Obama discusses abortion at Notre Dame amid protests

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 18 2009 6:00 AM

Obama and the Fighting Irish

The Washington Postand Los Angeles Times lead with President Obama's speech at the University of Notre Dame's graduation ceremony, at which he addressed the issue of abortion directly while several anti-abortion protesters attempted to disrupt the event. The story also tops the Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box. The New York Times leads with U.S. officials' increasing concern that Pakistan is adding to its nuclear arsenal even as it struggles against an insurgency that threatens to topple the government. USA Today leads with news that local law enforcement agencies are cutting back services, merging or even shutting down altogether because of the recession.

Obama's speech was an attempt to bridge the gap between both sides of the abortion debate by calling on each side to respect the other with "open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words," as he said in a much-quoted part of his address. "Mr. Obama did not engage on the merits of the debate on abortion; he instead made an appeal to each side of the issue," the NYT wrote. Those on the anti-abortion side of the issue were not impressed: An anti-abortion mass was held in response to his presence, a small group protested outside (some were arrested, "nearly 40" according to the NYT), and some students registered their objection by skipping the ceremony.

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When he accepted the invitation to speak at Notre Dame, Obama originally planned to skirt the controversy around abortion, the NYT said. "But ultimately, he decided to devote most of his address to bridging the chasm over abortion and other moral issues," the paper wrote. The Post said he "relished" the task, and "appeared energized by the controversy." (You can read the whole address here.)

Pentagon officials recently have acknowledged that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is growing and experts say Pakistan is buying nuclear materials on the black market and building two new plutonium reactors. Members of Congress are concerned that the substantial amount of military aid that the country receives from Washington could be diverted into the nuclear program, but a Pakistani official quoted in the story said that conditioning U.S. military aid on the nuclear issue—as was done in the 1990s—"will not send a positive message to the people of Pakistan."

All the papers front the apparent end to the war in Sri Lanka, where the Tamil Tigers rebel group announced on its Web site that it was laying down arms. The Post—the only paper to have a Sri Lanka dateline—called the news a "stunning and unprecedented admission of defeat in Asia's longest-running war." The government announced that the bodies of four senior rebels had been found, but the group's reclusive leader was not accounted for. (Early morning reports, however, said that he, too, was dead.) While the government planned to declare victory on Tuesday, a government military official quoted in the LAT said he didn't believe the Tigers were truly giving up.

Several of the papers, in particular the LAT, have post mortems of the Tigers. "The Tamil Tigers, which at one point had a small navy and air force, were among the most innovative rebel groups in the world. They pioneered the use of suicide vests and refined them so that if the wearer lifted his arms in surrender, the device would detonate. They aggressively recruited female fighters and suicide bombers, and developed innovative financing methods," the LAT wrote. The NYT says the Tigers were forced to give up because of strategic errors that weakened them, and also because of "war on terror"-related financing restrictions that made it more difficult to raise money abroad.

China's auto industry is growing and is quietly looking at picking up some of the pieces of the collapsing U.S. carmakers, reports the Post on the front page: "Chinese companies have tried to dampen speculation, issuing regulatory filings that deny bids to buy Ford's Volvo or General Motor's Saab. But there's little doubt among analysts that Chinese automakers are interested in the United States and that Detroit's automakers are interested in them."

Also in the papers: Islamist rebels in Somalia are on a 10-day offensive that has threatened Somalia's weak central government, the Post reports. Large industry is starting to get behind the Obama administration's climate change goals and is working with members of Congress to help shape the bill that will eventually come up, the LAT reports. In Juneau, Alaska, global warming is not only causing the sea to rise but causing  the land to rise as well, the NYT reports on the front page. As the glaciers melt, the land rises "much as a cushion regains its shape after someone gets up from a couch."

The power of positive thinking: The Wall Street Journal gets a hold of some confidential court filings in the defamation suit that Donald Trump filed against a writer who said The Donald was not as rich as he claimed to be. Trump claims he's a multibillionaire, but a book by a New York Times editor says the real figure is somewhere less than $250 million. In a deposition for the defamation case, Trump says that he estimates his net worth in part by "mental projection." He goes on: "My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feeling."

Joshua Kucera is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.