Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
In the spirit of the season, this week's economic reports provide lots of good cheer.
For starters, *the government says the nation's economy grew at a healthy annual rate of nearly 4 percent during the third quarter. *Much of the growth was due to brisk spending by consumers in October. *And, despite a soft job market, the Federal Reserve reports economies growing stronger in most of its banking regions.
On the downside is the ever-worsening U.S. trade picture, which was one of the topics of discussion this week when President Bush visited Canada. *Despite protests from Canadians opposed to the U.S. war in Iraq, observers felt Bush and Prime Minister Paul Martin hit it off. Among their topics of discussion: U.S. tariffs on imports of Canadian softwood lumber ... and the continuing U.S. ban on imports of Canadian beef.
The new point man on those and other key issues facing U.S. agriculture was introduced in Washington this week, when the president tapped his new Secretary of Agriculture.
Bush: "Welcome to your new job as Secretary of Agriculture..."
It was an announcement few had anticipated. President Bush on Thursday chose Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns (Joe'-Hans) as the next Secretary of Agriculture, replacing the departing Anne Veneman.
Mike Johanns: "Mr. President, I look forward to advancing your rural agenda for the 21st century."
Johanns, the two-term Republican governor of Nebraska, was NOT on many radar screens as a replacement for Veneman. Many had him pegged as a challenger to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson in 2006.
But his Midwest roots and farm background were obvious credentials. Born in Iowa and raised on a dairy operation, the 54-year-old Johanns likely will receive swift confirmation from the U.S. Senate before taking control of the nation's farm and food programs.
Mike Johanns: "I'm very, very proud of my ag background. I do feel that those years on that dairy farm did much to define who I am as a person.
"There are challenges ahead, but I know my colleagues and I from the Department of Agriculture will answer the challenge."
Among the challenges facing Johanns are global trade and food safety issues. Veneman spent the better part of the past year upgrading the nation's food defense system, including banning high-risk meat and meat products from so-called "downer cows" ... testing more cattle for symptoms of Mad Cow disease ... and promising to hasten a national animal ID system.
USDA also has worked on safeguarding the nation's food supply since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 more than three years ago.