The New York Timesleads with a look at how several states that began the year with big dreams to overhaul health care continue to face resistance from business groups, as well as increasing questions about who is going to foot the bill, particularly in a not-so-rosy economic climate. The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that a California appeals court put restrictions on when health insurers in the state can cancel a policy. Insurers can't wait until bills add up to check whether someone gave inaccurate information in an application form and can only cancel a policy if they can prove a customer "willfully misrepresented" health information. In the past, courts had usually sided with the insurance industry, and some predict this ruling will open up the field for hundreds of new trials that could "scare the hell out of the insurance companies," a lawyer said.
The Washington Postleads with a look at how the Supreme Court will begin 2008 by looking at whether a state can require voters show a specific type of ID at polling places, which the paper calls the "most politically divisive case since Bush v. Gore." It's an issue that pits Republicans against Democrats in increasingly heated battles that have extended to the judiciary as the number of states with these types of laws continues to grow. Meanwhile, the debate can be highly theoretical as it's often difficult for Republicans to prove that voter fraud at the ballot box is really a problem and for Democrats to show there really are people who would like to vote and can't because they lack proper identification.
The governors of California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania proposed big changes for health care in 2007, and as the year comes to a close, none of them were able to finalize their dreams. But still, the NYT is careful to note that "it was a year of intriguing achievement," and focuses on California, where a "blueprint" was drawn up to cover almost everyone and appears to have served as a guide for some of the Democratic presidential candidates. Meanwhile, several states are nervously looking at Massachusetts, where the price tag for its universal health insurance plan continues to grow and some might very well wait to see who wins the election and what actions the federal government will take. "It remains incredibly difficult for states by themselves to get all the uninsured covered," a health expert said.
The NYT off-leads word that the aid plan for Pakistan's tribal areas is in jeopardy as there are concerns about a lack of a system to keep track of the money and make sure it gets to the right people. The plan calls for $750 million to be used in the areas over a five-year period, but some say it's unrealistic to think that the money could be targeted properly in a lawless region where the government has little, if any, influence and there is no U.S. troop presence. Some lawmakers are concerned that a rush to spend could lead to some of the same problems that were experienced in Iraq, particularly since the plan for Pakistan would also heavily rely on private contractors that can "eat up as much as half the budget." As of now, the program is scheduled to start slowly and will eschew mention of its American origins since there is so much anti-U.S. sentiment in the region.
The NYT fronts a look at how the Democratic presidential candidates are taking a cue from Republicans and are beginning to place more controls on how much money their media advisers can make. Democrats are still reeling at the fact that the five strategists working for Sen. John Kerry split up almost $9 million during the last campaign. Instead of paying advisers solely based on a percentage, the three leading Democrats are either paying a flat rate or putting a cap on payments. Besides increasing internal controls, the move should also be seen as a sign that the Internet is changing what these highly paid consultants do and how much control they have over a candidate.
The LAT fronts a look at the youth groups that often march on the streets to support Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticize any opponents. Some of the groups are scarily earnest about how they make their money. One leader tells the paper that they run "a civilized protection racket" where they ask businesses for money. And if they refuse "we attack them."
The LAT and WP front the death of Oscar Peterson, one of the most influential and popular jazz pianists in history. He was 82 and died Sunday of kidney failure. Peterson, who recorded more than 200 albums, first began to get widespread attention after a Carnegie Hall concert in 1949 and went on to win eight Grammys "as well as almost every possible honor in the jazz world," says the NYT. "Any pianist who came after Oscar Peterson would have had to look up to him as a model of all-around musicianship," a jazz expert tells the WP.
Here comes Santa Claus. Over in the NYT's op-ed page, John Anthony McGuckin, a professor of religious history, briefly goes through the history of how the "super-saint" St. Nicholas went on to become the "Magic Santa." As the morphing began to take place, the new Santa dropped many of the symbolic characteristics of the old St. Nicholas and "the origin of Christmas almsgiving: gifts for the poor, not just gifts for our friends" began to be lost. "I like St. Nicholas," McGuckin writes. "You can keep chubby Santa." Particularly if he's the type of Santa that was arrested last night in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The LAT reports that a 6-foot-4, 280-pound, g-string-wearing Santa was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving on Sunday night.