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ThinkFast: August 20, 2009

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"ThinkFast: August 20, 2009"

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Polls have opened in Afghanistan’s presidential election. The vote “has become a critical benchmark of the nation’s progress for the Afghan government and the Obama administration.” Despite the presence of 30,000 Afghan and international troops, the day was still punctuated by attacks and intimidation by the Taliban. According to a new poll, “a majority of Americans” do not believe the war is worth fighting.

In a comparison of OECD countries, Gallup found that “respondents in countries with universal coverage are somewhat more likely to express confidence in their national health systems and satisfaction with the availability of quality healthcare in their communities.” The United States had the second widest gap between satisfaction with availability of local care and confidence with the national system.

The Obama administration has secured commitments from nearly a dozen countries willing to accept detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The Washington Post reports that “four E.U. countries have privately told the administration that they are committed to resettling detainees, and five other E.U. nations are considering taking some.”

The federal budget picture will look slightly better next week,” as the White House is set to announce that the still-record-breaking deficit for fiscal year 2009 will be “about $262 billion less than officials predicted earlier this year.” The drop in projected deficit is mostly due to the administration’s erasure of “a $250 billion contingency fund it had penciled into the budget in case Wall Street needed more government help.”

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) sent a letter to Massachusetts lawmakers asking them to change state law to allow for faster temporary appointment of US senators. Kennedy also suggested in the letter that the person temporarily appointed to fill the seat should not run in a special election.

After meeting with North Korean diplomats, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson reported that North Korea believes it’s “owed” bilateral talks with the United States after releasing two detained American journalists this month. Senior Obama administration officials quickly rejected that notion yesterday.

President Obama has invited conservative radio host Michael Smerconish to broadcast his radio show at the White House today. Smerconish plans to use this afternoon’s show to air “pointed direct and substantive questions about health care” from listeners.

Obama will be rallying Organizing for America supporters around health care reform in a conference call at 2:30 p.m. ET today. Obama will “update supporters on what’s happening in D.C. and around the country, and he’ll lay out our strategy and message going forward.”

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) told The Associated Press that his affair was different from former President Bill Clinton’s relationship with a White House intern “because he didn’t lie about it under oath.” Ensign said that is why he voted to impeach Clinton. “I haven’t done anything legally wrong,” added Ensign.

Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi (R) and John Barrasso (R) pledged to fight cap-and-trade legislation. Enzi called it a “ponzi scheme,” while Barrasso said, “There’s nothing good about it. … I’m going to do everything to make sure it doesn’t pass.”

And finally: PBS host Gwen Ifill was featured as an “expert” Tuesday night on the TV show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” but unfortunately, she didn’t have the right answer. Contestant Jennifer used Ifill as an “Ask the Expert” lifeline on the question: “When Richard Nixon wrote his famous letter, ‘I hereby resign the Office of the President of the United States,’ he addressed it to whom?” “We have a question that she thinks is right down your alley and I do, too,” host Regis Philbin told Ifill. Ifill, however, guessed Tip O’Neill; the correct answer was Henry Kissinger. Ifill was reportedly mouthing “Sorry!” as Jennifer left the stage.

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