Jun 22, 2011, 10:05 p.m.

Obama sets course for exit from Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama announced a plan on Wednesday to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in a first step toward ending the long, costly war and returning America's focus toward it's own troubled economy. Obama said he would pull 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by year's end, followed by about 23,000 more by the end of next summer and a steady withdrawal of remaining troops after that.

Afghan drawdown looms over Petraeus CIA hearing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - General David Petraeus faces a Senate grilling on the faster-than-expected drawdown in Afghanistan when he appears on Thursday for his confirmation hearing to become the next CIA director. Although he is expected to be confirmed easily, the outgoing military commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan will be pressed about his apparent recommendation for a slower drawdown than that set out by President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

Sarah Palin says jury duty comes before bus tour

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said on Wednesday she was pausing her "One Nation" bus tour to answer the call of jury duty and denied media reports her much-hyped multi-state jaunt had been cut short. "The next leg of the tour continues when the time comes," she said in a message posted on Facebook. "In the meantime, no one should jump to conclusions -- certainly not the media with their long track record of getting things wrong or just making things up."

Democrats push for jobs package in debt deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic leaders called on Wednesday for new spending and tax cuts to boost the sluggish U.S. economy, setting up a fresh hurdle for bipartisan efforts to head off a government debt default this summer. At the same time, a new report warned that the country could face a European-style debt crisis unless Washington cuts spending or raises taxes.

On the ground in Afghanistan, U.S. drawdown is distant

PANJWAI DISTRICT, Afghanistan (Reuters) U.S. Lieutenant Jonathan Austin's men spent Wednesday as they expect to spend the best part of a year -- patrolling grape orchards in the blazing desert sun, scrambling over mud walls and scanning the paths of Chariagen village for homemade bombs. Word had not filtered down to their outpost in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province that U.S. President Barack Obama had chosen that evening to announce his plans for starting to bring home U.S. troops.

Obama treading carefully on gay issues in 2012 bid

NEW YORK (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has delivered important political victories for gays but is unlikely to push his support for gay rights much further before the 2012 election in case he alienates independent voters. Gay leaders will likely give Obama high marks at a fundraiser in New York on Thursday for pushing through issues like winning gays the right to serve openly in the military.

Tax hikes needed for pension funding: study

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. state and local governments will need to raise taxes by $1,398 per household every year for the next 30 years if they are to fully fund their pension systems, a study released on Wednesday said. The findings clash strongly with a June report by the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems as well as a March report by the Pew Center on the States.

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