The Washington Postleads with a new poll that shows Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are running even among political independents. McCain has a clear lead among this crucial group of voters on dealing with terrorism while Obama is seen as better equipped to handle a variety of domestic issues. The two presumptive nominees are pretty much evenly split on who would be better on Iraq. Overall, Obama leads McCain 48 percent to 42 percent among all adults and 49 percent to 45 percent among registered voters. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with some new details on Obama's economic plans, which the candidate revealed in an interview with the paper. The New York Timesleads with an interesting look at how the tables have turned in relations between China and the United States. It wasn't so long ago that U.S. officials were busy criticizing China for its economic policies, but now Chinese officials are doling out the criticism and saying that American officials should spend more time fixing problems in their own back yard before trying to implement changes in an economy that has continued to grow at a strong pace.
USA Todayleads with word that companies from Europe and Asia are starting to invest more heavily in Iraq than those from the United States now that the security situation has improved. Some say U.S. companies could lose out on early opportunities if they don't step up efforts to do business with the war-ravaged country. The Pentagon official who is in charge of efforts to rebuild the Iraqi economy says "it's ironic" that "the people who are getting in on the ground floor are not American." The Los Angeles Timesleads with new data that suggest rising gas prices might be affecting the housing market. Home prices in Southern California dropped 27 percent in May from a year ago, and the plunge was even greater in far-out suburbs. Analysts say the housing market in the so-called exurbs might never fully recover, as people are increasingly reluctant to move far away from their jobs because of increasing commuting costs.
The new WP poll shows a majority believes McCain would run the country much like President Bush, which is a bad sign for the Republican nominee when unhappiness with the direction of the country continues to increase. In total, 84 percent say that the country is on the wrong track. McCain also faces a clear "enthusiasm gap" as many more said they're "very enthusiastic" about Obama, a trend that carries over even to the supporters of the presumptive nominee. But enthusiastic or not, McCain has the support of almost nine in 10 Republicans, while Obama still has clear scars from the long primary fight as "not quite eight in 10 Democrats" said they support him, while "nearly a quarter" of Clinton supporters said they'd rather see McCain win in November.
In order to increase economic growth, the WSJ notes that Obama would "rely on a heavy dose of government spending," including a plan to spend $15 billion a year for 10 years on energy technology. Obama also emphasized that the government must use its power to redistribute income. The presumptive Democratic nominee noted he might back a decrease in corporate tax rates as part of a package that would simplify the system by reducing existing loopholes.
The NYT says the new criticism by Chinese officials reflects a "new sense of self-confidence" that is "bolstered by the lame-duck status of the Bush administration." This combination means that American officials are unlikely to get any significant concessions from the Chinese in the latest round of economic talks this week.
The senior civilian official who was in charge of overseeing the military's largest contract in Iraq during the first two years of the war tells the NYT he was pushed out of his job after refusing to approve more than $1 billion in payments to KBR. The official, Charles Smith, told KBR that it would have to provide clear spending records before the Pentagon would approve payment. After he was "suddenly replaced," most of the payments were approved (until last year, KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company where Vice President Dick Cheney served as chief executive). Army officials insist Smith, who worked for the Army for 31 years before retiring in February, wasn't removed from his position because of the dispute with KBR. But Smith tells a different story and says he was constantly pressured to look the other way and ignore KBR's accounting irregularities.
The WP fronts word that a Senate investigation found that senior Pentagon officials had began compiling lists of harsh interrogation techniques that could be used on detainees at Guantanamo months before commanders at the camp requested guidance on how to deal with uncooperative prisoners. A Pentagon official had previously suggested that the tougher interrogation techniques came out of a request from Guantanamo commanders. The investigation also found that Pentagon lawyers had raised concerns about the legality of the techniques a month before they were approved, which contradicts previous statements by top Bush officials.
Everyone goes inside with the latest from Afghanistan, where hundreds of Taliban fighters invaded and took control of seven villages outside Kandahar, the country's second-largest city. The development came three days after hundreds of Taliban members escaped a Kandahar prison in an attack that appeared to be well-planned. The NYT fronts a look at Maulavi Haqqani, a Taliban commander who exemplifies how former mujahedeen leaders are working out of Pakistan to coordinate attacks inside Afghanistan with the help of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. These "combined terrorist-insurgent networks" have not only provided plenty of recruits but have also allowed insurgents to increase the sophistication of their attacks, which was evident in last week's prison break.
The LAT goes above the fold with a large picture of the first legal same-sex marriage in Los Angeles County. A few localities in California performed same-sex weddings yesterday after they officially became legal at 5:01 p.m., and many more gay and lesbian couples are expected at clerks' offices today when counties across the state will be issuing marriage licenses. The LAT notes that the couples who were first to marry "could have been selected by central casting to appear both nonthreatening and mainstream." It's all part of an effort by proponents of same-sex marriage to control what kind of images are released of the ceremonies so as not to scare voters who will go to the polls in November to decide whether the state constitution should be amended to forbid the unions. "One of the things about the gay and lesbian community is we're known for our outrageousness, our flamboyance," a West Hollywood lawmaker said. "But we're under this incredible political pressure not to have those portrayals."
In a NYT op-ed piece, Tony Horwitz has an idea that could help Obama gain the support of blue-collar voters: "Lose the Nicorette. Light up instead." Statistics show lower-income Americans with a high-school education are more likely to smoke and some key swing states have a large number of smokers. "Bottom line: small-towners in the Rust Belt and Appalachia don't cling to guns and religion so much as they do cigarettes."