The lead story in the Washington Post is the renewal of fighting in Afghanistan and the U.S. response to it, which has been heavy on air strikes. The top story in the New York Times is the exodus of top Department of Homeland Security officials to the private sector and the loopholes that allow them to lobby the government soon after their departure. The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at how most state governments across the country are confronting budget surpluses in the fiscal year that's just about to end.
According to military data, the United States has conducted 340 air strikes in Afghanistan in the past three months, more than double the figure for Iraq. U.S. officials say both they and the Taliban are more aggressive than they've been the last three springs. Air strikes are becoming a more common option because the Taliban, which had been operating only in small units, has started using formations of as many as 400 men, making them attractive targets from the air. In addition, the United States has modified its bombs to make them better at hitting cave mouths on nearly vertical rock faces.
While the revolving door from government to industry is old news in Washington, the Homeland Security exodus appears to be unique in its scale: More than two-thirds of the department's most senior executives have moved on to the far bigger paychecks of lobbying and consulting firms, the NYT reports.
The law forbids government officials from lobbying their former department or agency for a year after their departure. Homeland Security officials have shrunk that timeline by a variety of methods, many not unique to that department. But the piece identifies one key rule change, "created in late 2004 at the request of senior department officials, when the first big wave of departures began." The department was divided into seven components for purposes of the lobbying laws, so now a former official can lobby DHS officials right away, as long as the lobbyees are from one of the six components the official did not work for before.
The LAT finds that 46 states have extra money in the budget this year, which has resulted in the largest growth in state government spending since 1999. The debate in most state legislatures is whether to use the surpluses as tax breaks or to spend it, often to restore cuts in previous years' budgets.
Everyone stuffs the search for two missing U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The NYT talks to Iraqis who say they saw the two GIs being led away by insurgents into a pair of cars.
The NYT fronts a report from Mexico on its own southern border issues, which parallel those of the United States, with the migrants making even less money—illegal immigrants from Guatemala pick mangos in southern Mexico for $6 a day. Ironically, Mexico has tougher immigration laws than the United States, a fact some Mexicans lament because it makes Mexico City sound hypocritical when it criticizes Washington's immigration policy. The LAT also has Mexico on the front page, with an analysis of the upcoming presidential election and what it will mean for the United States. The verdict: It's hard to say, but the leftist would probably make Washington a little less happy.
Barack Obama is being floated as a 2008 candidate for president, the Post reports on the front page. The piece is long on Democrats' praise of Obama's rock star charisma and "authenticity," as Edward Kennedy puts it. But there aren't too many people talking seriously about an Obama run. If he does run, he'll see a lot of familiar faces from his current job. The LAT reports that no fewer than 11 senators have announced they're looking at a presidential campaign and are getting ready by bringing us such pressing legislation as the same-sex marriage ban and a flag-burning bill soon to come up for a vote.
The Post also fronts a feature on a small town in Virginia that has rallied behind four Iraqi Kurdish men who were caught up—unjustly, they and the townspeople say—in an anti-terror dragnet.
All the papers stuff NASA's announcement Saturday that it will go ahead with a space shuttle launch on July 1, despite some top safety officials' concerns that the agency has not yet solved the problem of insulating foam that caused the loss of the shuttle Columbia in 2003.
Yee Haw: If you missed it this year, make your reservations for DukesFest 2007, a celebration of all things The Dukes of Hazzard. The NYT visited this year's version, held in Tennessee, and found it to be a "sacred convocation" for fans like the man who reenacts episodes, another who, as a boy, used the show to help him recover from a serious car accident, and anyone else "who can find transcendence in an event as simple as a car leaping over a ditch."