The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with news of the militant Hamas party's surprisingly strong showing in Wednesday's parliamentary elections in Palestine. In Palestine's first parliamentary election in a decade, the secular Fatah party, criticized for corruption and sluggishness, saw its parliamentary majority shrink significantly as Palestinians took to the polls in record numbers. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with a rundown of an exclusive interview between President Bush and WSJ reporters, in which Bush demurred at bailing out struggling U.S. automakers and reasserted his refusal to deal with Hamas until the party laid down its weapons.
USA Today leads with news of violent discord between homegrown Iraqi insurgents and foreign militants, noting that, while U.S. forces welcome this infighting, its true significance has yet to be established. The Washington Post off-leads Palestine and leads with news of Virginia's state Senate approving an amendment that prohibits gay marriage. With chances for a gubernatorial veto minimal, the amendment seems set for a November referendum.
Exit polling indicated that Hamas, in its first time on the ballot, decimated the monopoly on power long held by the Fatah party. Exact results weren't yet available: The NYT and the Post credit Fatah with a narrow majority, while the WSJ, the LAT and USAT give Hamas a majority, with USAT reporting the Palestinian Cabinet's resignation in the face of Hamas' victory. Either way, the two parties will make an extremely odd couple—whereas Fatah hopes to negotiate with Israel under the aegis of the 2002 "road map" to peace, Hamas refuses to demilitarize and has sworn to destroy Israel. Naturally, this presents complications for Israel—indeed, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert deemed the entire situation untenable.
But the real story, as the NYT notes, is the fact that these elections took place at all. Fatah's readiness to hold open elections and cede power upon the results is an apparent first among Middle Eastern democracies. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, for his part, was all smiles as he took to the polls, praising "this election festival," and an unnamed election observer characterized the election as "a generally smooth process with only sporadic violence and a robust turnout."
The WSJ interview with President Bush, a prelude to next week's State of the Union address, is notable only in its length and the fact that it took place at all. In it, Bush touts health-care savings accounts, sympathizes with laid-off auto workers, and concurrently enthuses over the prospect of Middle Eastern democracy while refusing to deal with a militarized Hamas. The NYT also fronts a State of the Union preview, suggesting that Bush will avoid polarizing issues in favor of issues that will help his party retain its congressional majority.
The LAT fronts and the NYTand WP reefer pieces on a medical journal study that claims that a drug called aprontin, used to reduce bleeding in heart surgery patients, also leads to increased risk of kidney failure, heart attacks, and strokes. Marketed under the brand name Trasylol by the German conglomerate Bayer, the drug apparently causes thousands of dialysis cases per year. Meanwhile, two generic drugs that sell for a fraction of Trasylol's price are just as effective and exhibit few side effects.
WP fronts and USAT reefers the news that the DuPont Co. and seven other companies agreed, at the EPA's behest, to phase out the usage of a cancer-causing chemical that's used in Teflon. The news comes on the heels of DuPont's recent payment of a $16.5 million EPA fine for systematically suppressing information that established the toxicity of the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid. PFOA is also found in microwave popcorn bags and synthetic fabrics, among other products.
Everybody mentions Wednesday's release of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, titled, simply, "God Is Love." Observers who expected sterner sentiments from the man formerly known as "God's Rottweiler" were puzzled yet pleased by Benedict's choice of subject matter. In tones that the NYT dubbed "often poetic," the encyclical expounded on the necessary role of charity in the modern world and the centrality of erotic love to married life. "Love is indeed 'ecstasy,' " wrote the 78-year-old pontiff.
The NYT off-leads a piece on the upcoming trial of Enron honchos Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. With the trial set to begin on Monday in Houston, the stage is set for an epic recounting of corporate malfeasance, with the government trying to prove its theory of a conscious conspiracy at Enron. The government's lawyers will be facing the best legal firepower that dirty money can buy—Skilling apparently has two dozen lawyers working round-the-clock on his defense.
The WP fronts news of the administration's plan to expand America's nuclear-energy capacity by reprocessing spent fuel from other countries. This reverses decades of policy opposing such fuel recycling, the worry being that the nuclear material produced in the reprocessing could be used for weapons purposes. The WSJ calls the plan an attempt to revitalize the domestic power industry.
The NYT fronts a piece on China's incredible shrinking AIDS crisis. While previous governmental estimates had placed the number of infected citizens at around 850,000, a newly released estimate lowered the number to 650,000. However, observers are skeptical, doubting any statistics released under the imprimatur of the Chinese government. Outside estimates place the number of HIV-infected Chinese at around 1.5 million.
We're Ready for Your Close-Up, Mr. Gore: The Post reports on the Sundance Film Festival's newest acting sensation: Al Gore. The former vice president is the subject of a documentary titled An Inconvenient Truth, about his attempts to warn the world about its impending environmental meltdown. The box-office-failure-to-be features Gore traveling the country, lecturing to small groups, and producing charts and graphs to make his case. Gore calls Sundance "a most excellent time."