ThinkFast: August 31, 2009

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"ThinkFast: August 31, 2009"

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Labor Department records show that “more than $3.1 billion in stimulus money for state unemployment insurance programs is sitting in a federal trust fund because 23 states haven’t expanded their jobless benefits.” Eleven states have declined to change their systems to qualify “for about $1.7 billion in stimulus funding.” Roughly 350,000 Americans won’t receive benefits because of inaction.

On CNN yesterday, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said that she “would tend not to” support a health care reform bill with a public insurance option. She also said “it would be very difficult” for her to support a bill that allowed taxpayer-funded abortions, though she acknowledged that “general insurance policies now – subsidized through the government by the tax code – allow women to make those choices right now.”

In an interview with ABC, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge asserted that, though he was worried that politics may have been influencing the raising of terror alert levels, he did not believe that it happened. He added that he agrees with former Vice President Dick Cheney that there should be no investigation into possible criminal conduct by the CIA, saying that it would be “criminal” to do so.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said he pushed for a military strike against Iran in the waning days of the Bush administration. “I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues,” Cheney told Fox News Sunday.

Wall Street banks are fighting to protect one of their “richest fiefdoms, the $592 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market.” The five biggest banks stand to make more than $35 billion this year trading unregulated derivatives contracts. “At stake is how much of that business they and other dealers will be able to keep.”

A New York Times analysis has found that nearly a year after the bailout of the nation’s biggest banks, “taxpayers have begun seeing profits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that many critics thought might never be seen again.” However, the government still faces huge losses from bailing out AIG, General Motors, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

Few federal officials have reported their contacts with lobbyists trying to influence how the government spends funds from the $787 billion Recovery Act, as President Obama had ordered. Since February, federal agencies have disclosed 197 contacts, but only 8 have been reported in August. The Pentagon has reported one such contact, while the Department of Homeland Security has reported none.

A new CBO report says that Medicare beneficiaries “would save money” on prescription drugs “as a result of health legislation moving through the House.” Though beneficiaries “would often have to pay higher premiums for prescription drug coverage,” their “spending on prescription drugs apart from those premiums would fall, on average, as would their overall prescription drug spending.”

The Obama administration has put together a “list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The results will be presented to Congress by Sept. 24 after “lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding.”

And finally: Former Bush adviser Karl Rove went back to Utah for his 40th high school reunion this weekend. “The girls look awfully good,” he told the local Fox affiliate TV station. When asked to describe “the teenage Karl Rove,” he replied, “Nerd. … Completely. Pocket protector, briefcase, hush puppies when they weren’t cool, about 5’10,” high squeaky voice. Weird.”

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