The New York Times leads with a look at the Democrats' attempt to make President Bush's education policy a campaign issue, despite their failure to significantly alter the No Child Left Behind Act since it was signed into law more than seven years ago. Responding to union pressure, the three major candidates have said they would either scrap or fundamentally overhaul the law, which has drawn fire from both side of the aisle. On the Republican side, the Washington Post leads with a story on how the presidential nominating race has been unusually bad news for the party as a whole. Looking for a latter-day Ronald Reagan, Republicans have found no one who appeals to them strongly—even with a broad range of ideological viewpoints to choose from—and the lack of a consensus candidate is starting to take its toll on a party that works well when unified. Rounding out the Campaign '08 analysis-dominated lineup, the Los Angeles Times breaks down the Republican candidates' relationship with President Bush's foreign-policy legacy. All four major candidates are edging away from administration's democracy-promotion agenda, but have hesitated to strongly criticize specific policies for fear of antagonizing Bush loyalists.
The NYT also investigates the recent trend of homeowners asking their municipal governments to reassess the value of their houses, knowing that tax assessments might be out of sync with falling prices (further probed in the Business section)—bad news for cities that already depend heavily on property tax values.
Scooping the rest, the WP fronts with news that the Iranian government has decided to put a leash on some of the violent Shiite militias it supports in Iraq, leading to a decrease in the number of attacks. That's according to David Satterfield, the State Department's most senior official in Iraq—other officials, including U.S. Ambassador in Iraq Ryan Crocker and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are more reserved, saying that while attacks have slowed and cooperation from the Iranian government would be good news, there's no way to know yet whether the two are related. The LAT opts for a profile of an Iranian student organizer who, having been released from the notorious Evin prison, doubts the usefulness of protest in a country that brutally suppresses all signs of dissent. The NYT runs with a lengthy look at the Awakening movement, a predominantly Sunni force recruited to fight Sunni extremist groups like al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. The militias, now about 80,000 strong, have been making strides in improving the security of embattled neighborhoods—but are also a high-risk element of the U.S. strategy, considering how detached they've become from the Shiite government.
Jumping to violence and instability on the other side of the world, the LAT fronts news that drug trafficking through Haiti has doubled in the last two years, as Colombian and Venezuelan smugglers take advantage of the poverty-stricken nation's corrupt police force and general lawlessness. From the WP, we also hear about a diplomatic snafu involving a suitcase with $800,000 in cash that could either be evidence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attempting to influence the presidential election in Argentina, or—as the Argentinians would have you believe—a sign that the United States is meddling in the affairs of the region.
Inside the A section, the WP catches up to the NYT's coverage yesterday of the 9/11 commission's announcement that the CIA had in fact withheld interrogation tapes after the commission requested specific evidence. The LAT reports on experts who say that the CIA needs not only to disclose the tapes it has, but to make more tapes in the first place, bringing it up to speed with experienced interrogators like Britain and Israel. The LAT also makes note of an in-house probe of the CIA inspector general concluding that employees didn't have enough of a chance to defend themselves in his reports, while the NYT has a CIA-free day, for once.
Coming back to Campaign '08, The NYT adds a lengthy below-the-fold contrast of Mitt Romney and John Edwards' philosophies on wealth, both through their proposed economic plans and through how they've gotten rich themselves. The difference, the paper says, reflects a national distinction between most of the nation's wealthy, who view their prosperity as a consequence a strong economy, and billionaires like William H. Gates and Warren Buffett, who still worry about economic inequality. To top it off, the NYT's Week in Review takes a look at the new (and old) activist ex-president, while the WP's Outlook section speculates on what an ex-ex-president would say about Iraq, and takes the A-section lead story one step further with a portentious prediction that we're headed into a New Democratic Era. John Judis and Ruy Texeira figure that Democrats will solidify their superiority on the basis of two key demographic groups: women and professionals, augmented by minorities and disillousioned Reaganites.
Sundays before Christmas, apparently, mean front-page holiday stories for most. The NYT runs with a poignant tale of adorning gravestones with "non-conforming" tributes including potted trees, swizzle sticks, tinsel, and other decorations the deceased would appreciate, while the LAT tells inside the A-section of Iraqis selling Christmas trees in a town where most of the Christians have fled. Rounding out the yuletide coverage, WP makes you feel better (or worse?) about your awkward holiday office parties.