Today's Papers

The Storm Fronts

The Los Angeles Times leads with reports that the storm fronts causing floods in Northern California are heading toward Los Angeles. The New York Times leads (at least online) with the United Nations’ push to reform its Human Rights Commission. The Washington Post leads with studies showing that antidepressants may not lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts after all.

While technically a local story, the flooding in California is severe enough to garner national attention, especially if the LAT is right about the system heading south, where several counties that recently suffered wild fires will be especially prone to flash floods and mudslides. The story focuses on flood damage in the northern part of the state, but always with echoes of the lead’s assertion that similar situations could play out in Los Angeles over the next 24 hours.

The United Nations is working to rectify procedural quirks that put Libya, Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe in charge of monitoring human rights abuses in recent years. The NYT paints it as a do-or-die issue with regard to U.N. credibility, with Secretary General Kofi Annan making it a top priority for his last year in office. However, like many problems confronting the United Nations, virtually every nation can agree that something needs to be done, but no one can agree on a plan.

It seems like a no-brainer that antidepressants would (at very least) not encourage suicide, but FDA warnings in 2004 and 2005 claimed just that, leading to an understandable drop in the drugs’ use. The WP reports that two federally funded studies now show that this is not the case—probably. The story spends a lot of time casting doubt on the studies, often postulating that the drugs may do neither harm nor good. TP recognizes New Year’s Day is going to be a slow news day no matter what and perhaps a paper’s front page may lack its usual urgency. But even in context, given the ambivalence of the findings, why is this leading? It’s a good thing there aren’t any stories about floods, scandals, or allegations getting stuffed inside.

The WP off-leads with a voting record of sorts for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito, examining 221 cases from Alito’s 15 years on the bench to create a map of his judicial thinking. The WP found Alito is neither as mainstream as the Bush administration paints him, nor as far out as some opponents would suggest. Instead, the paper finds Alito holding fairly mainstream opinions on most subject­­­s, while veering hard to the right on immigration, harassment cases, and cases involving religion. The WP acknowledges such analysis is regarded as unorthodox in judicial circles, but it’s a much more substantial measure of his thinking than some other recent attempts.

The NYT off-leads with news that even the Ashcroft-era Justice Department was skittish about the unwarranted NSA wiretaps. When Ashcroft was in the hospital in 2004, his deputy refused to sign off on key parts of the order. The department also launched an audit into whether or not the power was abused. No word in the story on whether or not abuses were uncovered.

An unsettling look at Chinese baby-snatching off-leads the LAT. The kids are often sold multiple times and may end up forced into prostitution, begging rings, or arranged marriages. But they may also get bought by orphanages or even sold directly to overseas couples looking to adopt. Not surprisingly, the Chinese government has little to say on the subject.

The Medicare prescription drug benefit begins today and things probably won’t go according to plan, says the NYT, not by a long shot. Still, the government is pushing ahead and trying to ensure everyone gets their pills, with assurances to pharmacies that this can all be straightened out later. With a slightly bemused the air, the paper mentions the confusion is at least no worse than the chaos which attended the launch of Medicare in 1966.

The WP splashes New Year’s in New Orleans across its front page. The dilemma is a familiar one: Raucous celebrations are held in the heavily white, affluent parts of the town, even as 20 percent of the city still goes without electricity. But in the case of economically devastated New Orleans, partying may be essential to rebuilding, as tourism is a key industry.

An unexpected piece of good news from the Big Easy runs under the NYT’s fold, with reports that the New Orleans housing market is booming. True, most of the houses being sold aren’t flood damaged or in parts of town likely to flood anytime soon, but the trend shows many people believe the city will come back strong enough to provide a suitable return on their investment.

The LAT posits that the Iraqi Civil War has already begun, keeping with a 60-year trend of civil wars taking the form of guerilla warfare instead of formal military engagements. The paper concludes that the violence in Iraq isn’t so much targeted at U.S. troops as around them and that as American forces pull out, the violence will escalate accordingly.

Under the fold, the LAT tallies the cost of states hosting Katrina refugees.

The NYT Magazine looks at the growing rift between the twin engines of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.

The NYT reports that the death toll for U.S. soldiers in Iraq stands at 844 for 2005. That’s four less than the year before.

The WP wins the prize for the fluffiest New Year’s package for its “where are they now” features (teased on the front page) on five New Year’s babies—children born during the first seconds of various years. This might not stick in TP’s craw so much if the piece didn’t expressly say that being born at a particular instance was the most newsworthy thing these people had ever done—it’s tantamount to admitting that a follow-up piece is totally unnecessary.

… Call It “Artificial Intelligent Design” …

Can you re-create natural selection in the lab? Should you? The NYTMagazine covers a taxidermist’s quest to reverse the extinction of the quagga, (pronounced KWAH-ha), a South African relative of the zebra that died out over 120 years ago. It’s a great story (even if the first-person intrusions get a little too precious for comfort) but as the author points out, one can’t help but wonder if the money wouldn’t be better spent preserving the endangered animals we already have.