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Coleman's lead drops to two votes, Watergate's "Deep Throat" dies, oil drops below $40 a barrel, arrests in Iraq criticized as political.

• "Sen. Norm Coleman saw his lead over Al Franken in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race dwindle to just two votes Thursday," the AP reports. "Meanwhile, a key court ruling put hundreds of improperly rejected ballots in play and promised the recount would drag into the new year."

• "Incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the old bull he ousted from the post, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) have reached an unusual power-sharing arrangement," the Hill reports. "Waxman will cede to Dingell the lead role in drafting health reform legislation, a major priority for congressional Democrats and the incoming Obama administration, the two lawmakers announced late Thursday afternoon."


Washington: Watergate's 'Deep Throat' Dies

• "W. Mark Felt Sr., the associate director of the FBI during the Watergate scandal who, better known as 'Deep Throat,' became the most famous anonymous source in American history, died" Thursday at 95, the Washington Post reports.

• "Paul M. Weyrich, 66, the conservative thinker who coined the phrase 'moral majority' to describe the religious right, co-founded the Heritage Foundation think tank and became the combative intellectual activist who revived the foundering Republican Party with an infusion of passionate believers, died" Thursday "at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax," the Washington Post reports.

• "The Federal Election Commission on Thursday unanimously approved long-awaited fundraising rules requiring political committees to name lobbyists who bundle campaign contributions," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The new guidelines, a section of the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, require committees to disclose lobbyists who collect fundraising checks totaling more than $15,000."


• "FBI agents improperly received millions of dollars in overtime payments for hours spent exercising, watching movies and going to cocktail parties while serving in Iraq, a Justice Department audit concluded," the Washington Times reports.

• "A federal magistrate judge has ruled that the U.S. Secret Service 'made a mockery' of long-standing rules by failing to preserve, concealing and even destroying evidence sought by 10 African American current and former employees in a racial discrimination" class-action suit filed in 2000, the Washington Post reports.

• "'Gross mismanagement and waste' undermine a Department of Transportation grant program that gives states millions of dollars to improve responses to hazardous materials spills, according to a senior official's request for an inspector general's investigation," USA Today reports on the Hazardous Materials and Emergency Preparedness program.

Economy: Oil Drops Below $40 Per Barrel

• "Oil's plunge below $40 a barrel is partly an anomaly due to the expiring January crude-futures contract," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "It also may be a sign of things to come."


• "The White House was moving closer" Thursday "to a dramatic restructuring of the nation's ailing automakers, deliberating among several options including an 'orderly' bankruptcy in return for an emergency government infusion of billions of dollars," the Washington Post reports. "Senior officials at the Treasury Department were coalescing around an alternative that would reshape the companies but not require them to file for bankruptcy protection, sources familiar with the matter said."

• "Retailers are gearing up to offer massive discounts this weekend to lure last-minute shoppers and try to salvage a so-far disastrous holiday season," the Wall Street Journal reports. "In a mad dash to liquidate excess inventories, chains are rolling out deeper and broader price cuts than last year, extending hours and offering even more generous promotions to their most loyal customers."

• "Nearly one in seven homeowners is underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth," USA Today reports. "That's about 12 million homeowners, nearly double the number underwater at the end of 2007, according to Moody's"

• "The economic downturn has left many low-income Americans struggling with hunger for the first time, a survey out Thursday by Feeding America shows," USA Today reports. "The hunger relief group, formerly known as America's Second Harvest, found that 36% of low-income households say they ate less or skipped meals because they didn't have enough money for food, and 40% say they chose between food or paying for utilities in the past year."

Nation: Cities Say Nation's Problems Will Worsen

• "City leaders are gloomy about the direction the country is heading, says a survey out today by the National League of Cities," USA Today reports. "Sixty-three percent of city officials say they are pessimistic about the future, compared with 62% in 1992 and 19% in 2001, the annual survey of attitudes among city officials found."

• "More than 54 million U.S. residents, or about 19 percent of the population, have some sort of disability, the U.S. Census Bureau reported on Thursday," Reuters reports. "The numbers, based on 2005 data, are up slightly from the 2002 survey when 51.2 million people or 18 percent reported a disability, the census found."

• "After years of suing thousands of people for allegedly stealing music via the Internet, the recording industry is set to drop its legal assault as it searches for more effective ways to combat online music piracy," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The decision represents an abrupt shift of strategy for the industry, which has opened legal proceedings against about 35,000 people since 2003."

Iraq: Leaders See Arrests As Political Intimidation Tactic

• "Iraqi politicians said Thursday that the arrests of government officials accused of supporting a group linked to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party was an attempt by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to demonstrate his power," the Washington Post reports. "Members of parliament charged Thursday that the prime minister was using Iraq's security forces to instill fear in his rivals ahead of provincial elections set for next month."

• "The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush was beaten at the news conference after the incident and had bruises on his face and around his eyes, the judge in the case said" today, the AP reports. "Judge Dhia al-Kinani, the magistrate investigating the incident, said the court had opened an investigation in the beating of journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi."

• "Iraq proved to be the deadliest beat in the world for reporters for the sixth year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday," CNN reports. "The organization's annual year-end analysis tallied 11 journalist deaths this year in Iraq, down from 32 in both 2007 and 2006."

World: Russia Would Scale Back If U.S. Drops Missile Defense, Report Says

• "A senior Russian general said" today "the military will cut some weapons programs if the United States drops its missile defense plans, a news agency reported," the AP reports. "The Interfax news agency quoted Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov as saying that the Russian armed forces wouldn't need some prospective strategic weapons if the new U.S. administration changes its mind about deploying missile defense sites in Europe."

• "U.N. sanctions on North Korea, imposed after it tested a nuclear device in 2006, have produced no impact, largely because China has failed to implement the measures and has increased exports of banned luxury goods to the North, according to a new report," the Washington Times reports. The report says "China, the North's largest trading partner, has avoided accountability in part because the United Nations never published an official definition or list of 'luxury goods.'"

• "Chinese leaders are now facing a new era in which" Deng Xiaoping's "export-led economic model, as well as his iron-fisted political control, face unprecedented challenges," the New York Times reports. "Global demand for Chinese goods has slumped, unrest is on the rise in the industrial heartland, and China is scrambling for a new formula to preserve stability and ensure growth."

• "Russia's oil-fired economic miracle is unraveling as industry shrinks and job losses mount," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Now the first stirrings of social unrest have the Kremlin groping for a response."

• "The U.N. General Assembly split over the issue of gay rights on Thursday after a European-drafted statement calling for decriminalization of homosexuality prompted an Arab-backed one opposing it," Reuters reports.

Transition: A Split Decision For Labor?

• Big Labor is elated with the reported pick of Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., for Labor secretary, but unions are less thrilled with Barack Obama's likely choice for U.S. trade representative. Read more in Lost In Transition,'s blog on the changeover.

Commentary: It's My Party

• The president of the Human Rights Campaign criticizes Obama for his inauguration guest list in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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