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President-elect Barack Obama named his picks for new transportation and labor secretaries Friday, capping off a flurry of Cabinet appointments in the lead-up to the Christmas holiday.

Obama tapped Ill. Rep. Ray LaHood, a moderate Republican lawmaker, for transportation secretary, California Rep. Hilda Solis for labor secretary, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk for U.S. trade representative and venture capitalist Karen Mills to head the Small Business Administration.

“Daunting as the challenges we are inheriting may be, I am convinced that our team and the American people are prepared to meet them,”Mr. Obama said. “It will take longer than anybody of us would like — years, not months. It will get worse before it gets better.”

Mr. Obama also fielded questions on the Bush administration’s newly unveiled plan to assist the ailing U.S. auto industry, saying it’s “absolutely necessary” to restructure the companies to save the industry, while also working toward creating “fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow.”

Source: PBS

Al Franken and Norm Coleman

Al Franken and Norm Coleman

Democratic contender for the Minnesota Senate seat Al Franken took a 250-vote lead over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in the still undecided Senate race Friday, but thousands of ballot challenges remain unresolved.

Coleman led Franken in election night returns and held a 188-vote lead before the board decided to review challenged ballots. However, both sides acknowledged that the lead could flip a few times before the long recount ends.

About 5,000 challenges were withdrawn after election officials asked that both camps pull back on unnecessary or frivolous claims in the interest of a faster recount.

The five-member Minnesota State Canvassing Board denied Coleman’s proposal to reject 150 duplicate ballots that weren’t run through a ballot machine and couldn’t be matched to their originals, the Minnesota Star Tribune reported.

Board members ruled duplicates should be resolved by “another forum,” yet to be determined, as they focused on ballots where there “are questions about the intent of the voters who cast them,” according to the Star Tribune.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said Thursday the board’s goal of finishing the recount by Friday would not be met, the Washington Post reported.

“The only real concern is accuracy and transparency,” he said. “Our job is to make sure we are absolutely certain how Minnesotans voted.”

Franken’s 250-vote lead over Coleman marks the Democrat’s first lead since the disputed recount began, but Coleman’s spokesman Mark Drake said numbers are expected to change as the vote counting continues.

“Because of procedural reasons regarding the way the process has been playing out this week, you will likely see the numbers continue to flip flop around and go upside down as a good-sized chunk of withdrawn challenges from the Franken campaign have not yet been awarded back into Norm Colman’s column,” he said, according to TheHill.com.

The recount’s final result will be delayed by the outstanding issue of which rejected ballots will end up being counted.

More than 12,000 ballots that were originally rejected must be sorted through to determine which should be counted. Officials estimate more than 1,000 will be recounted, the Washington Post reported.

Also delaying the final decision will be the consideration of absentee ballots, which must be accounted for before Dec. 31.

Source: PBS

Oh boy !!

Oh boy !!

Johnston is the father of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s future grandson

The mother of Levi Johnston, the 18-year-old boyfriend of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter, has been arrested on drug charges, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

Sherry L. Johnston, 42, has been charged with six felony counts of misconduct, the newspaper reported.

Levi Johnston entered the national spotlight this autumn when it was revealed that 18-year-old Bristol Palin — the eldest daughter of Sarah Palin, who had just been tapped as then-Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s running mate — was pregnant with his child.

The baby is due Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The paper said that Alaska State Troopers charged Sherry Johnston with second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and fourth-degree misconduct involving controlled substances, or possession.

Sherry Johnston has been released on a $5,000 bond, the newspaper reported.

Contacted by the Anchorage Daily News, Palin’s spokesman, Bill McAllister, issued this statement: “This is not a state government matter. Therefore the governor’s communications staff will not be providing comment or scheduling interview opportunities.”

Source: msnbc

CHICAGO – In an unwavering statement of innocence, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Friday he will be vindicated of criminal corruption charges and has no intention of letting what he called a “political lynch mob” force him from his job.

“I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong,” Blagojevich said, speaking for about three minutes in his first substantial public comments since his arrest last week on federal corruption charges.

The Democrat is accused, among other things, of plotting to sell or trade President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat in secretly recorded phone conversations.

“I’m not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob,” Blagojevich said.

Still, one of the governor’s attorneys said Blagojevich will take his constituents into account as the case moves forward.

“He told me if it doesn’t work, if it is too hard if the people of Illinois suffer, he will step aside,” attorney Sam Adam, Jr., after the governor finished speaking.

Itching to talk
Blagojevich had been itching to talk, saying he wanted to tell his side of the story even though his lead defense attorney, Ed Genson, didn’t like the idea. On Friday, Blagojevich asked Illinoisans to “sit back and take a deep breath, and please reserve judgment.”

“Afford me the same rights that you and your children have — the presumption of innocence, the right to defend yourself,” said the governor, who said he wants to “answer every allegation” in court.

Read it all…

Professor John P. Holdren

Professor John P. Holdren

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) — Harvard University Professor John P. Holdren will be named Barack Obama’s top science adviser in the White House, the school said.

Holdren, 64, a professor of environmental policy, will be named to the post in a radio address by Obama tomorrow, Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said in a statement today. His appointment to Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, as the position is formally known, depends on confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Obama assumes office on Jan. 20.

Holdren is a specialist in energy technology and policy, and global climate change. As president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an advocacy group in Washington, in 2007, Holdren called on politicians to show stronger leadership on climate change, which the group called a “growing threat to society.”

“None of the great interlinked challenges of our time — the economy, energy, environment, health, security, and the particular vulnerabilities of the poor to shortfalls in all of these — can be solved without insights and advances from the physical sciences, the life sciences, and engineering,” Holdren said in today’s statement.

Source: Bloomberg

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