ThinkFast: June 4, 2009

In a speech today at Cairo University in Egypt, President Obama pledged to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” Obama “was forceful and at times scolding as he promoted democracy in Egypt, sent a warning to Israelis against building new settlements, and acknowledged that the United States had fallen short of its ideals, particularly in the Iraq war.”

Israel accused Obama yesterday of “failing to acknowledge what they called clear understandings with the Bush administration that allowed Israel to build West Bank settlement housing within certain guidelines while still publicly claiming to honor a settlement ‘freeze.’” In 2003, Israel agreed to freeze “all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).”

Today, the Washington Post has an article about how progressive groups “are now ascendant, enjoying clout not seen in a generation and benefiting from close access to a White House brimming with former colleagues. Many of the groups spent the Bush years championing policies that had little chance of being adopted; now, their ideas and positions are at the center of the Washington debate.”

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday issued an ultimatum to her committee chairmen: move climate change legislation by June 19 or risk losing jurisdiction over the bill.” After the Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill last month, Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) balked, seeking to delay or significantly alter the bill.

A federal judge threw out more than three dozen lawsuits yesterday claiming that the nation’s major telecom companies had illegally assisted in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. The judge said that while the cases raised important constitutional issues, Congress had left no doubt about its “unequivocal intention” when it granted retroactive immunity to participants in the program.

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder “overturned a Bush administration ruling in January that immigrants do not have a constitutional right to effective legal counsel in deportation proceedings.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has issued an order for the House to “begin posting representatives’ expense reports online, giving the public easy access to records of the millions of dollars lawmakers spend on staff and items such as catering, cars, computers and TVs.” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said that “he would introduce a bill requiring the expense records be posted online in the Senate, as well.”

New Hampshire became the sixth state to approve marriage equality yesterday, when Gov. John Lynch (D) signed a bill allowing gay couples to wed. The law, which bars “lawsuits against religious groups and workers if they refuse to participate in gay weddings or celebrations that go against their faiths,” goes into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

Czech Interior Minister Martin Pecina, who chaired a meeting of the European Union’s interior ministers, said today that EU countries are likely to take “several dozen” former prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. “It’s hard to give numbers because that is up to member states, but I think several dozen people” could be admitted, said Pecina.

And finally: Disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich told a Chicago radio station earlier this week that he was “moved” when he saw his wife “eat a large, hairy spider on the premiere of NBC’s ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!’ He says she ate the unconventional snack because she loves her two young daughters.”

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