Like Angels on the Head of a Pin . . .

36 Days Until Inauguration Day

When the President gets bored during today's White House economic conference, he has to pretend to listen.

But you can/should digest the following (extra large bundle of) must-reads:

Shailagh Murray of the Wall Street Journal checks in on the GOP agenda and teases out the prospects of ANWR and tort reform, along with the Big Casino items of tax and Social Security reform. LINK

The Washington Post's formidable Birnbaum and Weisman look at the lobbying muscle opposed to those Big Casino items and remind people that lobbyists can sometimes move votes. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Vieth and Havermann nicely curtain-raise the economic meeting with a gander at the basics of Social Security reform. LINK

Ron Brownstein takes a look in the Los Angeles Times at how dominant President Bush and the Republican Party were/are in the South (county by county, among white voters, and in the on-the-record estimation of Karl Rove). LINK

(For those thinking about '08, this is the mostest of the must-reads . . . )

The Washington Post's Powell and Slevin take a measured look at what went wrong at Ohio voting places. LINK

The White House gets off (relatively) easy in the New York Times and Washington Post attempts to tick tock the (their so-called) vetting process of Bernie Kerik. LINK and LINK

The New York Daily News peels another (alleged) layer of the onion, looking at the "colorful" ties (yet) another Kerik property has to some interesting figures. LINK

David Broder doesn't seem to totally love the Bush Cabinet -- except of course those members who used to be governors!!! LINK

The Washington state gubernatorial overtime (Imagine the national media coverage if this were happening in a "real" state!!!) gets closer to resolution. LINK and LINK

Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe says the price(tag) of war (in Iraq) is going up, and wonders why all this keeps getting done in supplementals. LINK

Bill Kristol -- in a Washington Post op ed -- seems to feel (even) less positively about Secretary Rumsfeld than Sen. McCain does. LINK

Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe sounds positively like Ken Mehlman as he decries the Democratic Party's embrace of culturally liberal Hollywood. LINK

The two Democratic Leaders on the Hill somehow think that they can imprint a candidate into the minds of voting members of the DNC in the chair race -- and Reid and Pelosi are now hot for Tim Roemer. LINK AND LINK

Harold Meyerson's Washington Post op-ed looks at the state of political and economic play of Big Labor. LINK

For those of you who recognize that New York is the center of the political universe for the next two years, these are must-reads:

The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer brilliantly puts her exit interview from the City Hall beat right in the paper, with a look at Mike Bloomberg's political state. LINK

The Times also has Gov. Pataki delphically and maybe suggesting that he would rather run for re-election or president than against Senator Clinton (and check out the last paragraph, in which Kieran Mahoney let's us all know what's what . . . ). LINK

The White House's economic meeting with Bush Administration advisers and business leaders begins today and continues tomorrow, at the Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC.

Here's a look at the first day:

-- 9:30 am ET: Vice President Cheney delivers the opening remarks.

-- 9:45 am ET: Panel discussion on the current status of the economy and ways to ensure continued growth and job creation, and remaining competitive. Stephen Friedman, director of the National Economic Council moderates and the Vice President Cheney will attend. Panelists include: Martin Feldstein, professor at Harvard University; Mary Farrell, managing director and chief investment strategist at UBS Wealth Management; Brian Wesbury, chief economist at Griffin, Kubik, Stephens & Thompson; Kevin Rollins, president and CEO at Dell; Jack Stack, president and CEO of SRC Holding Corp.; and Catherine Giordano, president and CEO at Knowledge Information Solutions, Inc.

-- 11:00 am ET: Panel discussion on tax and regulatory burdens. Treasury Secretary John Snow moderates. Panelists include: John Lipsky, chief economist at JP Morgan Chase; Pamela Olson, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, LLP and former assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy; June Lennon, CPA at Partner & Owner, Martin and Lennon; Craig Lang, co-owner of Yarrabee Farms; Susan Dudley, director of the Mercatus Center Regulatory Studies Program at George Mason University; Tom Sullivan, chief council for Advocacy at SBA; and Larry Mocha, president of Air Power Systems, Co., Inc.

-- 1:30 pm ET.: President Bush attends a panel discussion on the "High Costs of Lawsuit Abuse," at the Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC, part of the White House Conference on the Economy. Commerce Secretary Don Evans moderates. Panelists include: Philip Howard, partner at Covington & Burling; George Priest, professor of Law and Economics at Yale Law School; Bob Nardelli, chairman, president and CEO of Home Depot; Barbara Coen, partner at Generations Women's Healthcare, LLC; Aundria Kazar, office manager at Generations Women's Healthcare; Hilda Bankston, former owner of Bankston Drugstore; and Mike Carter, owner of Monroe Rubber and Gasket Company.

-- 2:45 pm ET: Panel discussion titled, "Making Healthcare More Affordable." Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson moderates. Panelists include Gail Wilensky, senior fellow at Project Hope; Grace-Marie Turner, founder and president of the Galen Institute, Inc.; Gary Lauer, chairman, president and CEO of eHealthInsurance Services, Inc.; Karen Kerrigan, owner of Ideas, Inc. and owner, Kerrigan Strategies; Martin Harris, chief of Information Technology at the Cleveland Clinic; and Christine Krupinski, owner of CK Art and Design Studio.

Rep. Robert Matsui (D-CA) will hold a conference call at 3:15 pm ET to talk about the economic conference.

Also today . . .

At 10:30 am ET, President Bush meets with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Brooklyn's Edward Murrow High School Chess Team, the 2004 national champions, at the White House.

The President meets Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the White House at 11:25 am ET.

At 10:30 am ET, First Lady Laura Bush visits the Children's National Medical Center, Washington, DC.

Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) Chairman Jeanne Johnson Phillips and Executive Director Greg Jenkins hosted a conference call on the inaugural theme ("Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service") and schedule of events (to be released shortly) at 9:30 am ET. Not mentioned on the call, but gaggled: First Daughter Barbara Bush is working for the Inaugural committee.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner heads to McLean, VA, to celebrate his 50th birthday at a fundraising dinner in his honor.

Today and tomorrow, Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign manager Ken Mehlman, Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, and many other key players sit down to talk about their campaigns' strategies and tactics in "Campaign for President: The Managers Look at 2004" at Harvard University's Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Tomorrow, a wide array of campaign managers will participate in closed-door sessions covering the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries, Republican early strategies, the Democratic and Republican Conventions, and the general election. For those who will have to miss it, the sessions will be available later -- for your online viewing pleasure.

USA Today's Judy Keen Notes the kick off of President Bush's two-day gathering of economists, CEOs and small-business owners "that's billed as a discussion on 'securing our economic future.'" By Keen's keen insights "It's a choreographed pitch for Bush's second-term agenda, which includes remaking Social Security, limiting pain-and-suffering awards in medical liability lawsuits and making his first-term tax cuts permanent. Cabinet secretaries and other high-level officials will moderate six discussions with a half-dozen panelists for each." LINK

The Fed raised its key interest rate 2.25 percent from 2 percent yesterday -- the fifth time it's been bumped up this year, the Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip reports. The economy is growing at a "moderate pace" with a labor market that's gradually improving, the Fed said. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt and Michael Schroeder look at October's whopping $55.46 billion U.S. trade deficit, with the largest single gap being with China. "For the year so far, the nation's accumulated trade gap stood at $500.49 billion, eclipsing the deficit posted for all of 2003, according to figures released by the Commerce Department." LINK

The New York Times' Robert Pear looks at the latest study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Hewitt Associates, which shows that retiree health benefits are eroding, and premiums have gone up an average of 25 percent this year. LINK

More on Kerik:

"[White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales, who is himself in the middle of a background review as Mr. Bush's nominee for attorney general, spent hours grilling Mr. Kerik, the official said. As with other nominees, the sessions were aggressive and designed to make Mr. Kerik uncomfortable enough to reveal possible embarrassing events in his record. Even so, he apparently withheld some pertinent facts. Mr. Gonzales declined to comment," the New York Times' Bumiller writes. LINK

The Washington Post's Allen and Baker do it to it on the Kerik story -- and the many many many red flags the Administration "missed or ignored." LINK

"A few days of digging by news organizations have revealed that Bush had planned to entrust one of the most sensitive jobs in his Cabinet, secretary of homeland security, to a man who had failed to report lavish gifts he received as a New York City official, had declared personal bankruptcy and was the subject of an arrest warrant in a civil case involving unpaid condominium fees."

Marshall Wittman, a former Republican who is now a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council, put it to the Post like this: "When you believe you are invulnerable, you will always take a step too far, and this was it," Wittman said. "The most cursory checking would have shown this guy has more skeletons than a haunted house. This choice was political from the beginning to the end."

The New York Post's Deborah Orin reports that Kerik only filed paperwork and paid taxes for his nanny shortly before his appointment. LINK

More on the Battery Park City apartment. LINK

The New York Post serves up details on his personal life. LINK

Judith Regan was at the White House last night. LINK

John Harwood of the Wall Street Journal analyzes Gov. Schwarzenegger's plan to overhaul politics -- particularly redistricting -- in California, Noting that his plan to turn the state and congressional districting process over to retired judges in an effort not to so heavily favor incumbents could pose a bit of relief for mainstream voters and moderates. LINK

USA Today's Dennis Cauchon reports this little-known fact: "Democrats had great success in state legislative races this year, even as they performed poorly in the presidential race and campaigns for Congress. Many Democratic gains came in the heart of Republican territory." LINK

And further, Mr. Cauchon discusses some of the "divisive issues on state agendas." He Notes, "Some issues represent direct challenges to Bush administration policies on stem cell research, the minimum wage and prescription-drug prices. Others, such as gay marriage and limiting damage awards in lawsuits, are hot buttons for conservatives." LINK

David Postman of the Seattle Times reports on the latest developments in the Washington Governor's race, "the state Supreme Court's unanimous rejection of the Democratic Party's recount lawsuit yesterday settled -- for the moment, at least -- the legal issues in the contentious governor's election. LINK

"But it also raised the prospect of the fight moving back into the political arena, with questions about whether the eventual loser will use a vaguely worded provision in the state constitution to try to force the Legislature to overturn the result.

"That, according to one attorney, 'is the ultimate nuclear weapon in the process.' "

"Most observers acknowledge that the possibility of giving politicians the final say on who will be the next governor remains slim. But attorneys on both sides have mentioned that possibility in legal briefs and letters. And both sides point the finger the other way, with each party warning that it expects its foes to take the unprecedented step of going to the Legislature if it loses the recount."

Blaine Harden of the Washington Post reports that IF the previously uncounted votes in Washington's King County "swing for Gregoire at the same 58-40 rate as the rest of the votes in the strongly Democratic county did, Monday's find could give her as many as 101 new votes -- a relative landslide, given the closeness of the race." LINK

The recount in Ohio continues. LINK

Tom Zeller of the New York Times reports that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) plans to ask the FBI and a Hocking County, OH prosecutor to investigate allegations of election tampering today. LINK

"After high-profile crusades for tax cuts and against gay marriage, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell now leads the two other Republicans who want to be Ohio's next governor, according to a poll of GOP voters commissioned by Blackwell's campaign," reports Sandy Theis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. LINK

The AP showcases the inaugural Gold, Silver and Bronze Packages for GOP heavy-hitters who plan to attend the Inauguration in style. LINK

Frank Phillips of the Boston Globe Notes Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney "is launching a holiday charm offensive as he hosts a series of private dinners for legislative leaders and others at his Belmont home, his State House office, and a North End restaurant." LINK

The New York Times' Chris Hedges profiles Stephen J. Minarik III, the new chairman of the New York State Republican Party. LINK

Stephen Barr of the Washington Post offers a review-of-sorts to the fresh off the press Plum Book -- or rather, the 2004 edition of "United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions." He Notes it lists 9,051 executive branch and legislative branch jobs that are "subject to noncompetitive appointment." LINK

Jenna Bush plans to live in Washington, DC and teach at a public school serving low-income kids -- Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in the Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights neighborhood, the Washington Post's Richard Leiby reports. LINK

Props to the New York Times Magazine's Matt Bai, whose book looking at the future of the Democratic Party and its leaders between 2004 and the 2006 midterms, is scheduled to be published by Henry Holt in fall 2007.

In Noting his Chicago Tribune op-ed yesterday, we inadvertently added an extra letter to Rep. Rahm Emanuel's name. We regret the error.