Today's Papers

Labour Pains

The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Postall lead with the desultory win by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor party. Though it’s a historic third straight win for the party, Labor won only 37 percent of the vote, which the Post calls the “lowest share of the national vote of any ruling party in British history.” Citing “American and foreign officials,” the New York Timesleads with satellite evidence of “rapid and extensive preparations” by North Korea for a nuke test. USA Today leads with the administration finally tossing out a Clinton-era rule that had protected about a third of national forest land from logging and road-building. The White House had temporarily suspended the Clinton rules soon after taking office; yesterday’s move puts the stake in them. The new rules aren’t a free-for-all, exactly. State governors can petition to keep forests protected; final decisions will be up to the feds.

Exit polls show Labor’s parliamentary majority shrinking to about 70 seats, down from 161. The consensus on the island now seems to be that Blair won’t serve out his full term and will hand over the reins to his heir apparent, Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer (aka the money man). “This is the end of the Blair era,” one prof told the NYT.

One “senior intelligence official” told the Times the satellite images of North Korea show evidence of “everything you need to test. We’ve never seen this level of activity.” Pyongyang has never tested a bomb before, and the possibility exists that North Korea is just playing to the cameras. Meanwhile, the Times cites three U.S. officials who vouched for the existence of the intel. But the paper adds, interestingly, that officials at one U.S. intel “said they were unaware of the new activity.”

Yesterday’s toll in Iraq: about two dozen civilians and police killed in four different attacks, including another suicide bomber who got into a police recruitment line.

As the NYT details, nine Afghan soldiers were killed in fighting near the border with Pakistan, the single deadliest attack so far against the country’s new army. There had been a lull in fighting since the October presidential elections, but recently the Taliban seem to have launched a visibility campaign.

As the Journal and NYT front, Standard and Poor’s busted GM and Ford’s credit rating to “junk” status. The move doesn’t signal any immediate crash crisis for either company. But while investors expected it eventually, there was some serious shock at the timing. “It was a Richter-scale event,” one excited analyst told the NYT. Between them, the two companies have about $550 billion in outstanding bonds.

The WP fronts the resignation of Merck’s CEO. As it happens, also yesterday, as the LAT fronts and the NYT all but ignores, a House committee released documents showing Merck told salespeople to keep hush about a study showing that Vioxx might contribute to heart troubles. Also uncovered was a pep-rally letter in which Merck invoked that great drug salesman, Martin Luther King Jr.: “You must keep repeating the compelling message and at some point, the physician will be ‘free at last’ when he or she prescribes the Merck drug, if that is most appropriate for the patient.”

The Journal’s Washington Wire mentions that the GOP, rejecting an advisory board’s recommendations, has decided that a commission on Medicaid cuts will be administration-appointed rather than independent.

The WP fronts and others tease hearings by the creationist-dominated Kansas Board of Education designed to challenge evolution. The board is set to adopt standards encouraging teachers to teach so-called intelligent design, the notion that natural selection is interesting and all but that a higher player must ultimately be involved. “We can’t ignore that our nation is based on Christianity—not science,” explained one retired teacher. The hearings, such as they are, are being boycotted by science groups. (The lack of doubt about the hearings’ outcome, unlike, say, a trial, doesn’t stop some papers from playing up the cliché.)

Thomas Friedman, tireless reporter … “Many authors hate to go on grinding book tours,” writes the NYT columnist. Friedman, though, says he for one is willing to make such sacrifices: “I’ve always found it a useful way to be a foreign correspondent in America and take the pulse of the country.” The two big insights of his Tour of Duty: Many people 1) want a good education; 2) get their news from  … The Daily Show.