Saturday, January 27, 2007

People with Real Problems who President Bush Did Not Point to in the Gallery during the State of the Union

Huffington Post
Steve Clemons
People with Real Problems who President Bush Did Not Point to in the Gallery during the State of the Union

I haven't posted a follow up piece on the broader parts of the President's State of the Union Address -- beyond this foreign policy essay -- and I haven't posted on Senator Chuck Hagel's impressive and courageous leadership on the Iraq War Resolution this week, as well as Senator Biden's leadership -- because I have just been seriously depressed and distracted by an encounter I had the night of the State of the Union speech.

We all have personal stories. We know people who are sick, who die, who need a helping hand. But in Washington, we deal with the macro-dimensions of policy and we rarely think about the individuals involved. That's why I don't think Barbara Boxer was out of line in any way at all by admitting that both she and Condi Rice were a step removed from the real costs and consequences of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the President does get to "point up at the gallery" in the Chamber of the House of Representatives on the night of the State of the Union address and point to heroes who did something significant and who can possibly inspire others. Hillary Clinton can pick names and questions from tens of thousands she received in her "Conversations with Americans" and "humanize" an interaction that is nonetheless symbolic and can't really be more than a macro-level encounter with the millions of people who have to consider voting for her or someone else.

But on the night of the President's State of the Union, I met a young man whose situation is probably like many Americans -- too many -- and whose story needs to be revealed and considered.

Like some the President noted Wednesday night, this young man really deserves to be pointed to in a gallery in the House of Representatives or Senate.

In fact, Speaker Pelosi or Senator Reid should invite this young man to sit in the Gallery during a Congressional Session -- and they should speak to him, recognize the burdens he is carrying on behalf of his family and how the environment for working families in this country is hell for some. His story is tragic, and yet this kid is a hero in my mind for what he is doing -- and someone, or many of us, should be trying to help him and others like him.

So, I'm going to point at the Gallery, my own gallery, for a moment -- and I hope that Speaker Pelosi or Majority Leader Reid consider my proposal about this guy and his situation, or others like him.

Until they do offer to invite him to the House or Senate, I am going to keep his identity concealed as far as the blog goes, but if they do want to do something extraordinary for an impressive person then I will reveal who he is in some way that does not damage his current work situation.

I do want people to help him.

I attended Wednesday night a quite splashy State of the Union pre-party sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly. One interesting thing I noticed about the attendees this year as opposed to earlier years is that the Republicans were there in force. John Boehner and Roy Blunt hovered a long time in the spectacular reception foyer of the Thomas Jefferson Building. Some Dems were there -- but last year, there were many more. An indication of change.

At 7:30 pm, Al Jazeera had arranged for me to be picked up by a town car and driven to their studio so that I could do an evening of political commentary, along with a Republican party strategist, on the State of the Union. But when I got outside, the Capitol had become like the Green Zone in Baghdad with a curfew.

Police were everywhere. There was absolutely no vehicle traffic around the entire Congressional complex, including the Capitol and all of the House and Senate office buildings. So, I had to walk from the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building to Louisiana and D Streets -- pretty far for a guy who had thrown his back over the weekend.

By the time I got there, a military or police guy dressed in black with an M-16 was seriously hassling the driver of the car I was supposed to get into -- and the fact that he was a 22 year old Afghan-American sent off a number of red flags that made the security folks think there was something was up. They searched him, made him open the trunk and searched the car as he waited for me -- but the guy tenaciously waited until I got there and then drove me to the studio at 16th & K.

I do a lot of TV work, more lately, and most of the studios -- CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera -- send town cars to drive their talking head talent to and from their offices or homes. I know many of the drivers, and most of them are middle-aged, know the city unbelievably well, and have an odd kind of confidence that comes from driving around people like James Woolsey, Mike Isikoff, Richard Perle and others and eavesdropping discreetly on their cell phone calls that they make in the car. These drivers know a lot -- and are great sources of interesting gossip.

This kid was new, and it was obvious. This is also the first time that he had had an encounter with an M-16 carrying Capitol policeman who didn't do anything inappropriate perhaps but who probably thought that a young, clean cut guy who has dark Middle Eastern/South Asian features parking a black town car near the Capitol on State of the Union night was exactly what he was trained to disrupt.

I talk to people -- all sorts of folks. It's how I learn things, particularly people who work on the periphery and sometimes right in the chambers of powerful political players. But I just wanted to calm this guy down and help him get me to the studio as I was already late.

I asked him questions -- and as I asked more, our exchange got quickly beyond the bland, impersonal banter of most town car talk. I want to emphasize that this young man did not set out to reveal his personal story to me. I want his employers to know -- in case they read this -- that he was the epitome of a professional. I pushed him, tactfully, to answer my line of questions -- some of which I sort of boldly put to him and which perhaps because of his youth and inexperience he answered honestly and without guile or shading.

This young man is a 22 year old American of Afghan descent, born and raised in Fairfax, Virginia. He is sharp-looking and personable, but innocent of politics and how the sharks and barracudas of Washington that he's driving around really operate.

He has been driving for just two months and has been logging 100 to 120 hours a week. He starts driving at about 11 am, or earlier and works until 4 am in the morning, every day of the week.

There are only 168 hours in a week, and I validated by drivers at the town car service today that he is in fact working the number of hours he reported.

What he is doing is unsustainable, and as I pressed him on why he seemed to be engaged in this desperate-sounding work pace, his voice quivered and told me that he had to support his family because his father and mother had both become ill.

He was the kind of guy who just doesn't talk much, but it was clear that he wasn't going to refuse to answer my questions -- and I pried, perhaps inappropriately.

His 43-year old father had male breast cancer which has now evolved into bone cancer. His father was some kind of techician or engineer, and his father had no health insurance. His mother also has some kind of throat ailment that he could not define for me very well, but she is also unable to work.

He has three younger sisters -- and after his father fell ill, this driver had to withdraw from the ITT Technical Institute where he was two semesters away from getting an MIS degree (Management Information Systems) in business technology. The college tried to work with him given the tragic nature of what has happened to his father and organize a morning set of course that he could work through at 8 am, but he could not do it because he was getting just no sleep.

Wow. This is the nicest young man you could imagine -- born in this county in an immigrant family that has worked hard to get ahead -- and like any family, or perhaps many families, something unexpected has torpedoes the family's ability to stay afloat. I felt that I could sense how close his family was because it was clear to me that this person was not yet street-smart, had been sheltered by close parents and family and now was just trying to figure out things in a world that was moving very fast, and in which he felt like he was losing his grip.

Knowing that the President was going to address health care issues that very night, I asked if his dad had gone right away to get treated when he knew he was ill with the first round of health care. He responded that his dad avoided going because he didn't have health care but that also tried at various times to go anyway -- and that the doctors didn't want to see him or treat him because he had no coverage.

He had no coverage. The doctors did not want to treat him.

The breast cancer worsened and I think (as I don't know health patterns of this sort well) metastasized into bone cancer.

The driver's father is now receiving some kind of chemotherapy, but to me -- the situation sounds bleak.

As he drove me down K Street, he said that he had driven a couple of people who knew about these health realities and asked them what he might do that he wasn't doing, and as he told me that a couple had said that the chances for his father were dim, and that his dad "probably wouldn't make it," tears welled up in this kid's eyes.

And then I had to go hear the President talk about health care and that he was going to create a new category of deductions for the poor to deduct some health insurance costs from their taxes:

And so 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 on payroll tax -- 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, this 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. (Applause.)

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.

I'm not going to take a pot shot at the President's plan and say that it's just not fixing the problems of the guy I met Wednesday night. The President or anyone working at the highest level of political discourse in health care can't get lost in the weeds of individual problems.

But i was hearing and looking at a weed that just needs some kind of attention.

And when I heard the President point into the Gallery -- as all Presidents do -- to salute a guy who risked his life for someone in the New York subway, or made a lot of money as an entrepreneur working in child education products, or threw himself into harm's way in a gun fight to protect someone and kept fighting despite some serious wounds -- I think that this young town car driver I met is just as much a hero in trying to take on something at 22 years of age -- no degree -- and work an insane number of hours that very few of us watching the President or sitting in the Congressional Chamber or enjoying our crab dip and pork fiesta at the State of the Union/Atlantic Monthly pre-party gala could handle.

This kid needs help or he's going to collapse. And there are no doubt many others out there like him who need help too. We have to get health care realities changed in this country -- and what the President suggests just does not do it. But I'll leave that policy debate for another day.

This kid needs a break from someone with resources. He needs to finish his last two semesters at ITT and to do that he either needs an offset from a job that is more rational that helps him pay the costs for his family and allow the school to again put together the arrangement so that he can both manage work and his courses.

He is not well-trained, and he doesn't have much experience -- but he really does need to be given a chance by someone. Interview him if you are in the area and you have something a sharp, young guy without a degree but who seems hard-working, dependable and trainable might be able to do.

Another way to help him for those well-heeled types who are constantly in town cars in Washington, DC is to request his car which is encouraged. I will convey his "driver number" and the name of the car to credible people who contact me via email if they wish to help him. The drivers of these cars receive about 30% of the income and the limo service from which they rent the cars for their shifts take about 70%. Just something to know about.

My email address is

Another way to help this kid is to contribute to him. I don't know any slick ways to do that. But people can send him checks if they like -- and I would be happy to provide contact information so that can be done. This would not be a deductible charity. It's just helping someone out with some funds to offset his time so that he can finish his school.

There is no way that this young man can make his situation work the way he is going.

Folks can send money to "The Washington Note/Qaiss Fund" if you like at:

The Washington Note 1630 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 7th Floor Washington, DC 20009

I will then just transfer these funds to him. And I guess paypal can work as well -- but I would need donors to specify in their paypal request that the donation was intended for this young man and his family. Just label it "Qaiss".

I rarely do this. It feels awkward now. I'm going to post this in a couple of places including my own blog, Huffington Post, and TPM Cafe.

And as I said, I know this is long, rambling, and a "pointing at the Gallery" exercise. But this guy -- and others -- deserve to be pointed to and supported. I really was inspired by this young man's commitment to his family and his selflessness.

What I know though is that he just can't survive his situation he's in, and he and his family will be in even worse dire circumstances than they are now when he collapses.

And at the root of this is a family who has and had no health care. Just like millions of others, and increasingly more each year.

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note


Pelosi in Iraq to see for herself how war is going

Pelosi in Iraq to see for herself how war is going

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a leading critic of President George W. Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, arrived in Baghdad on Friday for a closer view of a war she opposes.

Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said he assured her he wanted his forces to take control of security from U.S. troops as soon as possible and called for an acceleration of their training and more military equipment.

A U.S. embassy official said Pelosi, the first woman speaker of the House, was in Iraq as part of a six-member congressional delegation for meetings with Iraqi and U.S. officials.

Pelosi emerged from her talks with Maliki saying "we come out with a greater understanding of each other's point of view".

She also said the delegation wanted to show U.S. troops in Iraq "the appreciation of the American people for what they are doing ... to applaud their patriotism, the sacrifice they are willing to make".

Pelosi has already said the new Democratic-controlled Congress will vote against the new strategy but will not seek to block funding for a troop increase.

Some 66 U.S. soldiers have died so far this month, taking the U.S. death toll since the war began in March 2003 to 3,067. Many of Bush's critics in Washington fear sending more troops will simply give militants more targets.

Bush has said the United States must not quit Iraq now as that would leave Iraqis prey to more sectarian violence and allow al Qaeda to operate from Iraq with impunity.

Pelosi, a key player in the Democratic takeover of Congress, has helped lead opposition in Washington to Bush's retooled Iraq strategy which envisages sending 21,500 more troops to help quell raging sectarian violence, especially in Baghdad.

She has accused Bush of playing politics with soldiers' lives and said after his State of the Union address to Congress this week that he had ignored the concerns of the American public over the unpopular war.

Democrats are pushing for a phased withdrawal from Iraq. Opinion polls show Americans are strongly opposed to Bush's plan for a troop increase.


Fifteen Palestinians killed in Gaza clashes between Hamas and Fatah

Fifteen Palestinians killed in Gaza clashes
By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Rival Palestinian factions clashed in the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing 15 people including a two-year-old child, and a Fatah-linked group said it had captured 24 Hamas hostages.

The death toll in a wave of bombings and shootings is the highest in internal Palestinian fighting in a single day of violence since Hamas's rise to power exactly a year ago.

In Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas gunmen besieged and later stormed the house of senior Fatah militant Mansour Shalayel, who they accused of shooting a Hamas supporter.

Security forces said they managed to regain control of the house and drive away the attackers and free Shalayel and other people who were holed up inside the house unharmed.

Hamas disputed Fatah's claim of success and said they were in control of the house. Shalayel had not been seen late on Friday and his whereabouts or condition were not known.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said it had seized 24 Hamas supporters in Gaza and the West Bank and threatened a "severe response" if Hamas gunmen harmed Shalayel.

Residents said gunfire echoed across Gaza late on Friday and both Hamas and Fatah forces deployed on the streets. Two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at Fatah's Preventive Security headquarters in Gaza City.

A rocket-propelled grenade was also fired at the house of Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas and caused extensive damage, a Hamas official said. He added that Zahar's family members were inside the house at the time but were unharmed.

The mounting violence prompted Hamas to call off the talks over forming a coalition government which could ease a U.S.-led boycott imposed after Hamas won a parliamentary poll a year ago.

"The Fatah movement continues to give a factional, political and media cover to the killers. Hamas has therefore decided to suspend all talks with Fatah," spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

Fatah spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa blamed the talks breakdown on Hamas.

"Hamas is responsible for the current wave of clashes and crimes. A bloody party within Hamas is not willing to pursue the dialogue and continues to kill Fatah members," he said.

At least eight Hamas supporters, a militant from Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, five others and the young child who died in crossfire in southern Gaza, fell victim after the violence began with a bombing on Thursday.

Hamas vowed revenge for the killing of their members and of the leader named Zuhair al-Mansi which spokesman Barhoum described as a "grave crime".

The fighting coincided with a rally by thousands of Hamas supporters to mark the first anniversary of the Islamist group's election victory over the once-dominant Fatah last year.

In the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades paraded a group of nine youths it had captured and threatened revenge if Shalayel was hurt. The youths were later freed unharmed. In Gaza, 15 hostages were still being held.

In the West Bank town of Tulkarm unknown gunmen shot and critically wounded a Hamas official as he left evening prayers.


Around 40 Palestinians have been killed in fighting between rival groups since President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah called last month for presidential and parliamentary elections after a previous round of unity talks broke down.

Hamas has said any snap poll would amount to a coup. But it has struggled to govern since taking office in March under the weight of sanctions imposed because of its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals.

Abbas, a moderate, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal pledged on Sunday to curb Palestinian bloodshed after inconclusive talks to end their power struggle and form a unity government.

Hamas leaders remained defiant on Friday as they marked the anniversary of its January 25, 2006 election victory.

Hamas leaders have offered Israel a long-term truce in return for a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although the Islamist group's charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas continues to say that it will not formally recognize Israel.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)


Friday, January 26, 2007

Iraq vice president: U.S. invasion was "idiot decision"

DAVOS-U.S. invasion was "idiot decision"-Iraq vice president
By Stella Dawson

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an "idiot decision" and Iraqi troops now need to secure Baghdad to ensure the country's future, Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Thursday.

"Iraq was put under occupation, which was an idiot decision," Mahdi said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mahdi said the Iraqi government planned to bring troops in to Baghdad from surrounding areas and said it was "a technical question" for the United States to decide whether to deploy more soldiers.

President George W. Bush plans to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq, a move widely criticised in the United States. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted against the decision, which is due to go before the Senate next week.

"If we can win this war in Baghdad then I think we can change the course of events," Mahdi told a panel on the state of affairs in Iraq.

"As Iraqis, we think we need more (Iraqi) troops in Baghdad, and we are calling for some regiments to come from other parts of the country," he said.

Mahdi's party, the powerful Shi'ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was one of the exiled opposition parties consulted by Washington as it planned the invasion.

Its leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is a key figure behind the U.S.-backed national unity government.


Some commentators are concerned that without the support of U.S. troops in Iraq, the already boiling sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites could break out into ever greater killing sprees.

Adnan Pachachi, a member of Iraq's parliament and a former acting speaker, said that if the United States could not stay in Iraq, other troops should be drafted in. "If because of domestic pressure in the United States, the U.S. feels it is not possible to continue undertaking this burden, then I think we should consider going to the United Nations and having an international force," said Pachachi.

"This is a last resort really, otherwise there would be total chaos in the country."

Bush, who this week pleaded for the United States to give his new Iraq plan a chance, does not have to abide by a Senate resolution if legislators vote against sending more troops.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vermont resident aims to impeach Bush

Rutland Herald
Resident aims to impeach
By Daniel Barlow

BRATTLEBORO — Kurt Daims is tired of Vermont towns just talking about impeaching President Bush. He wants the Windham County town he lives in to actually begin working on it.

Daims, a retired engineer and local activist, is gathering signatures to place a resolution on Brattleboro's Town Meeting agenda that would put 1 percent of the municipality's budget toward working for Bush's impeachment.

He said the approximately $120,000 of the proposed 2007 Brattleboro budget could be spent on a municipal impeachment staff. That staff would lobby the U.S. Congress to pass impeachment legislation, Daims explained.

"I know 1 percent sounds nominal, but it could have a big impact," he said. "If we can use our tax dollars to go to war, why can't we use them to impeach the president?"

Brattleboro, along with several other Windham County towns, voted to impeach President Bush back in March 2006. The impeachment movement in the state of Vermont was founded behind Dan DeWalt, a Newfane man who gained national attention when he first proposed that his small town tackle the measure.

As many as 40 Vermont towns may be tackling the same question this year while others will face resolutions calling on Bush to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

Daims said he supports that measure, but said he feels there is little actual action behind the gesture. Sometimes residents in Brattleboro have a habit of talking issues through, but not acting on them, he said.

"We need to hire a professional who knows how to get impeachment legislation proposed," Daims said.

Brattleboro Select Board Chairman Steve Steidle said he wouldn't want to speculate what would be cut from the budget to allocate the impeachment funds if such a measure passed. But he thinks it's an odd idea since impeachment of the president is far outside of the town's powers.

"We're working hard to put together a respectable budget," Steidle said. "I don't think people want us to spend money on something that really has no chance of having an impact."

There is some doubt the measure will be posed to Brattleboro voters. Daims said he has gathered about 150 of the 450 signatures needed to get an advisory question before voters and the final deadline is Thursday.

Also, he said, it's not clear if the question will be placed on the town meeting ballot or on the agenda of representative town meeting — a form of government in the town that has 140 elected officials cast votes on town and school budgets.

Town Clerk Annette Cappy said some of the few signatures that have arrived at her office have been discounted because of duplicates and residency issues.

But Daims is increasing his signature gathering drive this week with an appearance Monday morning on Steve West's local talk show on WKVT. And an advertisement promoting the drive will appear in a local newspaper tomorrow, he said.

"I went door-to-door on Sunday," he said. "Out of the houses that were occupied, three out of four people signed on."


Bush Stays the Course, Whatever the Cost
Fineman: Bush Stays the Course, Whatever the Cost
Bush is sticking to his vision, no matter what Congress and the country think.
By Howard Fineman

Jan. 23, 2007 - George W. Bush wanted to be Harry Truman (patron saint of embattled presidents) in his State of the Union speech, but he may have reminded voters of Slim Pickens in "Dr. Strangelove." You know the famous scene: the giddy pilot in a cowboy hat hops aboard his own payload to Armageddon.

Say this about the president: he is going to stick with his vision, his strategy and his decisions on Iraq—no matter what the world, the American voters, the new Democratic Congress, the ’08 presidential contenders or even his fellow Republicans want.

All the buzz before the speech was that Bush would do something of a quick shuffle past Iraq. Yes, there was much domestic throat clearing—more than a half hour’s worth of it (though not a single mention of Katrina and New Orleans)—but when it came time to turn to Iraq and the “war on terror” he did not flinch.

Nothing he said was remarkably new—which, in and of itself was nothing short of remarkable.

Bush said, with all earnestness, that his goal in Iraq and the Middle East was—and our goal must be—to “remove conditions that inspire hatred” there. However, it is hard to find a dispassionate observer of the war who thinks that we have achieved that goal. Sadly, even many of our own military people say that just the opposite is true. Our presence has inflamed hatred, not doused it.

Without a trace of irony, he told the Congress: “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” But most Americans have concluded that we already have failed.

The speech was worlds away from the dim and dolorous address he gave the other week on the details of his new Iraq strategy—troop escalation, reinforcement or surge. Surrounded by the bright lights and trappings of authority, he was workman-like and confident. Measured by the number of times he got Speaker Nancy Pelosi to stand up and applaud, he did a decent job of suggesting measures that he and the Democratic Congress could work on together.

But all of that was beside the point. The war in Iraq has cost 3,000 lives, half a trillion dollars and, just as important, has cost the United States precious standing and moral authority in the world at large. All of that will damage us diplomatically, militarily and economically. The dollar is down, the euro is up; America, sadly, is regarded in much of the world as almost as great a threat to peace as the “evil” people we have been fighting for six years.

None of that seems to matter much to the president.

He seems to live in a different world. Most of us increasingly live in a wiki world, where the digital, online search for information and enlightenment is a collaborative enterprise - the cumulative, exponential power of many minds.

Our president, whom I used to view as a gregarious man, does not scour the world for information. He likes the “one riot, one ranger” theory of life. I think back to 2000, and remember the bus he rented on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. It had a big captain’s chair, and even a small Persian rug and a clock on the wall, but there was something isolating about it - it was not configured to accommodate a big crowd of people gathering around. He seemed to be relieved to escape into it.

No, he wants the Democrats to join him in creating a “special advisory council on the war on terror.” It may be a little late for that--like asking them to join him for the payload ride down.



The speech's key points and their context

The speech's key points and their context

What the president said on the critical issues of the coming year.

Balanced budget

What President Bush said: "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."

Context: Bush inherited a $128 billion budget surplus. Within three years, a recession and the war on terrorism turned it into a $412 billion deficit.

Rising tax receipts fueled by record corporate profits have since driven the deficit down to $248 billion.

Getting back to balance won't be easy if the president is realistic about the future costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the impact of extending his tax cuts, which he vows to do. Bush will be long gone before any balanced budget is enacted. Even if balance is achieved, the long-term growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security threaten much larger deficits in the future.


What Bush said: "A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy — and that is what we have. Unemployment is low, inflation is low and wages are rising."

Context: The economy, while slowing, continues to be a bright spot for the president. Americans' earnings are keeping ahead of inflation, interest rates have stabilized, the jobless rate remains low at 4.5%, and more jobs have been created for 40 consecutive months. Gasoline prices are down from their summer peak; health care inflation, while high, is the lowest since 1999. Tax collections are running 8.2% higher than a year ago.

Whether this is tied to Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 remains in dispute. Bush says he can balance the budget by 2012 while making all his tax cuts permanent. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia focused his response on the uneven nature of the recovery, which is "almost as if we are living in two different countries." He and other Democrats want to redirect spending on tax cuts and the Iraq war to items such as health care, education and alternative energy. Expect a clash of priorities over the 2008 budget that Bush will unveil Feb. 5.


What Bush said: "Five years ago we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. … And because we acted, students are performing better." Bush wants the act reauthorized.

Context: No Child Left Behind, Bush's ambitious 2002 education overhaul law, remains one of his few bipartisan successes. It expires this year, and Congress must reauthorize it. That effort could meet stiff resistance as lawmakers try to hold it off until after the 2008 election.

Members on both sides of the aisle have good reasons to wait: Many Democrats, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, don't like the law's annual tests and punishments for failing schools. Reid said the law may need some "fine-tuning." Republican lawmakers in states such as Utah and Virginia have criticized the law for allowing too much government intervention.

Ethics and earmarks

What Bush said: "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."

Context: Congress has required more public disclosure of earmarks, as the special projects that lawmakers quietly insert in spending bills are known. Lawmakers have not called for reductions; many defend the practice because they know best what their states and districts need.

Bush wants to go further; he wants line-item veto power to eliminate earmarks, an idea Democratic leaders reject.

The use of earmarks has mushroomed in recent years — with $67 billion in taxpayer money going to these special projects in fiscal year 2006 alone, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Global disease

What Bush said: "We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, poverty and disease — and that is precisely what America is doing."

Context: In 2003, Bush announced a five-year, $15 billion initiative to combat AIDS, the largest international health campaign to target a single disease. The program targets 15 countries that are home to about half the world's 39 million people who are HIV-positive. Bush has also called for Congress to reauthorize the $2.1 billion Ryan White Care Act, the largest federal program for people with HIV/AIDS.

The White House says that before the program, 50,000 people were receiving drug treatment for AIDS, while today, more than 800,000 people are receiving medications. Democrats have acknowledged the treatment success of the 2003 Bush plan, but Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., has proposed a bill to remove requirements that promote abstinence-until-marriage programs.

Bush announced a $1.2 billion, five-year plan in 2005 to control malaria in Africa. The goal of the initiative is to cut malaria deaths by half in 15 target countries.

Homeland security

What Bush said: "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."

Context: Port security became a major issue last year, and Congress is pushing it again in 2007. House Democrats this month passed a sweeping bill that would require inspections of all cargo on passenger airplanes and screening of cargo containers before they're loaded on ships headed to U.S. ports. The White House and some senators in both parties have questioned how the government will pay for the inspections. They also expressed concern the screening could hamper trade for limited security benefits. The Senate has not yet passed a version of the bill.


What Bush said: "Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America, with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. … Let us have a serious, civil and conclusive debate — so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law."

Context: Immigration is one issue where Democrats and Bush are likely to reach a deal. Bush has been pressing since taking office for a major overhaul of immigration laws that would include giving legal status to an estimated 12 million people now living in the country illegally.

Last year, the Senate approved a bipartisan bill that met the president's requirements, but House Republicans blocked it. Now Democrats are in charge and are making it a priority.

Bipartisan negotiations already are underway to begin writing a bill that would beef up border security, create a secure ID system to help employers determine who can legally work for them and strengthen penalties on those who hire illegal employees. Still to be determined: how many of those now here illegally will be given a chance at citizenship, and how many conditions they will have to meet.

House Democrats have said they will reconsider legislation passed last year to build 700 miles of fence along the Mexican border. Government auditors have said the project could cost $30 billion.


What Bush said: "The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran and made it clear that the world will not allow … Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons."

Context: The Bush administration has intensified pressure on Iran to stop trying to make nuclear fuel and to stop backing Iraqis who target U.S. troops. European nations, such as France and Germany, urged the United States to talk to Iran; in May, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would take part in multinational talks if Iran suspended uranium enrichment. Iran continued the program.

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in December forbidding trade that could help Iran's nuclear or missile programs.

The Bush administration rejected the Iraq Study Group's call for U.S.-Iranian talks. Instead, the administration increased pressure to ban foreign investment in Iran's oil industry and to stop Iranian banks from using U.S. dollars. Bush also sent a second aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf.


What Bush said: "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."

Context: Attacks on U.S. troops and sectarian violence continue throughout Iraq. The Pentagon's most recent report to Congress in November noted a 22% increase in attacks. Sixty-eight percent of them are directed at U.S.-led coalition troops.

That has prompted Bush to forge a new strategy. The president's "new way forward" includes sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops and $1 billion in aid. The plan also would bolster the number of U.S. advisers in Iraqi security units.

Bush's plan has met opposition in Congress and among the public. Senators from both parties have proposed resolutions expressing disagreement with Bush.

More than 60% of Americans surveyed by USA TODAY said they support a non-binding congressional resolution that opposes sending more troops.

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E. Howard Hunt, shadowy former CIA man who organized the Watergate break-in, dies
Ex-Spy Crafted Watergate, Other Schemes
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer

E. Howard Hunt, 88, the shadowy former CIA man who organized the Watergate break-in and other "dirty tricks" that ultimately brought down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, died of complications from pneumonia yesterday at a hospital in Miami.

The Watergate episode was the most notorious caper in a colorful career that included the overthrow of a Guatemalan president, oversight of a group of Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs fiasco and such over-the-top ideas as firebombing the Brookings Institution to distract guards while his crew burglarized the think tank.

Melodramatic and devious in character, resembling the actor Gene Hackman in appearance, Hunt donned a cheap red wig and wore a device that altered his gait while casing another burglary site -- the office of a psychiatrist to Daniel Ellsberg, who had released the classified Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War.

Hunt recruited four of the five Cuban exiles who broke into the Democratic national headquarters at the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972. He was watching the burglary from an adjacent building when the group was discovered and arrested, and it was his phone number in their address books that let investigators and reporters connect the break-in to the president and his reelection campaign.

Hunt's covert background included some 20 years in the CIA, where he helped overthrow the president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, in 1954. As the CIA station chief in Mexico City, he planted false newspaper stories about politicians who were out of favor. In 1961, he was the planning director for a group of Cuban exiles who unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro by invading the island at the Bay of Pigs. That's where he met Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez and Frank Sturgis, whom he would recruit for a covert group of "plumbers" whose job it was to fix the "leaks" that threatened the Nixon administration.

Their first job was in Los Angeles, where they broke into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. Back in Washington, Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy hatched the Watergate plan.

"What we were looking for is the same thing every congressional committee is looking for today, which was evidence of illegal foreign contributions," he told the Miami Herald in 1997. "That was the rationale for going in there. We'd heard rumors that both the Vietnamese and Fidel Castro were inserting funds illegally into the Democratic National Committee. And the idea was to look at the books, photograph them, in and out, and that's it. It didn't seem like such a deal to me. You know, I'd been doing that stuff for years, a 'black-bag job' into other embassies. But you know, I didn't have skilled people."

Hunt didn't let his loyalty to Nixon prevent him from pressuring his bosses for money. In a secretly recorded conversation in March 1973 that became one of the key pieces of evidence of the White House cover-up, White House Counsel John Dean told Nixon that "we're being blackmailed. . . . Hunt now is demanding another $72,000 for his own personal expenses; another $50,000 to pay his attorneys' fees."

After some further discussion, Nixon said: "If you need the money, I mean you could get the money. . . . I mean it's not easy, but it could be done."

Nixon, facing impeachment, resigned Aug. 9, 1974.

Hunt spent 33 months in prison for his role in the Watergate burglary. He was bitter that Nixon did not stand up for him. President Ronald Reagan rejected a pardon request for Hunt in 1983.

He was born Everette Howard Hunt in Hamburg, N.Y., on Oct. 9, 1918. He graduated from Brown University in 1940 and was commissioned as a Naval Reserve officer the following year. A talented writer, he worked as a correspondent for Life magazine until he was called to active duty during World War II. He served as a gunnery officer on a destroyer.

After the war, he received a Guggenheim fellowship and worked as a screenwriter before joining the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. He retired from the CIA in 1970 because "I found out the CIA was just infested with Democrats," he told Slate magazine in 2004.

Throughout his life, he wrote more than 80 spy novels and thrillers, usually under such pseudonyms as John Baxter, Robert Dietrich, David St. John, P.S. Donoghue, Gordon Davis or David St. John. He described one of his leading characters, Peter Ward, who shares some of his background as a Washington-dwelling Brown graduate, as "the secret agent with the taste and the talent for fine living."

Tad Szulc, a former New York Times reporter, wrote in the 1974 book "Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt" that Hunt was a relatively low-level CIA officer not well thought of by most of his colleagues and superiors. Hunt's autobiography, "American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate & Beyond," has a March publication date.

Hunt declared bankruptcy in 1997, largely blaming his Watergate fines and legal fees. A $650,000 libel settlement he was awarded in 1981 stemming from an article alleging his involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was overturned, and he received none of that money.

In the past few years, Hunt lost a leg to complications from atherosclerosis, battled lymphoma in his jaw and used an electric wheelchair to get around.

Hunt's first wife, Dorothy Wetzel Day Goutiere, was killed in the Dec. 8, 1972, plane crash of United Airlines Flight 533 in Chicago. Congress, the FBI, and the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crash, but they did not find any basis for determining that the crash was not purely accidental. The more than $10,000 in cash found in Dorothy Hunt's handbag was generally regarded as part of the "hush money" paid to Watergate defendants in an attempt to procure their silence regarding White House involvement.

Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Laura Martin Hunt of Miami; and six children.


New U.S. Commander in Iraq Refuses to Promise Success

ABC News
New U.S. Commander in Iraq Refuses to Promise Success
Bush's Pick to Lead Iraq Tells Senators War 'Not Hopeless'

Jan. 23, 2007 — - President Bush's pick as the new top commander on the ground in Iraq today offered a dour assessment of the war, calling the situation dire and making no promises of success.

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus told senators in his first appearance in a Capitol Hill hearing since being nominated as the four-star commander in Iraq that factional violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq has increased significantly since the bombing this past February of the Al-Askari mosque in Samarra, the third-holiest Shiite shrine.

"The escalation of violence in 2006 undermined the coalition strategy and raised the prospect of a failed Iraqi state, an outcome that would be in no group's interest, save that of certain extremist organizations and perhaps states in the region that wish Iraq and the [United] States ill," Petraeus told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"In truth, no one can predict the impact of a failed Iraq on regional stability, the international economy, the global war on terror, America's standing in the world and the lives of the Iraqi people," he said.

"The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard."

Nevertheless, he added "hard is not hopeless."

Petraeus is widely considered a leading intellectual light in the Army. He is expected to be easily confirmed, with even Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., saying that while he strenuously disagrees with the Bush administration's plan to "escalate" the war in Iraq by adding another 21,000 troops, he intended to vote to approve Petraeus.

"None of this will be rapid. In fact, the way ahead will be neither quick nor easy, and there undoubtedly will be tough days," Petraeus said. "We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy. He will try to wait us out. In fact, any such endeavor is a test of wills, and there are no guarantees."

The general indicated he could not ensure success.

"The only assurance I can give you is that if confirmed, I will provide Multinational Force - Iraq the best leadership and direction I can muster," Petraeus said. "I will work to ensure unity of effort with the ambassador and our Iraqi and coalition partners; and I will provide my bosses and you with forthright, professional military advice."

Petraeus assured members that if he concluded that the current strategy would not succeed, "I will provide you with that assessment."

If approved, he will enter his third tour of duty in Iraq, after joining the initial invasion in 2003 as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, then returning as the three-star head of training of Iraqi troops.

He would also be charged with carrying out a counterinsurgency doctrine set out in a new Army manual that Petraeus developed from the Army's doctrine and training command at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Those close to Petraeus have expressed disappointment that the region he controlled in northern Iraq, centered on Mosul, went from passive to explosive after the 101st left in 2004. Many blame the style of his successor, who they say antagonized Iraqis with a "death before dismount" approach that ended the close engagement with Iraqis Petraeus sought to pursue.

If confirmed by the Senate, as required, Petraeus would serve under a like-minded commander. President Bush has named Adm. William Fallon as his choice to head the U.S. Central Command.

Fallon, currently head of the Pentagon's Pacific Command, has pursued a nuanced approach to Chinese leaders who are aggressively rebuilding their military. He has traveled deeper into China than his predecessors and blended cooperation, including joint military exercises with the Chinese, with the implicit threat of military force, moving more carriers and bombers westward to Hawaii and Guam.

Both Petraeus and Fallon are expected to shift the emphasis of military operations in Iraq to win the security, and as a result the "hearts and minds," of Iraqis.

Petraeus supports President Bush's plan to move 17,500 additional troops into the capital of Baghdad in an effort to reduce residents' reliance on factional militias for security.

But Bush administration officials say they have also secured promises from the administration of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the Americans would not be barred from entering such Shiite strongholds as the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City. That has been a problem in the past, as U.S. forces were barred by Maliki from pursuing suspected Shiite Muslim death squads as they fled to safe havens in Sadr City.

That puts Maliki in an especially difficult position. His Shiite-dominated governing coalition won with the support of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who nominally controls the Mahdi Army militia that is blamed for much of the factional violence in the capital.

The questioning of Petraeus often grew sharp in criticizing the Bush administration and his policy of increasing American troop levels in Iraq.

"We are in a dire situation," said Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, a Democratic presidential candidate, "in part because the Congress was supine under the Republican majority."

Nevertheless, senators were uniformly complimentary and respectful in addressing Petraeus, differentiating him from a Bush policy he would be required to oversee.

"You wrote the book, general, but the policy is not by the book," Clinton added.

Clinton called the policy of increasing troops "a dead end" and vowed to send a message to the Iraqis that they "cannot rely on the blood and treasure of Americans any longer."

The new general's plan to secure Baghdad threatens to increase casualties because a larger number of American troops would be more exposed. Petraeus said to secure Baghdad's population, "forces must locate with and live with that population."

He added, "certainly there will be soldiers literally on the road, there will be soldiers on the streets and so forth."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., another presidential contender, asked Petraeus about congressional measures that would express the view of Congress that troop increases are the wrong policy and others that would actually bar funding for more troops.

"Suppose we send you over to your new job, general, only we tell you that we can't have -- you can't have any additional troops. Can you get your job done?," McCain asked.

"No, sir," Petraeus replied.


Rehnquist's Stay on Court Forced O'Connor Out

ABC News
Rehnquist's Stay on Court Forced O'Connor Out
Death Created Double Vacancy Chief Justice Feared

Jan. 23, 2007 — - In June of 2005, Sandra Day O'Connor seemed to be looking forward to another year on the court.

Her law clerks were hired for the next term and she had finalized her speaking schedule so it wouldn't conflict with the court's calendar for the new term. She assumed her old friend, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was ravaged with cancer, was going to retire in the next few weeks.

Earlier in the term she had met with Rehnquist, who had become increasingly frail. She had confided in him that because her devoted husband was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, she wouldn't be able to stay on the court indefinitely.

Although O'Connor thought Rehnquist might retire at the end of the term, at the meeting it was clear that he hadn't looked that far ahead into his own future. Ever worried about the court as an institution, he told her, "We don't need two vacancies." He advised her that they should wait.

"Let's talk later," he said.

By June, with only weeks left in the term, O'Connor went to visit her old friend again. Even though he had been coming to the court every day, she, like the other justices, still believed he would be retiring soon. She'd begun to think she would spend one more year on the court before retiring herself.

She knew that Rehnquist believed emphatically that the court shouldn't have two retirements at the same time. She guessed that he would imminently announce his retirement, allowing her to stay one more year.

She guessed wrong.

He stunned her by telling her: "I want to stay another year."

O'Connor was caught off guard. Rehnquist's implication was clear: She must retire now or be prepared to serve two more years. Rehnquist was unilaterally deciding both of their fates.

John O'Connor III had been her devoted husband and given her a lifetime of unconditional love and support. John was battling Alzheimer's, the same debilitating disease that crippled and killed the president who had nominated O'Connor as an associate justice two decades earlier.

It was her turn to support her husband, before the disease stole him from her for good. Even though she hadn't thought she'd be retiring at the end of the term, she deferred to Rehnquist, whom she had known for more than 50 years. "Well, okay," she said. "I'll retire then".

Days after the term ended and without even warning her own sons in advance, O'Connor sent a letter to the president announcing her retirement. "I wanted to convey one simple thing: that I'd decided to retire and that I respected the Court." Asked later about the timing of her retirement, O'Connor said "you make the decision, and you live with it."

Upon his diagnosis in the fall of 2004, Rehnquist had been told he would survive for less than a year. But Rehnquist, the man who loved to put down a one-dollar bet on almost anything -- the amount of snowfall, a football game, a congressional election -- wanted to beat the odds against his own diagnosis. Sadly, he died on Sept. 3, 2005.

As fate would have it, despite her retirement announcement, Sandra Day O'Connor returned to the bench in the fall of 2005. She would serve until both vacancies had been filled.



As Prepared For Delivery


Thank you very much. Tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own -- as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker.

In his day, the late Congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., from Baltimore, Maryland, saw Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at this rostrum. But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter, Nancy, presiding tonight as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Congratulations.

Two members of the House and Senate are not with us tonight -- and we pray for the recovery and speedy return of Senator Tim Johnson and Congressman Charlie Norwood.

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 3 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 5 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 10 years -- thereby cutting our total imports by the equivalent of 3/4 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 5 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 8.5 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 9/11 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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 11, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past 5 years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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 6th 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 2 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 Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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 11 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 5 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 U.N., 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 Qaeda 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 life-saving drugs has grown from 50,000 to more than 800,000 in 3 short years. I ask you to continue funding our efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. I ask you to provide $1.2 billion over 5 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 5 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.

Thank you.


The State of Bush's Psyche

Huffington Post
Joseph A. Palermo
The State of Bush's Psyche

On television at least, the mise en scène of the State of the Union was far easier on the eyes with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sitting behind the President, instead of the glowering visage of the corpulent Denny Hastert. (Unfortunately, we still had to endure Dick Cheney's twisted sneer.)

Bush's P.R. people love to turn up the volume of "Hail to the Chief" to deafening levels. Yet no amount of jingoistic ritual can rescue this president from the damning judgment of a war-weary citizenry.

In his sixth State of the Union address, Bush shot to new heights what C. Wright Mills called "crackpot realism." Purveyors of "crackpot realism" draw seemingly logical, even commonsensical conclusions based on fallacious and delusional premises.

In Bush's case, he draws absurd conclusions based on no "premises" at all.

"To win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy."

This is a ghoulish line for Bush to be taking the day after 88 innocent Iraqis were blown to bits in a Baghdad market.

And two days ago, Iraqi insurgents wearing American uniforms and driving in seven or eight new GMC sport utility vehicles, identical to those that American personnel use, passed through a half dozen checkpoints on their way to Karbala. There they sped up to the U.S. military headquarters, killed five American soldiers and kidnapped two. The abandoned trucks were discovered later in little towns outside of Karbala.

The other day, the body of a 75-year-old man was found wrapped in a rug after being thrown from a five-story building, someone had taken a power drill to the back of his head, which is a common tool of "revenge" in Iraq these days.

American troops are going to "clear and secure neighborhoods" in Baghdad, and will be "chasing down the terrorists and insurgents." Who are they going to be "clearing" and who are the going to be "holding?"

This is definitive "crackpot realism."

The next time Bush addresses the nation in prime time it might be to announce he has just ordered the bombing of Iran. And he will have a litany of "realistic" rationales for leading the nation down this ruinous course, the consequences of which the world will be saddled with for years to come.

Turning the Persian Gulf region into a smoldering wasteland is the "rational" thing to do, he'll assure us, because not to do so would mean the mullahs eventually getting an atomic bomb, or sponsoring terrorism, or undermining our great cause in Iraq. And tearing apart Iran's infrastructure is the only "realistic" choice because it will make all of these scary things magically go away. (Just as overthrowing Saddam Hussein reduced the threat of terrorism in the world.) Crackpot realism, like the belief in Armageddon, is magical thinking. It's fine when a four-year-old does it; no one is likely to get hurt. But when the President of the United States does it -- all of our asses are up for grabs.


Bush Fails to Mention America's 1.6 Million New Veterans in SOTU

Huffington Post
Paul Rieckhoff
Bush Fails to Mention America's 1.6 Million New Veterans in SOTU

Tonight President Bush once again failed to demonstrate a real commitment to the 1.6 million new American veterans who have been created under his watch. For the second year in a row, the President in his State of the Union address chose to mention the troops only as a prop for his failing policies and ignored the nation's new veterans entirely.

Over the past four years, this country has watched its men and women in uniform answer the call to duty over and over again, yet somehow today these new veterans are still faced with a drastically under-funded Veterans' Administration and an outdated GI Bill. It's time to reward our troops' sacrifices with more than just bureaucratic hassles and token gestures.

Mr. President, this nation's new veterans and this new Congress will together rewrite the book on our approach to veterans' services, and we'll do it with or without your help. Tonight you demonstrated your willingness to send more troops into harms way. A demonstration of your commitment to preserving this nation's promise to its veterans is long overdue.

In the coming weeks, the nation's first and largest Iraq and Afghanistan veterans group, IAVA, will release a legislative agenda that, if adopted, will go a long way towards addressing the many unacceptable problems facing our troops as they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Supporting our troops and veterans is not only our national obligation, it is also critical to maintaining a strong military and ensuring our national security. Shortages of armor, troops and equipment have hampered progress in theatre. Poor treatment of veterans and an inadequate G.I. Bill make recruitment more difficult. The use of National Guardsmen and Reservists leaves fewer troops at home for domestic emergencies. It is time that these force-readiness issues are treated with the urgency they deserve. And it is time that this nation, and our elected officials, renew the commitment to our troops and veterans.


McCain Sleeps Through Parts Of State Of The Union

McCain Sleeps Through Parts Of State Of The Union

Click Here To Watch


"God Bless"

Huffington Post
Harry Shearer
"God Bless"

Was this the first State of the Union address in which George W. Bush didn't finish that phrase (written by Irving Berlin)? Maybe it's because, in George Bush's America, the "cause" that he said, in his peroration, "goes on", did not include the fate or future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

In the Dem response, James Webb put the future of New Orleans up near the top of his remarks. Were any members of the Congressional Dem leadership listening?


Senators seek ban on "sweatshop" imports

Senators seek ban on "sweatshop" imports
By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Six U.S. senators introduced a bill on Tuesday to stop imports of clothing and other goods made under "sweatshop" conditions, as part of a bigger effort to refashion trade policy to boost workers' rights.

"This ... is legislation we will push very hard this year," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat and leading critic of President George W. Bush's handling of trade.

Dorgan identified China as the primary target of the bill, but said it was aimed at barring imports from any foreign company where workers are mistreated.

"In this bill, a sweatshop factory is one where workers are abused in violation of that country's labor laws," Dorgan said.

The bill empowers the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to blocks imports from a foreign factory if it determines they are being made under sweatshop conditions.

Importers who violate the ban would face a $10,000 fine for each separate offense and could also be sued by their competitors for damages, Dorgan said.

"The failure by other countries, such as China, to adequately enforce minimum labor laws effectively grants their producers a substantial subsidy over those companies and countries that treat their workers fairly," the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, a textile industry group, said in a statement supporting the bill.

A similar bill failed to become law last year, but the new version could fare better now that Democrats control Congress.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican whose state is a major textile producer, said he was co-sponsoring the legislation to help lift labor standards around the world and bring more fairness to trade.

"If you're a business person engaged in exploiting people to get a better market share, I hope you get fined, I hope you get sued. That's not the way to build up an economy. That's not the way to have global trade," Graham said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said the bill was part of a bigger fight to change U.S. trade policy, which began in 2005 with an effort to block approval of a free trade pact with Central American countries.

"In the last Congress, we changed the debate on trade. In this Congress we're going to change the face of trade," Brown said. Current U.S. trade policy "too often allows for the inhumane exploitation of workers," he said.