The Washington Post's top nonlocal lead explains that OPEC will cut daily crude oil production by about 1 million barrels in order to offset shrinking demand and keep prices above $25 a barrel. The New York Times leads with the proposal to end the American Bar Association's role as a semiofficial screening panel for judicial nominees. The Los Angeles Times leads with a sunny portrait of California's economy and off-leads the deadly conclusion of yesterday's hijacking of a Russian jet.
OPEC's decision comes two months after it decided to remove 1.5 million barrels of oil a day from the market. This is a stark contrast to last year, when the 10-nation cartel had to raise output four times to curtail prices. As OPEC attempts to get non-OPEC oil producers, such as Mexico, to follow suit, the WP says President Bush hoped to convince Mexican President Vicente Fox "that lower oil prices would serve the economic interests of the two neighbors." The U.S., which pumps about 40 percent of the world's oil supplies, "deplored" OPEC's decision, according to the WP.
The NYT reports that the proposal to end the ABA's involvement in evaluating prospective federal judges reflects the Bush administration's push for conservative courts--and a move away from what conservative Republicans see as the ABA's liberal bias. While the lead states that Bush's advisers have broken the news to the ABA, the paper buries word that the ABA has not yet been formally notified of the proposal. A meeting between White House counsel and the ABA is set for Monday.
The LAT is the only paper to front word of the Thursday hijacking of a Russian jetliner that left three dead--a passenger, a flight attendant, and a teen-age terrorist. The hijackers, trying to draw attention to Russia's military operation against Chechnyan separatists, took control of the plane after it left Istanbul. On Friday, Saudi commandos freed more than 100 passengers when they burst into the plane. An official from the Russian airline blamed the flight attendant's death on the Saudi secret services, while a Saudi official said the storming operation occurred just after the hijackers threatened to blow up the plane. Said one passenger, "The terrorists were children, simply children."
The LAT is also the only paper to front an account of Friday's explosions in Shijiazhuang, China, that killed 18 people "and potentially dozens more" in mill workers' dormitories. Shijiazhuang has seen extensive layoffs; no word yet on whether the blasts were deliberate, though rumors circulated that a laid-off worker (or workers) was to blame.
All three papers go above the fold with hip-hop mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs' Friday acquittal of all charges--four counts of illegal possession of a gun and one count of bribery--brought against him after a 1999 Manhattan nightclub shooting. Combs' protégé, 21-year-old rapper Jamal Barrow (aka Shyne), met a different fate. Though he was acquitted of attempted murder, Barrow was found guilty on five other charges and, according to the WP's law enforcement sources, is likely to face a 10- to 15-year prison sentence. (The NYT says it could be five to 25 years.) Combs could have faced 15 years if he had been convicted.
The WP goes inside with word that Vermont's House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday outlawing same-sex marriages in what the WP calls "a largely symbolic gesture" pushed through by Republicans. Less than a year ago, the Vermont legislature became the first in the nation to approve civil unions for gay couples. The new legislation isn't expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. The WP quotes a Republican state rep in favor of repealing civil unions: "For me, there is a bigger issue here, and that's the promotion of the homosexual agenda, both in Vermont and the nation."
The NYT goes inside with yesterday's announcement that the government has joined eight whistle-blower lawsuits against the nation's largest hospital company. The Justice Department contends that HCA, an amalgam of many former hospital companies, defrauded federal health care programs of hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the NYT, the alleged offenses range from giving referring doctors kickbacks like free trips, free office space, and bogus consulting arrangements to forcing Medicare to chip in on improperly structured transactions. The company had already agreed in December to pay the government $840 million when it pleaded guilty to charges of health care fraud.
Off-kilter: Irish author Maeve Binchy gives the NYT an op-ed snapshot of modern Ireland, citing cell phones and prolific Irish authors as evidence of a departure from its archaic image as "a lazy, quiet backwater." While Binchy writes that Ireland's American-style St. Patrick's Day revels are a far cry from the piously closed pubs of just 25 years ago, this year is different: Public celebrations have been canceled to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.