The majors take the momentary absence of a must-lead story as a chance to go their separate ways. The top nonlocal story at the Los Angeles Times is California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer's call for President-elect George W. Bush to withdraw his attorney general nomination of John Ashcroft, making her the first senator to announce a no-on-Ashcroft vote. The top nonlocal story at the New York Times is a backgrounder for next week's OPEC meeting, which finds the member oil-producing countries in unprecedented agreement about the need to cut production levels so as to support prices somewhere between $25 and $30 a barrel. Although the story calls the organization a cartel, it compares its deliberations to those of the Federal Reserve. USA Today leads with a congressional commission's warnings, likely to be announced today, that U.S. government and private satellites are vulnerable to attack. The story says the findings are sure to receive close attention inasmuch as the commission had until recently been headed by the Bush secretary of defense nominee, Donald Rumsfeld, who has called "defense of our space assets" a top Bush administration priority. The story has an Air Force general referring to the possibility of combat in space "in the coming decades," but there is no example given of any country or terrorist group thought to be capable of this within that time frame. The Washington Post leads with the U.S. Postal Service's announcement of a $6.3 billion deal with FedEx, under which the air carrier will provide extensive mail delivery services and will get to put its drop-off boxes in many post offices. The story says high up that the arrangement is an acknowledgement by USPS that it must lean on a private company to stay relevant and efficient, although a little further down it acknowledges that Emery Worldwide already had a deal with USPS. But that deal will now go away, and as a result, reports the paper and the USAT fronter on the deal, Emery has sued to block the FedEx move. Another legal complication flagged by USAT: possible jurisdiction issues between FedEx's nonunion employees and unionized postal workers.
The LAT says that Boxer's vote, while hardly unexpected, could encourage other senators with misgivings about Ashcroft to ratchet up the debate. The story reminds that it takes 41 votes to keep a filibuster going and 51 to reject a nominee and reports down low that top Senate Republican Trent Lott says all Senate Republicans will vote for Ashcroft. The NYT fronts and plays high Lott's Ashcroft math and also plays high an emerging coalition of conservative groups preparing to wage a "counteroffensive" on behalf of the nominee.
The LAT says that Democrats, liberal interest groups, and reporters have been trying to get a tape of Ashcroft's May 1999 speech at religious-right bastion Bob Jones University. The school, adds the paper, has such a tape but will only release it upon Ashcroft's request. The WP front takes up another old speech being cited by critics of Bush's interior secretary-designate, Gale Norton. The 1996 speech, a transcript of which is provided on the Post Web site, made when Norton was the Colorado attorney general is about her attempts in that office to support the 10th Amendment, which gives all powers to the states not expressly assigned by the Constitution to the federal government. Norton mentions a trip she made to a Confederate graveyard, where she saw a reference to Virginia soldiers who died in defense of the sovereignty of their state and said that it reminded her of the importance of the 10th Amendment. She then adds, "We certainly had bad facts in that case where we were defending state sovereignty by defending slavery. But we lost too much. We lost the idea that the states were to stand against the federal government gaining too much power over our lives." The WP story's subhead says that Norton's speech is one "comparing states' rights, Confederate cause" and its lead paragraph says she said, "'We lost too much' when the South was defeated in the Civil War.'" But the Post keeps Norton's statement that what was lost was the force of the 10th Amendment and her assessment of slavery as "bad" out of the headline and the lead paragraph. Fair?
The Wall Street Journal reports that on the heels of the Florida vote mess, Unisys, Dell, and Microsoft are announcing today that they're teaming up to provide a next-generation voting system, which will apply current technology to everything from voter registration to vote reporting. The story says other tech biggies, including IBM, are also considering getting into the vote biz. The Journal notes that in the near future, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds are likely to be available for vote modernization. But it also reports on aspects of the market that have historically made it less than a great business opportunity: Extensive outside testing is required before a voting machine can be marketed, and that marketing is itself very labor-intensive because only five states buy voting equipment for statewide use--elsewhere, sales people have to go "from courthouse to courthouse."
The WP goes inside briefly (with an item reported on earlier in the week at MSNBC.com) about how Harvard Business School Press is paying out a distinctly unacademic-press-sized advance for a book on an invention that's drawn interest from Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs and investment cash from John Doerr. And the invention is ... a secret, code-named "Ginger" and not to be unveiled until 2002 when the book comes out.
The NYT runs an AP item you just gotta love. Twenty-nine men, mostly World War II vets, just finished sailing a rusting troop landing ship, which had participated in the D-Day invasion, across the Atlantic. The voyage took a month and required triumphing over midwinter storms and equipment problems. One crew member suffered heart problems and died after being taken off the vessel. And oh yeah, beforehand the Coast Guard had advised against the attempt, citing the condition of the vessel, the weather conditions, and questioning the crew's abilities. Note to Hollywood agents and producers: If you can't turn this into at least a TV movie, get out of the business. But in case you need help, here's the pitch: It's The Perfect Storm meets Saving Private Ryan.