ThinkFast: March 1, 2010

Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law.” More than 1,500 “major pollution investigations” have been discontinued in the last four years, according to Environmental Protection Agency investigators, and pollution rates have risen.

Top White House aides say that as part of his new nuclear strategy for the U.S., President Obama “will permanently reduce America’s arsenal by thousands of weapons.” Obama’s “new strategy — which would annul or reverse several initiatives by the Bush administration — will be contained in a nearly completed document called the Nuclear Posture Review.”

According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, a “record number of U.S. households are applying for help to pay home heating bills with 17 states fielding application requests that are up more than 20% from last year.” Nearly “9 million U.S. households are expected to need help paying winter energy bills. That’s up 15% from the record-setting 7.7 million last year.”

“Despite revelations in a congressional investigation of a subsidiary’s mismanagement and questionable vetting of employees, the company formerly known as Blackwater could soon win millions of dollars in new job orders for work in Afghanistan.” A Pentagon official says that a subsidiary of the company “is eligible to win Department of Defense work worth tens of millions of dollars to train Afghan police.”

Three aftershocks struck Chile today and officials said the death toll had reached 711 since yesterday’s massive earthquake. Soldiers will begin patrolling the streets as rescue efforts continue alongside “isolated outbreaks of looting.” President Michelle Bachelet called it “an emergency unparalleled in the history of Chile.”

Nancy DeParle, the director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said yesterday that she thinks Democrats will have enough votes to finish health care reform with a “simple up-or-down vote” through the reconciliation process in the Senate. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that for the process to work “the House must pass the Senate bill before fixes to both bills can be approved.”

Ahmed Chalabi is back. The darling of neoconservatives in the lead-up to the Iraq war, Chalabi is “driving an effort aimed at weeding out candidates tied to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party” — a role he also played after the U.S. invasion in 2003. Chalabi’s “de-Baathification” panel recently disqualified nearly 500 candidates for the March 7 elections, many of whom were “rivals of Chalabi’s bloc.”

A new 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll finds that 67 percent of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling loosening restrictions on corporate spending in campaigns. Only 16 percent of Americans agree with the ruling.

A USA Today analysis has found that more than “half of the panel members appointed to review the Pentagon’s latest four-year strategy blueprint have financial ties to defense contractors with a stake in the planning process.” “The Pentagon often talks about its cooperation with industry, but this makes you wonder who’s wearing the pants in this relationship,” said Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight.

And finally: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has an important new mission: helping Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL) get U.S. gefilte fish to Israel in time for Passover, even though the country has “imposed a 120% duty on imported gefilte, drying up the market.” As a Plan B, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) said that they could “eat them at the next state dinner.”

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