lowest it has ever been (30 percent vs. 32 percent). And Republicans have a huge fund-raising lead over the Democrats that is only growing. Now, says the Times (with a hint of terror), after more than 20 years spent building the party back up from its post-Watergate nadir, some G.O.P. leaders believe they are positioned to parlay their majority status into an era of uncontested dominance. Tomorrow the paper will analyze the Democrats' "identity crisis," says a teaser at the bottom of the article.
A WP front-pager says that American forces in Iraq are hoping to put a friendlier face on their occupation. The big M-1 tanks currently sitting at key Baghdad intersections are going to be replaced by smaller Humvees, foot patrols are going to be increased, and soldiers on duty will be encouraged to interact more with civilians. It's all part of a plan to make U.S. troops seem less threatening and more pervasive.
The NYTgoes high with its own review of the latest developments in Iraq, including complaints from Iraqi former soldiers about losing their salaries and pensions. On Friday, L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S.'s civilian administrator in Iraq, formally dissolved the Iraqi military. Now he must figure out what to do with the thousands of unemployed soldiers. "If they don't pay us, we'll start problems," one 25-year navy veteran told the Times.
The LAT, for its part, says, "Across Iraq, the sense of desperation ... is reaching crisis proportions." The portrait painted in the front-page article is indeed grim: "Many families have been forgoing meat for more than a month, water only trickles from the taps, and garbage is piling up knee-deep on the street corners."
Finally, a story in the WP's"Metro" section takes us to Virginia Beach, Va., where a new public decency campaign has made thongs, cursing, and beach Frisbee verboten. The enforcement arm of this "No Bad Behavior" campaign is a pair of civilian "niceness squadrons" that aid the Virginia Beach police by alerting them to uncovered buttocks and overloud radios. One local resident tells of people being arrested for public drunkenness as soon as they step out of a bar. "It's entrapment!" she complains of the heavy-handed enforcement. "At least let them get into their cars!"
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