ThinkFast: November 25, 2008

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"ThinkFast: November 25, 2008"

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The Commerce Department reports this morning that the U.S. economy shrank half a percent in the third quarter, “faster than previously estimated as consumer spending plunged by the most in almost three decades.” That is the biggest contraction since the 2001 recession.

The Bush administration has quietly altered early official lists of nations in the so-called “coalition of the willing” that were posted to the White House website. Two lists have been completely taken down, while “subsequent deletions of the earlier lists and revisions to critical documents” make it seem like there were 49 nations in original coalition of the willing; there were actually only 45.

When President Bush leaves office, “opponents of embryonic stem cell research will face a new political reality” as President-elect Barack Obama is “expected to lift restrictions on federal money for such research.” “I don’t know what the votes will be in the new Congress … but it’s very possible we could lose this thing,” Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) told the AP.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, is being transferred to Yeman where “he will serve out the rest of his military commission sentence, which is set to expire Dec. 27.” Hamdan, who was first captured in 2001, was convicted earlier this year of “providing material support to terrorism.”

A “little-noticed regulation change in March” narrowed the military’s definition of combat-related disabilities, “costing some injured veterans thousands of dollars in lost benefits.” The Pentagon said the change preserves the “special distinction for those who incur disabilities while participating in the risk of combat”; the Disabled American Veterans called the policy a “shocking level of disrespect for those who stood in harm’s way.”

The “Labor Department gave Congress inaccurate and unreliable numbers that understated the expense of contracting out its employees’ work to private firms.” According to most of the 60 Labor employees interviewed by the Government Accountability Office, the decision to allow “contractors to compete for bureaucrats’ work — known as ‘competitive sourcing’ — also demoralized workers.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s list of the safest new cars includes 16 Ford and Volvo vehicles. Honda was next with 13. “So even though Ford is losing money and is part of the Detroit Three contingent seeking $25 billion in aid from Congress, many workers at Ford report feeling good about the company’s prospects.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has been “working hard to dismantle his liberal image and revive memories of the Cold War.” Most recently, Medvedev threatened to deploy missiles on the border with Poland as a response to the U.S. missile-defense program, which was “the first time in decades that Russia’s leader has officially announced his readiness to target a NATO country with tactical weapons.”

And finally: In March, Barack Obama received “endless grief” after he delivered a less-than-stellar bowling performance at Pleasant Valley Recreation Center in Altoona, PA. On Nov. 13, co-owners Jean Montgomery and Bob DiVentura decided to put Obama’s lane — #21 — up for sale on eBay. Also included in the package: lane #22, the gutters, two pin setters, computer scoring system, the chairs sat on by Obama, Obama’s shoes, and Obama’s ball. DiVentura called it a “true collector’s item” and set the starting bid at $50,000. When the auction closed on Sunday though, there had been zero bids.

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