Both the New York Times and (online) the Los Angeles Times lead with Condoleezza Rice's high-profile trip to Israel, where she encouraged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to make "hard decisions" in upcoming peace talks with Palestinian leaders, including this week's summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt—the first meeting between top-level Israeli and Palestinian leaders since the current conflict began four years ago. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsboxlead more details of the Bush administration's budget plan, which will seek to eliminate or severely cut about 150 programs, most of them domestic, many "politically sensitive," and one in three related to education. USA Today leads an interview with former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who, after referring to tough language by Secretary Rice and President Bush as "nonsense," asked the U.S. to release billions of dollars in frozen assets as a gesture of goodwill.
Rice, who will meet today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, heralded "a time of optimism" in the Middle East. (If the negotiations in Egypt go well, notes the NYT, the result could be "a long-term cease-fire" between the two sides.) Though details of Rice's meetings with Israeli diplomats were not released, she probably asked them to continue troop withdrawals from the West Bank, to avoid undermining Abbas' leadership ability, and to consider the release of more Palestinian prisoners. A companion NYT piece offers a portrait of a highly motivated Rice who plans her own itineraries and kicks aides off planes to make more room for reporters. She also correctly predicted the outcome of the Super Bowl: "Patriots ... by 3."
The Bush budget, which will be officially released today, is expected to generate hefty opposition from across the political spectrum. According to one WP source, congressional leaders have warned the White House that "no more than two dozen of the 150 proposals are likely to be accepted," and that many of the cuts are simply "dead on arrival." Concerned citizens should examine the list of proposals (about two-thirds of the way into the article), which includes cuts in law enforcement, land and water conservation, literacy, nutrition, Medicaid, and public housing. An NYT piece details a tweak that would double the monthly fees veterans pay for their prescription drugs. For its part, the LAT points out a lot of pretty fuzzy math the budget makes use of, like that the 2006 numbers don't include the many billions to be spent in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21, the Pats' dynasty-making third victory in four years. The game's MVP was New England receiver Deion Branch, who had 11 receptions for 133 yards. Semi-injured Philly receiver Terrell Owens turned in his own impressive performance with nine-for-122.
The WP reports that in the wake of the elections, a swelling sense of national pride in Iraq may be contributing to a weakened insurgency, although the violence is by no means over. The Iraqi public appears less willing to put up with militant activity, judging by the increased number of tips that have led to arrests.
An NYT front asks if NASA is rushing its shuttles back to orbit without meeting the safety goals it set after the Columbia disaster in 2003. According to internal documents and interviews the paper conducted with anonymous sources, some NASA officials believe that the agency's leadership is reacting with unwise haste to pressure from the Bush administration, which is eager to see the International Space Station completed and to have people land on Mars.
The WP fronts one Beijing taxi driver's decadelong struggle to organize his coworkers in China's highly union-hostile environment, which affords workers almost no protection from employer exploitation.
USAT fronts a brief look at the "lobbying war" over Bush's Social Security overhaul. Both conservative and liberal groups will spend tens of millions on advertising in an attempt to sway public opinion. Here are some of the names of the lobby groups—only one is liberal (can you guess which?): For Our Grandchildren, Progress for America, Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, Campaign for America's Future, Citizens for a Sound Economy.
The LAT's Column One is the story of a veteran soldier's application for conscientious objector status, a rarity in the era of the volunteer military. When the Army sergeant declined to report for a second tour of duty in Iraq, he was called a coward by a superior officer, an embarrassment by a chaplain, and a deserter by military authorities. He has decided to face the possibility of court martial rather than return to Iraq, where he was horrified by the carnage and by the callous behavior of some fellow soldiers.
Pass the Bar?An Ohio State Supreme Court Justice was pulled over for drunk driving last week, creating a stir in the Buckeye State. The judge drove away from police without permission after refusing a sobriety test. As shown in a video released yesterday, the suspect actually attempted to convince an officer to let her go by citing her own rulings in previous drunk driving cases.