ThinkFast: December 17, 2008

Time Magazine named Barack Obama its Person of the Year today “for having the confidence to sketch that kind of future in this gloomy hour and for showing the competence that makes Americans hopeful that he will pull it off.”

As part of “an elaborate operation devised to smooth the first transition of power” since 9/11, The White House “has prepared more than a dozen contingency plans to help guide President-elect Barack Obama if an international crisis erupts in the opening days of his administration.” The memos imagine terror strikes, cyberattacks, nuclear explosions and “outline options for Mr. Obama to consider.”

Obama will hold a press conference later this morning to announce former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Ken Salazar as the next Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior. Vilsack “will lead a sprawling federal bureaucracy charged with overseeing farm subsidies, land conservation, food safety and hunger programs.” Both environmentalists and food industry leaders reacted positively to his selection, but some food activists are raising concerns.

HUD Secretary Steven Preston tells the Washington Post that “the centerpiece of the federal government’s effort to help struggling homeowners has been a failure”. Though “the three-year program was supposed to help 400,000 borrowers avoid foreclosure,” Preston says “it has attracted only 312 applications since its October launch because it is too expensive and onerous for lenders and borrowers alike.”

In a speech earlier this year, incoming Energy Secretary Steven Chu bluntly stated, “Coal is my worst nightmare.” Chu said he isn’t “sold on the idea that technology to capture greenhouse emissions and pump them underground will save the coal industry.”NASA declared yesterday that the year 2008 was the ninth warmest year since 1880 and that “all of the nine warmest years have occurred in the past 11 years.” Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Joe Romm notes that the World Meteorological Organization also reported yesterday that the global mean temperature for 2008 makes it the tenth warmest year since 1850.

The House Progressive caucus — the largest “organized faction in the Democratic Caucus” — is pushing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to embrace a “$1 trillion, two-year stimulus package aimed at low- and middle-income Americans.” Pelosi’s spokesperson said the idea would be “considered.”

According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans “say that they have been hurt by the downturn” in the economy “and that the country has slipped into long-term economic decline.” The poll “also found that a rapidly increasing share of Americans — 66 percent, up from just over half a year ago — are worried about maintaining their standard of living.”

The House Oversight Committee has released a report showing that “hundreds of Clean Water Act violations have not been pursued with enforcement actions.” “Our investigation reveals that the clean water program has been decimated as hundreds of enforcement cases have been dropped, downgraded, delayed, or never brought in the first place,” Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) noted.

And finally: On Monday, the Bush administration held its final Hanukkah party. The event, which reportedly “wasn’t quite as wild as last week’s Christmas party for members of Congress,” did feature “dancing until 9 p.m. in the White House foyer (by men only).” The Washington Post’s Mary Ann Akers reports that the highlight was an appearance by former Bushie Karl Rove who “worked the crowd and held court in the East Room next to the all-kosher buffet.” Other attendees were Attorney General Michael Mukasey, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT).