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ThinkFast: March 6, 2009

The U.S. unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent in February, which is the worst it has been since December 1983. The rate was only expected to reach 7.9 percent. Employers cut 651,000 jobs in February, which is also worse than expected.

President Obama will travel to Columbus, OH today “to speak at the graduation ceremony for 25 police recruits who owe their jobs to the economic recovery bill he signed into law less than three weeks ago.” The recruits had been laid off in January due to city budget problems, but Mayor Michael Coleman announced last week that the city would get “$1.25 million in stimulus money to pay the officers’ salaries.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has expressed concerns to Rahm Emanuel about National Intelligence Council chairman appointee Chas Freeman’s positions on Israel. Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are demanding that the DNI inspector general look at Freeman’s work for a Chinese oil company.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced yesterday that Iran would be invited to a major conference on Afghanistan, setting up the prospect of the Obama administration’s first face-to-face meeting with representatives of the country. Clinton said she had proposed “a big-tent meeting, with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan.” “It is expected that Iran would be invited,” said Clinton.

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According to a leading polar expert, the Arctic is warming up so quickly that the region’s sea ice cover in summer could vanish as early as 2013.

Howard Kurtz reports that in the days since Limbaugh’s declared hope that Obama “fails” became the subject of debate in the mainstream press, Limbaugh’s ratings have “nearly doubled.” While Limbaugh claimed this week that the White House was “’targeting him’ in a manner reminiscent of Richard M. Nixon’s “enemies list,” it is important to remember that Limbaugh is the one who started this narrative.

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court “strongly indicated” that it would “rule that Proposition 8 validly abolished the right for gays to marry but would allow [the 18,000] same-sex couples who wed before the November election to remain legally married.”

Senior members of the Republican Party of Virginia “are asking Chairman Jeff Frederick to resign or face ouster at the party’s State Central Committee meeting next month.” Under Frederick’s leadership, “Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1964.”

The House voted 234 to 191 yesterday to approve the Helping Families Save their Homes Act (HR 1106). This so-called “cram down” legislation “would allow troubled homeowners to ask bankruptcy judges for relief from mortgage debts.” This new authority “could spur mortgage servicers to move aggressively to help borrowers, in order to avoid having modified loans forced on them by a judge.”

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“Two candidates for top jobs at the Treasury have withdrawn their names from consideration, complicating efforts by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to staff his department at a time of economic crisis.”

“The reality is that when it comes to dealing with the banks, the Obama administration is dithering. Policy is stuck in a holding pattern,” writes Paul Krugman, saying administration officials have “convinced themselves that troubled assets…are really worth much more than anyone is actually willing to pay for them.”

And finally: Capitol Hill went “gaga” over Brad Pitt yesterday. According to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, “Camera shutters clicked. Hundreds of House pages and interns stalked Pitt in the Capitol corridors before and after his tête-à-tête with Pelosi. Young women squealed. ‘I was 10 feet away from him! . . . Oh my God! . . . Did you see him?’” When Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) stumbled across the Pitt crowd, however, he simply “issued a giddy, ‘Gosh!’ and kept walking.”

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