The Washington Post and USA Today lead with, while the Los Angeles Timesdevotes its top nonlocal story to, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruling that a school district cannot teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution because it is a religious belief. The judge said that intelligent design is “a mere re-labeling of creationism” and is not science because it relies on the existence of a Christian God. The New York Timesleads with the first day of the transit strike that paralyzed the country’s largest public transportation system and stranded the more than 7 million people who use the service daily. To illustrate the story on their front pages, the NYT, the WP, and USAT all use a picture of commuters walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with a combination of Vice President Dick Cheney’s defense of the secret surveillance program and the continuing debate over the budget in Congress.
In the first case to rule on intelligent design, Judge John Jones did not hold back any criticism for the theory and chastised the school board of Dover for bringing this battle into their community. The Supreme Court had already ruled in 1987 that creationism does not have a place in public schools, so by calling intelligent design another version of creationism, the judge effectively ruled that the theory could not be taught. Although the decision by the Republican judge does not have any impact beyond the Middle District of Pennsylvania, experts believe it will send a sign to school boards and lawyers across the country. An analysis piece in the WP describes how the judge defined science in order to conclude that intelligent design is a religious belief. Experts believe the 139-page decision will become instrumental in future fights over evolution. (Slate contributor Hanna Rosin filed dispatches from the trial, Explainer looked into whether there is a difference between intelligent design and creationism, and William Saletan said proponents of intelligent design were trying to get around the requirements of science).
A New York State Supreme Court called the transit strike illegal and fined the Transport Workers Union $1 million for each day of the walkout. This is in addition to any fines that individual workers might face, which could include two days’ pay for every day they are on strike. All the papers have color on the chaos and different ways New Yorkers managed to get around in the cold weather during the strike using bicycles, taxis that could pick up multiple fares and charged by zones, commuter rails, carpools, and, of course, their own feet.
The NYT reports that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had given in to many of the demands from the union but the last sticking point was about pensions. Last night, the MTA demanded that new workers put in 6 percent of their wages toward pensions, an increase from the current 2 percent. This would have saved the MTA less than $20 million in three years, which is far less than what the strike is costing the city, but some believe the move was necessary to control an expense that will continue to increase.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the strike had a “severe to devastating” effect on businesses as the comptroller estimated that the city’s economy lost $400 million the first day of the strike and will continue to lose $300 million every weekday that follows. Some are most worried about the retail sector, particularly if the strike continues for several days, because it might prevent people from continuing with their last-minute Christmas shopping. The WSJ looked into how these broad numbers are determined and emphasized that they cannot be more than rough estimates. Some economists say these numbers are inflated and that politicians can benefit from them because after the strike is over there will be no way of proving whether the projections were accurate.
The NYT fronts word that that the secret surveillance program approved by President Bush sometimes eavesdropped on completely domestic conversations. Administration officials have said the program requires one of the parties in the communication to be abroad, but National Security Agency sources told the NYT that sometimes the system intercepted domestic communications by mistake. Experts in telecommunications say that with modern communications it is often difficult to know where a person is physically located, which could raise even more questions about the spying program.
The WP fronts news that a federal judge who is one of the 11 members in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resigned in protest of President Bush’s authorization of the secret surveillance. The LAT fronts an analysis of the case that President Bush has used to defend the domestic spying program. He has said that two of the hijackers of Sept. 11 had communications with al-Qaida while they were living in the United States, and that the current spying on domestic communications could have helped avert their plans. Some experts say this is a misrepresentation of the facts and point to interagency squabbles as the most likely culprit, rather than deficiencies in the intelligence-gathering.
Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney defended the program to eavesdrop on conversations by saying that the office of the president needs to have more power because of current circumstances in the world. He said that increasing the president’s powers has made America safer. A story on the WP’s front page looks at how this marks the latest chapter in an administration that has always sought to increase the powers of the executive. Those in Bush’s White House came to office thinking that the power of the presidency had been in decline, and they wanted to make sure it was increased.
Cheney made his statements during a trip to the Middle East, which he cut short to return to Washington in case he is needed to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate today. While discussions on the Patriot Act remain stalled as four Republicans continue to stand with the Democrats, votes are likely to take place on the budget, which includes $40 million in spending cuts, and the military spending bill, which includes the provision for drilling in Alaska. Although the spending cuts would only amount to less than one-half of 1 percent of federal spending, critics say that these cuts fall disproportionately on the poor. The LAT points out that although the cuts could save $40 billion in the next five years, a bill to extend some of the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 that Republicans hope will pass early next year would cost $70 billion.
The NYT fronts, while the WP and the LAT go inside with, word that Republican über-lobbyist Jack Abramoff is discussing a plea deal with prosecutors that could give him a reduced sentence in exchange for information on his political and business partners. Prosecutors hope that by telling them what he knows, Abramoff can help shed light on corruption among politicians and their staff.
Sunni Arab politicians, as well as secular leaders, rejected the preliminary results from last week’s vote in Iraq and demanded new elections. Up until now, the results have shown a strong result for the largest Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. Some fear that Sunni politicians might once again encourage their followers to boycott Iraqi politics, and that these accusations could bring an increase in violence. The LAT says the failure of the secular political groups in the election raises new challenges for the U.S. occupation.
Holidays vs. Christmas part 534,789 … As the nation’s newspapers continue to devote ink to whether Christmas is really under siege, a USAT poll reveals that 69 percent of adults are likely to say “Merry Christmas” when they first meet someone rather than use a more neutral greeting like “Happy holidays.” This is an increase from 56 percent last year. Politicians, however, seem to make a different choice. The WP’s Al Kamen reports on a Stateline.org survey that revealed 37 out of 50 governors chose to use the neutral “holidays” in their official end-of-year cards.