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Monday, December 15, 2008

Parents use Obama as role model

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Some U.S. moms and dads say they're citing Barack Obama as a role model when it comes to inspiring their children.

Those parents have gone from reviewing the president-elect's Cabinet choices to invoking him at the dinner table to motivate a recalcitrant child, The Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) reported Saturday.

"It's the third-party thing," said Jill Miller Zimon, a freelance writer and mother of three. "With kids, lots of times when a child won't do something for you, you will ... pretend a third party said it was a good thing to do."

Avis Jones-DeWeever, a mother of two and director of research at the National Council of Negro Women, bought her children a book about Obama's childhood.

"I tell them all the time, 'You are brilliant, but brilliance necessitates hard work to get to the level he reached,'" Jones-DeWeever said.

In his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," Obama describes how his mother dealt with him when he tried to avoid studying.

"She would patiently repeat her most powerful defense: 'This is no picnic for me either, buster,'" Obama wrote.

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Now We Know What the Battle Was About

Khue Bui for Newsweek

The National Security Agency in Ft. Meade, Md.
By Daniel Klaidman | NEWSWEEK

It is one of the darkly iconic scenes of the Bush Administration. In March 2004, two of the president's most senior advisers rushed to a Washington hospital room where they confronted a bedridden John Ashcroft. White House chief of staff Andy Card and counsel Alberto Gonzales pressured the attorney general to renew a massive domestic-spying program that would lapse in a matter of days. But others hurried to the hospital room, too. Ashcroft's deputy, James Comey, later joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller, stood over Ashcroft's bed to make sure the White House aides didn't coax their drugged and bleary colleague into signing something unwittingly. The attorney general, sick and pain-racked from a rare pancreatic disease, rose up from his bed, gathering what little strength he had, and firmly told the president's emissaries that he would not sign their papers.

White House hard-liners would make one more effort—getting the president to recertify the program on his own, relying on his powers as commander in chief. But in the end, with an election looming and the entire political leadership of the Justice Department poised to resign rather than carry out orders they thought to be illegal, Bush backed down. The rebels prevailed.

But that is only part of the story—because Bush, even though he made concessions to the rebels, kept other aspects of the program intact. Even after The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret surveillance two years later—and despite outrage in Congress and among civil libertarians—monitoring of calls and e-mails between the United States and overseas without court approval continues. Much has been written about the Justice Department rebellion, including, most recently, the account in Barton Gellman's groundbreaking book "Angler." But a mystery remains: What did the Justice Department rebels object to, and what concessions did Bush make to appease them? What, precisely, was canceled?

Two knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that the clash erupted over a part of Bush's espionage program that had nothing to do with the wiretapping of individual suspects. Rather, Comey and others threatened to resign because of the vast and indiscriminate collection of communications data. These sources, who asked not to be named discussing intelligence matters, describe a system in which the National Security Agency, with cooperation from some of the country's largest telecommunications companies, was able to vacuum up the records of calls and e-mails of tens of millions of average Americans between September 2001 and March 2004. The program's classified code name was "Stellar Wind," though when officials needed to refer to it on the phone, they called it "SW." (The NSA says it has "no information or comment"; a Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment.)

The NSA's powerful computers became vast storehouses of "metadata." They collected the telephone numbers of callers and recipients in the United States, and the time and duration of the calls. They also collected and stored the subject lines of e-mails, the times they were sent, and the addresses of both senders and recipients. By one estimate, the amount of data the NSA could suck up in close to real time was equivalent to one quarter of the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica per second. (The actual content of calls and e-mails was not being monitored as part of this aspect of the program, the sources say.) All this metadata was then sifted by the NSA, using complex algorithms to detect patterns and links that might indicate terrorist activity.

The secret collection and data-mining program had begun with a blessing by John Yoo, an ultraconservative lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo was a close ally of hard-line lawyers in the White House and worked closely with David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's lawyer. (Addington is now Cheney's chief of staff.) But by 2003, Yoo had moved on, and a new head of the OLC, Jack Goldsmith, began reviewing his work. Goldsmith found Yoo's legal opinions justifying the program flawed. His reasons are based on a mind-numbingly complex area of federal law, but the basic analysis comes down to this: the systematic collection and digital transmission of huge amounts of telephone and e-mail data by the government constitutes "electronic surveillance" under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the exclusive law governing domestic spying in national-security cases. For such activities, FISA requires a court-approved warrant. Therefore, the program was illegal. The White House lawyers countered that the president's constitutional powers as commander in chief trumped FISA. Goldsmith and his colleagues rejected that argument, and won. Days after the hospital clash, Bush shut down the massive data-collection program and stopped searches of the data that had already been stored. (It's unclear whether the administration has since found new legal justification to return to at least some of these activities.)

This updated version of events helps explain exactly what motivated stalwart Republican lawyers like Comey to defy their Republican president. The Justice lawyers were not fuming about an Orwellian invasion of the privacy of American citizens. Though all the rebellious lawyers agreed that the program was illegal, some favored its goals while others questioned its efficacy. "At the end of the day, the dispute was a legal one, not a policy one," says one participant. "It was about upholding the rule of law, not about what was appropriate from a civil-libertarian standpoint or any other standpoint."

One of the most consequential government rebellions in memory may be regarded as an act of heroism by civil libertarians. But the rebels were conservatives who might have been willing to—and in some cases did—approve policies that would not sit well with many Americans. They just weren't willing to break the law. Which is how the president's men ended up in John Ashcroft's hospital room on a cool March evening.

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McCain Whacks RNC, Defends Obama Over Blagojevich (VIDEO)

John McCain sideswiped the Republican National Committee on Sunday for the intense focus it has placed on Barack Obama's relationship (however thin) to Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Saying he was confident that information would be made public regarding the president-elect's contacts with the embattled Illinois governor -- who is accused of putting up Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder -- McCain urged his Republican colleagues to keep their political priorities in order.

"I think that the Obama campaign should and will give all information necessary," said the Arizona Republican. "You know, in all due respect to the Republican National Committee and anybody -- right now, I think we should try to be working constructively together, not only on an issue such as this, but on the economy stimulus package, reforms that are necessary. And so, I don't know all the details of the relationship between President-elect Obama's campaign or his people and the governor of Illinois, but I have some confidence that all the information will come out. It always does, it seems to me."

McCain's remarks, delivered during an interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, come amidst a blitz of statements, press releases and web videos from the Republican Party on the Blaojevich subject.

On Sunday alone, the Illinois GOP launched a web site that would reportedly link 12 different state Democrats with the scandal-plagued governor. The RNC, meanwhile, released a web video titled, "Questions Remain," highlighting Obama's "evolving explanations" regarding the Blagojevich affair. Last week, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said Obama was undermining his pledges for transparency and the "moderate-type" campaign that he ran on, by not being forthcoming about his contacts with the Illinois Governor.

For all of this, the complaint issued in the Blagojevich case indicates that Obama had no direct ties to the governor's pay-for-play scheme. The president-elect has said as much. Moreover, Blagojevich is heard in wiretaps repeatedly cursing Obama and complaining that the transition team was offering only "appreciation."

McCain, who has almost never been popular within deeply partisan Republican circles, seemed to acknowledge the notion that this is, at its heart, a tale of a corrupt Illinois pol, not some massive entanglement involving Obama that the RNC is insinuating.

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Pot Supporters Bang on Obama's Doors for Drug Reform

Posted by Paul Armentano

Change.gov, the Web site of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, has now closed the Web page "Open for Questions."

After receiving nearly 100,000 total votes on more than 10,000 public policy issues, the most widely voted on question for Obama is:

"Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion-dollar industry right here in the U.S.?"

(Equally impressive, 16 of the top 50 overall questions posed to the new administration pertained to drug-law reform. Now do we have your attention?)

According to the Change.gov site, "Over the next few days, some of the most popular questions selected by the Change.gov community will be answered by the Transition team, and their responses will be posted here on the site."

So does this mean that the Obama will post a response to the public's outcry for tangible marijuana-law reform? Or will the incoming administration choose to remain silent on the one progressive issue that the American public, but not their elected official, is "buzzing" about?

Meanwhile, over at the Web site Change.org (which is not affiliated with the Obama administration), your votes (nearly 2,500 of them as of this morning) have made the question, "Should we legalize the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana?" the top-rated idea on the Web site!

According to the site, there will be a second round of voting (this first round ends on Dec. 31) in January to determine which top 10 ideas are presented to the Obama administration on Inauguration Day.

Finally, over at the highly popular Web site Digg.com, more than 2,500 visitors have added their support for making marijuana-law reform a key platform of the incoming administration. You can join the discussion here.

It was just over a month ago when statewide marijuana-law reform initiatives in Massachusetts and Michigan prevailed with more votes than America's soon-to-be 44th president -- once again reaffirming the widespread popular support for changing our nation's antiquated and punitive pot laws. It wasn't clear that either the national media or the incoming administration was listening then. Are they listening now?

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Bush's Final F.U.

TIM DICKINSON

With president-elect Barack Obama already taking command of the financial crisis, it's tempting to think that regime change in America is a done deal. But if George Bush has his way, the country will be ruled by his slash-and-burn ideology for a long time to come.

In its final days, the administration is rushing to implement a sweeping array of "midnight regulations" — de facto laws issued by the executive branch — designed to lock in Bush's legacy. Under the last- minute rules, which can be extremely difficult to overturn, loaded firearms would be allowed in national parks, uranium mining would be permitted near the Grand Canyon and many injured consumers would no longer be able to sue negligent manufacturers in state courts. Other rules would gut the Endangered Species Act, open millions of acres of wild lands to mining, restrict access to birth control and put local cops to work spying for the federal government.

"It's what we've seen for Bush's whole tenure, only accelerated," says Gary Bass, executive director of the nonpartisan group OMB Watch. "They're using regulation to cement their deregulatory mind-set, which puts corporate interests above public interests."

While every modern president has implemented last-minute regulations, Bush is rolling them out at a record pace — nearly twice as many as Clinton, and five times more than Reagan. "The administration is handing out final favors to its friends," says Véronique de Rugy, a scholar at George Mason University who has tracked six decades of midnight regulations. "They couldn't do it earlier — there would have been too many political repercussions. But with the Republicans having lost seats in Congress and the presidency changing parties, Bush has nothing left to lose."

The most jaw-dropping of Bush's rule changes is his effort to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act. Under a rule submitted in November, federal agencies would no longer be required to have government scientists assess the impact on imperiled species before giving the go-ahead to logging, mining, drilling, highway building or other development. The rule would also prohibit federal agencies from taking climate change into account in weighing the impact of projects that increase greenhouse emissions — effectively dooming polar bears to death-by-global-warming. According to Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, "They've taken the single biggest threat to wildlife and said, 'We're going to pretend it doesn't exist, for regulatory purposes.'"

Bush is also implementing other environmental rules that will cater to the interests of many of his biggest benefactors:

BIG COAL In early December, the administration finalized a rule that allows the industry to dump waste from mountaintop mining into neighboring streams and valleys, a practice opposed by the governors of both Tennessee and Kentucky. "This makes it legal to use the most harmful coal-mining technology available," says Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. A separate rule also relaxes air-pollution standards near national parks, allowing Big Coal to build plants next to some of America's most spectacular vistas — even though nine of 10 EPA regional administrators dissented from the rule or criticized it in writing. "They're willing to sacrifice the laws that protect our national parks in order to build as many new coal plants as possible," says Mark Wenzler, director of clean-air programs for the National Parks Conservation Association. "This is the last gasp of Bush and Cheney's disastrous policy, and they've proven there's no line they won't cross."

BIG OIL In a rule that becomes effective just three days before Obama takes office, the administration has opened up nearly 2 million acres of mountainous lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for the mining of oil shale — an energy-intensive process that also drains precious water resources. "The administration has admitted that it has no idea how much of Colorado's water supply would be required to develop oil shale, no idea where the power would come from and no idea whether the technology is even viable," says Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado. What's more, Bush is slashing the royalties that Big Oil pays for oil-shale mining from 12.5 percent to five percent. "A pittance," says Salazar.

BIG AGRICULTURE Factory farms are getting two major Christmas presents from Bush this year. Circumventing the Clean Water Act, the administration has approved last-minute regulations that will allow animal waste from factory farms to seep, unmonitored, into America's waterways. The regulation leaves it up to the farms themselves to decide whether their pollution is dangerous enough to require them to apply for a permit. "It's the fox guarding the henhouse — all too literally," says Pope. The water rule goes into effect December 22nd, and a related rule in the works would exempt factory farms from reporting air pollution from animal waste.

BIG CHEMICAL In October, two weeks after consulting with industry lobbyists, the White House exempted more than 100 major polluters from monitoring their emissions of lead, a deadly neurotoxin. Seemingly hellbent on a more toxic future, the administration will also allow industry to treat 3 billion pounds of hazardous waste as "recycling" each year, and to burn another 200 million pounds of hazardous waste reclassified as "fuel," increasing cancer-causing air pollution. The rule change is a reward to unrepentant polluters: Nearly 90 percent of the factories that will be permitted to burn toxic waste have already been cited for violating existing environmental protections.

Environmental rollbacks may take center stage in Bush's final deregulatory push, but the administration is also promulgating a bevy of rules that will strip workers of labor protections, violate civil liberties, and block access to health care for women and the poor. Among the worst abuses:

LABOR Under Bush, the Labor Department issued only one major workplace-safety rule in eight years — and that was under a court order. But now the Labor Department is finalizing a rule openly opposed by Obama that would hamper the government's ability to protect workers from exposure to toxic chemicals. Bypassing federal agencies, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao developed the rule in secret, relying on a report that has been withheld from the public. Under the last-minute changes, federal agencies would be expected to gather unnecessary data on workplace exposure and jump through more bureaucratic hurdles, adding years to an already cumbersome regulatory process.

In another last-minute shift, the administration has rewritten rules to make it harder for workers to take time off for serious medical conditions under the Family and Medical Leave Act. In addition, the administration has upped the number of hours that long-haul truckers can be on the road. The new rule — nearly identical to one struck down by a federal appeals court last year — allows trucking companies to put their drivers behind the wheel for 11 hours a day, with only 34 hours of downtime between hauls. The move is virtually certain to kill more motorists: Large-truck crashes already kill 4,800 drivers and injure another 76,000 every year.

HEALTH CARE In late August, the administration proposed a new regulation ostensibly aimed at preventing pharmacy and clinic workers from being forced to participate in abortions. But the wording of the new rule is so vague as to allow providers to deny any treatment that anyone in their practice finds objectionable — including contraception, family planning and artificial insemination. Thirteen state attorneys general protested the regulation, saying it "completely obliterates the rights of patients to legal and medically necessary health care services."

In a rule that went into effect on December 8th, the administration also limited vision and dental care for more than 50 million low-income Americans who rely on Medicaid. "This means the states are going to have to pick up the tab or cut the services at a time when a majority of states are in a deficit situation," says Bass of OMB Watch. "It's a horrible time to do this." To make matters worse, the administration has also raised co-payments for Medicaid, forcing families on poverty wages to pay up to 10 percent of the cost for doctor visits and medicine. One study suggests that co-payments could cause Medicaid patients to skip nearly a fifth of all prescription-drug treatments. "People who have nothing are being asked to pay for services they rely upon to live," says Elaine Ryan, vice president of government relations for AARP. "Imposing co-pays on the poorest and sickest people in the United States is cynical and cruel."

NATIONAL SECURITY Under midnight regulations, the administration is seeking to lock in the domestic spying it began even before 9/11. One rule under consideration would roll back Watergate-era prohibitions barring state and local law enforcement from spying on Americans and sharing that information with U.S. intelligence agencies. "If the federal government announced tomorrow that it was creating a new domestic intelligence agency of more than 800,000 operatives reporting on even the most mundane everyday activities, Americans would be outraged," says Michael German, a former FBI agent who now serves as national security policy counsel for the ACLU. "This proposed rule change is the final step in creating an America we no longer recognize — an America where everyone is a suspect."

John Podesta, the transition chief for the Obama administration, has vowed that the new president will leverage his "executive authority" to fight Bush's last-minute rule changes. But according to experts who study midnight regulations, there's surprisingly little an incoming executive can do to overturn such rules. The Bush administration succeeded in repealing just three percent of the regulations finalized before Bill Clinton left office in 2001. "Midnight regulations under Bush are being executed early and with great intent," says Bass of OMB Watch. "And that intent is to lock the next administration into these regulations, making it very difficult for Obama to undo what Bush just did."

To protect the new rules against repeal, the Bush administration began amping up its last-gasp regulatory process back in May. The goal was to have all new regulations finalized by November 1st, providing enough time to accommodate the 60-day cooling-off period required before major rule changes — those that create an economic impact greater than $100 million — can be implemented.

Now, however, the administration has fallen behind schedule — so it's gaming the system to push through its rules. In several cases, the Office of Management and Budget has fudged the numbers to classify rules that could have billion-dollar consequences as "non-major" — allowing any changes made through mid-December to take effect in just 30 days, before Obama is inaugurated. The administration's determination of what constitutes a major change is not subject to review in court, and the White House knows it: Spokesman Tony Fratto crowed that the 60-day deadline is "irrelevant to our process."

Once a rule is published in the Federal Register, the Obama administration will have limited options for expunging it. It can begin the rule-making process anew, crafting Obama rules to replace the Bush rules, but that approach could take years, requiring time-consuming hearings, scientific fact-finding and inevitable legal wrangling. Or, if the new rules contain legal flaws, a judge might allow the Obama administration to revise them more quickly. Bush's push to gut the Endangered Species Act, for example, was done in laughable haste, with 15 employees given fewer than 36 hours to review and process more than 200,000 public comments. "The ESA rule is enormously vulnerable to a legal challenge on the basis that there was inadequate public notice and comment," says Pope of the Sierra Club. "The people who did that reviewing will be put on a witness stand, and it will become clear to a judge that this was a complete farce." But even that legal process will take time, during which industry will continue to operate under the Bush rules.

The best option for overturning the rules, ironically, may be a gift bestowed on Obama by Newt Gingrich. Known as the Congressional Review Act, it was passed in 1996 to give Congress the option of overriding what GOP leaders viewed at the time as excessive regulation by Bill Clinton. The CRA allows Congress to not only kill a new rule within 60 days, but to do so with a simple, filibuster-immune majority. De Rugy, the George Mason scholar, expects Democrats in the House and Senate to make "very active use of the Congressional Review Act."

But even this option, it turns out, is fraught with obstacles. First, the CRA requires a separate vote on each individual regulation. Second, the act prohibits reviving any part of a rule that has been squelched. Since Bush's rules sometimes contain useful reforms — the move to limit the Family and Medical Leave Act also extends benefits for military families — spiking the rules under the CRA would leave Obama unable to restore or augment those benefits in the future. Whatever Obama does will require him to expend considerable political capital, at a time when America faces two wars and an economic crisis of historic proportions.

"It's going to be very challenging for Obama," says Bass. "Is he going to want to look forward and begin changing the way government works? Or is he going to look back and fix the problems left by Bush? Either way, it's a tough call."

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Governor Blago's Top 10 Craziest Moments

This week, the nation was introduced to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, the most batsh*t crazy elected official in America. Arrested this Tuesday on corruption charges after an FBI wiretap revealed he was trying to auction off President-elect Obama's vacated Senate seat, the man we affectionately call Blago has ignited one of the most entertaining political scandals in recent memory.
Sure, he may have betrayed the public trust, but let's take a moment to be thankful for the treasure trove of comedic gold the man has brought to these dark, uncertain times. Blago's desperate schemes range from the ridiculous to the sublime, and we feel it our civic duty to highlight the choicest nuggets from the saga of Illinois's future ex-governor -- just so we'll all be on the same page for jokes going forward.

1. Nice hair, Blago

The day before he went down with a thud, Blago put on a clinic in self-denial when he invited the government to tap his phones (they already were), and insisted there was "nothing but sunshine hanging over me." The leather jacket was a nice touch.



Read more of Governor Blago's top 10 craziest moments ...


2. What do you want Blago? "The world, Chico, and everything in it ..."

Two days after Obama's election, Blago realized there might be something in this for him.

"I've got this thing and it's f--ing golden," Blagojevich bragged. "I'm not giving it up for f--ing nothing. I'm not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there." (Blago-speak for appointing himself Senator).

When warned by his Chief of Staff to avoid "making it look like some kind of selfish grab for a quid pro quo," Blago responded: "I want to make money." A nice cushy job paying $250-300k, more precisely.

3. Blago wants to fix health care

Blago thought he could leverage the Senate Seat into a spot in Obama's cabinet. Secretary of State and Defense were already taken, but ...

"Rod Blagojevich indicated in the call that if he was appointed as Secretary of Health and Human Services by the president-elect, then Rod Blagojevich would appoint Senate candidate 1 to the open Senate seat," the complaint read.

4. Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean you aren't being watched ...

Blago warned others to be careful what they say. "(S)ome of this stuff's gotta start happening now ... right now ... and we gotta see it. You understand? ... You gotta be careful how you express that and assume everybody's listening, the whole world is listening. You hear me?"

5. Blago unleashed

Blago, frustrated that Obama wouldn't play ball, got a little worked up.

"They're telling me to suck it up for two years and just give this motherf--er [the President-elect] his senator. F-- him. For nothing? F-- him."

6. CEO Blago

The next day, Blago had an ingenious idea to shake down the wealthiest men in America. He told advisers to tell Obama to ask Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to put $10, $12, or $15 million into a dummy corporation that he would be placed in charge of.

7. Blago laid out his top three criteria for naming Obama's successor:

A) "Our legal situation"
B) "Our personal situation"
C) "My political situation"

8. Blago in 2016!

With his plans crumbling around him, Blago decided he might as well just become the president. He informed his advisers that he'd like to "remake his image in consideration of a possible run for president in 2016."

9. Blago attemps to take down all of Chicago

Steamed about negative press, Blago set his sites on the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Cubs. He and his wife decided that he'd hold up the sale of the Cubs if he couldn't get certain members of the Tribune Editorial Board fired.

Mrs. Blago: "Hold up that f--ing Cubs s-- ... F-- them."

Blago: "Our recommendation is fire all those f---ing people, get 'em the f--- out of there and get us some editorial support."

10. Is this a joke?

The castle came crashing down in a 6 a.m. phone call from the feds, who informed Blago they were outside his house with a warrant for his arrest. Waking up from last night's slumber, Blago simply asked, "Is this a joke?"

Blago, if you only knew.

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Ill. governor's chief of staff Harris resigns

Image: John Harris

Gerald Herbert / AP
In this Dec. 9 file photo John Harris, chief of staff for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago after he was arrested on corruption charges.

CHICAGO - The chief of staff to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has resigned, three days after he was arrested on government corruption charges along with his boss.

A Blagojevich spokesman said Friday that John Harris had resigned. He provided no other details.

Blagojevich and Harris were arrested Tuesday morning at their homes. Federal authorities accused them of scheming so Blagojevich could enrich himself through his power to appoint President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.

Both Blagojevich and Harris were released on bond.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Franken Wins Major Victory In Absentee Count

Al Franken received a potentially major boost towards his hopes of becoming Senator on Friday, when Minnesota state officials ruled that absentee ballots rejected because of clerical or administrative errors should, in the end, be counted.

The decision by the state canvassing board -- which was unanimous -- is, essentially, an official request for county officials to go back and count the wrongfully rejected absentee votes. This process has already begun in many counties and could portend sizeable gains for Franken.

The Democratic challenger has spent the past few weeks demanding that the state review the approximately 1,500 absentee ballots that they contend were unlawfully dismissed. Many of these votes have come from traditionally Democratic locales where, for one reason or another, voters are more likely to make clerical errors when completing their ballots.

The state has set December 19th as the end date for the sorting and counting of this absentee ballot pool (hardly a restrictive time frame for completing the task). The Coleman campaign retains the right to appeal the decision to a district or state court.

With the hand recount over in the state's Senate race, Franken's campaign claims to be clinging to a four-vote lead. This count, however, assumes that none of the challenges to ballots during the recount process will be upheld. In short: the race is incredibly tight. The inclusion of this pool of rejected absentee ballots could very well push Franken into the Senate.

UPDATE: The Franken campaign got more good news from the canvass board hearing. The state had, during the recount process, been unable to locate 133 ballots from the Minneapolis area. But rather than disregarding these votes, officials decided that they will use the results from Election Day.

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