The New York Times leads with a tentative agreement struck by negotiators in the House and Senate on the structure of Medicare prescription drug benefits. The Los Angeles Times leads with governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's first meetings with state legislators. According to the LAT, Schwarzenegger was greeted warmly by Democrats and Republicans alike, and the mood in Sacramento was "almost jovial." USA Today leads with word of an experimental blood test that can tell if someone suffering from chest pain is likely to have a heart attack. The Washington Post leads, the NYT fronts, and USAT reefers D.C.-area sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad's decision to cede his defense back to his original lawyers. WP goes inside with an analysis suggesting that Muhammad's short-lived self-representation may have been part of a ploy to connect with the jury without having to take the witness stand. (According to overnight reports, Muhammad claims the decision came as the result of a toothache.)
The Medicare agreement would affect 40 million elderly and disabled people in what would be the largest expansion of the program to date. Some Democrats, upset by a provision that would put Medicare in competition with private health plans, say it is unlikely to get through the Senate in its present form.
The WP goes above the fold with a piece outlining the "strenuous objections" voiced by some physicians and scientists over NASA's decision to send a new two-man crew to the International Space Station. Because the space shuttle program has been grounded, it is impossible to repair the facility, which currently operates with outdated monitoring devices, medical equipment, and medicines. Critics say the decision endangers crewmembers and echoes the risk-taking ethos that led to the Columbia space shuttle disaster.
The NYT fronts a "scathing report" that says lax security procedures left the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad susceptible to attack. The report, which put U.N. workers in high-risk areas on alert, also notes that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan twice ignored the recommendations of top advisers to pull U.N. staff from Iraq due to increasing security threats.
The WP fronts and the NYT and USAT reefer the 97-0 Senate vote in favor of legislation to combat spam, which some estimate now accounts for 60 percent of all e-mail traffic. The bill targets commercial e-mailers who peddle financial scams and pornography and criminalizes common techniques used by spammers to keep from being identified. It also paves the way for a no-spam registry similar to the Do Not Call registry for telemarketers.
USAT fronts President Bush's meeting with Muslim religious leaders in Indonesia. The President tried to do some damage control in the wake of incendiary comments by Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who said that Muslims worship an idol, not a "real God." Bush said that the opinions expressed by Boykin do not reflect his opinions or the opinions of the American people. The chairman of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization said many more discussions would be needed.
The NYT fronts a piece arguing that Wall Street is rallying behind Bush. The piece is long on anecdotes and short on numbers, but it does note that the financial community has become the top industry among Bush's elite fund-raisers, ahead of lawyers and lobbyists. Twenty percent of Bush's campaign contributions now come from the financial sector, up from 14 percent in the last presidential election. Prominent Wall Street businesses are now "totally in Bush's camp," according to one executive.
Playing catch-up from a piece in yesterday's USAT, the WP fronts and the Wall Street Journal reefers a leaked memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in which he declares that the U.S. has met with "mixed results" in the fight against al-Qaida. Critics note that the misgivings Rumsfeld expresses in the memo contradict the largely positive spin he has presented in public.
The USAT and NYT note the passing of Fred Berry, who played "Rerun" on the 1970s sitcom What's Happening!!, and Elliott Smith, a singer-songwriter who received an Oscar nomination for his work on the soundtrack to the film Good Will Hunting.
The WP, NYT and LAT * report on pressure to revoke the Pulitzer Prize won by NYT reporter Walter Duranty in 1932. Duranty won the prize for his generally favorable reporting on the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, and is also known for significantly understating the famine that killed millions in Ukraine in 1932-1933. The NYT isn't standing by its man. "It's up to you to decide whether to take it back," said Bill Keller, the paper's executive editor. "We can't unaward it. Here's our assessment of the guy's work: His work was clearly not prizeworthy."
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