The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with Liberian President Charles Taylor's promise to step down, as President Bush has demanded, though Taylor didn't say when. The New York Times, which reefers Liberia, leads with a sneak peek at a report out today by congressional investigators that found that the federal government, in granting waivers that give states flexibility with Medicaid requirements, has no plan in place to make sure that states are actually following through and giving good care. The waivers are typically given when states want to give some patients a different kind of care than Medicaid typically stipulates, for example allowing some people to have home-based care instead of putting them in nursing homes. The congressional report concludes that the feds have "not fully complied with statutory and regulatory requirements." USA Today's lead, in an exclusive, suggests why you've never seen a clear photo of that piece of falling foam that likely doomed the shuttle Columbia: budget cuts. According to the paper, the photo department's "staff was reduced, cameras were eliminated, and the repair shop that helped keep the cameras and telescopes operating was severely cut back." The photo program had 150 workers in the early 1990s and 35 by last February. "It now appears in retrospect that there were not enough cameras in place to support the Columbia mission," said the president of company contracted to take the photos.
Nigeria's president met with Taylor yesterday and said that the Liberian president has agreed to what would essentially be asylum in Nigeria. Taylor, who has fomented rebellions and wreaked havoc across West Africa, has been indicted by a U.N.-backed court for crimes against humanity; Nigeria's president suggested his country won't recognize the court.
Taylor reiterated his desire for American troops to come in. But the White House said yesterday that President Bush has not made a decision about troops yet. (Though the papers don't play up the point, perhaps the administration's coyness is an attempt to pressure Taylor to get moving.) The NYT emphasizes Taylor's punting on his date of departure, noting that he's made such promises before. But the Post downplays Taylor's attempt to stall, saying that yesterday's announcement was different: It included a specific destination and carried the weight of the president of Africa's most populous country, Nigeria. The LAT emphasizes congressional leaders' concerns about potential U.S. involvement, with one Republican senator saying that there should be a congressional vote before U.S. troops go in.
If you want to know more about Taylor, read today's LAT's profile. Or just peek at the headline:" 'THE MAN IS ESSENTIALLY A COMMON CRIMINAL' " The piece recalls a slogan from one of Taylor's presidential campaigns, "He killed my Pa, he killed my Ma, I'll vote for him."
A front-page piece in the Post, anticipating President Bush's trip to Africa today, says that despite Bush's own statements as a presidential candidate that he wasn't much interested in the continent, Bush has surprised many and has been more engaged than President Clinton was. Prodded by evangelical groups and others, Bush has met with about half of Africa's leaders and has slightly increased the relatively small amount of aid that Clinton earmarked for Africa. The NYT has a similar piece, though it plays up the skepticism. "Is this for real, or is this tourism?" asks one former Reagan administration official.
Most the papers catch the killings of three GIs within the past 24 hours, each one in a separate incident. Four soldiers were also injured yesterday after their convoy was hit by grenade fire. One GI was shot and killed as he was buying a soda at a cafeteria in Baghdad University. The other two deadly attacks happened late last night or early this morning and the papers don't have many details. According to a wire report, a group calling itself "Wakefulness and Holy War" claimed responsibility for some recent attacks and declared in its announcement, "Saddam and America are two faces of the same coin."
The NYT adds that there were "several other" reports of attacks against American forces this weekend. (As mentioned previously, the military appears to only be reporting attacks that result in casualties.) Twenty-eight soldiers have now been killed by guerrillas since May 1 when President Bush essentially declared victory.
The LAT goes inside with the creation of Baghdad's City Council. The council won't have any significant power and instead will, as the paper puts it, "be the voice of ordinary Iraqis to the U.S.-led authorities." Given the council's lack of muscle, the paper's headline seems overdone: "IRAQIS BEGIN TAKING CHARGE AS CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS."
The WP, alone among the papers, fronts word that Hong Kong's much-battered chief executive has delayed a vote on the proposed anti-subversions laws that have sparked huge protests. He did so after one of the government's top officials resigned in protest of the laws. The NYT calls the delay a "humiliating setback for Beijing."
The NYT fronts and others stuff the Israeli cabinet's decision, in a close vote, to release about 300 Palestinian prisoners. Israel is currently holding about 5,500 Palestinians and as the LAT emphasizes, most of the released will be women, juveniles, and the sick. Palestinians have demanded that all prisoners be let go, including ones who have been linked to terror attacks. The NYT gives some helpful stats on the prisoners: Two thousand have been tried and convicted, another 2,700 are going through the courts, and 800 are being held without charges.
A short wire piece inside the NYT notices that fighting has reignited between two factions in northern Afghanistan, despite a U.N.-brokered cease-fire. One of the groups is led by a warlord who is, officially speaking, Afghanistan's deputy defense minister.
From the NYT's correction page: "An article on Tuesday included an erroneous phrase supplied in a Pentagon transcript of remarks by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about people who compare the attacks against American troops in Iraq to guerrilla tactics used in the Vietnam war. The secretary criticized 'press people' for drawing the comparison, not 'oppressed people.' "