Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Taking the offensive
Editor's note: CNN political contributor J.C. Watts Jr. joins us tonight as a guest-blogger
I think the speech was very strong on national security, an issue in which President Bush is strong and Democrats are weak.
The fact that Cindy Sheehan was arrested is another sign to the American people that Democrats are not serious about national security. It plays into the perception that Democrats are not prepared to defend you. That's not to say Republicans don't have a perception problem too. Republicans are perceived as not caring about poor people.
The president has to stay on the national security point often. Progress is being made in the war against terror.
As for Katrina, the American people saw that there were mistakes made on the federal, state and local level. The president said that he takes responsibility for the mistakes of the federal government. He's got a chance to improve, to rebuild those communities.
The State of the Union gives the president an opportunity to pivot. He can take all the good news -- that we're winning in Iraq, that we haven't been hit since 9/11, that we have low unemployment and low inflation, that we collected $100 billion more in tax revenues than we expected -- and make his case to the American people.
The Democrats are an opposition party and this is politics. That's why the president's numbers are where they are -- the opposition has framed the issues. But when the president is out there and framing the issues, he is better off. He did that in this speech. It gives the American people some confidence.
Editor's note: CNN political contributor Paul Begala joins us tonight as a guest-blogger
President Bush began by calling for greater civility in politics. That's like Paris Hilton calling for chastity. Mr. Bush has allowed his allies to attack his opponents -- from John McCain to John Kerry -- with rare and raw savagery. His calls for civility are as phony as his posing as a rancher.
The President said troop levels will be determined by military commanders, not politicians. That would be a welcome shift from Mr. Bush's decision to overrule Gen. Eric Shinseki, the top general in the Army, who said occupying Iraq would take hundreds of thousands of troops. Gen. Shinseki was insulted and shipped out.
And does anyone believe the president who allowed Enron and Exxon to write his energy plan in secret is the man who can break America's addiction to oil? That's like asking the neighborhood crack dealer to run the local detox clinic.
The president faces a credibility crisis. In 2002, 71 percent of Americans said Mr. Bush was honest and trustworthy. Today, 53 percent say he is neither honest nor trustworthy -- because he's not.
Pomp and pageantry
"Enjoy the show," the police officer with the dog just said. He was talking about the State of the Union. It is a show, of course, with pomp and pageantry befitting its royal British roots.
A lot of grand statements are made, but rarely it seems do they amount to much. Last year, it was privatizing Social Security. Democrats put the kibosh on that one...We'll see what happens tonight.
Just arrived at the Capitol to cover President Bush's big speech tonight. The place is buzzing with police. They are about to lockdown the area.
I'm sitting in the Cannon House Office Building rotunda. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is a couple hundred feet away doing an interview. He will be testifying this week about his administration's response to Katrina.
It's always kind of surreal coming to Washington, D.C., for major events like this. It's such a completely different atmosphere than anywhere else....Oops I gotta move. A bomb-sniffing dog needs to sniff my desk. I will blog more later.
"I wish to live deliberately"
I've never met Bob Woodruff, but in covering the story for "Anderson Cooper 360," I now feel like I know him. Every phone call I made today to interview people for our story revealed good things. A natural leader. A really smart guy. The universal favorite among his coworkers at ABC. My assignment was to do a story about Bob Woodruff the man, not Bob Woodruff the journalist. As my senior producer called it, the "kitchen sink" piece.
So we hunted down Woodruff's high school lacrosse coach outside Detroit, Michigan. I found out Woodruff went to Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School where he was captain of the lacrosse team and the ski team. He was also a darn good soccer player. His coach Charlie Shaw told me Bob instantly turned heads because he was a very confident and striking fellow. He never bid for attention. He always deflected attention elsewhere. He was a very gracious young man and always looked to bring in those who were on the periphery.
We also tracked down a partner at a law firm Woodruff worked at before becoming a television reporter and anchor. Steve Sherman of Shearman and Sterling in San Francisco told me he was watching CNN when he first learned his friend had been injured. Just a few weeks ago, he had sent a note to Woodruff congratulating him on his new job of co-anchor for ABC World News Tonight. He had no idea his friend could be in this much danger. He compared what happened to Woodruff to a Greek tragedy.
And finally, we spoke with ABC News Correspondent David Muir. He and Woodruff spent a few weeks together in New Orleans. Muir says Woodruff was always the first one out chasing a story. He remembered the two were asleep in the front seat of a car. They were rocked by an explosion. Muir had barely opened his eyes but Woodruff was already out the car door and on the story. He says: "You think you run fast; Bob always runs faster."
Woodruff's passion for helping people see the world was evident even back in his high school days. In his high school yearbook, he quoted Henry David Thoreau: "I wish to live deliberately,...and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Monday, January 30, 2006
On patrol with the Minutemen
One of the first things members of the Minutemen told me while patrolling the Mexican border is that they reject the notion they are a "vigilante" group. Take the "e" off that word, they say, and you get their more favored term: "vigilant."
We spent an afternoon and evening with the group that tries to stop Mexicans from crossing the border. We rode, walked, and climbed with them on a piece of unguarded frontier about 70 miles east of San Diego for a story for tonight's program.
They have binoculars and night-vision goggles. Two members carried guns -- for self-defense, they say. They also carry a great deal of resentment that the U.S. government doesn't spend more money on keeping the border closed.
We saw clothes, water bottles, hats, and scarves discarded by illegal immigrants who successfully crossed into the United States. We saw hundreds of rattlesnake holes that I hoped no longer housed their usual occupants.
But on our night with the Minutemen, we didn't see any people trying to sneak across the border. The Minutemen say few people try to cross the border where they are. And that's just the way they want it.
Tunneling into America
I heard the news about Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, his cameraman, after landing in San Diego Sunday morning. The report on my blackberry stopped me cold. It's one of those things all of us who've been to Iraq know can happen, but when it does, it's still like a punch to the stomach. My thoughts and prayers are with Bob and Doug and their families.
I'm in San Diego because we've been given remarkable access to the tunnel discovered last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. It's no surprise drug cartels will do just about anything to bring narcotics into the United States, but the sight of this tunnel up close is remarkable.
Two years ago, ICE agents got some information that there was a massive tunnel either being built or already completed under the U.S.-Mexican border. When they finally discovered it last week, even they were amazed at its size. It is the longest tunnel they've ever found. It runs about 2,400 feet, the size of eight football fields.
What's so surreal is that the tunnel's exit on the U.S. side is in a tiny office inside an enormous industrial warehouse. If you saw it in some movie about drug dealers, you'd never believe it because it seems so implausible. They found more than two tons of marijuana inside the tunnel, but it is likely that cocaine and other drugs were brought through as well.
The tunnel is leaking. There are several inches of water on the ground, and they've brought in pumps to try to dry it out. They've already processed the crime scene, and tonight on the show we'll give you an exclusive tour.
We also drove down to Tijuana last night for an update on a story CNN's Thelma Gutierrez filed on sex trafficking of children. In 2003, the United States passed the PROTECT Act, which makes it illegal for an American to travel overseas with the intent to have sex with a minor. The hope was that it would put a dent in the sexual exploitation of children. While it has resulted in a number of arrests, there are still plenty of young girls working the streets, as we saw last night in Tijuana.