Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More of our taxpayer dollars wasted in Iraq

What else can I say, but more of our taxpayer dollars are being wasted in Iraq. This is off The New York Times:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. government wasted tens of millions of dollars in Iraq reconstruction aid, including scores of unaccounted-for weapons and a never-used camp for housing police trainers with an Olympic-size swimming pool, investigators say.

The quarterly audit by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, is the latest to paint a grim picture of waste, fraud and frustration in an Iraq war and reconstruction effort that has cost taxpayers more than $300 billion and left the region near civil war.

According to the report, the State Department paid $43.8 million to contractor DynCorp International for the residential camp for police training personnel outside of Baghdad's Adnan Palace grounds that has stood empty for months. About $4.2 million of the money was improperly spent on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size pool, all ordered by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior but never authorized by the U.S.

U.S. officials spent another $36.4 million for weapons such as armored vehicles, body armor and communications equipment that can't be accounted for. DynCorp also may have prematurely billed $18 million in other potentially unjustified costs, the report said.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bush creates a Republican Party's version of the apparatchik

Talk about irony here. This is off The New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 — President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The directive issued by Mr. Bush says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify “the specific market failure” or problem that justifies government intervention.

Besides placing political appointees in charge of rule making, Mr. Bush said agencies must give the White House an opportunity to review “any significant guidance documents” before they are issued.

Do you remember the apparatchik? It was a political system designed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where political officers would make sure that the Soviet bureaucracy was following the Communist Party guidelines. These officers never had any specialized or formalized training in whatever offices they were assigned to. Their job was to make sure that the government bureaucracy was toeing the Party line--the Party ideology! Now look at what President Bush has created--an Americanized version of the apparatchik for the Republican Party! These new Republican apparatchik's will look into the bureaucracies of the EPA, or OSHA, or even the FDA, and then demand that those offices follow the Republican Party ideology on issues of global warming, safety, health, environmental, abortion--you name it. It is a Party control mechanism on the government--just like the Communist Party had their own apparatchik control mechanism on the Soviet bureaucracy.

I find it rather ironic how the Republican Party used to be a rabid anti-Communist Party during the 1950s and the McCarthy hearings, but now has adopted the same apparatchik political control system that was made famous by the Communist Party. Orwell would love this Bush-morphed Republican Party.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Huckabee's jumping into the GOP race for White House

Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a favorite of conservatives, will take the first step in a 2008 presidential bid, an official told The Associated Press on Friday. Huckabee speaks with reporters on Oct. 18, 2005, in Little Rock, discussing his opposition to stronger U.S. military authority in responding to natural disasters.(AP Photo/Mike Wintroath)

It appears that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is jumping into the presidential race. This is off CNN.Com:

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) -- Conservative Republican Mike Huckabee, seeking to repeat the success of another former governor from Hope, Arkansas, said he is taking the first step in what he acknowledged is an underdog bid for the White House in 2008.

"I think this is an opportunity to show the American dream is still alive and there's hope and optimism that can be awakened in a lot of people's lives if they think that a person like me can run and actually become president," Huckabee told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The 51-year-old Huckabee, who took over as governor at the height of President Clinton's Whitewater scandal, comes from the same small town -- Hope -- in the same rural state as the former Democratic president.

Huckabee, who left office January 9 after serving 10 1/2 years as governor of a Democratic-leaning state, faces steep odds in a crowded GOP field that includes well-known and well-funded hopefuls such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"One of the reasons that I'm running for president is because I think that America needs folks who understand what it is to start at the bottom of the ladder and climb their way to the top," Huckabee said in a broadcast interview. "We've got a lot of people who are born on third base and think they've hit a triple.

"America loves an underdog. America loves people who have had to struggle and for whom every rung of the ladder has been sometimes three rungs up and two back down, Thank God for the one you've gained, and keep climbing," Huckabee said.

Huckabee appeared on "Meet the Press" on NBC.

Huckabee is going to be an interesting candidate for this race. According to the CNN story, Huckabee is "is a staunch opponent of abortion rights and gay marriage, but faces a tough fight from other conservatives in the field for support from the GOP's right flank." Two of Huckabee's stronger competitors would be either Arizona Senator John McCain, or Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. McCain has been constantly courting the Religious Right for his own bid to the White House. Brownback, however, is a favorite among the conservatives and Religious Right.

But the interesting dynamic here would be Iraq. The 2008 elections will not be about the social issues of abortion, or gay marriage, but rather how will the United States resolve the Iraq war. So far, the Republican Party has followed along with the Bush administration's surge plan for "winning the war" in Iraq. McCain has been on record for supporting the Bush administration's escalation of the Iraq war. Brownback is now opposing the Bush administration's troop surge, however Brownback refuses to support the Democrats' Iraq resolution opposing the Bush White House troop surge. So there is a serious contradiction with the Brownback campaign. Huckabee will need to find some U.S. policy on Iraq which could tap into the American public's desire for getting out of the war, with that of the Republican Party and Bush administration's insistence of escalating the war. It will be interesting to see how the Huckabee campaign can navigate through this issue of Iraq.

Newsweek Poll--Bush at another new low

Here are some more poll numbers from Newsweek:

Jan. 27, 2007 - President George W. Bush concluded his annual State of the Union address this week with the words “the State of our Union is strong … our cause in the world is right … and tonight that cause goes on.” Maybe so, but the state of the Bush administration is at its worst yet, according to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll. The president’s approval ratings are at their lowest point in the poll’s history—30 percent—and more than half the country (58 percent) say they wish the Bush presidency were simply over, a sentiment that is almost unanimous among Democrats (86 percent), and is shared by a clear majority (59 percent) of independents and even one in five (21 percent) Republicans. Half (49 percent) of all registered voters would rather see a Democrat elected president in 2008, compared to just 28 percent who’d prefer the GOP to remain in the White House.

Public fatigue over the war in the Iraq is not reflected solely in the president’s numbers, however. Congress is criticized by nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans for not being assertive enough in challenging the Bush administration’s conduct of the war. Even a third (31 percent) of rank-and-file Republicans say the previous Congress, controlled by their party, didn’t do enough to challenge the administration on the war.

So Bush is now at a 30 percent job approval rating for the Newsweek poll. A 58 percent majority of Americans wish that the Bush presidency could just be over now. And an even more interesting number is that 64 percent of Americans are now criticizing Congress for not being more assertive and challenging this Bush presidency. The American people want out of Iraq. So far, they've been giving the Democratic Congress the benefit of the doubt with more positive poll numbers over that of the Republicans. But what this Newsweek poll shows is that even the American public does not have infinite patience. If the Democrats in Congress cannot find a way to get out of Iraq, then even the Democrats could find themselves in trouble during the 2008 presidential elections.

Now some thoughts on President Bush. One thing I've certainly noticed over time is that as his job approval numbers continue to drop, the more belligerent and stubborn Bush has become regarding his policies. Consider this Washington Post article regarding the Bush administration's escalation of war talk with Iran:

President Bush said today he has no intention of sending U.S. forces into Iran, but he vowed to "respond firmly" if Iran steps up a campaign that the United States charges is aimed at killing U.S. troops and derailing democracy in Iraq.

Bush told National Public Radio that he is willing to do "whatever it takes" to protect U.S. troops in Iraq from what the White House says have been attacks with weapons supplied by Iran.


"We'll wait and see whether it's a positive development or not," [White House Press Secretary Tony] Snow told reporters in a news briefing. However, "to the extent that anybody, including Iranians, are smuggling weapons, bringing in fighters, killing Americans, trying to destabilize the democracy in Iraq, we will take appropriate measures to defend our troops and also to defend the mission," he said.


Asked how the Bush administration views Iranian activities inside Iraq at present, Snow said, "Right now, what we are seeing is some evidence that the Iranians have been involved in activities that have led to the deaths of American soldiers and also the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians. And to the extent that that kind of activity continues, we will respond appropriately."

President Bush has consistently refused to negotiate with Iran, while increasingly escalating the tensions between the two countries over this past month. The Iranians have refused to back down. And as a result, the Bush White House continues increasing their threats to Iran. You could almost say that this Bush White House is acting like a belligerent bully throughout the world. And the lower this administration sinks in its job approval ratings, the more stubborn the administration becomes in refusing to negotiate or compromise its own misguided, hard-lined ideology, lashing out against everyone that will not submit to their demands.

Friday, January 26, 2007

More shocking video: Shi'a Iraqi soldiers beat Sunnis as US trainers watch

I found this through Raw Story:

Dramatic footage of mostly Shi'a Iraqi soldiers delivering a "brutal beating" to several local Sunnis has been obtained by a British public-service television station.

US soldiers assigned to train the Iraqi troops look on as the Iraqi soldiers push the beaten men into the rear compartment of an armored vehicle.

"It is a shocking insight into the sectarian violence that is tearing Baghdad apart," Jonathan Miller reports for Channel Four. "Two journalists – embedded with the First Cavalry division – witnessed suspected insurgents being viciously beaten and abused."

According to Channel Four, American troops then threatened the journalists and held them under armed guard while attempting to "seize their footage."

"US Army commander Lieutenant Colonel Dale C. Kuehl told Channel 4 News he had taken administrative action to include suspending the platoon sergeant," Channel Four reports.

Here is the video from Channel Four News. Through YouTube:

We're certainly winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. We're winning the war in Iraq--just need to add some more U.S. soldiers into the meat grinder.

Video report that CBS News does not want America to see.

This story is really starting to make the rounds through the blogosphere. CBS News correspondent Laura Logan sent this report in to CBS News on the battle for Haifa Street, between the insurgents and Iraqi troops. CBS News refused to air the video on their evening news broadcast, to the frustration of Logan. Instead, CBS News placed Logan's report on their website. The video is especially disturbing since it not only shows the Iraqi security forces are unable to stop the insurgents, but also these same Iraqi security forces are engaged in their own "ethnic cleansing" program of indiscriminate killing of civilians. Logan's report completely contradicts the Bush administration's PR-spin on how the U.S. troop escalation in Iraq will provide the needed security around Baghdad for the Iraqi government.

Here is Logan's report via YouTube:

Gates: Anti-Iraq resolution "emboldens" the enemy

Well, it didn't take long for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to goose-step with the Bush administration. This is from MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Roberts Gates said Friday that a congressional resolution opposing President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq amounts to undercutting U.S. commanders in a way that “emboldens the enemy.”

He also said the Pentagon was now studying whether it could accelerate the deployment of the five additional Army brigades that it has announced will be sent to Baghdad between now and May to bolster security in the capital.

At his first Pentagon news conference since taking office, Gates was asked his reaction to the debate in Congress over the effect of such a nonbinding resolution. “It’s pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn’t have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries,” he said.

So I guess that Gates is now claiming that Congress and around 65-70 percent of the American people are emboldening the enemy with their opposition of the Bush troop surge plan. Which would mean that Congress and 65-70 percent of the American people are traitors--perhaps even "enemy combatants," since they are apparently supporting the terrorists with their own opposition of the Bush administration's escalation of the war. This type of talk from the administration is beyond fantasy—beyond delusion. We’re looking at an administration that is so besieged and so out-of-touch with any sense of reality. This is an administration that will lash out in anger and violence against anyone who opposes them—whether it will be the Democratic Congress, the American people, Iraq, Iran, or whoever else.

This Bush administration will send this country into ruin.

Bush White House planning a six-year escalation of war with Iran

I found this on Raw Story:

The escalation of US military planning on Iran is only the latest chess move in a six-year push within the Bush Administration to attack Iran, a RAW STORY investigation has found.

While Iran was named a part of President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” in 2002, efforts to ignite a confrontation with Iran date back long before the post-9/11 war on terror. Presently, the Administration is trumpeting claims that Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than the CIA’s own analysis shows and positing Iranian influence in Iraq’s insurgency, but efforts to destabilize Iran have been conducted covertly for years, often using members of Congress or non-government actors in a way reminiscent of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

The motivations for an Iran strike were laid out as far back as 1992. In classified defense planning guidance – written for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney by then-Pentagon staffers I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz, and ambassador-nominee to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad – Cheney’s aides called for the United States to assume the position of lone superpower and act preemptively to prevent the emergence of even regional competitors. The draft document was leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post and caused an uproar among Democrats and many in George H. W. Bush’s Administration.

In September 2000, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) issued a report titled “Rebuilding America's Defenses,” which espoused similar positions to the 1992 draft and became the basis for the Bush-Cheney Administration's foreign policy. Libby and Wolfowitz were among the participants in this new report; Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other prominent figures in the Bush administration were PNAC members.

“The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security,” the report read. “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. . . . We cannot allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies or threaten the American homeland itself.”

This approach became official US military policy during the current Bush Administration. It was starkly on display yesterday when Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns noted a second aircraft carrier strike force headed for the Persian Gulf, saying, "The Middle East isn't a region to be dominated by Iran. The Gulf isn't a body of water to be controlled by Iran. That's why we've seen the United States station two carrier battle groups in the region."

It is like the PNAC neocons didn't just want to go to war with Iraq, but also with Iran. The PNAC neocons have been planning this thing for six years--perhaps even longer with their desire to remake the United States as not just the sole super-power in the world, but also an imperial power in the Middle East. They refuse to engage in any type of negotiations or diplomacy--it is either submit to our demands, or we will destroy you. The PNAC neocons have remade the United States into the Middle East School Bully. What they don't understand is that they can't get away with this forever--someone is going to stand up and punch that school bully hard in the nose. And right now, that somebody is going to be Iran. This is a war we can not win.

Read the entire Raw Story article. It is disturbing. You might also want to check out the timeline.

Bush: I'm still The Deciderer!

This is a short story from The Washington Post:

President Bush today rebuffed congressional opponents who want to stop his plan to increase U.S. troop strength in Iraq, declaring that "I'm the decision-maker" on the war effort and challenging skeptics to produce their own plan for success.

Bush also vowed forceful action to prevent Iranian operatives in Iraq from harming U.S. troops, but he denied that he wants to expand military action beyond Iraq's borders, and he said his administration would continue working to resolve issues with Iran diplomatically.

Bush made the comments in a brief question-and-answer session with reporters following a White House meeting with top defense officials. Among them was newly promoted Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate this morning as the next commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.


Asked why he was going ahead with his plan without congressional support, Bush said, "One of the things I've found in Congress is that most people recognize that failure would be a disaster for the United States. And, in that I'm the decision-maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster."


Bush said he recognizes that "there is skepticism and pessimism" in Congress, but he added that "some are condemning the plan before it's even had a chance to work." He said critics "have an obligation and a serious responsibility, therefore, to put out their own plan as to what would work."

Got to love King George The Deciderer--I'm the decision-maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster. [Some] some are condemning the plan before it's even had a chance to work....[Therefore, the critics should] put out their own plan as to what would work. Your Failed Majesty, there is a another plan out there besides your escalation plan. It is called the Iraq Study Group. If you want another plan, how about Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now. That little book is written by William R. Polk and George McGovern. Democratic Congressman John Murtha has his own plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. So, your Failed Majesty--there are alternative plans out there for consideration. The problem is that these plans want to pull U.S. troops out of the meat grinder that's Iraq, not to send them in. But you're The Deciderer. And you have decided to do whatever you damn well please--screw the Congress, screw the American people.....

Screw the country.

Friday Fun Stuff--Video Killed the Radio Star

I found this little gem through YouTube. It was the first music video that was ever played on MTV. The song is called Video Killed the Radio Star, performed by the Buggles. The song aired on on August 1, 1981, at 12:15 A.M. And since then, MTV has completely revolutionized the fields of music, video, and pop culture, where an entire generation of young people can stand up and shout, "I want my MTV!"

So here's the Buggles with Video Killed the Radio Star:

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Troops Authorized to Kill Iranian Operatives in Iraq

I don't know what to say here. This is off The Washington Post:

The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort.

For more than a year, U.S. forces in Iraq have secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents, holding them for three to four days at a time. The "catch and release" policy was designed to avoid escalating tensions with Iran and yet intimidate its emissaries. U.S. forces collected DNA samples from some of the Iranians without their knowledge, subjected others to retina scans, and fingerprinted and photographed all of them before letting them go.

Last summer, however, senior administration officials decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary, as Iran's regional influence grew and U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran appeared to be failing. The country's nuclear work was advancing, U.S. allies were resisting robust sanctions against the Tehran government, and Iran was aggravating sectarian violence in Iraq.

"There were no costs for the Iranians," said one senior administration official. "They are hurting our mission in Iraq, and we were bending over backwards not to fight back."

Three officials said that about 150 Iranian intelligence officers, plus members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Command, are believed to be active inside Iraq at any given time. There is no evidence the Iranians have directly attacked U.S. troops in Iraq, intelligence officials said.

But, for three years, the Iranians have operated an embedding program there, offering operational training, intelligence and weaponry to several Shiite militias connected to the Iraqi government, to the insurgency and to the violence against Sunni factions. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the CIA, told the Senate recently that the amount of Iranian-supplied materiel used against U.S. troops in Iraq "has been quite striking."

"Iran seems to be conducting a foreign policy with a sense of dangerous triumphalism," Hayden said.

The new "kill or capture" program was authorized by President Bush in a meeting of his most senior advisers last fall, along with other measures meant to curtail Iranian influence from Kabul to Beirut and, ultimately, to shake Iran's commitment to its nuclear efforts. Tehran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, but the United States and other nations say it is aimed at developing weapons.


The White House has authorized a widening of what is known inside the intelligence community as the "Blue Game Matrix" -- a list of approved operations that can be carried out against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. And U.S. officials are preparing international sanctions against Tehran for holding several dozen al-Qaeda fighters who fled across the Afghan border in late 2001. They plan more aggressive moves to disrupt Tehran's funding of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and to undermine Iranian interests among Shiites in western Afghanistan.

In Iraq, U.S. troops now have the authority to target any member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, as well as officers of its intelligence services believed to be working with Iraqi militias. The policy does not extend to Iranian civilians or diplomats. Though U.S. forces are not known to have used lethal force against any Iranian to date, Bush administration officials have been urging top military commanders to exercise the authority.

Talk about an escalation by the Bush administration against Iran. We're sending another carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf. We've attacked an Iranian consulate in Northern Iraq--which was authorized by President Bush. And finally, President Bush has made two ultimatums against Iran--once during the president's surge speech, and again during the SOTU speech.

Here's President Bush's ultimatum against Iran in his surge speech:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region.

That sounds like a declaration of war against Iran. Here's the ultimatum in Bush's SOTU speech:

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al-Qaida in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. But whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent, they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans ... kill democracy in the Middle East ... and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.

In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people.

This is not as overt as the president's surge speech, but still the message is clear--the United States will probably attack Iran unless Iran dismantles its nuclear weapons program. In the SOTU speech, Bush linked the Shiite insurgents to taking orders from Iran. Therefore, the U.S. has the right to take the Global War on Terror against Iran. And now we have this latest WaPost story saying that U.S. troops can now fire and kill Iranian operatives inside of Iraq. While the Bush White House claims that this order applies to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, intelligence officers, and not Iranian civilians and diplomats, who can tell if a particular Iranian is a member of the Revolutionary Guard or a diplomat when that Iranian is dressed in civilian clothes? It seems to me that this order is more of a shoot and kill first, then ask questions later.

This gets even better. Continuing in the WaPost:

Senior administration officials said the policy is based on the theory that Tehran will back down from its nuclear ambitions if the United States hits it hard in Iraq and elsewhere, creating a sense of vulnerability among Iranian leaders. But if Iran responds with escalation, it has the means to put U.S. citizens and national interests at greater risk in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Officials said Hayden counseled the president and his advisers to consider a list of potential consequences, including the possibility that the Iranians might seek to retaliate by kidnapping or killing U.S. personnel in Iraq.

Two officials said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though a supporter of the strategy, is concerned about the potential for errors, as well as the ramifications of a military confrontation between U.S. and Iranian troops on the Iraqi battlefield.

In meetings with Bush's other senior advisers, officials said, Rice insisted that the defense secretary appoint a senior official to personally oversee the program to prevent it from expanding into a full-scale conflict. Rice got the oversight guarantees she sought, though it remains unclear whether senior Pentagon officials must approve targets on a case-by-case basis or whether the oversight is more general.

The departments of Defense and State referred all requests for comment on the Iran strategy to the National Security Council, which declined to address specific elements of the plan and would not comment on some intelligence matters.

So apparently Hayden of the CIA was a big proponent of this plan--especially if American forces can raid Iranian consulates and gather intelligence papers regarding Iranian operations in Iraq. Senior administration officials said the policy is based on the theory that Tehran will back down from its nuclear ambitions if the United States hits it hard in Iraq and elsewhere, creating a sense of vulnerability among Iranian leaders. I certainly have to wonder whether those senior administration officials were the PNAC neocons, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, or Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. These guys seem so intent on confronting Iran to abandon its nuclear program--and Iran is not backing down. But it gets better. Condi Rice is now starting to worry that such a program of American soldiers being authorized to kill Iranians might just cause a confrontation between the United States and Iran--but she's still supportive of the program. So we have some unnamed senior official appointed to oversee the program as a means for avoiding a full-scale conflict. Now here's the real fun part:

Advocates of the new policy -- some of whom are in the NSC, the vice president's office, the Pentagon and the State Department -- said that only direct and aggressive efforts can shatter Iran's growing influence. A less confident Iran, with fewer cards, may be more willing to cut the kind of deal the Bush administration is hoping for on its nuclear program.

We can pretty well guess who the advocate of this "kill Iranians" strategy is. Vice President Cheney is one. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley is probably another. Wolfowitz could be a third, or perhaps even Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The WaPost provides even more Bush administration names to this policy:

The decision to use lethal force against Iranians inside Iraq began taking shape last summer, when Israel was at war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Officials said a group of senior Bush administration officials who regularly attend the highest-level counterterrorism meetings agreed that the conflict provided an opening to portray Iran as a nuclear-ambitious link between al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the death squads in Iraq.

Among those involved in the discussions, beginning in August, were deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams [Another PNAC member], NSC counterterrorism adviser Juan Zarate, the head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, representatives from the Pentagon and the vice president's office, and outgoing State Department counterterrorism chief Henry A. Crumpton.

The neocons are really pushing this escalation against Iran. And they are doing it in the most sickening way:

At the time, Bush publicly emphasized diplomacy as his preferred path for dealing with Iran. Standing before the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 19, Bush spoke directly to the Iranian people: "We look to the day when you can live in freedom, and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace."

Two weeks later, Crumpton flew from Washington to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa for a meeting with Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East. A principal reason for the visit, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the discussion, was to press Abizaid to prepare for an aggressive campaign against Iranian intelligence and military operatives inside Iraq.

Information gleaned through the "catch and release" policy expanded what was once a limited intelligence community database on Iranians in Iraq. It also helped to avert a crisis between the United States and the Iraqi government over whether U.S. troops should be holding Iranians, several officials said, and dampened the possibility of Iranians directly targeting U.S. personnel in retaliation.

"This has little to do with Iraq. It's all about pushing Iran's buttons. It is purely political," the official said. The official expressed similar views about other new efforts aimed at Iran, suggesting that the United States is escalating toward an unnecessary conflict to shift attention away from Iraq and to blame Iran for the United States' increasing inability to stanch the violence there.

But some officials within the Bush administration say that targeting Iran's Revolutionary Guard Command, and specifically a Guard unit known as the Quds Force, should be as much a priority as fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Quds Force is considered by Western intelligence to be directed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to support Iraqi militias, Hamas and Hezbollah.

In interviews, two senior administration officials separately compared the Tehran government to the Nazis and the Guard to the "SS." They also referred to Guard members as "terrorists." Such a formal designation could turn Iran's military into a target of what Bush calls a "war on terror," with its members potentially held as enemy combatants or in secret CIA detention.

President Bush was originally open towards diplomacy (also known as negotiations) with Iran regarding Iran's nuclear program. But the neocons didn't like that. So the neocons have convinced President Bush that a better policy of escalation against Iran was preferable to diplomacy--specifically comparing the Iranian government to the Nazis, and the Revolutionary Guard to the "SS." Where have we seen that strategy before? Iraq? Saddam Hussein compared to Adolf Hitler? But it is not about stopping Iran's nuclear program:

"This has little to do with Iraq. It's all about pushing Iran's buttons. It is purely political," the official said. The official expressed similar views about other new efforts aimed at Iran, suggesting that the United States is escalating toward an unnecessary conflict to shift attention away from Iraq and to blame Iran for the United States' increasing inability to stanch the violence there.

It is all political. It is all about pushing Iran's buttons to start a war with the United States. It is all about creating a third war in the Middle East, to shift the American public's attention away from the failed war in Iraq so they can support this new war in Iran, and perhaps even salvage Bush's presidential legacy. We have warmongers in this Bush White House. They will do whatever they can to keep whatever control the U.S. has in Iraq--especially regarding the oil reserves--and will attack whatever nation they can in order to keep U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. There will be a U.S. war against Iran. Iran will not back down against the U.S. This war will take place once the Stennis carrier group is positioned in the Persian Gulf area--perhaps in early March.

It will become a total disaster for the United States.

Inflation, rate fears slam stocks

All this bad news has really slammed the stock market today. From CNN.Com:

NEW YORK ( -- Stocks slumped Thursday, with the Dow industrials losing more than 100 points one session after hitting a record high after a weak housing report and a spike in Treasury bond yields revived worries about interest rates and the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial average (down 119.21 to 12,502.56, Charts) lost 119 points, its biggest one-day decline in almost two months. The blue-chip barometer had ended the previous session at a record close.

The broader S&P 500 (down 16.23 to 1,423.90, Charts) index lost 1.1 percent, after ending the previous session at the highest point since September 2000.

The Nasdaq (down 32.04 to 2,434.24, Charts) composite lost 1.3 percent, erasing nearly all of its gains from the previous session.


Stock declines were broad based, with 28 out of 30 Dow components sliding, led by rate-sensitive issues such as financial leader American Express (down $1.16 to $57.77, Charts) and oil behemoth Exxon Mobil (down $1.38 to $73.52, Charts).

A variety of energy, gold, silver and other commodity shares tanked, after several up sessions.


A surge in bond yields Thursday added to such jitters.

Treasury prices slipped after a weak response to the day's 5-year note auction. The declines boosted the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 4.87 percent from 4.81 percent late Wednesday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.

Adding to troubles Thursday: a report that showed existing home sales saw the biggest drop last year in 17 years. Home sales in December also saw a bigger-than-expected decline. However, the report also showed that home prices may have bottomed out in December.

Annual Existing-Home Sales Fall Most in 17 Years

Graph showing median price and existing home sales. From MSNBC

This is off The Washington Post:

Sales of previously owned homes fell slightly in December after two consecutive months of modest gains but took their steepest annual drop since 1989, the National Association of Realtors reported yesterday.

But home prices rose 1.1 percent for the year, and the supply of existing single-family houses, townhouses, condominiums and co-ops for sale shrank from November to December -- offering some hope that the housing market may be on the mend, economists said.


"During the summer, the housing market was like a trauma patient being wheeled in with multiple wounds," said Michael Larson, a real estate analyst for Weiss Research. "There's some momentum back in the market, but I don't think the patient will get off the gurney and walk out the door any time soon."

In 2006, 6.48 million existing homes were sold, down 8.4 percent from 2005, which was the busiest year on record. The drop was the steepest since 1989, when sales fell 14.8 percent from the year before.

In December, existing homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.22 million, down 0.8 percent from November and down 7.9 percent from December 2005.

Now the WaPost is calling this housing slump a "sideways trend," saying that rate of sales is stabilizing between 6.2 million homes sold to 6.3 million homes sold in the recent months, after peaking in June 2005 at 7.27 million homes sold. In fact, the realters and housing economists are claiming that this is all good news. I'm not so sure. According to the WaPost story:

The inventory fell 7.9 percent in December from November. If no more homes are added to the mix, there's a 6.8-month supply of existing homes for sale.

That shrinkage is typical in the slow winter months, when sellers tend to pull their homes off the market before re-listing them in the spring, many analysts said.

Instead, some analysts pointed to the year-over-year increase in supply. Inventory climbed 23.3 percent from December 2005 to December 2006.


In December, existing-home sales, which account for most home sales, fell 15.5 percent in the West, 7.1 percent in the South, 5.8 percent in the Midwest and 5.5 percent in the Northeast. The South includes the Washington area.

MSNBC News is reporting that the drop in housing has driven off the speculators, interested in making a quick buck churning houses, claiming that some 40 percent of the market represented investment or second-home purchases in 2005. If the speculators have been driven out, then Americans who will be purchasing homes will be either first-time homebuyers, or current homeowners looking to move up in the housing market. The question I have with this is whether the current job market can support this housing recovery. We've already seen a huge rise in the jobless claims. We've seen Ford take a huge $12.7 billion loss, where they plan to cut their hourly workforce by 40 percent--about 30,000 employees--through buyouts and early retirement packages, and the shedding of 14,000 salary employees. This type of loss is really going to affect the auto industry--not just General Motors and Chrysler, but even the auto parts suppliers, the steel, rubber, or even the shipping and transportation industries. I also saw this small MSNBC article, titled Union membership drops to record low:

WASHINGTON - The number of wage and salary workers who were union members dropped to 12 percent of the work force last year, the lowest percentage since the government started tracking that number over two decades ago.

The number of workers in a union was 20.1 percent in 1983, when Bureau of Labor Statistics first provided such comparable numbers, and that number has been declining steadily. More than a third of American workers, about 35 percent, were union members in the mid-1950s.

The continuing decline in union membership, documented in the BLS report released Thursday, comes as organized labor is pushing for legislation in the Democratic-controlled Congress making it easier for workers to form unions.

That proposal, called the Employee Free Choice Act, would let workers form unions more readily by simply signing a card or petition, impose stronger penalties on employers who violate labor laws, and allow for arbitration to settle first contract disputes.

Advocates of the legislation say they doubt that it will get signed into law by President Bush, but that they think passage in Congress would make eventual signing of the law more likely.

Supporters say the law is more fair to workers because employers can’t mount a campaign to prevent formation of a union. Opponents say it deprives workers of the right to vote privately on their union preferences, and can lead to union intimidation of workers.

The union membership rate for government workers, 36.2 percent, was substantially higher than for private industry workers, 7.4 percent.

So there is a lot of change going on here--change that I don't think will be good for the housing market. I'm not sure that the job situation is as good as the econopundits are saying--I wonder if there are too many Americans who have been dropped off the unemployment rolls, or have taken jobs that are part-time or below their skill levels. This union membership story makes me wonder if corporations are forcing Americans into accepting low--perhaps even slave wages--while corporate CEO pay continues to go sky high.

This can't go on forever.

Most U.S. workers not living the dream

I'm just going to post this MSNBC story here--the story speaks for itself:

NEW YORK - More than four out of five U.S. workers do not have their dream jobs, which most people describe as work that is fun, according to a survey released Thursday.

Salary was one of the least important requirements of a dream job, cited by just 12 percent of respondents in the survey by, an online job site, and The Walt Disney Co, which is holding a contest in which winners can get a chance to work at a Disney theme park job for a day.

Having fun at a dream job was cited by 39 percent, with 17 percent saying making a difference in society was most important, the survey showed.

“That fun was more important than money, that was reassuring when you’re looking at the workplace and what defines happiness for people in their jobs,” said Jennifer Sullivan, spokeswoman for

Overall, 84 percent of respondents said they are not in their dream jobs, the study found.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unhappy,” said Sullivan. “They may just not have the job they’ve always been looking for.”

Among professions, police and firefighters were most likely to say they have their dream jobs, at 35 percent, followed by 32 percent of teachers, 28 percent of real estate professionals and 25 percent of engineers.

Fields with the least number of workers with dream jobs were accommodations and food services at 9 percent, manufacturing at 9 percent and retail at 10 percent.

Among major U.S. cities, workers in Boston had the highest incidence of feeling they have their dream jobs, at 37 percent, followed by Sacramento at 26 percent, San Francisco at 23 percent, Philadelphia at 22 percent, Salt Lake City at 20 percent, and Dallas and Portland, both at 19 percent.

I guess the American workers would be willing to tell their employers to Take This Job And Shove It! If they were ever given the chance to land their dream job:

A great song, but an unforgettable movie.

Jobless claims see biggest rise in 16 months

This is off MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits shot up last week by the largest amount in 16 months, reversing two weeks of big declines.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 325,000 newly laid-off workers filed claims for jobless benefits last week, an increase of 36,000 from the previous week. That was the biggest one-week rise since a surge of 96,000 claims the week of Sept. 10, 2005, when devastated Gulf Coast businesses laid off workers following Hurricane Katrina.

The increase of 36,000 was bigger than the 20,000 rise that had been forecast. Analysts, however, cautioned that it is difficult to read the claims figures at this time of year because of unusually wide swings caused by the holidays and other factors.

Yahoo News has some further details:

Based on past trends, claims numbers often surge in third week of the month as retail businesses shed seasonal workers hired to help with the crush of holiday shoppers. However, this year, the layoffs were much higher than in past years.


The 36,000 increase in layoffs followed two weeks in which jobless claims had fallen by a combined 36,000. The four-week moving average for layoffs, designed to smooth out the weekly volatility, edged up slightly to 309,250 from 207,750 the previous week.

For the week ending Jan. 13, a total of 33 states and territories reported an increase in claims before adjusting for seasonal variations while 20 states and territories reported declines in claims.

The increases were led by California, which saw jobless claims rise by 10,115, an increase blamed on higher layoffs in construction and service industries. Layoffs were up by 8,870 in Michigan and 6,418 in Texas.

The states with the biggest decline in layoffs were New York, down by 26,764; North Carolina, down by 10,072 and Georgia, down by 8.987.

The state data is not adjusted for seasonal variations.

I'm not sure if this increase in jobless claims is a result of the seasonal jobs being shed, or if there is a more serious underlying problem. We've seen that Ford has posted a $12.7 billion dollar loss for 2006. Such a huge loss will certainly result in layoffs of Ford employees. According to the New York Times:

About 40 percent of Ford’s hourly workers — some 30,000 employees — have agreed to leave their jobs this year in exchange for buyout or early-retirement packages, and the company is also shedding about 14,000 salaried positions. Those cuts, along with plans to close nine plants by the end of next year, are part of the Way Forward plan, which is meant to return the company to profitability in North America by 2009.

I'm not saying that Ford's woes have caused the rise of jobless claims. But I do wonder if Ford's woes will exacerbate the problems in the job market. A second underlying problem we've certainly been seeing has been the housing crash. According to this New York Times story, titled Sales of Existing Homes in ’06 Had Biggest Drop in 17 Years:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (AP) — Sales of existing homes fell last month, closing out a year when demand for homes slumped by the largest amount in 17 years.

The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes were down 0.8 percent in December, a bigger decline than had been expected. For the year, sales fell by 8.4 percent, the biggest annual decline since 1989, when sales of existing homes fell by 14.8 percent.

This cooling of the housing market may now be reflecting itself within the unemployment rolls with job losses in the construction industry. According to this January 7, 2007 Minneapolis Star-Tribune story:

For 2007, Global Insight is forecasting a GDP growth rate of just 2.3 percent, a full percentage point lower than in 2006. That would be the slowest pace since the economy grew by just 1.6 percent in 2002, a year when the country was struggling to recover from the 2001 recession.

The slower growth means that unemployment will be rising, with many analysts expecting the jobless rate to hit 5 percent in 2007, up from a five-year low of 4.4 percent in October. That would still be a relatively low overall civilian jobless rate in historical terms.

For certain sectors of the economy, job losses will have a much bigger impact, however.

Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that housing-related industries — construction, furniture manufacturing and sales, real estate agents, mortgage brokers — will see more than 1 million jobs evaporate over the next two years because of the housing slowdown after five boom years for sales.

More to come.

Ford posted a record $12.7 billion loss in 2006

Ford lost $12.7 billion in 2006. From New York Times

This is just incredible. From the New York Times:

DEARBORN, Mich., Jan. 25 — The Ford Motor Company had the worst year in its history in 2006, losing $12.7 billion and suffering sharp erosion of its share of the United States auto market.

Ford lost $5.8 billion in the fourth quarter alone, the company reported today. In the same period a year earlier, it lost a comparatively trivial $74 million.

The company took in $160.1 billion in revenue in 2006, 9 percent less than in 2005.

Ford’s full-year loss, equivalent to $6.79 per share, far exceeded the $7.39 billion it lost in 1992, the worst previous year in its 103-year history, and it even surpassed the $10.6 billion loss posted by General Motors in 2005. But it is still short of the $23.5 billion that G.M. lost in its worst year, 1992.

Most of Ford’s red ink in 2006 came from the cost of shrinking and reorganizing the company, buying out workers and writing down asset values. Those charges accounted for $9.9 billion of the full-year loss after taxes. But Ford’s day-to-day business did very poorly as well, with a loss of $2.8 billion on continuing operations, compared with a $1.9 billion loss in 2005.

The figures were an unwelcome surprise to many Wall Street analysts, who on average had forecast a loss of about $2.5 billion for the year, excluding restructuring charges and other costs that Ford considers one-time items.

Ford’s woes are greatest in North America, where its automotive operations lost $6.1 billion before taxes, and sales revenue fell by 14 percent to $69.4 billion. The North American losses, four times as bad as the year before, more than wiped out profits from automotive operations overseas.

A breakdown of Ford's losses. From the New York Times

Ford is getting its arse wiped by the Japanese automakers. For the past sixteen years or so, Ford concentrated on manufacturing full-size trucks and SUVs, which provide large profits for Ford, and poor gas mileage for consumers. While Ford was milking the profits on big trucks and SUVs, the Japanese carmakers were shifting their own research into hybrid technologies. Gas prices went up over the past six years. This is what the NY Times reports as a result of Ford's woes:

The biggest blow to Ford in recent years has come from rising gasoline prices, which depressed sales of the big pickups and sport utility vehicles it depends on for profits.

And this little detail is especially interesting:

Ford expects to lose its grip on second place in the American market sometime this year, when it is overtaken by Toyota. Ford’s market share has fallen to 17.5 percent last year, from 25.7 percent a decade ago. By the end of the year, Ford’s internal projections show that the company may even fall to fourth place, behind Toyota, the Chrysler unit of DaimlerChrysler and General Motors, the market leader.

[Ford's new chief executive, Alan R.] Mulally caused a stir in Detroit last month when he flew to Tokyo to meet with Fujio Cho, the chairman of the Toyota Motor Company. Mr. Mulally said he asked for Mr. Cho’s advice on ways to streamline Ford’s manufacturing operations, and that the the two men had discussed cooperation on some technical matters.

But Mr. Mulally could well have sought Mr. Cho’s financial counsel, too, because the Ford loss for 2006 happens to almost exactly match the profit Toyota earned in 2005. That means there is a difference of more than $25 billion between the two companies’ financial performances.

Toyota pretty much took Ford's profits--probably in the American car market with the new hybrid cars, hybrid SUVs, and some of the more radical car designs such as the Matrix, the Avalon, and six different SUV models. It is no wonder that Ford is in such trouble.

What is even more amazing is how Ford is now going to Toyota to ask for help in manufacturing cars. It was Henry Ford that first created the assembly line process which is used for the mass production of automobiles. Toyota took Ford's assembly line process and perfected it with their ownToyota Production System, thus eliminating waste, and improving both productivity and quality of their cars. Ford is going to Toyota to learn how to adapt this new philosophy into their own business.

Someone's got a BIG CRUSH on the president

This is just crazy! This is off YouTube:

That dark-haired lady doing the serious smooching with the president is Minnesota's freshman congresswoman Republican Michele Bachmann. The scoop on this presidential smooch can be found at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The video of this smooch was first released through KSTP, and "within minutes was blasted all over the Internet, viewed almost 450,000 times in the first 24 hours." Bachmann's behavior is bringing out a lot of buzz among the press and bloggers regarding Bachmann's behavior. What else can I say? Michele Bachmann has a big high school crush on the class president here.

John McCain at President Bush's SOTU address

Is he sleeping, or is he just closing his eyes?

Some thoughts on the SOTU speech

For the last two days, I've been spending my time babysitting my four-year-old niece. So I haven't had much time to blog on President Bush's State of the Union speech. I've certainly been reading some of the commentary and analysis from the media. The New York Times has an excellent SOTU editorial, which breaks down to "the same ole, same ole." A Washington Post analysis rips into the Bush lies on Iraq. MSNBC has an interesting comparison between President Bush's current State of the Union, and the State of the Union of an earlier Texas president--Lyndon Johnson.

I found it rather interesting that President Bush started his SOTU address with an emphasis on his domestic agenda rather than Iraq. In fact, the entire emphasis of the SOTU speech was about domestic policy--you would think that the United States wasn't even in a failed war in Iraq. Then again, what else could the Bush White House speechwriters say, considering that the majority of the American public opposes the Bush administration's escalation of the war in Iraq. There was a laundry list of Bush domestic policies that will go nowhere--the Health Savings Accounts, school vouchers, a balanced budget (Now that's a laugh!), research into new energy technologies (Every president seems to talk about this since Carter wanted Americans to wear more sweaters), nominate federal judges with up-or-down votes--this will all go nowhere. President Bush did propose a new health insurance scam of proposing another tax reduction on health insurance premiums paid by Americans. There was also some talk of shifting the health insurance costs on to the states, rather than the federal government. I don't know much about these proposals yet, but I'm not sure I particularly care much for them, considering that President Bush seems more interested in the economic interests of his rich elites and corporations, rather than of ordinary Americans. Iraq didn't come up until the final quarter of the speech, and yes President Bush again linked 9/11 to Iraq (Four times). And now, President Bush is starting a new linkage of terrorists taking orders from Iran. Even worst, the terrorists want nuclear weapons that Iran would certainly give them. Therefore, we've got to escalate the war in Iraq, and possibly attack Iran. It was pretty much the same BS as Bush said in his "surge speech."


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Democratic Party response to Bush's SOTU speech

Here is the video of the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union speech. From YouTube:

Here is the text of the Democratic response to President Bush's SOTU speech:

Good evening.

I'm Senator Jim Webb, from Virginia, where this year we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown - an event that marked the first step in the long journey that has made us the greatest and most prosperous nation on earth.

It would not be possible in this short amount of time to actually rebut the President's message, nor would it be useful. Let me simply say that we in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious about improving education and healthcare for all Americans, and addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans.

Further, this is the seventh time the President has mentioned energy independence in his state of the union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place in a Congress led by the Democratic Party. We are looking for affirmative solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, and spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternate energy programs. We look forward to working with the President and his party to bring about these changes.

There are two areas where our respective parties have largely stood in contradiction, and I want to take a few minutes to address them tonight. The first relates to how we see the health of our economy - how we measure it, and how we ensure that its benefits are properly shared among all Americans. The second regards our foreign policy - how we might bring the war in Iraq to a proper conclusion that will also allow us to continue to fight the war against international terrorism, and to address other strategic concerns that our country faces around the world.

When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being sent along with them.

In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace.

In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy - that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

And under the leadership of the new Democratic Congress, we are on our way to doing so. The House just passed a minimum wage increase, the first in ten years, and the Senate will soon follow. We've introduced a broad legislative package designed to regain the trust of the American people. We've established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond party lines. We're working to get the right things done, for the right people and for the right reasons.

With respect to foreign policy, this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years. Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world.

I want to share with all of you a picture that I have carried with me for more than 50 years. This is my father, when he was a young Air Force captain, flying cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift. He sent us the picture from Germany, as we waited for him, back here at home. When I was a small boy, I used to take the picture to bed with me every night, because for more than three years my father was deployed, unable to live with us full-time, serving overseas or in bases where there was no family housing. I still keep it, to remind me of the sacrifices that my mother and others had to make, over and over again, as my father gladly served our country. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues - those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death - we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us - sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.

The war's costs to our nation have been staggering.


The damage to our reputation around the world.

The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism.

And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

On both of these vital issues, our economy and our national security, it falls upon those of us in elected office to take action.

Regarding the economic imbalance in our country, I am reminded of the situation President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days of the 20th century. America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.

Roosevelt spoke strongly against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans that they must set themselves "as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other." And he did something about it.

As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. "When comes the end?" asked the General who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War Two. And as soon as he became President, he brought the Korean War to an end.

These Presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way.

Thank you for listening. And God bless America.

Here's the prepared text for Bush's SOTU speech

Here is the prepared text for President Bush's SOTU speech:

The text of President Bush's State of the Union address, as prepared for delivery, as provided by the White House:

Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, Members of Congress, distinguished guests and fellow citizens:

This rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour -- when decisions are hard and courage is tested. We enter the year 2007 with large endeavors underway, and others that are ours to begin. In all of this, much is asked of us. We must have the will to face difficult challenges and determined enemies -- and the wisdom to face them together.

Some in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate -- and I congratulate the Democratic majority. Congress has changed, but our responsibilities have not. Each of us is guided by our own convictions -- and to these we must stay faithful. Yet we are all held to the same standards, and called to serve the same good purposes: To extend this nation's prosperity ... to spend the people's money wisely ... to solve problems, not leave them to future generations ... to guard America against all evil, and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us.

We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on -- as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and help them to build a future of hope and opportunity -- and this is the business before us tonight.

A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy -- and that is what we have. We are now in the 41st month of uninterrupted job growth -- in a recovery that has created 7.2 million new jobs ... so far. Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising. This economy is on the move -- and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government but with more enterprise.

Next week, I will deliver a full report on the state of our economy. Tonight, I want to discuss three economic reforms that deserve to be priorities for this Congress.

First, we must balance the federal budget. We can do so without raising taxes. What we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. We set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009 -- and met that goal three years ahead of schedule. Now let us take the next step. In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. I ask you to make the same commitment. Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government, and balance the federal budget.

Next, there is the matter of earmarks. These special interest items are often slipped into bills at the last hour -- when not even C-SPAN is watching. In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate -- they are dropped into Committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You did not vote them into law. I did not sign them into law. Yet they are treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this practice. So let us work together to reform the budget process ... expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session.

Finally, to keep this economy strong we must take on the challenge of entitlements. Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are commitments of conscience -- and so it is our duty to keep them permanently sound. Yet we are failing in that duty -- and this failure will one day leave our children with three bad options: huge tax increases, huge deficits, or huge and immediate cuts in benefits. Everyone in this Chamber knows this to be true -- yet somehow we have not found it in ourselves to act. So let us work together and do it now. With enough good sense and good will, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid -- and save Social Security.

Spreading opportunity and hope in America also requires public schools that give children the knowledge and character they need in life. Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act -- preserving local control, raising standards in public schools, and holding those schools accountable for results. And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap.

Now the task is to build on this success, without watering down standards ... without taking control from local communities ... and without backsliding and calling it reform. We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools ... and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose something better. We must increase funds for students who struggle -- and make sure these children get the special help they need. And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future, and our country is more competitive, by strengthening math and science skills. The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children -- and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law.

A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care. When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children. We will meet those responsibilities. For all other Americans, private health insurance is the best way to meet their needs. But many Americans cannot afford a health insurance policy.

Tonight, I propose two new initiatives to help more Americans afford their own insurance. First, I propose a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents. Families with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $15,000 of their income. Single Americans with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $7,500 of their income. With this reform, more than 100 million men, women, and children who are now covered by employer-provided insurance will benefit from lower tax bills.

At the same time, this reform will level the playing field for those who do not get health insurance through their job. For Americans who now purchase health insurance on their own, my proposal would mean a substantial tax savings -- $4,500 for a family of four making $60,000 a year. And for the millions of other Americans who have no health insurance at all, this deduction would help put a basic private health insurance plan within their reach. Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans.

My second proposal is to help the states that are coming up with innovative ways to cover the uninsured. States that make basic private health insurance available to all their citizens should receive federal funds to help them provide this coverage to the poor and the sick. I have asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with Congress to take existing federal funds and use them to create "Affordable Choices" grants. These grants would give our Nation's governors more money and more flexibility to get private health insurance to those most in need.

There are many other ways that Congress can help. We need to expand Health Savings Accounts ... help small businesses through Association Health Plans ... reduce costs and medical errors with better information technology ... encourage price transparency ... and protect good doctors from junk lawsuits by passing medical liability reform. And in all we do, we must remember that the best health care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors.

Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America -- with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we are doubling the size of the Border Patrol -- and funding new infrastructure and technology.

Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border -- and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won't have to try to sneak in -- and that will leave border agents free to chase down drug smugglers, and criminals, and terrorists. We will enforce our immigration laws at the worksite, and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers -- so there is no excuse left for violating the law. We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. And we need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country -- without animosity and without amnesty.

Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate -- so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law.

Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our Nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments ... raise the price of oil ... and do great harm to our economy.

It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power -- by even greater use of clean coal technology ... solar and wind energy ... and clean, safe nuclear power. We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- using everything from wood chips, to grasses, to agricultural wastes.

We have made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies in Washington and the strong response of the market. Now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we have done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next ten years -- thereby cutting our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory Fuels Standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- this is nearly five times the current target. At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to eight and a half billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but will not eliminate it. So as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must also step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment -- and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.

A future of hope and opportunity requires a fair, impartial system of justice. The lives of citizens across our Nation are affected by the outcome of cases pending in our federal courts. And we have a shared obligation to ensure that the federal courts have enough judges to hear those cases and deliver timely rulings. As President, I have a duty to nominate qualified men and women to vacancies on the federal bench. And the United States Senate has a duty as well -- to give those nominees a fair hearing, and a prompt up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that terrorists can cause. We have had time to take stock of our situation. We have added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us -- unless we stop them.

With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. Such debates are essential when a great democracy faces great questions. Yet one question has surely been settled -- that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy.

From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since Nine-Eleven has never been the same.

Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented -- but here is some of what we do know: We stopped an al-Qaida plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terrorist cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al-Qaida cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them.

Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that is the case, America is still a nation at war.

In the minds of the terrorists, this war began well before September 11th, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past five years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al-Qaida and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats ... instruct with bullets and bombs ... and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.

Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments, and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: "We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse." And Osama bin Laden declared: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al-Qaida in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. But whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent, they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans ... kill democracy in the Middle East ... and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.

In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people.

This war is more than a clash of arms -- it is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our nation is in the balance. To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred, and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and come to kill us. What every terrorist fears most is human freedom -- societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments. Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies -- and most will choose a better way when they are given a chance. So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates, reformers, and brave voices for democracy. The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security ... we must.

In the last two years, we have seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East -- and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution ... drove out the Syrian occupiers ... and chose new leaders in free elections. In 2005, the people of Afghanistan defied the terrorists and elected a democratic legislature. And in 2005, the Iraqi people held three national elections -- choosing a transitional government ... adopting the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world and then electing a government under that constitution. Despite endless threats from the killers in their midst, nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens came out to vote in a show of hope and solidarity we should never forget.

A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. And Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon's legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al-Qaida fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al-Qaida and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia -- and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.

We are carrying out a new strategy in Iraq -- a plan that demands more from Iraq's elected government, and gives our forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission. Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror.

In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we are deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The vast majority will go to Baghdad, where they will help Iraqi forces to clear and secure neighborhoods, and serve as advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units. With Iraqis in the lead, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down terrorists, insurgents, and roaming death squads. And in Anbar province -- where al-Qaida terrorists have gathered and local forces have begun showing a willingness to fight them -- we are sending an additional 4,000 United States Marines, with orders to find the terrorists and clear them out. We did not drive al-Qaida out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq.

The people of Iraq want to live in peace, and now is the time for their government to act. Iraq's leaders know that our commitment is not open ended. They have promised to deploy more of their own troops to secure Baghdad -- and they must do so. They have pledged that they will confront violent radicals of any faction or political party. They need to follow through, and lift needless restrictions on Iraqi and Coalition forces, so these troops can achieve their mission of bringing security to all of the people of Baghdad. Iraq's leaders have committed themselves to a series of benchmarks to achieve reconciliation -- to share oil revenues among all of Iraq's citizens ... to put the wealth of Iraq into the rebuilding of Iraq ... to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's civic life ... to hold local elections ... and to take responsibility for security in every Iraqi province. But for all of this to happen, Baghdad must be secured. And our plan will help the Iraqi government take back its capital and make good on its commitments.

My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq -- because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching.

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al-Qaida and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq, would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens ... new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September 11th and invite tragedy. And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East ... to succeed in Iraq ... and to spare the American people from this danger.

This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you have made. We went into this largely united -- in our assumptions, and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq -- and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field -- and those on their way.

The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. That is why it is important to work together so our Nation can see this great effort through. Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. And this is why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. And we will show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory.

One of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military -- so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. And it would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time.

Americans can have confidence in the outcome of this struggle -- because we are not in this struggle alone. We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism. In Iraq, multinational forces are operating under a mandate from the United Nations -- and we are working with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf States to increase support for Iraq's government. The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. With the other members of the Quartet -- the UN, the European Union, and Russia -- we are pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land, and pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. In Afghanistan, NATO has taken the lead in turning back the Taliban and al-Qaida offensive -- the first time the Alliance has deployed forces outside the North Atlantic area. Together with our partners in China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, we are pursuing intensive diplomacy to achieve a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. And we will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma -- and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur.

American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, poverty, and disease -- and that is precisely what America is doing. We must continue to fight HIV/AIDS, especially on the continent of Africa -- and because you funded our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the number of people receiving lifesaving drugs has grown from 50,000 to more than 800,000 in three short years. I ask you to continue funding our efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. I ask you to provide $1.2 billion over five years so we can combat malaria in 15 African countries. I ask that you fund the Millennium Challenge Account, so that American aid reaches the people who need it, in nations where democracy is on the rise and corruption is in retreat. And let us continue to support the expanded trade and debt relief that are the best hope for lifting lives and eliminating poverty.

When America serves others in this way, we show the strength and generosity of our country. These deeds reflect the character of our people. The greatest strength we have is the heroic kindness, courage and self-sacrifice of the American people. You see this spirit often if you know where to look -- and tonight we need only look above to the gallery.

Dikembe Mutombo grew up in Africa, amid great poverty and disease. He came to Georgetown University on a scholarship to study medicine -- but Coach John Thompson got a look at Dikembe and had a different idea. Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth -- or the duty to share his blessings with others. He has built a brand new hospital in his hometown. A friend has said of this good hearted man: "Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things." And we are proud to call this son of the Congo our fellow American.

After her daughter was born, Julie Aigner-Clark searched for ways to share her love of music and art with her child. So she borrowed some equipment, and began filming children's videos in her basement. The Baby Einstein Company was born -- and in just five years her business grew to more than $20 million in sales. In November 2001, Julie sold Baby Einstein to the Walt Disney Company, and with her help Baby Einstein has grown into a $200 million business. Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America. And she is using her success to help others -- producing child safety videos with John Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Julie says of her new project: "I believe it's the most important thing that I've ever done. I believe that children have the right to live in a world that is safe." We are pleased to welcome this talented business entrepreneur and generous social entrepreneur -- Julie Aigner-Clark.

Three weeks ago, Wesley Autrey was waiting at a Harlem subway station with his two little girls, when he saw a man fall into the path of a train. With seconds to act, Wesley jumped onto the tracks ... pulled the man into a space between the rails ... and held him as the train passed right above their heads. He insists he's not a hero. Wesley says: "We got guys and girls overseas dying for us to have our freedoms. We got to show each other some love." There is something wonderful about a country that produces a brave and humble man like Wesley Autrey.

Tommy Rieman was a teenager pumping gas in Independence, Kentucky, when he enlisted in the United States Army. In December 2003, he was on a reconnaissance mission in Iraq when his team came under heavy enemy fire. From his Humvee, Sergeant Rieman returned fire -- and used his body as a shield to protect his gunner. He was shot in the chest and arm, and received shrapnel wounds to his legs -- yet he refused medical attention, and stayed in the fight. He helped to repel a second attack, firing grenades at the enemy's position. For his exceptional courage, Sergeant Rieman was awarded the Silver Star. And like so many other Americans who have volunteered to defend us, he has earned the respect and gratitude of our whole country.

In such courage and compassion, ladies and gentlemen, we see the spirit and character of America -- and these qualities are not in short supply. This is a decent and honorable country -- and resilient, too. We have been through a lot together. We have met challenges and faced dangers, and we know that more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence -- because the State of our Union is strong ... our cause in the world is right ... and tonight that cause goes on.