You need to know this. The United States economy out-performed expectations – adding 243,000 jobs in January to lower the unemployment rate down to 8.3%. It’s the 23rd straight month of private sector job creation – yet once again 14,000 government jobs were lost last month thanks to Republican Governors slashing budgets. At 8.3% – the unemployment rate is at its lowest since February 2009 – the first full month of the Obama Presidency. Of course with each new downtick in unemployment – the Republicans’ chance to win the White House plummets. But don't worry – Boehner, Cantor, and McConnell have new plans to crash the economy.
Our democracy is screwed. It’s been long speculated that Republican state lawmakers are taking their orders from the shadowy right-wing think tank funded by the Koch Brothers and known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – and now there’s proof. It was discovered in Florida – when Republican State Representative Rachel Burgin introduced legislation in the state House back in November that – oops – still included ALEC’s mission statement at the top of the bill, reading: “Whereas it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance Jeffersonian principles…” ALEC gathers lawmakers and corporate interests together to draft model legislation, which is then sent back to state legislatures to be passed. But usually, the lawmakers remember to strip out the ALEC branding from it. Everything from stricter drug laws that help the private prison industry – to anti-EPA laws that help the big oil industry – to voter ID laws that help the Republican Party are produced by ALEC. It’s become increasingly clear what’s going on: we elect representatives – and they represent corporations. That’s how ALEC is turning our democracy into a corporatocracy.
In the best of the rest of the news…
On Thursday – in a 96-3 vote – the Senate passed legislation that prohibits Members of Congress from trading stock based on insider information they might learn in committee hearings and other congressional work. The STOCK Act gives authority to the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to investigate Members of Congress for stock deals based on information that’s not public. House Minority Leader Eric Cantor promised the House would take up similar legislation next week. At least once this law is passed – Members of Congress can’t act like banksters themselves – though they can still be bought and paid for by banksters. But even at that, there's a lot of resistance to this bill in the Republican-controlled House.
The New York Giants and the New England Patriots will face off this weekend for the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Indiana – a state that is now hostile to employee unions like the NFL Players Association. In recent days – thousands of unionized Indiana workers have been marching in protest against Republican Governor Mitch Daniel’s signing of a “right-to-work-for-less” law – and plan to make their voices heard during Super Bowl festivities over the weekend. Several local “Occupy” groups plan to take part in demonstration against the new right-to-work-for-less law as well. From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy the Super Bowl!
House Republicans on Thursday proved they don’t know what reality is. Every single Republican in the House voted against a resolution that would have blamed much of our ongoing deficit problems on the Bush tax cut. Democratic Congressman Gary Peters introduced the amendment to the House Budget bill that would have simply inserted key facts about the Bush tax cuts – like how they added $2 trillion to our debt over the last decade. After the vote – Congressman Peters said, “We are in the middle of a jobs crisis and have serious deficit problems that need to be solved, but if the Republicans can’t even acknowledge basic facts about the impact that the Bush Tax Cuts have had on the economy, it’s hard to take their solutions seriously.”
Obamacare is working for our seniors. In the first full year since the new healthcare law took effect – over 3.6 million seniors on Medicare saw immediate benefits in the form of reduced prescription drug costs. In total in 2011 – seniors paid $2.1 billion less on prescription drugs – that’s about 600 bucks per person. And if Republicans succeed in repealing Obamacare, then expect seniors to pay 2.1 billion bucks MORE on prescription drugs in the coming years.
A very dangerous situation is developing in the Middle East. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Thursday that Israel might attack Iran within the next few months to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Israeli officials argue the “window of opportunity” on an attack in closing – as Iran gets closer and closer to being able to store enough nuclear material underground to build a bomb and avoid Israeli airstrikes. U.S. officials are urging restraint – at least publicly – asking for the Israelis to give the new wave of sanctions against Iran time to kick in. Keep an eye on this.
The Justice Department is cracking down on secret Swiss bank accounts. The week – federal prosecutors in New York indicted the oldest private bank in Switzerland – Wegelin – on charges that it allowed super-rich Americans to stash at least 1.2 billion away in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying US taxes. Currently – ten other Swiss banks are under investigation as well. Over $100 billion a year is lost in revenue from tax cheats who use offshore bank accounts in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. Just ask Mitt Romney how it’s done.
And finally…a new home for Libertarians. NASA says it has found a fourth potentially habitable planet outside our solar system. The planet – which bears the real catchy name “GJ 667Cc” – is about 4.5 times the size of the earth and takes about 28 days to orbit its sun – meaning its year lasts as long as one month on Earth. That could have come in handy during the Bush Administration. The planet sits in that cozy region in relation to its sun where temperatures could support water. Unfortunately getting to GJ 667Cc might be a problem – it’s 22 light years away from us. But we’ll never get there if we don’t start – so I say take a spaceship – load up the Libertarians, put a mobile Fox so-called News team on board, point toward the planet, and launch.
And that’s the way it is today – Friday, February 3rd, 2012. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.