ThinkFast: January 29, 2009

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"ThinkFast: January 29, 2009"

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The Iraqi government “will not allow Blackwater Worldwide to continue providing security protection for U.S. diplomats in the country, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Thursday, a move that would deprive U.S. officials of their primary protection force.”

New data from the Labor Department show that “the number of people receiving unemployment benefits has reached an all-time high.” For the week ending Jan. 17, the figure hit 4.78 million, the highest since the records began in 1967. The AP notes that the results “were worse than analysts expected.”

Unions across the U.S. grew by 428,000 members in 2008, the “largest amount in a quarter-century,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported yesterday. BLS said that “most of the new members were government employees and that the percentage of workers in unions rose to 12.4 percent of the overall work force last year, up from 12.1 percent in 2007.”

A report by the New York State comptroller revealed that Wall Street employees reaped an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year, “the sixth-largest haul on record.” Despite billions lost in revenue this year, “Wall Street workers still took home about as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high.”

The Senate is expected to approve SCHIP legislation today, “paving the way for President Obama to claim an early legislative victory.” The bill makes an additional 4 million eligible for discounted care but leaves Obama about 5 million children short of his promise to insure all kids.

“Officials of Barack Obama’s administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks,” according to the Guardian. The letter, addressed directly to the Iranian people, assures the Iranian government that the U.S. is not seeking to overthrow it but that merely a change in its behavior.

Defense officials say suicide among U.S. soldiers increased again last year, hitting a nearly three-decade high. The Army told the AP “that at least 128 soldiers killed themselves last year” and “the final count will likely be considerably higher.” Officials say “troops are under unprecedented stress because of repeated and long tours of duty due to the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Former vice president Al Gore urged lawmakers on Capitol Hill yesterday “to adopt a binding carbon cap and push for a new international climate pact by the end of this year in order to avert catastrophic global warming.” Gore noted “that even if the world halted greenhouse gas emissions now, the world could experience a temperature rise of 2.5 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.”

The U.S. Postal Service may be forced to cut a day of service due to “massive deficits,” the postmaster general told Congress yesterday, requesting that lawmakers lift the requirement that mail be delivered six days a week.

And finally: Jessica Alba schools Bill O’Reilly. The actress recently told a Fox reporter that O’Reilly was “kind of an a-hole.” He then “retaliated by calling her a ‘pinhead’ for telling a reporter to ‘be Sweden about it,’ assuming she meant Switzerland.” However, it seems that Alba’s history knowledge is better than O’Reilly’s. “Last week, Mr. Bill O’Reilly and some really classy sites (i.e.TMZ) insinuated I was dumb by claiming Sweden was a neutral country,” Alba blogged, adding, “[S]eriously people…it’s so sad to me that you think the only neutral country during WWII was Switzerland.”

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