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

* The first full-scale assessment since President Obama’s shift in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan: “A review of President Obama’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan concludes that American forces can begin withdrawing on schedule in July, despite finding uneven signs of progress in the year since the president announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops, according to a summary made public Thursday.”

* At the White House today, the president defended the war’s progress, telling reporters, “We’re in a better position to give our forces in Afghanistan the support and the resources they need to complete their mission. We are making considerable gains toward our military objectives.”

* Some evidence of progress: “The stepped-up operations in Kandahar Province have left many in the Taliban demoralized, reluctant to fight and struggling to recruit, a Taliban commander said in an interview this week.”

* The House was set to pass the tax deal this afternoon. This morning, there was an unexpected setback: “A liberal uprising over House procedures on Thursday was delaying a final vote on a far-reaching tax compromise brokered by the White House and Republican leaders.”

* Brian Beutler has more on this: “House progressives are still prepared for President Obama’s tax cut compromise to pass unamended. But they temporarily derailed that train this afternoon to be heard publicly on just how bad they think the package is.”

* A pleasant surprise: “First-time claims for state unemployment benefits fell unexpectedly in the latest week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The number of initial claims in the week ending Dec. 11 fell 3,000 to 420,000.”

* This followed other encouraging reports on factory production and consumer spending.

* Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said today the Senate needs to ratify New START: “[W]e need it very badly.”

* Solar energy zones: “The Obama administration issued proposed guidelines Thursday for solar development on public lands in the West, a move that could speed renewable energy projects that have been mired in environmental controversy.”

* U.S. missile defense still doesn’t work.

* Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial administration believes “health reform is worth doing” and urged swift implementation of the Affordable Care Act, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s (R) hysterical crusade notwithstanding.

* I’m glad some television commercials will stop being so much louder than others.

* Speaking of television, I am thoroughly annoyed by the cancellation of “Stargate: Universe.”

* If the omnibus passes — a big “if” — it will be good news for the Pell Grant program.

* And apparently, right-wing, anti-gay activists want to reclaim rainbow flags for themselves. It’s a reminder that right-wing, anti-gay activists are some really strange folks.

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.