ThinkFast: October 9, 2009

Matthew Shepard

The House voted yesterday “to expand the definition of violent federal hate crimes to those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation, a step that would extend new protection to lesbian, gay and transgender people.” Although the military bill that has the provision attached to it has yet to be approved by the Senate, it has solid support.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s troop increase request for Afghanistan that was recently sent to President Obama contains three different options, “with the largest alternative including a request for more than 60,000 troops.” However, an additional 40,000 soldiers “remains the primary choice of senior military brass, including Gen. McChrystal.”

The Obama administration has “concluded that the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement, regardless of how many combat forces are sent into battle.” Instead, U.S. efforts will aim to “weaken the Taliban to the degree that it cannot challenge the Afghan government or reestablish the haven it provided for al-Qaeda before the 2001 U.S. invasion.”

Congress is moving to require videotaping of interrogations of detainees held by the military, a step proponents say will prevent abuse and create a valuable intelligence record.” The provision, which passed the House yesterday, “would apply to interrogations of anyone held at a Defense Department facility,” but “would not apply to battlefield interrogations by troops engaged in combat.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved legislation that would reauthorize three sections of the Patriot Act. One senator who voted against the legislation, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), said it was the job of the Judiciary Committee to find the right “balance” between civil liberties and national security.

The House Ethics Committee voted unanimously yesterday to “expand the investigation into Rep. Charles Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) alleged financial irregularities. The panel broadened the jurisdiction of its probe to include amendments he made in August to his financial disclosure records showing at least $600,000 in previously unreported assets.”

According to the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Senate HELP Committee’s health care bill would charge Americans aged
55 to 64 fifty percent less
for health insurance compared to the Senate Finance Committee’s bill. The HELP Committee’s bill would charge those older Americans $5,930 on average compared to $8,650 under legislation in the Finance Committee.

The Congressional Oversight Panel, a watchdog set up to oversee the taxpayer bailout, has said that the Obama administration’s efforts to force the modifications of distressed mortgages under the Home Affordable Modification Program, “while laudable, is likely to fall far short because the foreclosure crisis has grown and threatens to dwarf government efforts to relieve it.”

The Department of the Interior has blocked oil drilling at 60 of 77 contested sites in Utah, claiming that the leasing of the land was rushed and badly handled. Eight of the requested sites will be withdrawn, and 52 of them will be further studied by the Department.

And finally: Royal Barber, a candidate for Sylvania Township trustee in Ohio, is attracting attention for his election-themed Halloween decorations: He has painted the names of his rivals on tombstones in his front yard. “I thought I’d do something different, something funny this year,” said Barber. One rival, Kevin Eff, found it “just distasteful,” and asked Barber to remove his name. Barber complied, “replacing it with an asterisk” as “an allusion to cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s convention of using an asterisk to represent both Presidents Bush in his Doonesbury comic strip.”

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