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ThinkFast: May 18, 2006

New Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi acknowledged the true impact of the Iraq war: “We consider the war and occupation in Iraq a grave error that hasn’t solved — but has complicated — the problem of security. “¦ Terrorism has found a new base and new excuses for internal and external terrorist action.”

James Tobin, a senior official in President Bush’s re-election campaign, was sentenced to 10 months in prison yesterday for his role in suppressing votes in a key U.S. Senate race. The scandal may involve the White House. U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe said, “It was a direct assault on a free and fair electoral system. We’ll never know if the wrong people are sitting in government because of this effort.”

Fighting intensifies in Afghanistan: “Heavy fighting involving several hundred Taliban fighters and Afghan and coalition forces in southern Afghanistan killed about a dozen police, a Canadian soldier and more than 30 militants.”

After 16 months of inaction, the House ethics committee will begin bribery investigations into Reps. Bob Ney (R-OH) and William Jefferson (D-LA). Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) will escape scrutiny from the committee because he will be leaving Congress next month, breaking Chairman Doc Hasting’s (R-WA) Apr. 2005 pledge to investigate the former House Majority Leader.

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The Senate yesterday passed immigration amendments that would “build 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border” and would require all native-born and immigrants workers to “submit their names to two huge federal databases to verify their legal status before taking any new job.”

President Bush is preparing to “turn to a familiar administration partner” to help secure the U.S. border with Mexico — giant military contractors. The winning contractor will secure an estimated $2 billion over the next three to six years to build a “virtual fence.”

Fed Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has said, “[T]he risks to inflation are perhaps the most significant at the moment.” Consumer prices rose by 0.6 percent in April, fueling concerns the Fed might keep pushing interest rates up to fend off inflation. Higher prices are cutting into consumers’ purchasing power and dampening the outlook for economic growth.

Americans digging out from under more debt: “Soaring housing prices and aggressive mortgage lending have saddled home buyers with ever greater levels of debt, and early signs are now emerging that more people are unable to keep up with their monthly mortgage payments.”

The talk of a 30,000 troop drawdown really was a headfake. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld “said he cannot guarantee that there will be substantial withdrawals of U.S. troops from Iraq this year.” While Rumsfeld hopes for a drawdown, he “can’t promise it.”

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And finally: in Pennsylvania, the “nifty write-in feature on the new electronic voting machines attracted something different in Tuesday’s election: profanity.” Luzerne County Election Bureau Director Leonard Piazza was offended most by “a pair of ‘c’ words which appeared several times.” The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader reports that such profanity was “rare on the lever machines. Voters who wanted to be naughty generally stuck to storybook and cartoon characters.”

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.