The Washington Postand the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with the Senate's voting to approve $165 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in a bill that also devotes billions more to domestic spending, including a major expansion of veterans' education benefits. A surprising number of Republicans broke with President Bush and joined Democrats to pass the bill with a 70 to 26 vote. It was a poignant sign that Republicans, particularly those facing re-election, aren't afraid to ignore Bush's wishes, hinting that electoral politics have deeply fractured the Republican Party. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a new in-house poll that shows a majority of registered voters in California oppose the state Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriages, and they support a constitutional amendment to ban these types of unions.
The New York Timesleads with news that a Texas appeals court ruled that state officials lacked evidence to seize more than 460 children from a polygamist sect's compound. The court said the children shouldn't have been taken away from the sect because there was no evidence that the danger of sexual abuse was "immediate or urgent." The sharply worded ruling was a response to a complaint brought by a few dozen mothers, but everyone says it would apply to pretty much all the children, who could soon go back to their parents unless officials can win an appeal or cite new evidence of abuse. Experts say it's unusual for an appeals court to get involved in a continuing case, and the ruling shows that the evidence presented by Texas officials was particularly weak. USA Todayleads with an in-house poll that reveals more than one-third of Americans say they're "altering travel plans" due to high gas prices. Some are canceling all plans, while others say they'll be sticking closer to home this summer as hotels and tourist attractions slash prices to attract visitors.
The bill passed by the Senate yesterday would cost more than $250 billion over the next 10 years. The most significant part of the bill, and the one the NYT highlights inside, is the expanded veterans' benefits that would cost more than $50 billion. The measure would guarantee that veterans who have served for three years since Sept. 11 will receive tuition assistance that could pay for the most expensive public universities in each of their states. The bill would also extend unemployment benefits and provide money for levee construction in New Orleans. Bush has spoken up against the bill, saying that the expanded veterans' education benefits would motivate people to leave the military rather than re-enlist. The bill now goes to the House, where it faces an uncertain future.
Sen. John McCain came under fire for opposing the bill, and then was criticized again for failing to take time off from the presidential race to cast a vote. By opposing the bill, McCain went against the wishes of veterans' organizations and was criticized by Sen. Barack Obama. McCain fired back: "I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did."
Among registered voters in California, 54 percent support a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, and 35 percent oppose it. Although the numbers may make it seem that the amendment is bound to pass, the LAT notes that support for controversial ballot measures usually decreases as Election Day gets closer, so "strategists typically want to start out well above the 50% support level." As expected, there's a big generational divide in those who support the measure and those who don't. Also significant is that voters' views are affected by their personal relationships. Of those who said they didn't know a gay person, 70 percent support the amendment, a view shared by 49 percent of voters who said they did know someone who is gay.
Early morning wire stories report that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Burma's top leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, has agreed to allow "all aid workers" into the country, three weeks after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country. The announcement came after the secretary-general had a two-hour meeting with the leader of Burma's military junta. It's still not clear whether this means foreign relief experts will be allowed to enter the country's worst-hit regions. The LAT fronts a prescient piece filed from inside Burma that looks at Than Shwe's secretive and paranoid nature, noting that he seems to accept advice only from his fortunetellers, whom he talks to every morning. Rare images were broadcast of the leader that displayed his old age and frailty. The country's regime is currently undergoing "a fragile generational and structural transition, which makes the leadership extremely wary about any challenge or change from outside or below."
Meanwhile, the NYT and WSJ front dispatches from Burma that describe the desperate living conditions of the 2.5 million survivors. The NYT notes how Burma's leaders are carrying out an elaborate public relations effort to show how it has been providing relief to those affected by the cyclone, but much of it is purely for show, and precious little aid has actually reached survivors. The government is even going to great lengths to prevent Burmese volunteers from delivering aid to the Irrawaddy Delta. The WSJ points out that the "grass-roots relief effort … is emerging as a powerful and insidious challenge to the ruling generals." People are angry, and many of the volunteers who are trying to help the survivors are openly criticizing the government, which has provided a new "rallying point for pro-democracy activists."
In a Page One piece, the WP notes that Americans have been more reluctant to open their wallets to help victims of the earthquake in China and the cyclone in Burma than for other recent disasters. So far, Americans have donated around $57 million to help relief operations in those two countries, which pales in comparison with the money given after the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. It's no secret that people will donate more for causes closer to home, but experts say there are a variety of factors at play here, including a weaker economy and concerns over human rights violations in China as well as a general distrust of the Burmese government.
The NYT's Adam Cohen details in an "editorial observer" piece how conservatives who once complained about the way federal laws were "trampling on 'states' rights' " have spent the last few years "burying them." The federal government can use the doctrine of "pre-emption" to "wipe away state laws," and while it was previously considered that "federal rule should be a floor, not a ceiling," conservatives are using it to stop states from applying tougher standards on a variety of industries. As politicians "contemplate what kind of 'change' voters are looking for now, they can start with the idea that both the federal and state government need to do a better job of protecting their citizens."
The NYT's Stephen Holden says that after all is said and done, David Cook's victory over David Archuleta on American Idol "might not have been so unexpected." The judges were uncharacteristically effusive in their praise of Archuleta, but "[b]ecause Mr. Cook refused to follow the unspoken guidelines for the competition, he emerged as the most original and savvy male finalist in the show's history."
In the things-you-probably-didn't-want-to-know category, the NYT reports on a study that discovered there are "six tribes of bacteria" living in your inner elbow. Yes, they're the good kind of bacteria, but there are still 1 million of them for every square centimeter in that bit of skin. Bacterial cells are so numerous and essential to our survival that they "outnumber human cells by 10 to 1, meaning that if cells could vote, people would be a minority in their own body."