The NYT leads with the news that crime has dropped in New York City for the 17th consecutive year. The Washington Post leads with a long investigation of ties between Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and a curious "grassroots" advocacy group called the U.S. Family Network. The Wall Street Journal tops its news box with the latest from Iraq: Gas lines mushroomed as subsidies were cut, Ahmad Chalabi was put in charge of the oil ministry, and 17 died in insurgent violence in Baghdad. All the papers front an Egyptian police raid on a Sudanese-refugee squatter camp in downtown Cairo. At least 23 refugees died in the crackdown.
About 2,000 refugees from Sudan had for three months been squatting on a large traffic island in a posh neighborhood of Cairo, across from the offices of the U.N.'s refugee agency. (The United Nations has denied Sudanese emigrants refugee status since warring factions in Sudan signed a peace treaty earlier this year.) After months of fruitless negotiations with the squatters, the U.N. office told the police it thought the refugees might attack. About 3,000 police surrounded the refugees, tried to drag them into buses, shot them with water cannons, and then went in with batons swinging. Some Sudanese fought back with bottles and poles. The police took the Sudanese to several detention centers and have already begun to release some. The NYT reports that at least half of the dead were women and children. Egypt blamed the deaths on a stampede. A reporter for the LAT finds English language kits among the debris at the camp site. The WP and NYT both front the same dramatic photo, and all the papers have great wire-service pics on their Web sites.
New York City's declining crime rate is nothing new, of course; the press has covered the trend heavily since the mid-'90s. Even so, the numbers are staggering. Consider: As of yesterday, there were 537 homicides in the city. That's the lowest figure since 1963, and compares to a high of 2,245 in 1990. Auto thefts declined 12 percent from last year. Shootings rose by 3.2 percent, but are still at their second-lowest level since 1993. And lest anyone pin these numbers solely on national trends, the article notes that murders have been on the rise in Philadelphia, Boston, and Houston. Some things, however, haven't changed. As a graphic accompanying the article shows, nearly six out of 10 murderers, and nearly six out of 10 murder victims, were black—in a city where one in four residents is black.
The Post's analysis of the U.S. Family Network's tax records reveals that its funding came almost exclusively from a handful of corporations with lobbying ties to Abramoff. Most of the corporations had no interest in the advocacy group's self-described "moral-fitness" agenda but did have an interest in legislation before Congress. DeLay, then a member of the House leadership, made fundraising calls for the group from its offices, which at times also housed DeLay's political action committee. Despite raising $2.5 million over its five-year existence, the group never had more than one full-time staff member and never did much advocacy.
"Fuel chaos developed in a land with the world's third-largest oil reserves," the Journal observes. With one major refinery closed due to insurgent threats, and with the government rolling back Hussein-era subsidies, gas prices have recently tripled. The incumbent oil minister, a critic of the price increases, was replaced with Chalabi, fresh from his poor showing in the election. Two U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday. The Journal notes that, with one day left in 2005, the military is just five fatalities short of reaching 2004's total of 846.
All the papers note the stagnancy of the U.S. stock market this year, despite generally good economic news. (The Dow lost a half a percent this year, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq each gained a few percent.) All of the papers focus on the domestic angle except the NYT, which takes the glass-half-full, international perspective: Its front-page teaser reads "Good Year for World Markets." How good? Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 40 percent (its best performance since 1986), while markets in Britain, France, and Germany rose between 15 and 30 percent. The LAT and WSJ note this as well, and the WSJ reminds us that the Dow, whatever its growth in 2005, is still within striking distance of its Jan. 2000 high. The Post sticks its head in the sand, burying a wire story on Page D02.
The Justice Department has launched an investigation into the leak that produced the Dec. 16 NYT scoop on domestic spying by the National Security Agency. (The NYT, still licking its wounds from the last leak probe, off-leads this, and the others front it.) "The fact is that Al Qaeda's playbook is not printed on Page 1, and when America's is, it has serious ramifications," a DOJ spokesman said. "You don't need to be Sun Tzu to understand that."
Syrian President Bashar Assad threatened former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri months before he was assassinated, Syria's former vice president said on Arabic TV.
Twelve months, 10 words. Let's say your best friend, a news junkie in withdrawal, just got back from a year in Antarctica and has asked you to summarize this year's headlines in 10 words or less. How will you respond? You probably couldn't do better than Merriam-Webster Online's list of the top 10 most looked-up words of 2005. In order of popularity: 1) integrity, 2) refugee, 3) contempt, 4) filibuster, 5) insipid, 6) tsunami, 7) pandemic, 8) conclave, 9) levee, 10) inept.