The Washington Post leads with Sunday's admonition from Democratic senators that Sen. John Ashcroft, President-elect George W. Bush's nominee for attorney general, is about to face a rigorous cross-examination regarding his opposition to the appointment of a black judge to the federal bench, as well as his opposition to abortion as it pertains to his ability to protect abortion rights. The New York Times leads with a story on the alarming health-care workers' shortage--New York state's worst in decades--which is most acute among nursing home nurses aides. The Los Angeles Times leads with an article on the uncertainty clouding California's economic horizon, citing the dot-com drop-off, rising energy prices, and Hollywood strikes as potential culprits.
Sen. Ashcroft's appointment hearings will resonate far beyond the position of U.S. attorney general, reports the WP. Regardless of how tough this grilling could be, the WP notes in the third paragraph that no senators have said they are prepared to vote against Ashcroft, and liberal interest groups opposing the nomination do not expect Ashcroft to be defeated. Ashcroft will come under fire from Democrats for his opposition to the appointment of Ronnie White, a black Missouri Supreme Court judge, to a seat on the federal bench. According to the WP, Ashcroft charged that White was "too favorable to criminals' rights and excessively opposed to the death penalty." Democratic Sen. Bob Graham is quoted by the WP saying that the Dems want to get to the bottom of whether or not Ashcroft's rejection of White "raises some troubling questions as to a pattern of dealing with issues of minorities." For Democrats and liberal advocacy groups, the hearings will provide an opportunity to begin mobilizing two key constituencies--African Americans and suburban women who support abortion rights--for future battles for U.S. Supreme Court seats and the 2002 Congress.
The NYT lead reports that hospitals, nursing homes, and private home care agencies throughout New York are experiencing a dire staffing shortage not seen in decades. Citing numerous examples--from the aging nursing population to more difficult patients to increased paperwork generated by managed care--the NYT says the shortage is due in large part to "a booming economy that has created a surplus of higher-paying, less demanding jobs in other fields." The shortage is a national one, as recent congressional projections for the 1998-2003 budget period estimate a $69 billion drop in spending on Medicare home health programs, which the NYT claims will cut right into health-care workers' salaries. With most home health aides in New York earning $5.15 an hour, some are leaving the profession for more lucrative work in retail, just as hospital pharmacists are finding greener pastures in the drugstore industry. Patient care also suffers when more than half the nation's nursing homes provide less than the minimal nurses' aide care time, hospitals cancel elective surgeries, and ambulances are diverted away from emergency rooms because of the nursing shortage, writes the NYT.
The LAT lead also focuses on a local economy issue with national implications: Although the paper admits up front that none of California's "leading business forecasters" actually expect a recession in the state next year, more predict "a substantial slowdown from this year's brisk expansion." On the LAT's laundry list of doom-and-gloom "what ifs" are climbing energy prices, declining foreign trade, the specter of Hollywood actor and writer strikes, and a real estate collapse resulting from the decline of the Bay Area Internet boom. This is followed by a rather elementary conclusion the LAT bothers to cull from a former UCLA economist: "California's economy is dependent on, and similar to, the national economy."
Both the NYT and the WP front stories on the less-than-silent nights in the little town of Bethlehem, one of many West Bank cities to weather three months of bloody clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops. "We have about 1,800 hotel rooms in Bethlehem," the NYT quotes the Palestinian tourism minister. "They have all been empty since early October." According to the WP, the Palestinian authority canceled all planned festivities in the "city of peace" marking the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus.
While an above-the-fold LAT column muses about the cordoning off of dot-com parties in response to "increasingly hard economic times," a WP below-the-fold feature details a new online boon: Web sites that turn consumer complaints into "valuable business opportunities." These sites give consumers a forum for public grumbling, and then automatically forward the complaints to offending companies--all the while planning to peddle customer-satisfaction research reports or do-it-yourself software to industry associations, financial analysts, consultants, and the companies themselves.
Though some of the company spokespersons quoted by the WP say Web ranting is not the most effective way to resolve individual disputes, consumer-complaint sites are banking on the fact that holiday cheer will predictably degenerate to bah-humbugging on "poor service in stores, gifts that turned out to be something less than promised and, of course, delayed or canceled airline flights." Mistletoe, anyone?