ThinkFast: June 28, 2010

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Congress’ longest-serving member in history “best known for his ardent defense of both the U.S. Constitution his love of Senate history,” passed away this morning at age 92. He was a two-term majority leader, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, “author of an award-winning four-volume history of the Senate,” and president pro tem. Viewed as the “dean of the Senate,” Byrd “funneled dozens of projects and millions of federal dollars to his home state” and famously was one of the only voices in the chamber to speak out against the Iraq war. Read reactions to his death from fellow senators here.

West Virginia law gives Gov. Joe Manchin (D) the power to appoint Byrd’s replacement. But state law says an election must be called if a vacancy occurs more than 2.5 years before a term expires, a mark which would have been hit at the end of this week. The National Journal writes, however, that “a special election is unlikely.”

In his New York Times column, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman warns we are in the early stages of a “third depression.” “This third depression,” he writes, “will be primarily a failure of policy” as the world’s leading governments obsess “about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.”

A USA Today/Gallup poll finds a majority of Americans (53 percent) approve of Obama’s decision to replace Gen. McChrystal with Gen. Petraeus. A greater percentage — 58 percent — back the plan to start pulling out U.S. troops in July 2011.

“Top officials in President Hamid Karzai’s government have repeatedly derailed corruption investigations of politically connected Afghans,” according to American officials. “Above a certain level, people are being very well protected,” a senior U.S. official told the Washington Post. Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar denied that any investigations had been derailed.

Though he campaigned against “closed-door meetings” and “backroom deals,” some argue that they are exactly what Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) is engaging in during the final push on Wall Street reform. “After private talks” with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and top Democrats, “Brown scored a series of exemptions from the ‘Volcker rule'” that were sought by big Massachusetts banks and financial firms.

The Miami Herald profiles the “paradox” of GOP frontrunner Rick Scott’s campaign for Florida governor. The paper notes that “the novice candidate has touted his stature and experience as the get-things-done CEO of what was once the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare company, while also trying to distance himself from Columbia/HCA’s notorious legacy of fraud.”

CIA Director Leon Panetta said yesterday on ABC News’ This Week that “Iran has enough fissile material for two atomic bombs, and that it could develop nuclear weapons in two years if it wanted.” Though Iran “has continually said its nuclear program is for civilian, not military, use,” Panetta’s statements mark “the Obama administration’s starkest assessment to date of Tehran’s nuclear work.”

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren “denied Sunday that he had told Israeli diplomats a ‘tectonic rift’ was emerging between the United States and Israel.” His “incendiary words,” first reported in Haaretz, come just before Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with President Obama on July 6.

The “headline achievement” of the G-20 summit was an agreement by developed nations to “halve their annual deficits within three years.” Although the U.S. signed on to the plan, President Obama urged continued spending to support growth, stating, “[W]e must recognize that our fiscal health tomorrow will rest in no small measure on our ability to create jobs and growth today.”

And finally: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) doesn’t consider herself a hipster, but says her staff keeps her “informed” about the site “dedicated to proving she is.”

ThinkProgress is hiring! Details here.