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ThinkFast: February 13, 2009

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"ThinkFast: February 13, 2009"

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Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told Congress yesterday that America’s “primary near-term security concern” is no longer terrorism, but rather the global financial crisis and the turmoil it could ignite. “The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he said.

Politico reports that “House Republicans are banding together once again and leaders now expect to lose at most 8 members on the final stimulus bill, after losing 0 the first time. Just two days ago, leaders had feared 20 or more defections.”

The compromise stimulus bill is too small, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com. “At $789 billion, the final package ‘is just not going to pack the same jobs punch’ as some earlier versions.” Zandi estimates the compromise will create only about 2.2 million jobs by the end of 2010, “leaving unemployment hovering around 10 percent” and possibly leading lawmakers to undertake another stimulus.

A record 1 in 9 U.S. homes are vacant, a glut created by the housing boom and subsequent collapse,” USA Today reports. “The numbers are further documentation of the gravity of the housing problem,” says Nicolas Retsinas, head of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. “This inventory is delaying any kind of housing recovery.”

The National Journal writes that two key Washington, D.C. think tanks are trading places. “The Center for American Progress is in ascendancy,” while the American Enterprise Institute — the home of neoconservatism — finds itself in the political wilderness. CAP has “become an unusual hybrid of scholarship and activism — and a political juggernaut.”

Economists and financial experts say that some of the nation’s large banks are “like dead men walking” due to insolvency. “A sober assessment of the growing mountain of losses from bad bets, measured in today’s marketplace, would overwhelm the value of the banks’ assets,” according to the experts.

Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, the U.S. commander overseeing most of southern Iraq, said yesterday that “recent security gains there are permanent — and that some of his troops are openly wondering why they’re still there, even though he believes their presence remains crucial.” The region is seeing two attacks per day on U.S. soldiers, “a 90% reduction compared with the worst periods” of the war.

95 percent of American international relations scholars believe that the U.S. is “less respected abroad compared to the past,” according to a new survey by the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations. Additionally, 70 percent of scholars support U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and 57 percent believe that redeploying from Iraq to Afghanistan will “increase U.S. national security.”

The Senate confirmed Leon Panetta as the Director of CIA last night in a voice vote. Last week, Panetta told the Senate that “the Obama administration would not prosecute CIA officers who participated in harsh interrogations even if they constituted torture as long as they did not go beyond their instructions.”

And finally: The tiny endangered salt marsh harvest mouse has unfortunately been getting a bad rap over the past few days, becoming a symbol of wasteful pork-barrel spending. Conservatives have been blasting the economic recovery package, claiming that it contains $30 million to fund a project saving the little critter. But as the Mercury News reports, this right-wing claim — like so many others — isn’t true. The $30 million isn’t in the bill; it’s “the total amount that the California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency, recommended more than a month ago” for five major ongoing wetlands restoration projects that would benefit various endangered species including…the mouse.

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