In his final State of the Union, President Bush once again defended the Iraq invasion and claimed the so-called troop surge a success. Bush also repeated his threatening rhetoric against Iran.
President Bush: “But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.”
On the domestic front, President Bush attempted to put a positive spin on the state of the economy, even though earlier in the day it was revealed that sales of new homes fell last year by 26 percent, the steepest drop since records began in 1963. Meanwhile, a new report released today shows the number of foreclosures last year jumped by 75 percent, due in part to the subprime mortgage crisis. Over 400,000 households lost their homes. Bush called on Congress to make his tax cuts permanent and approve the $150 billion economic stimulus deal reached last week with House Democrats.
Bush also urged lawmakers to approve a new surveillance bill that would grant immunity to telecom companies that aided warrantless spying on US citizens.
President Bush: “This means that if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened, and our citizens will be in greater danger. The Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We have had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.”
On Monday, Senate Democrats temporarily defeated an effort by Republicans to pass the bill that also expands the government’s authority to conduct warrantless spying powers. The matter will come before the Senate again today.
Hours before President Bush spoke, the Pentagon announced the Bush administration will soon ask Congress for an additional $70 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in Iraq, five US soldiers died Monday in a roadside bombing in Mosul.
In campaign news, Senator Ted Kennedy officially announced his endorsement of Barack Obama Monday during a rally attended by thousands in Washington. The Massachusetts Senator compared Obama to his late brother, John F. Kennedy.
Sen. Kennedy: “My friends, I ask you to join in this historical journey to have the courage to choose change. It’s time again for a new generation. It is time for Barack Obama.”
Obama thanked Kennedy for backing his campaign.
Sen. Obama: “I know what your support means. I know what a cherished place the Kennedy family holds in the hearts of the American people.”
Senator Obama also picked up an endorsement Monday from the Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, a federal judge has ordered the jailing of one of Obama’s former top fundraisers, Antoin Rezko. Rezko was indicted in 2006 on charges of business fraud and influence peddling but had been free on bond. On Monday, a judge revoked bond and ordered him to be held in jail. Rezko has raised as much as $200,000 for Obama since 1996 and helped Obama purchase his home. Last week, Senator Hillary Clinton raised Obama’s link to Rezko during the debate in South Carolina. Last year, one of Hillary Clinton’s top fundraisers, Norman Hsu, was arrested for swindling investors. Hsu had raised some $800,000 for Clinton’s campaign during a time when he was a fugitive from justice.
Sen. Clinton: “I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.”
Wolf Blitzer: “I just want to give you a chance, Senator Obama, if you want to respond. Senator Clinton made a serious allegation that you worked for a slumlord, and I wonder if you want to respond.”
Sen. Obama: “I’m happy to respond. Here’s what happened: I was an associate at a law firm that represented a church group that had partnered with this individual to do a project, and I did about five hours worth of work on this joint project. That’s what she’s referring to.”
On the Republican front, voters head to the polls today in Florida in the last primary before Super Tuesday. Speculation is growing that former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will soon drop out of the race if he doesn’t do well in Florida.
The Washington Post is reporting President Bush has signed a classified directive that expands the intelligence community’s role in monitoring internet traffic. The directive authorizes the intelligence agencies, particularly the National Security Agency, to monitor the computer networks of all federal agencies to protect against attacks. James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology warned against allowing the NSA, a spy agency, to monitor domestic networks.
The Israeli military has prevented an aid convoy organized by Israeli human rights organizations, peace activists and former military personnel from entering Gaza to distribute five tons of food to needy Palestinians. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the activists have been trying to enter Gaza since Saturday. The groups have been calling on Israel to end the siege on Gaza. In the past ten days, Israel had tightened a seven-month blockade of the Gaza Strip by halting supplies of food, medical equipment and fuel.
In news from Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf has returned home after a four-nation trip to Europe aimed to bolster support for his government following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In London, Musharraf met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and said elections would proceed next month.
Pervez Musharraf: “On the democratic transition, I did inform the Prime Minister our strong desire to go forward with the elections and to ensure that the election will be fair — free, fair and transparent. And that is what our resolve is, and we will have the elections on the 18th of February.”
Critics of Musharraf rallied outside 10 Downing Street. Speakers included Pakistani opposition figure and former cricket star Imran Khan.
Imran Khan: “I am here to show the contradiction of British so-called New Labour ethical foreign policy, where they are backing a military dictator in Pakistan who’s destroyed democracy in Pakistan, who sacked 60 percent of our judiciary, who’s put our supreme court chief justice under house arrest. And there is a prime minister who’s supposed to be promoting democracy and freedom all over the world. They have killed hundreds and thousands of people in Iraq in the name of freedom and democracy, and they are entertaining a military dictator.”
Residents of Brattleboro, Vermont will decide at an upcoming town meeting whether President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should be indicted and arrested for war crimes, perjury or obstruction of justice. Supporters of the initiative to arrest Bush and Cheney gathered enough signatures to put the item on the town meeting agenda. If passed, police in Brattleboro would be instructed to arrest and detain Bush and Cheney if they ever step foot in Brattleboro. Since taking office in 2001, Vermont is the only state in the country President Bush has not visited.
Meanwhile, in Connecticut, students at the prestigious boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall have successfully forced school officials to cancel plans for Karl Rove to deliver the school’s commencement address this spring. Students had threatened to walk out of their own graduation and set up an alternative commencement ceremony if Rove spoke. Instead, Rove will speak at a campus event next month.
Eleven human rights activists have been sentenced to federal prison for protesting at Fort Benning in Georgia, the site of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas. The eleven activists were convicted of trespassing during a protest last November, when 25,000 protesters called for the training center to be shut down. The US military uses the school to train Latin American soldiers in combat, counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics. Frequently dubbed the “School of the Assassins,” critics say the school’s graduates are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. The activists were given sentences ranging from thirty to ninety days in federal prison.