The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead with North Korea’s continuing moves toward restarting its plutonium nuke program: Yesterday it re-opened a refining facility that had been sealed in 1994 when the country signed a deal with the U.S. promising to abandon its nuke efforts. The New York Times leads with the appointment, as expected, of Sen. Bill Frist as the new GOP leader in the Senate. The Washington Post leads with complaints from state and local health officials that the White House’s smallpox plan calls for an unnecessarily high number of people to be inoculated, since the vaccine itself can be dangerous and the plan is expensive to implement. Since Washington isn’t funding the program, and with state budgets already squeezed, some local officials warned that in order to fund the effort they’ll have to slash other health programs.While Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. still wants “a peaceful resolution” with North Korea, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned that “it would be a mistake” for North Korea to assume that the U.S. is incapable of fighting two wars at once. “We’re capable of winning decisively in one (theater) and swiftly defeating in the case of the other,” he said. “Let there be no doubt.” The LAT, alone among the other papers, plays up Rummy’s comments and implies that they represent the administration’s overall position: “MILITARY ACTION POSSIBLE, U.S. WARNS N. KOREA.”The LAT also mentions, as it did yesterday, that there are two U.N. weapons inspectors living at the nuke plant in North Korea. They’re not doing much, since the North Koreans have disabled their monitoring equipment. Still, they have one of the world’s weirdest workplaces. How about an interview with these guys?The papers all mention that Iraq shot down an unmanned Predator drone yesterday. That’s the third one they’ve dropped in the past few years and doesn’t represent much of an escalation, since Iraq is always trying to shoot the things down. The Predator was flying in one of the “no-flight” zones, which, contrary to what many think, aren’t clearly endorsed by the U.N.The WP top-fronts a long (5,000-plus word) year-end check-in on the war on al-Qaida. The gist: Many anti-terror officials don’t think it’s going so well. Thirteen out of the 20 top AQ operatives are still walking around. And that has some officials really freaked out. One pointed out that AQ keeps trying to hit a target until it’s destroyed (think WTC). Then he reminds that United Flight 93 was probably heading toward the White House. “They are going to kill the White House,” he said. “I have really begun to ask myself whether I want to continue to get up every day and come to work on this block.”A front-page piece in the NYT profiles Hezbollah, the anti-Israel Lebanon-based guerrilla group. The piece doesn’t say anything new. It’s essentially a less-elegantly written rehash of Jeffrey Goldberg’s New Yorker coverage. But that doesn’t stop the NYT’s editors from giving the article an attention-getting (and, frankly, unclear) headline: “HEZBOLLAH BECOMES POTENT ANTI-U.S. FORCE.” The story itself never offers evidence that that Hezbollah has any intention of attacking U.S. targets.A Wall Street Journal op-ed by Forbes writer Dan Ackman says that Enron “whistleblower” Sherron Watkins is a horrendous pick as one of Time magazine’s persons of the year: “A whistleblower is someone who spots a criminal inside a bank and alerts the police. That’s not Sherron Watkins. What she did was write a memo to the bank robber (Ken Lay) suggesting he was about to be caught and warning him to watch out.” Ackman adds that even after Enron’s law firm concluded a whitewash investigation, “Ms. Watkins said zip.”The LAT fronts, and everybody else reefers, the death of Joe Strummer, lead singer of the legendary political punk band, The Clash. He was 50. The NYT posts some audio clips of Strummer’s stuff.Speaking out against the world’s great injustices … Today’s editorials in the NYT, per usual, confront the crucial issues of the day: Peace in the Middle East, welfare reform, and the renewal of Friends: “It’s hard to believe that the price tag on Friends isn’t keeping fresher shows from making it onto the air.” Excellent point; please keep it to yourself.
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