ThinkFast: April 8, 2009

During his first trip to Iraq yesterday, President Obama “elicited cheers and thunderous applause from American troops” as he thanked them for their service and underscored his commitment to withdrawal by 2011. Many Iraqis also “spoke approvingly of Obama,” compared to President Bush’s final visit when he had a shoe thrown at him.

According to the IMF, “[t]oxic debts racked up by banks and insurers could spiral to $4 trillion,” up from the $2.2 trillion predicted by the organization in January. “The IMF’s new forecast…will come as a blow to governments that have already pumped billions into the banking system.”

Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday that Israel’s new government would be “ill-advised” to launch a military strike against Iran. Biden added, “I don’t believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that.” His comment “underscored a gap between the conservative new Israeli government and the Obama White House on a series of questions, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Iran.”

“A federal judge dismissed the ethics conviction of former Senator Ted Stevens” while also “taking the extraordinary step of naming a special prosecutor to investigate whether the government lawyers who ran the Stevens case should themselves be prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing.” Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said that he had “never seen mishandling and misconduct” like what he saw in the Stevens case.

A veteran patient named “Sgt. X” recorded a conversation with a V.A. psychologist last June who told him, “All the clinicians up here are being pressured to not diagnose PTSD.” Salon writes that the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to investigate the matter, and the Army “cleared itself of any wrongdoing” in its own internal investigation. Listen to the recorded conversation here.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said yesterday that the U.S. should invest in so-called “clean coal” technology. “It absolutely is worthwhile to invest in carbon capture and storage because we are not in a vacuum,” Chu said, adding that even if the U.S. and Europe move away from coal, “India and China will not.” “Quite frankly,” he said, “I doubt if the United States will turn its back on coal.”

“Members of Congress and advocates for the armed services pushed back” yesterday against Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to reform the Defense Department budget by cutting some traditional weapons systems while investing in others. Military analysts told the New York Times that the biggest lobbying campaigns will be aimed at stopping Gates’ deep cuts to F-22 and the Future Combat Systems.

“Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with ailing former Cuban President Fidel Castro on Tuesday,” marking the first time that “Castro has met with any American officials since he fell ill and had intestinal surgery in 2006.” The lawmakers are interested in relaxing travel and trade restrictions between Cuba and the U.S.

Al Franken (D) “extended his lead over former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in the ongoing Minnesota Senate recount on Tuesday,” increasing his winning margin to 312 votes. “There are still legal issues to be resolved in recount court, but Coleman can no longer gain enough votes to overtake Franken.” Yesterday, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called on Coleman to concede.

And finally: Was that First Lady Michelle Obama on F Street in D.C. yesterday? No, it turns out that it was just the unveiling of her wax likeness at Madame Tussauds. Nevertheless, there was a block-long line outside the museum of people itching to glance the new statue. The wax Michelle Obama is dressed in a “custom-designed red sleeveless dress and black cardigan” and “stands in the museum’s replica Oval Office.” One visitor said that the figure was “[e]xactly like her” because it captured her “essence.”

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