ThinkFast: February 20, 2009


Writing in Time, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) lays out “the case for a truth commission.” “People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments but to assemble the facts,” he writes. “If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecution in order to get to the whole truth.”

Health care reps — “from big insurance companies to lobbyists for consumers, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies” — are “inching toward a consensus.” They agree that “comprehensive health care legislation should include a requirement that every American carry insurance.” The various groups have been secretly meeting in a Senate room for months, with the blessing of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

“I’m excited because this president is taking urban America out of the desert it’s been in for eight years,” said Adolfo Carrion, Jr., the new head of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. Derek Douglas, formerly of the Center for American Progress, is headed to the new office as well.

For the budget he will present next week, President Obama “has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller.” The move away from budget gimmicks, one of which used to be not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will create “a budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear.”

Demand at food banks across the country increased by 30 percent in 2008 from the previous year,” according to a survey by Feeding America. Even food pantries in upscale communities are seeing an uptick in demand. “These are people who never really had to ask for help before,” said Brenda Beavers of the Salvation Army.

The number of U.S. workers drawing unemployment benefits “jumped to a record high of nearly 5 million,” the Labor Department reported yesterday. It’s the highest number since 1967 when the government began keeping such records.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said it’s time to “take a whack” at climate change and that “he plans to push for Senate action on global warming by the end of summer.” Reid said “the Senate will take up energy legislation in a couple of weeks ‘and then later this year, hopefully late this summer do the global warming part of it.'”

The IAEA has “found that Iran recently understated by a third how much uranium it has enriched” and it has enough low enriched uranium that — with added purification — is sufficient for one atom bomb. But the IAEA also found that Iran is “putting the brakes on key aspects” of its program, which is seen “as a conciliatory gesture in advance of any diplomatic overtures by the Obama administration.”

A classified Pentagon assessment has concluded that “there is a significant risk the U.S. military may not be able to respond quickly and fully to new crises” because of strain from “repeated war tours, persistent terrorist threats and instability around the globe.” This is the third year in a row that the risk level has been set at “significant.”

And finally: Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, Peter Orszag, had a rough first weekend of work. Finding a large marble fireplace stacked with wood in his office on a chilly January day, Orszag lit a cozy fire. “The only problem: The Secret Service had capped the building’s chimneys. Smoke alarms started going off upstairs, and the building was evacuated.” Orszag has suffered the mocking of the White House ever since. “Rahm [Emanuel] asked me to send smoke signals to the Hill,” Orszag told Politico’s Ben Smith.

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