ThinkFast: February 23, 2011

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"ThinkFast: February 23, 2011"

Federal agencies are bracing for a government shutdown, preparing contingency plans to operate at reduced capacity should funding run out on March 4. Agencies would cease most operations, keeping on only employees engaged in military or law enforcement duties, or providing medical care.

To avoid a shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced Tuesday he will introduce “a clean Continuing Resolution” next week “to keep the federal government running for 30 days at current funding levels.” The bill will include $41 billion in budget cuts, setting up a showdown with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) who promised to oppose any funding measure without additional cuts.

Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi said yesterday that he would rather “die as a martyr” than relinquish the reins of power in the face of massive protests. While Qaddafi’s grip on the capital Tripoli has tightened, vowing to track down and kill demonstrators “house by house,” the eastern half of Libya “was slipping beyond his control.” A Guardian reporter in Libya says there is a “mass defection of the military here.”

Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Manama’s Pearl Square in Bahrain yesterday waved red-and-white Bahraini flags “in the largest demonstration since a Shiite-led campaign against the government began eight days ago.” “A ribbon of cheering protesters filled the eastbound lanes of an almost two-mile stretch of highway, streaming into the square to reiterate calls for changes.”

Home prices went down for the fifth straight month, indicating that real estate values are headed for a double dip decline. “My intuition rates the probability of another 15%, 20%, even 25% real home price decline as substantial,” said Yale University economics professor Robert Shiller. “That is not a forecast, but it is a substantial risk.”

Clashes over state budget problems have spread to Indiana and Ohio, where public workers and Democratic politicians battled proposed cuts to public employee unions. In Ohio, protesters gathered at the capitol to oppose a GOP bill that would restrict collective bargaining rights, and in Indiana, Democratic lawmakers left the state to avoid a vote on anti-union legislation.

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago yesterday with a 55 percent majority, realizing “his lifelong dream.” In a statement released after all other five candidates conceded, President Obama said “as a Chicagoan and a friend, I couldn’t be prouder.”

And finally: “Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has passed a unique anniversary” yesterday — five years without asking a single question during the court’s oral arguments. “The other eight justices ask on average 133 questions per hourlong session,” but Thomas has remained silent — the only Justice to have done so for so long in recent history.

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