THURSDAY’S MINI-REPORT…. Today’s edition of quick hits:

* Just a reminder, the Monthly‘s annual pledge drive is underway. We sincerely appreciate those of you who’ve already shown generous support, and hope other readers will take a moment to help out.

* After an unexpectedly good week last week on Americans filing for their first week of unemployment benefits, this week’s numbers went up 26,000 to 436,000, a little worse than expected.

* On the other hand, November retail sales “blew by analyst estimates, posting one of the biggest increases in three years…. Sales at stores open at least a year — a crucial indicator known as same-store sales — rose an average of 6 percent, according to Thomson Reuters, well above the 2.6 percent that analysts had expected. That was the biggest increase since 2007 except for a 9.2 percent rise in March of this year.”

* A child nutrition bill championed by First Lady Michelle Obama won House approval today, and is on its way to the White House for the president’s signature.

* Five former Republican Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed today, urging Senate Republicans to do the right thing and ratify New START. Note, the retired officials agree that President Obama has already provided “reasonable answers” to skeptics’ questions.

* As I type, the House is considering whether to pass a censure resolution condemning Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) for his ethics transgressions.

* Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) gets away with it: “Justice Department prosecutors have cleared Senator John Ensign of criminal allegations arising from his affair with a former campaign aide and his efforts to secure lobbying work for the woman’s husband, the senator’s lawyers announced Wednesday.”

* When I describe Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) as a racist, I mean it.

* Undermining the Truth in Lending Act really isn’t a good idea.

* In case recent developments on the Hill haven’t depressed you quite enough, funding for embryonic stem cell research is also in trouble.

* Juan Williams thinks unemployment benefits hurts those without jobs. Remember, Fox News considers him a liberal.

* On this, David Brooks is absolutely right: “[M]y problem with the Republican Party right now, including Paul, is that if you offered them 80-20, they say no. If you offered them 90-10, they’d say no. If you offered them 99-1, they’d say no. And that’s because we’ve substituted governance for brokerism, for rigidity that Ronald Reagan didn’t have. And to me, this rigidity comes from this polarizing world view that ‘they’re a bunch of socialists over there.’”

* The far-right continues to lash out at public employees. AFSCME has a very compelling response to the criticism.

* How odd: “Maryland actually has the only collegiate-level competitive eating group in the United States.”

* It’s possible that Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) doesn’t know what “empirical” means.

* This looks like a fairly significant breakthrough: “NASA’s secret is finally out: Researchers say they’ve forced microbes from a gnarly California lake to become arsenic-gobbling aliens. It may not be as thrilling as discovering life on Titan, but the claim is so radical that some chemists aren’t yet ready to believe it. If the claim holds up, it would lend weight to the idea that life as we know it isn’t the only way life could develop.”

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.