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ThinkFast: January 23, 2009

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"ThinkFast: January 23, 2009"

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Today, New York Gov. David Paterson (D) will reportedly announce that he has chosen Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) to fill Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat. A congresswoman from upstate New York, Gillibrand “is known for bold political moves and centrist policy positions.”

Yesterday, the Senate voted 61-36 — with all 16 female senators voting “yea” — to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for workers to fight pay discrimination. The House also passed the bill earlier this month, and it now heads to President Obama as his first piece of legislation to sign.

President Obama nominated David Kris, a former critic of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, to lead the Justice Department’s national security division. In late 2005, “Mr. Kris wrote a 23-page legal analysis that described as ‘weak’ and likely unsupportable some of the Bush administration’s key legal arguments in justifying the program.”

Former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain spent at least $1.2 million redecorating his office, $800,000 of which was used to hire famed celebrity designer Michael Smith. Last year, the Wall Street bank received federal bailout funds.

“Troubled financial institutions and the Detroit auto makers continue to spend heavily on lobbying Congress while accepting billions of dollars in U.S. government money.” However, overall spending on lobbying by auto makers fell 13 percent in 2007.

Responding to a report that a former Guantanamo Bay detainee has become an al Qaeda leader in Yemen, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said today that the revelation “should not slow the Obama administration’s determination to quickly close the facility.” Harman cautioned, however, that Obama has to “proceed extremely carefully” in closing the prison.

The biotech company Geron will announce today that the FDA has approved “the world’s first test in people of a therapy derived from human embryonic stem cells. The trial, which an advocate called “an extraordinary benchmark,” will involve injecting stem cells into 8 to 10 people with severe spinal cord injuries.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) was named as the new ranking Republican on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. “I plan on going after things hard,” Coburn said. The WSJ reports, however, that President Obama has “identified the Oklahoma Republican as a conservative he can work with, which says much about the president’s style and strategy.”

President Obama “will issue an order restoring U.S. funding for international family-planning groups involved with abortion.” However, Obama broke with tradition set by recent predecessors to make an abortion-related order on the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling of Roe vs. Wade.

A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey finds that the “death rates of trees in Western U.S. forests have doubled over the past two to three decades” and that “higher temperatures and water scarcity linked to climate change” are to blame.

And finally: Victims of the Purple Tunnel of Doom are banding together and demanding justice. On inauguration day, thousands of people with purple tickets were trapped in a traffic tunnel and eventually shut out of the ceremony. More than 4,000 unhappy ticket-holders have joined the “Purple Tunnel of Doom” Facebook group, while others have uploaded videos of their experiences onto YouTube. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, is now looking for ways to make it up to these shut-out ticket-holders.

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