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ThinkFast: September 23, 2009

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"ThinkFast: September 23, 2009"

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President Obama “is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase in Afghanistan,” including a plan advocated by Vice President Biden “to scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda.” Despite launching a new strategy in March, the review comes amid deteriorating conditions, the recent disputed elections, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s dire report.

The Obama administration is set to announce a new policy “making it much more difficult for the government to claim that it is protecting state secrets when it hides details of sensitive national security strategies.” Agencies must now convince the Justice Department “that the release of sensitive information would present significant harm to ‘national defense or foreign relations.’”

At the UN today, President Obama “plans to deliver a stern speech to the leaders of the world’s nations,” challenging them “to live up to their responsibilities even as he acknowledges that the United States has also fallen short on many fronts.” “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone,” Obama will say.

Sarah Palin made her Asian debut with a speech in Hong Kong, in which she spoke as “someone from Main Street U.S.A.” At the event, which was closed to the press, Palin blamed the government for the current financial crisis. “We got into this mess because of government interference in the first place,” she said, adding, “We’re not interested in government fixes, we’re interested in freedom.”

The Seattle Times reports that there will be only one reporter allowed at the “Welcome Home Glenn Beck” event in Mount Vernon, Washington. The Fox News host is attending the sold-out event to raise money for Mount Vernon’s historic Lincoln Theater and will also receive the key to the city from the mayor of Mount Vernon.

The House voted 331-83 yesterday to extend unemployment benefits “in hard-hit states through the end of the year.” Approximately 314,000 people were set to exhaust their benefits this month. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised that the Senate will take up the legislation “very, very quickly.”

The Massachusetts Senate voted approved a bill yesterday that will allow Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to “appoint an interim successor to Edward M. Kennedy, paving the way for the appointment of a new US senator as early as tomorrow.” The House approved a similar measure five days earlier and “both chambers are planning to give a final procedural endorsement to the measure and to send it to the governor’s desk today.”

Former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez (R), who quit his job with a year remaining in his term, has landed at a major international law firm. DLA Piper announced that it hired Martinez “to advise clients on a range of issues.” The former senator will be banned from lobbying for two years per congressional rules.

The Washington Times reports that conservative and business groups are “launching fresh challenges aimed at derailing President Obama’s nominees.” Emboldened by the ouster of green jobs adviser Van Jones, Obama’s opponents are now targeting David Michaels, the president’s pick to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

And finally: Who’s the chattiest member of Congress? That would be Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), who spoke 257,274 words last session. According to a new website, Congress Speaks, California was the most loquacious state, and some of the most common words were “California,” “country,” and “Iraq.”

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