The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all lead with Kmart swiping up Sears, an $11 billion deal that will turn the two has-beens into the U.S. third-largest retailer, with annual sales of $55 billion. The stores will keep their own names but will share product lines and hope to benefit from economies of really big scale. Still, it won't be Sam-sized. "Both of these companies are faltering," one marketing prof told the NYT. "And if you take a look at the size of the new company, it's still only 20 percent of Wal-Mart in terms of sales." The Washington Postleads with Secretary of State Powell suggesting that Iran is working not only on nukes but also on missiles specifically to deliver them. "I am aware of information that suggests that they were working hard as to how to put the two together," said Powell. A few days ago, Iran announced it agreed to suspend uranium enrichment indefinitely. Meanwhile, a usually reliable (though morally suspect) Iranian exile group announced it has intel that Tehran still is working on nukes. Though the LAT fronts Powell's comments, it keeps a bit more distance, noting that Powell "said he could not verify the accuracy of the reports."
The Wall Street Journal says up high that congressional Republicans "neared agreement" on a year-end spending bill that would hew closely to the White House's tight spending targets and result in small cuts to among other things small business loans and clean-water projects. "The Lord giveth and taketh away," said one GOP congressman.
The NYT fronts Republicans, as expected, rescinding a House rule that would have forced Majority Leader Tom DeLay to give up his post should he be indicted. "We have gone from DeLay being judged by his peers to DeLay being judged by his buddies," said one widely quoted watchdog. DeLay slammed the relevant investigation: "This is no different than the other kinds of partisan attacks that have been leveled against me that are dropped after elections." The grand jury investigation is looking into the funding of a DeLay PAC and has resulted in some indictments.
About 30 Iraqis were killed in various attacks around Iraq, including 10 after a car bomb and shooting in Baji. Reuters suggests many of those died when GIs opened fire after their convoy was hit by the bomb. Another 10 Iraqis were killed by fighting in Ramadi. Meanwhile, Mosul appears to have quieted down. Nobody fronts a round-up of the violence.
There is still sporadic fighting in Fallujah, where U.S. commanders acknowledged that handfuls of insurgents have been showing up in previously "cleared" neighborhoods. In one part of the city, the Post says, "snipers penetrated a building held by Marines. A rocket barrage forced a reporter to leave the scene, and it was unclear how the clash ended."
The NYT fronts a leaked Marine intel report that warns commanders against the planned reduction of forces in Fallujah. There are about 12,000 troops in and around there now. And if many of them are moved, says the military report, "the enemy will be able to effectively defeat [the military's] ability to accomplish its primary objectives of developing an effective Iraqi security force and setting the conditions for successful Iraqi elections." A senior commander dismissed the report as a "worst-case assessment."
The WP and USAT front documents uncovered by a House committee showing that the FDA knew about contamination at that British flu vaccine plant back in 2003. But the agency fiddle-faddled for months and then told the company that cleaning things up was voluntary. The NYT plays down the disclosure with a wire report noting that some level contamination is actually common at vaccine plants.
An accompanying front-page Post piece argues that "in the past four years" the FDA has taken a "noticeably less aggressive approach toward policing drugs." While first aiming blame at the guy who's been in charge since Inauguration Day, the story also says part of the problem goes back to 1992 when companies started paying much of the cost of evaluating new drugs.
Damn you, Shafer! USAT says the consortium running exit polls won't send numbers to subscribers next time until at least 4 p.m. EST. The early hours data that leaked this year, said a consortium official, was just too raw to be valuable to "people who don't know what they're dealing with." Mark Blumenthal, better known as Mysterypollster, said the delay will result in "better numbers" that will be "leaked immediately."
Next up, Yoga Studios! From the NYT, "REPUBLICANS OUTNUMBERED IN ACADEMIA, STUDIES FIND."