Thom Hartmann here – on the news …
You need to know this. Ten thousand by the end of this year – and 33,000 by the end of next year. That's how many US troops currently in Afghanistan will be coming home according to President Obama's withdrawal plan that he pitched to the nation last night. This could be the beginning of the end for the nearly decade-long war – as the president promised combat missions in Afghanistan will be over by 2014 – when Afghan security forces will take the lead in defending their own nation. In his speech, President Obama noted the cost of a decade of war and how it's now time to switch focus, saying, “Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource – our people…. It is time to focus on nation building here at home.” But even after 33,000 US troops come home by next year, there will still be more boots on the ground in Afghanistan than before President Obama took office, and 2014 is a long time away. At the rate things are deteriorating here stateside, we may not be able to wait three years until precious resources are diverted from the battlefield to our nation's economy. President Obama needs to take the same advice that then-senator George Aiken gave President Lyndon Johnson back in 1966 about Vietnam: it's time to declare victory and come home.
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Bad news for the economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a sobering description of the US economy yesterday, saying that growth is slower than expected and inflation is higher than expected. Bernanke also pointed out factors that could further weaken the economy – such as a financial crisis in Europe as Greece moves closer and closer to the edge of default. Bernanke also warned that the deep spending cuts Republicans in Congress are pushing for will be, “negative for job creation.” Bernanke's press conference came on the heels of a new report that predicts the further decline of the United States this century, pointing out that India will surpass us as the second-largest trading economy in the world by 2050. China is expected pass us in just a few years. So, when the US drops to third in the world economy, then can we finally admit that decades of Reagan tax cuts, free trade policies and the shredding of our social safety net – just don’t work?
In the best of the rest of the news …
Two bipartisan Congressional household names – Barney Frank and Ron Paul – are teaming up together to tackle the federal law against marijuana. Today, they introduced first-of-its-kind legislation that prohibits the federal government from enforcing marijuana laws except for smuggling between the states – leaving it up to each state to determine whether or not marijuana should be legal there. The move to legalize marijuana – at least on a federal level – comes 40 years after Richard Nixon started the War on Drugs – a war that's been an utter failure and a waste of billions of dollars. Let's add it to the list of wars we need to end.
I've been saying for a long time that Republicans have one strategy – to crash the economy so that President Obama loses in 2012. Now – finally – it looks like Democrats have figured that out. In a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday, top Democrats called out Republicans for stopping anything that will help the economy. As Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said, “Our Republican colleagues in the House and Senate are driven by putting one man out of work: President Obama.” Many of the stimulus measures Republicans are voting down – such as a payroll tax cut for employers – are the very same things they used to support, which is just more proof they don't give a damn about the economy – they only care about the 2012 elections.
Is President Obama illegally spying on American journalists? That’s what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times reporter James Risen says in an affidavit he filed earlier this week. After publishing a book detailing the CIA's mission to sabotage Iran's nuclear program, Risen claims the CIA started monitoring his incoming and outgoing calls to discover his sources. This surveillance began under the Bush administration and continued through the Obama administration. Risen argues that the CIA campaign against him will, “have a chilling effect on freedom of the press in the United States.” The press is the only industry that has rights guaranteed in our US Constitution, because the founding fathers knew just how important a free press was to the health of our democracy. Without that, no democracy is possible.
The Republican effort to sabotage President Obama's health reform law in the states is officially underway. A New Jersey Assemblywoman, Alison Littell McHose, proposed legislation that would make it illegal for ANY New Jersey government official to enforce ANY aspect of Obamacare – or that official could face up to five years in prison. Of course, McHose's legislation is completely unconstitutional because federal law trumps state law, but little things like the Constitution don't worry the organization that wrote the bill: the Tenth Amendment Center, a right-wing fringe group that uses many of the same arguments that opponents of the Civil Rights Act used back in the 1960's. Providing free health care to everyone in America is today's human rights battle. The right to health shouldn't depend on how much money you have in your bank account – it's part of that “General Welfare” thing laid out twice in the Constitution.
Crazy Alert! Meet the “Friendly Fracosaurus.” Talisman Energy, a company that specializes in fracking – blowing toxic chemicals underground to extract natural gas – launched a new campaign to make what they do more appealing to children. It's a coloring book for kids starring Talisman Terry – a “Friendly Fracosaurus” – and his adventures around a pristine environment with a smiling sun and happy animals and trees. In fact, the pictures depict that the only different thing fracking does to the environment is produce a vibrant rainbow. Yes, fracking causes rainbows, according to Talisman Energy – you didn’t know that? Overall, I guess the Friendly Fracosaurus is a better PR strategy than touting how your company contaminates water supplies all around the country. It's unclear if other industries plan to jump on board with similar campaigns. I can see the nuclear industry's “Radioactive Raccoon” being a big hit – or BP's “Oily Otter.”
And that's the way it is today, Thursday, June 23, 2011. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.