ThinkFast: May 11, 2009

As President Obama prepares to address the Muslim world in a speech in Egypt next month, a new McClatchy/Ipsos poll of six Arab nations has “found that residents think that Obama will have a positive impact on the Middle East” and that more than half in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have a favorable view of him.

U.S. reporter Roxana Saberi will be released from prison “after an Iranian court reduced her prison term for spying to a two-year suspended sentence.” Last month, Saberi received an eight-year jail term on spying charges.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai called on the U.S. to halt air strikes in his country, after attacks that killed as many as 147 people. “We demand an end to these operations … an end to air strikes,” Karzai told CNN. Yesterday, National Security Adviser Jim Jones said it would be “imprudent” to end the air strikes.

Christine Varney, head of the DOJ’s antitrust division, will give a speech today at the Center for American Progress announcing “plans to restore an aggressive enforcement policy against corporations that use their market dominance to elbow out competitors.” The new policy would “reverse the Bush administration’s approach, which strongly favored defendants against antitrust claims.”


Doctors, hospitals, drug makers and insurance companies will join President Obama today “in announcing their commitment to a sharp reduction in the growth of national health spending” that could “save $2,500 a year for a family of four in the fifth year and a total of $2 trillion for the nation over 10 years.” Relatedly, in a new CAPAF report, David M. Cutler shows how “health system modernization could increase productivity growth in health care by 1.5 to 2.0 percentage points annually.”

The anti-health reform group Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, which is funded by disgraced Columbia/HCA Healthcare CEO Richard Scott, has “spent about $600,000 a month on ads in March and April but is ratcheting up its buy for May to more than $1 million.” Scott has recently been “meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and addressing conservative groups in Washington.”

China now uses more coal than the U.S., Europe, and Japan combined, “making it the world’s largest emitter of gases that are warming the planet.” However, China “has emerged in the past two years as the world’s leading builder of more efficient, less polluting coal power plants, mastering the technology and driving down the cost.” While the U.S. debates building such plants, China builds them at a rate of one per month.

“We’re doing what the Japanese did in the nineties,” economist Paul Krugman told reporters in Beijing. “It’s clear the administration won’t take radical action to strengthen the banks any time soon,” he said, referring to the administration’s refusal to temporarily nationalize Citigroup and Bank of America. “A second stimulus is becoming clearly urgent. They need a very, very strong stimulus.”

Christina Romer, chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said yesterday that though she expected the economy to begin growing in the fourth quarter, it is “unfortunately pretty realistic” that the unemployment rate could reach 9.5 percent, rising even after the economy starts to recover.


And finally: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was the target of some of President Obama’s jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday, but he didn’t take any offense. “It was good love between two brothers!” Steele said. He then “noted with a smile,” “This worm will turn. My time will come. Trust me.”

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