ThinkFast: January 21, 2010

Robert Gates in Pakistan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Islamabad this morning on an “unannounced trip designed to prod Pakistan to expand an ongoing offensive against the country’s militants and to reassure the country about U.S. aims in the region.” “We are in this for the long haul and intend to be a partner,” Gates said.

President Obama suggested yesterday that Congress should be open to “passing a scaled-back health-care bill,” signaling that he is rolling back his intentions for a wider overhaul of the health care system. “I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements in the package that people agree on,” the president told ABC News.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has cleared the way for the return of two Muslim scholars, Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University and Adam Habib of the University of Johannesburg, to the United States. The Bush administration accused the men, who are frequently invited to the U.S. to lecture, of having ties to terrorism and banned them from the country after they criticized U.S. foreign policy.

President Obama will publicly propose today “giving bank regulators the power to limit the size of the nation’s largest banks and the scope of their risk-taking activities,” an idea “championed by Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and an adviser to the Obama administration. The proposal would prohibit commercial banks from proprietary trading for their own accounts.

Iran has told the International Atomic Energy Agency it does not accept the terms of a deal to ease concerns about its nuclear program,” the BBC reports. Diplomats say the Iranians “appear to have rejected one of the main conditions – that all the uranium leaves Iran well before any fuel is dispatched.” The State Department called Iran’s response “inadequate.”

A new Gallup poll finds that “[m]ore than 4 in 10 Americans (43%) admit to feeling at least ‘a little’ prejudice toward Muslims — more than twice the number who say the same about Christians (18%), Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%).” A Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll from September found that Muslims were “thought to suffer more discrimination than any other U.S. religious group, by a wide margin.”

The House unanimously approved a measure yesterday to “allow taxpayers to deduct cash donations to Haiti earthquake relief on their 2009 tax returns instead of having to wait to file the claims next year.” “The bill also allows contributions made through text messages to be deducted if cell phone bills are provided as proof of donation.” An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate.

Eight of the nation’s largest banks spent nearly $26 million lobbying federal lawmakers” this year, making them a powerful force on the Hill during the financial crisis. The lobbying total marks a 6 percent rise from 2008.

The recession hit this year’s college freshmen hard, affecting how they chose a school as well as their ability to pay for it,” according to a new survey. Around 55 percent of students had “some” concern about how to pay for college, the highest level since 1971; the percentage of students using loans was also up.

And finally: In Touch Weekly gambled on Sarah Palin, paying the former Alaska governor $100,000 for a cover story on her and her daughter Bristol. The magazine, however, sold only 500,000 copies on newsstands, “about half the number it sold a few weeks ago with the late Brittany Murphy on the cover. … In Touch will return to Hollywood this week with Angelina Jolie on the front page.”

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