The Washington Post and USA Today lead with Senate hearings for John Ashcroft and Colin Powell. The Los Angeles Times leads with rolling blackouts forced by California's energy crisis. The top nonlocal story at the New York Times is testimony from the treasury secretary nominee, who doubts that President-elect Bush's planned tax cut would impact hugely on the economy.
On the second day of hearings, Democrats seemed resigned to Ashcroft's confirmation as attorney general. The Wall Street Journal says talk shifted away from "open opposition." The LAT says Ashcroft "clearly is reaping the benefit" of former service in the Senate -- since most senators know and like him, it's hard to believe they'd vote him down. The WP lead says Democrats focused on race, blasting Ashcroft's speech at Bob Jones University and an interview he gave to a "neo-Confederate" magazine. Sen. Joseph Biden called these and other choices "racially insensitive." In a front-page "News Analysis," the NYT suggests this battle is less about Ashcroft and more about Bush. With Bush losing the popular vote, Dems see a chance: They're re-raising issues that Bush "successfully played down in the presidential campaign, like abortion, gun control and affirmative action."
Meanwhile, in other hearing news, Gen. Colin Powell's confirmation is a "love fest," in one WP quote. USAT's lead says Powell, the secretary of state nominee, strongly backed a national missile-defense system. He brushed off concerns, declaring, "If you think a system makes sense, you have to sell it." The WP off-leads the hearing. It says Powell hinted at a more activist foreign policy than was put forth during the Bush campaign.
Everyone gives front-page play to rolling blackouts in California. The state ordered the blackouts to conserve dwindling energy. Outages lasted up to 90 minutes before being shifted to a new area. ATMs, traffic lights, and elevators stopped working. Businesses switched to backup generators, and many closed early. Further blackouts are likely on the way.
The NYT's off-lead says Paul O'Neill, nominee for treasury secretary, sounds slightly less sanguine than Bush when it comes to tax cuts. O'Neill suggested that even a big cut could do little to stimulate the economy. Because Bush will require huge support to push any tax cut through, this potential sign of weakness within his own camp bodes not well. The WP runs the item on A13.
Congolese officials claim President Laurent Kabila is alive, but the WSJ says it's "all but certain that he is dead." The papers find multiple, credible sources who say Kabila died from gunshot wounds inflicted by his bodyguard after what the WP calls "a contentious cabinet meeting." Congo has appointed Kabila's son interim leader. Kabila, dead or not, makes every front page save USAT, but the papers are pretty murky as to what the hell's going on over there.
A front-page NYT story says scientists in Cambridge, Mass., have slowed down a beam of light, made it stand still, and then restarted it. A "landmark feat," the research could have a massive impact on computing and communication, speeding up calculations and making messages safe from eavesdroppers.
*Where Are They Now?* An AP story in the WP catches up with Luther and Johnny Htoo, those angelic, preteen terrorists who were all the rage last year. Thailand has announced possible asylum for the twins, who are on the run from the Burmese military, which they have long tried to overthrow using alleged magical powers of invincibility. Good to see the kids are all right.