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Bush Defends Iraq War & Patriot Act During State of the Union

In his State of the Union address last night President Bush defended the war on Iraq, called for the renewal of the Patriot Act and reached out to the conservative Christian wing of the Republican Party by opposing gay marriage.

Despite the loss of 2.5 million jobs since he took office, Bush also rigorously praised the improving economy and called for Congress to make last year’s tax cuts permanent.

The address was deliberately scheduled to take place a night after the Iowa caucus in an attempt to push the Democratic presidential contenders from the news spotlight. Although Bush never mentioned the election, the speech was seen by many as the start of Bush’s re-election campaign. On foreign policy, Bush defended his unilateralist approach saying "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people." Later in the Democratic response, Nancy Pelosi criticizes the "go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us isolated abroad and that steals the resources we need for education and health care at home."

Bush declared the U.S. was on a mission to "lead the cause of freedom." He said "Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better."

On domestic issues, Bush reached out to his conservative supporters. He called for new programs to promote abstinence among teenagers, he denounced gay marriage and for religious charities to receive federal funds.

According to the New York Times, Bush’s top political advisor Karl Rove personally called several conservative social groups on Tuesday to make sure they would be listening to the State of the Union.

Israeli Bombs Sites in Lebanon, Warns Syria

Israeli warplanes bombed two sites in southern Lebanon on Tuesday and warned Syria about backing Hezbollah. This came one day after Hezbollah fired a rocket that killed an Israeli soldier and injured another when their Israeli armored bulldozer crossed the Lebanese border. Originally Israel claimed the bulldozer was inside Israel’s border but later admitted it had crossed into Lebanon. Israel said the bulldozer was removing landmines along the border. Israel’s bombing raid marked its first attack on Lebanon since August.

Israel Destroys 25 Homes in Rafah; 400 Left Homeless

Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials are saying Israeli forces leveled 25 houses and flattened a mosque in the Rafah refugee camp. About 400 Palestinians were left homeless.

Sharon May Be Forced To Step Aside Over Scandal

And in other news from Israel, an Israeli real estate developer was indicted today on charges of bribing Gen. Ariel Sharon with hundreds of thousands of dollars. The indictment increases the chances that the Prime Minister himself may face charges. The Israeli Supreme Court has already ruled that if charges are filed against Sharon, he would be forced to leave office pending the outcome of the trial. The bribes allegedly occurred in 1999 when Sharon was foreign minister.

Shiite Protests Continue in Baghdad

In Iraq, thousands of Shiite Muslims took to the streets of Baghdad for the second day in a row. On Monday the protesters called for open and free elections. On Tuesday the focus was Saddam Hussein and the Kurds. The Shiites called for Hussein to be tried in Iraq and be executed. They also called on the U.S. to reject calls by Iraqi Kurds to divide the country along ethnic lines.

Two Soldiers Commit Suicide At Army Hospital

UPI is reporting that at least two U.S. soldiers have committed suicide at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center after they returned from Iraq. The Pentagon did not include either of the deaths when they told reporters last week that 22 soldiers had committed suicide in Iraq. The House Armed Services Committee panel is scheduled to hold a hearing today examining health problems facing U.S. troops. Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center said "There appears to be a significant increase in both suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder."

Pakistan Bars Nuclear Scientists From Traveling

In Pakistan, the government has barred its nuclear scientists from traveling abroad. This comes as the Pakistani government is investigating allegations that its scientists helped other countries including Iran build nuclear programs.

Guatemalan Court Sentences Myrna Mack Murderer

In Guatemala, the Supreme Court has sentenced a former army colonel to 30 years in jail for ordering the murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack in 1990. At the time Mack was researching military abuse against the country’s Maya Indians.

Democratic Senators Block Spending Bill

On Capitol Hill, Democratic Senators have delayed the passage of the $330 billion omnibus spending bill in part because it contains a number of controversial items that deal little with the federal budget. One provision would allow the Bush administration to rewrite the nation’s overtime laws that could strip up to 8 million workers of overtime pay. Another part of the bill would require federal officials to destroy records on gun purchases within 24 hours of the purchase. The current law requires the records be kept for 90 days. A third provision would relax media ownership laws to allow major networks to own more tv stations.

NH Poll: Dean Lead Over Kerry Dwindling

In New Hampshire, the latest Zogby poll shows Howard Dean’s lead over John Kerry is decreasing quickly. Dean is polling at about 25 percent. Kerry at 23. Placing third is Gen. Wesley Clark at 16 percent. At his peak, Dean was polling 20 percentage points higher than everyone else. The New Hampshire primary is on Tuesday.

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