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ThinkFast: November 19, 2007

“Americans are reading less and their reading proficiency is declining at troubling rates,” says a new report by the National Endowment for the Arts. The trend could have “a profound negative effect on the nation’s economic and civic future,” the report warns.

“Senate Democrats appear ready to omit Iraq withdrawal timelines from a supplemental spending bill in hopes of clearing in December funds for the troops — but House leaders have no intentions of following suit.” Two powerful voices in the Senate — Carl Levin and Daniel Inouye — both suggested Democrats would strip withdrawal language in December.

Speaking to the National Bank of Kuwait yesterday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that “Iran is far from acquiring a nuclear weapon” and that he believes it is “unlikely” that the U.S. will strike the Islamic Republic militarily.

Former president Bill Clinton’s “eco-friendly” presidential library’s roof is now “going green.” “Over the past two weeks, workers have been hoisting 90 species of plants and more than four truckloads of soil atop” the library to “provide insulation and capture rainwater that otherwise would just be wasted as runoff.”

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“The number of economists forecasting the U.S. will slip into recession almost doubled over the last two months, according to a survey by the National Association for Business Economics.”

The U.S. dollar has fallen to historic lows against both the euro and the yen as worries about the strength of the U.S. economy continue. The drop has been precipitated by the U.S. credit crisis, which has caused foreign investors to “pull some of their investments out of U.S. markets and put them in other countries.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made his fourth trip to Iran in two years today, “as the two countries sought to strengthen ties while their leaders exhort the international community to resist U.S. policies.” Chavez said the dollar was in free-fall and that its ‘empire’ must end, and proposed trading oil in a basket of currencies excluding the dollar.

Three members of Iraq’s national soccer team have left the country and are seeking asylum in Australia. When the team won the prestigious Asian Cup in July, their victory was hailed as an “inspirational triumph for a team whose players straddle bitter and violent ethnic divides.”

And finally: Last week during House debate on home-lending legislation, Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) tried to “knock down the idea that risky mortgages are ‘innovative’ financial products.” To illustrate his point, he offered up a metaphor: “Mr. Chairman, this necktie is an innovation. … Ten years ago, you could not buy a silk necktie that was stain-resistant. And for those folks like me who tend to miss their mouth from time to time, the cost in new neckties in any given year was hundreds of dollars.”

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