Today's Papers

Reviving the Mouse

The New York Times leads and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with Judge Samuel Alito’s unsurprising approval by the Senate judiciary committee. The NYT off-leads with the Palestinian elections. The Washington Post leads with President Bush’s three-pronged plan to tackle rising health costs by shifting the burden of those costs from the employer to the individual. The centerpiece of the plan, which will be announced as part of the 2007 budget, is a tax break on personal health spending. USA Today leads with some grim statistics on the lack of participation by low-income elderly in the Medicare drug benefit plan.  

The Los Angeles Times leads, the WP off-leads, the WSJ fronts, USAT teases, and the NYT goes inside with Disney’s purchase of Pixar Animation Studios, which Disney hopes will breathe new life into its lagging animation efforts; it just hasn’t been able to make the transition from hand-drawn to computer-generated animation. As part of the 7.4 billion dollar stock deal, Pixar’s Steve Jobs will join Disney’s board and will become the company’s largest individual shareholder—even ahead of former Disney boss Michael Eisner. Despite the thrilling notion of a Finding Nemo ride at Disneyland, there’s some concern that the merger will stifle Pixar’s creativity and cramp its informal style.

In approving the confirmation of Judge Alito, the Senate judiciary committee split right down party lines, with the three committee Democrats who earlier backed the confirmation of John Roberts citing the expansion of presidential power and curtailment of civil liberties as reasons why they couldn’t bring themselves to support Alito. Still, despite Democratic protests, Judge Alito’s confirmation by the full Senate seems all but a done deal. The WP reports that “top Democratic staff aides” said a filibuster by Democrats was highly unlikely given last year’s peace pact between seven Democrats and seven Republicans in the Senate. A debate on the full floor of the Senate starts Wednesday. The NYT quotes Democrats as saying that “a close vote would warn President Bush not to name such conservative judges.” Republicans managed to threaten right back, with John Kyl of Arizona warning that unified Democratic opposition to Alito would have an impact “felt well beyond this particular nominee.”

The NYT reports that voter turnout is expected to be more than 80 percent when Palestinians go to the polls Wednesday. The big question in this election, the first legislative election in a decade, is not how many people will vote, but how many of them will vote for Hamas, rather than for Fatah, the secular party of President Mahmoud Abbas. The WP says Hamas is projected to win a third of the 132 seats in parliament. There are risks on both sides. As the NYT points out, by welcoming Hamas into the political equation, many think Abbas has essentially invited “the snake into the garden.” Conversely, Hamas may find that it’s more effective to criticize the Palestinian government from the outside.

As USAT reports, low-income seniors without any prescription coverage aren’t signing up for the new Medicare drug benefit plan, which began on the first of the year. Of the 8.2 million people who could be eligible for the low-income subsidy, only 4 percent have qualified so far. The article attributes the lack of participation to a traditional resistance of those eligible for low-income programs to take advantage of them as well as the program’s “complex” two-step qualifying process. Harold Meyerson, in a column in the WP, sees things slightly differently. He argues that the program itself has been a resounding disappointment, mostly because of the plan’s failure to cover the 6.2 million low-income seniors who were automatically switched over to the program from Medicaid. The new program shifted all their coverage to private insurers, but the insurers either didn’t have the seniors’ names in their systems or charged them more than they could afford. Meyerson claims that the states had to cover the cost. The LAT reports that California spent $9 million issuing emergency prescriptions; federal officials have guaranteed that California and 20 other states will be reimbursed.

The WSJ has another take, fronting an article on the “land grab” among private insurers as a result of the new plan.

Attorney General Gonzales spoke yesterday at Georgetown Law School as part of the Bush administration’s all-out offensive to defend its electronic eavesdropping practices. Gonzales spoke right through a silent protest by five hooded students carrying a banner that read, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” The NYT reports that in his speech, Mr. Gonzales grounded the president’s actions in the country’s “long tradition of wartime enemy surveillance,” citing telegraph wiretapping in the Civil War and Woodrow Wilson’s order to intercept cable communications between Europe and the United States during the First World War. 

The NYT fronts the White House’s refusal to turn over Hurricane Katrina-related documents or make senior officials available to congressional committees investigating the response to the hurricane. The White House objected on the basis of the confidentiality of executive-branch communications, but senators cried foul, including Maine Republican Susan Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The WP goes inside with a report that, according to an online survey, 62 percent of college students maintained that they experience some form of sexual harassment. *

The NYT goes inside with a recent audit of U.S. accounting practices in Iraq. The report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction expands on earlier findings of fraud and mishandling of funds and paints a clearer picture of the Coalition Provisional Authority’s spending habits.

The Iraqi High Tribunal delayed the resumption of Saddam Hussein’s trial for five days after one justice was removed from the panel and a new chief was appointed. Also in Iraq, the WSJ reports that, according to Pentagon officials, the number of U.S. troops has been cut to the lowest level since last summer. There are now about 136,000 troops in Iraq.

Life after the Berry: The LAT reports from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where news spread of the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene in a case involving a claim of patent infringement by the makers of the BlackBerry hand-held device. Hollywood apparatchiks were all aflutter with the possibility that BlackBerry will be shut down over the next few months and shared tales of addiction. It seems, however, that the epidemic has spread beyond the entertainment community. The U.S. attorney for the Central District of California admitted, “My daughter hates my BlackBerry. … Once she asked me, ‘Mom, when you die do you want me to put the BlackBerry in there with you?’ I said, ‘Only if I can get a signal.’ “

Correction, Jan. 25, 2006: This article originally stated that 62 percent of college women surveyed claimed they had been sexually harassed. The Washington Post story actually stated that 62 percent of college students (both male and female) reported having been harassed. Click here  to return to the corrected sentence.