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Lou Dobbs Tonight

President Vicente Fox and President-Elect Felipe Calderon of Mexico Assert United States Has No Right To Build Border Fence; Most American Casualties In Iraq This Month In Al Anbar Province; Last- Minute Efforts Underway Aimed At Reducing Risk From Electronic Voting; Reward Offered For Information On Who Started California Fire

Aired October 27, 2006 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, President Vicente Fox of Mexico declaring U.S. plans to build a 700-mile fence along our border with Mexico an embarrassment. Incredibly, the White House doesn't mind the Mexican president's comments and, in fact, declares we're partners.
We'll have complete coverage.

And insurgents in Iraq have killed another of our troops. Ninety-seven of our troops have died so far this month, the worst violence of this year, the fourth highest monthly total of American casualties of this entire war.

Our special report on the battle for Iraq.

All of that, a great deal more, straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, October 27th.

Live from Washington, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

Just one day after President Bush signed legislation here in Washington to build a border fence, the government of Mexico is threatening the sovereignty and national security of the United States. President Vicente Fox and President-Elect Felipe Calderon are both asserting that the United States has no right to build such a fence along our southern border.

At the same time, the White House and its allies in corporate America appear determined to create a new North American union, incorporating Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Such a union would, in effect, create a giant nation, including those three countries.

Casey Wian tonight reports from Los Angeles on the Mexican government's most blatant attempt to interfere in U.S. affairs.

Suzanne Malveaux reports from the White House on the Bush administration's reaction to Mexico's statements today.

Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington on this administration's apparent determination to create a huge North American union without authorization from the American people.

We turn first to Casey Wian -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, Mexico is at it again, resisting all attempts by the United States to secure our southern border.


WIAN (voice-over): President Bush's signature was barely dry on the border fence bill when the outgoing and incoming presidents of Mexico resumed their griping over the plan to add 700 miles of new barriers on the border.

FELIPE CALDERON, MEXICO'S PRESIDENT-ELECT (through translator): I believe that the United States is committing a grave error in building a wall on the border.

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX, MEXICO (through translator): To me, it is an embarrassment for the United States. It shows the incapacity that the United States has had in seeing the issue of immigration as a joint responsibility that corresponds to both countries.

WIAN: Apparently President Fox and President-Elect Calderon have forgotten their history. The Mexican government signed a treaty with the United States more than 150 years ago, giving each nation the right to fortify its own border.

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY (R), CALIFORNIA: And that America has the right to build this fence under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Article 16, which guarantees both sides the ability to fortify our sides of the border.

WIAN: The 1848 treaty ended the Mexican-American War and roughly defined the boundary between Mexico and the United States. Article 16 clearly states, "Each of the contracting parties reserves to itself the entire right to fortify whatever point within its territory it may judge proper so to fortify for its security."

Advocates of a fence along the entire southern border say Mexico is not living up to its responsibilities as a neighbor and ally of the United States.

COLIN HANNA, WENEEDAFENCE.COM: They are embarrassed at the glare of publicity not only in this country, but around the world, on the fact that they have not acted as allies in this. You know, we should be working together on this issue. It should be profoundly embarrassing to Mexico that over a million citizens per year flee their country illegally.

WIAN: Instead, the Mexican military and Mexican police officers have crossed the U.S. border more than 200 times during the past decade. Border patrol agents say they are often protecting drug loads.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WIAN: Now, fencing a third of the southern border may not solve that and many of the other border problems completely, but it does send a message to the government of Mexico that the United States is beginning, Lou, to take border security seriously.

DOBBS: Casey, thank you very much.

Casey Wian from Los Angeles.

The White House today refused to criticize the statements of President Fox blasting the United States' decision to build that fence on the border. In point of fact, the White House actually appeared to show some sympathy for the Mexican government's opposition to the fence.

Suzanne Malveaux has the report from the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, President Bush has really been trying to sell this 700-mile fence as a success, but this is not what the president wanted. He wanted this guest worker program, in addition to tougher border security. So what you are seeing here is really he is desperately trying to win over his conservative base, those Republicans who have been very frustrated, who believe that immigration reform has largely been ignored.

So, it is not surprising that the White House downplayed the criticism from the Mexican leadership.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He understands President Fox's feelings about the fence, but on the other hand, there are important collaborative efforts on both parts to deal with issues like illegal border crossings, drug smuggling. And we have cooperative interdiction efforts. So we continue to do those.

The president understands the sensitivities, but on the other hand, he also understands the importance of securing the border.


MALVEAUX: And Lou, the White House was stressing that Mexico remains a very important ally, but this really is a classic case here of domestic politics, domestic agenda essentially trumping the international one -- Lou.

DOBBS: Suzanne, thank you very much.

Suzanne Malveaux from the White House.

The White House tonight still hasn't responded to 12 Republican congressmen who are demanding a presidential pardon for U.S. border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. Those congressmen want to send a letter. They did so today.

Ramos and Compean sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler who was granted immunity from prosecution by the U.S. attorney in Texas. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow has called talk of a pardon for those agents nonsensical.

Today Snow said the White House will wait on congressional hearings on the case before responding to that letter. Those hearings don't begin until late next month.

New efforts tonight to fight a plan by some corporate business leaders and their political allies that could erode the United States sovereignty. The organizers are fighting a proposed North American union that could leave our nation vulnerable on many fronts.

Lisa Sylvester reports.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mexican truck drivers may soon haul cargo deep into the heart of the United States. They're currently limited to within 20 miles of the U.S. border. It could mean U.S. job losses and serve as a gateway for human and drug smuggling.

TODD SPENCER, INDEPENDENT DRIVERS ASSOCIATION: This would basically make a driver from Mexico be able to freely go about throughout the United States, and to us that's scary from a safety standpoint, but it's especially scary from a standpoint of security.

SYLVESTER: Critics say U.S. sovereignty is also on the line. To understand, go back to 2005. President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and then Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin launched what's called the Security and Prosperity Partnership, a trade and economic partnership that many see as a precursor to a North American union modeled after Europe.

JEROME CORTIS, COALITION TO BLOCK NORTH AMERICAN UNION: There's hardly a major area of public policy where the Bush administration has not, through the SPP working groups, rewritten our administrative law and regulations from being U.S. in nature to being North American in nature.

SYLVESTER: The coalition to block the North American union wants to defeat a proposed NAFTA superhighway that would stretch from Texas all the way to Canada.

Congress has been left largely out of the loop.

JOHN MCMANUS, JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY: They never even heard of this. They don't know a thing about it. What's going on? Well, what's going on is a super elite are taking control.

SYLVESTER: Lawmakers who have heard are hell bent on keeping a North American union from happening.

REP. VIRGIL GOODE (R), VIRGINIA: The interests of hard-working businesses in this country, hard-working workers in this country, and the average citizen in the United States should be placed ahead, in my opinion, of some international global theory that I think would harm the United States and most of its citizenry.

SYLVESTER: President Bush just signed the fence bill, saying the borders need to be secured.


SYLVESTER: At the same time, the U.S. Department of Transportation is considering this program to open the borders wide open to Mexican truck drivers and to create a NAFTA superhighway. Even though transportation officials say they would check the licensing and backgrounds of foreign truck drivers, it would be a bureaucratic nightmare to enforce -- Lou.

DOBBS: These three countries moving ahead their governments without authorization from the American people, without congressional approval, this is straightforward an attack on national sovereignty as there could be, outside of war.

SYLVESTER: And they are doing this behind closed doors, as you mentioned. Congress has been left out of the loop. People don't even know what they are coming up with. But what's clear at this point is that they are moving ahead with this North American union and putting these plans in place.

Very frightening -- Lou.

DOBBS: Lisa, thank you very much.

Lisa Sylvester.

Coming up here next, the latest on Mexico's threats to our sovereignty and national security and wild public statements by their national leaders.

And American casualties in the war in Iraq are rising sharply. We'll have a special report tonight from the front lines of the war in Iraq.

Plus, voters can help prevent an e-voting disaster on Election Day. We'll tell you what you can do as our democracy is put further at risk.

And, a college education is more important than ever for middle class Americans, but many working men and women and their families can no longer afford to pay for their children's education.

We'll have that special report, "War on the Middle Class".


DOBBS: Insurgents in Iraq have killed another of our soldiers. The soldier was killed northeast of Baghdad. Ninety-seven of our troops have been killed in Iraq so far this month, making this the fourth highest monthly total of American casualties in the entire war and the worst in almost two years.

2,810 of our troops have been killed since this war began.

Most of the American casualties in Iraq this month have been in Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad, or in the Iraqi capital itself. But a rising number of American casualties are in areas north of Baghdad where there's been a sharp increase in sectarian violence.

John Roberts reports now from Baghdad -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, first of all, it was the threat from al Qaeda, then it was the Sunni insurgency, but now almost everyone agrees the greatest threat facing the future of Iraq is the dramatic rise in power and influence of the sectarian militias, responsible for the deaths of more than 700 Iraqis this month alone. And they are also taking on U.S. forces.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Baghdad may be its center of gravity, but the black hole of sectarian violence is quickly swallowing up towns and villages across Iraq.

In Saba al Bor (ph), north of the capital, half the town's 50,000 people have fled in the face of mortar attacks from a Sunni militia aiming to drive out the Shiites. Colonel Jim Pasquarette is trying to make it safe enough for them to come back.

COL. JIM PASQUARETTE, U.S. ARMY: The sectarian issue encompasses my whole area. It's a very -- I've got the Sunni and Shia all mixed together here, and it worries me more than the actual insurgency.

ROBERTS: In Gumerra (ph), a Sunni town, the problem is Shiite militias. "The government doesn't control the militias," this man says. "If we go out, we will be detained by the militias."

The scars from sectarian violence are everywhere here. In one place, a Shiite farming village razed to the ground by a Sunni gunmen. In another, a religiously mixed town, now virtually deserted after militias made it their battleground.

Preventing attacks is the key to lowering the temperature here, so Lieutenant Colonel Rocky Kmiecik works contacts, like Shiite tribal leader Haider Mohan (ph) for the latest local intelligence.

LT. COL. ROCKY KMIECIK, U.S. ARMY: Haider Mohan just got a report that there's a mortar tube set up faced to fire at Husamaniya (ph).

ROBERTS: Kmiecik's team swarms into the nearby Sunni town of Kudis (ph), looking for the mortar. In a greenhouse, they find four men with AK-47s and ski masks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the weapons were loaded and ready to fire. The weapons were on fire. So all they had to do is press the trigger. ROBERTS (on camera): This town of Kudis, which is a Sunni town, has been the site from which many attacks have been launched against the nearby Shiite town of Husamaniya. It's not known at this point if any of these men were involved in any of the attacks or, in fact, were planning an attack in the near future. But they do seem to be more heavily armed than your average greenhouse worker.

(voice-over): The task to end sectarian violence is complicated by fierce support for the local militias. The only force, they believe, that will keep them safe.

After this arrest, the entire town turns out to plead the gunmen's innocence and argue for their release. Business as usual for this American patrol.


ROBERTS: Before taking the gunmen away, the American commander assured the town elders that if it was found through interrogation that they were innocent, nothing more than village guards, they would be returned unharmed. But Colonel Kmiecik told me in the last 24 hours that after interrogation, they found that those gunmen were allegedly involved in pretty disturbing things. According to Colonel Kmiecik, Lou, they wrapped up some pretty bad guys.

DOBBS: John, thank you.

The idea that three and a half years, better than three and a half years into this war, that our troops are still having to contend with heavily-armed militias, is there any strategy to change that, to disarm the militias, to change approach in Iraq?

ROBERTS: The Americans are going into neighborhoods in and around Baghdad, and they are also going into these towns and villages. And where they find small pockets of militias -- and there are dozens of militias across this country -- they do their best to try to disarm them.

But the big militias, like the Mehdi militia, the one that supports...

DOBBS: Right.

ROBERTS: ... Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite cleric, there's not much that they've been able to do about them. That will take the political will of the Iraqi government to deal with, and right now, because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gets so much of his support from Muqtada al-Sadr, he's not willing to lay a glove on the Mehdi militia.

DOBBS: And what is the view of the line officers and commanders you've been embedded with, working with and covering there about their role effectively caught between particularly the Shia and the Sunni militias?

ROBERTS: Yes. So far, Lou, they haven't been really caught in the middle between these two militias. They've been dealing with the Sunnis on one side and the Shiites on the other.

They don't like it, but they know that they have been thrown into this position. They are trying to cope with it as best they can, but the thing that they do not want to do is get in the middle of a firefight between these two sides, get in the middle of a war between these two sides, because that would be a very bad place for them to be.

DOBBS: And their judgment, to the degree they've shared it with you, John, as to how likely that development is?

ROBERTS: Lou, if things keep going the way they are, it's going to ultimately be the development that they have to deal with. They believe that something has to be done on the political level, has to be done in the next couple of months, if not the next few weeks, to try to tamp down the amount of sectarian violence in this country.

That direction has to come from the Iraqi government. Right now, the Iraqi government is not strong enough to deal with it.

There's a chance that if they were to really lean on the Mehdi militia, the entire government could come unglued, and then you'd have open warfare all over the streets of every town and village in this country. So, they believe that something needs to be done. It's just sort of slowly working these pressure points to try to get the violence to calm down so that they can work out a political -- political solution.

DOBBS: John, thank you very much.

John Roberts reporting tonight from Baghdad.

The United States and Iraq trying to put on a show of unity over strategy to defeat the insurgency and to end the sectarian violence that John Roberts was reporting on just there. The U.S. ambassador to the Iraq and the Iraqi prime minister issuing a rare joint statement, affirming both countries share a good and strong relationship, as they put it.

The statement also said Iraq has made clear the issues that must be resolved with timelines. Earlier this week, the Iraqi prime minister said the United States has no right to impose such timetables on Iraq.

Still ahead here, we'll have the latest on the outrage over Mexico's criticism of the U.S. decision to build a new fence on our southern border with Mexico. We're live in Los Angeles with a report.

Also, a college education has never been more important or more elusive for our middle class. We'll have that special report as the war on the middle class escalates.

And in southern California, a firefighter clinging to life tonight after battling a deadly wildfire set by arsonists. The wildfire still burning out of control tonight. We'll be live at the scene. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Tonight, the vulnerability of electronic voting machines to both fraud and error pose a grave threat to the integrity of our upcoming election, but there are some last-minute efforts under way aimed at reducing that risk.

Kitty Pilgrim has the report.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tampa, Florida, resident Frank Hogan showed up for early voting Thursday at his local polling site. But when he tried to cast his ballot, he says the touch-screen machine rejected his choice.

FRANK HOGAN, VOTER: I couldn't believe I hit "Nelson," and all of a sudden this thing comes up with the "Harris" and the X in the middle for Harris.

PILGRIM: He insisted that someone from the election supervisor's office come and fix the machine to make sure his and other votes were read correctly.

Local election officials say they want to make sure voters are confident in the system.

BUDDY JOHNSON, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY ELECTION SUPV.: The voters do have the right and hopefully the feeling of obligation to let us know when they perceive or think something is wrong.

PILGRIM: The Brennan Center at NYU Law School, along with the National Committee for Voting Integrity, has prepared a guideline for both election officials and voters to make sure voting machines have not malfunctioned.

Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center says voters should know they have a critical role to play. Voters should be aware ahead of time who is on the ballot, so if there are problems they will spot them. And if there is a paper trail, remember to check your vote.

LAWRENCE NORDEN, NYU BRENNAN CENTER: In Cuyahoga County in Ohio, voters were supposed to look at, to confirm that their votes were recorded accurately. There were paper jams, and the paper trail wasn't recording their vote. Because voters didn't notify poll workers, and because poll workers didn't fix the machines, a lot of their votes didn't get recorded on the paper.

PILGRIM: Electronic registration at the polls has been inaccurate and unreliable. Voters should check their registration on the Web ahead of Election Day. If they are not listed, they are entitled to provisional ballots.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PILGRIM: And so the day after, the tally servers that totaled the machines have also malfunctioned during primaries. But the totals are posted publicly at the end of the day. So experts suggest that poll workers should follow up and double check the next day that the county has at least totaled the number of votes in their precinct accurately -- Lou.

DOBBS: All of that, Kitty, to deal with e-voting machines, which have been demonstrated to be a major threat to the integrity of this election, as they have played a part in others. This is supposed to be a time in which we're not disenfranchising people. This is such a complicated recommendation that many people will not know how to proceed and protect their vote.

PILGRIM: I know. Lou, they really are in damage control mode at this point, it's so dysfunctional at this point.

DOBBS: Kitty, thank you very much.

Kitty Pilgrim.

And join us this Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern as we examine the troubling questions that remain over the threat to our democracy from these e-voting machines. The problems are many, they are critical, and no clear-cut solution.

Join me this Sunday night for the very important special report "America Votes 2006: Our Democracy at Risk," Sunday evening, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Virgie in Missouri wrote in to say, "I think it's appalling for the illegal aliens to use anything at all related to the civil rights movement. This government and this country is letting illegal aliens bleed dry the programs like Social Security and state aid that we've all worked for and depend on in our own time of need."

And Walker in Texas, "Lou, I think you and your show are the best on TV, but I think you are wrong on the war on the middle class. When you factor in the amount of debt that we middle class are carrying and the absolutely vulgar amount of debt our middle class children have in college loans (my two children -- $72,000), the war is over. We lost."

Scott in California said, "Lou, I used to like to think I was part of the middle class, but as our family slips closer to the poverty line due to rising medical costs and shrinking wages, I know better. I'd love to read your new book but will probably buy a tank of gas instead."

E-mail us at We'd love to hear from you. We'll have more of your thoughts coming up here later.

Each of you whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my new book, "War on the Middle Class". Coming up next, Mexico's leaders blasting the United States' plans to build a fence along our border. Mexico's president calls it an embarrassment to the United States, offering no thoughts about the embarrassment that Mexico must feel over being the source of nearly all of the major drugs coming into this country and our primary source of illegal immigration.

We'll have that live report.

A college degree will earn you more, but the cost of a quality education rising, too. Another losing battle for victims in the war on the middle class.

That report -- and a deadly wildfire still burning out of control tonight in California brush lands. We'll be going live to southern California for the very latest.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: The California wildfire that's killed four firefighters is raging tonight still out of control. The fire has swept through at least 24,000 acres of southern California brush. Hundreds of Riverside County residents have been evacuated from their homes. A reward has been offered for the arrest of those responsible for deliberately starting this fire.

Thelma Gutierrez reports from Beaumont, California -- Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, that reward is now up to $300,000 for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonists.

Now, I can tell you, you had mentioned that this fire is still burning out of control. There is only 5 percent containment. In fact, you can see the smoke billowing behind me as this massive ground and air assault continues.

Now, right now, the situation does not appear to be improving. The winds are still going strong. The humidity is down. It's very low, and the brush out here is very dry.

That is bad news for the 1,800 firefighters who are out on the line trying to gain the upper hand on this fire.

This is also an especially challenging time for the firefighters, because, they say, they lost part of their own families. This morning, during a briefing, the fire chief went out and he talked to his crews, and he said, try to keep your spirits up as you go out and you try to do your job and you're out on that very dangerous line.

Four firefighters died, including the father of five children. A 23-year-old is critically injured. They were trapped in their engine while they were trying to protect a house. They were on a plateau. The winds just swept up the flames. It went up over the engine, engulfed them. A second engine was nearby, radioed for help. Unfortunately could not get there in time to try to help their comrades.


JEANNE WADE EVANS, U.S. FORESTRY SERVICE: Our very deepest condolences go out to the families and friends at this very tragic time. All of us here on the forest and all of us in this fire community are suffering a great loss today.


GUTIERREZ: Now, 23-year-old Pablo Certa is in critical condition right now at a nearby burn center. He has burns over 95 percent of his body, and he is on life support.

Doctors say that he has improved slightly, but is still fighting for his life.

And, again, firefighters know they have a huge job ahead. The red-flag warning, Lou, is not expected to expire until 11:00 tomorrow night, and, still, so much damage could happen between now and then -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thelma, thank you very much. A tragic story. Thelma Gutierrez, reporting tonight from Beaumont, California.

The government of Mexico tonight is threatening, again, the national security and sovereignty of this nation, and some would say insulting the United States. Mexico says the United States has no right to build a new 700-mile fence along our southern border with Mexico. It appears the White House is not concerned in the least by the statements of Mexico's leading national officials.

Casey Wian is in Los Angeles, and has the latest for us -- Casey.

WIAN: Well, Mexican President Vicente Fox, Lou, said that the signing of the bill to build 700 miles of fence along the U.S./Mexican border is an embarrassment. His successor, President-elect Felipe Calderon, called it "a grave error," and U.S. President George Bush says he understands their sensitivities.

Apparently, the three men believe they have a shared interest in keeping the borders open, if you will. For example, Mexico depends on the United States. The Mexicans living in the United States, both legally and illegally, send $25 billion a year in remittances, the money they send home. It's one of the most crucial factors in Mexico's economy.

The United States has become a pressure relief valve for Mexico. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 percent of Mexican citizens are now living in the United States, economic refugees.

So if that fence gets built, and if it gets built along the entire southern border with Mexico and if the United States uses other tactics, including more Border Patrol agents, the National Guard, more technology to really secure the border, all of that money that Mexico receives from its citizens in the United States is at risk.

And of course, President Bush's interest in this seems to be more with corporate America, which has become absolutely addicted to the cheap illegal alien labor that primarily comes to this country from Mexico -- Lou.

DOBBS: Casey, addiction goes a long way to explain much of what is happening. You mentioned the addiction on the part of employers to cheap illegal labor. There's also the addiction to drugs. Mexico, the primary source of methamphetamines, the primary source of cocaine, the primary source of marijuana being distributed and sold in this country, generating about $25 billion -- some say $40 billion -- a year to Mexico.

This looks like a commercial interest being expressed by the president and president-elect of Mexico. One wonders, if they are embarrassed by the prospect of a fence, why they aren't embarrassed by impoverishing half of their nation -- just about half of the Mexican people live in poverty -- drug cartel violence is raging out of control throughout that country, they are the source of illegal drugs, source of illegal immigration. You would think that they would have both shame and be considerably embarrassed themselves rather than spewing the rhetoric that they did today.

WIAN: You would think so. Mexico, as you know, Lou, consistently blames the United States for the drug problems along the border. They blame consumers in the United States for that drug problem. Yet, they have taken no action, almost no action, and certainly no successful action to control the out-of-control drug violence on the Mexican border.

So it seems to be easier to point the finger at the United States for at least trying to do something to control this problem.

DOBBS: And there's, of course, no question at all that we have been singularly unsuccessful in curbing that demand and certainly interdicting the supply of drugs into this country. You would think there would be considerable embarrassment in this country for other reasons. Perhaps securing those borders, we'll be able to remove some of the reasons for embarrassment -- much, I'm sure, to the discomfort of the corrupt and incompetent government of Mexico.

Casey Wian, thank you very much.


DOBBS: That brings us to the subject of tonight's poll. Do you believe it is time the U.S. government demanded that Mexico end its rampant corruption, drug violence, poverty and government-encouraged illegal immigration into the United States? Yes or no? Cast your vote at The results will be coming up here later in the broadcast.

A new study tonight shows college graduates earn tens of thousands of dollars a year more, on average, than Americans with high school diplomas. A college education is critical for middle-class Americans. But more and more Americans are unable to afford it, as Christine Romans reports from New York.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The great equalizer, a college education. New evidence that without one, middle-class Americans could fall dangerously behind.

The Census Bureau reports that adults with an advanced degree earn, on average, $78,000 a year; $52,000 for a bachelor's degree. But high school graduates earn just $28,000 a year, and school drop- outs less than $20,000. It's a valuable investment that's becoming more difficult for middle-class families to afford.

LUKE SWARTHOUT, U.S. PUB. INT. RESEARCH GROUP: Unfortunately, as college costs become more expensive, students are increasingly required to take out debt in order to pay for that college education.

ROMANS: The College Board reported this week that education costs have risen an astounding 35 percent over the past five years. Today, two-thirds of college students graduate with student debt, on average almost $20,000 in loans.

Across the country, students at both public and private universities saddled with debt. At state schools, they average from about $23,000 in Iowa to about $11,000 in Utah.

At private, non-profit universities, average debt load even higher, topping $30,000 in Arizona, $13,000 in Utah.

As tuition rises, federal student aid growth has failed to keep up.

ROBERT SHIREMAN, PROJECT ON STUDENT DEBT: Increasingly, we've seen students and families turn to the private loan market because they are unable to cover college expenses with federal loans, federal grants, state financial aid that is being offered.

ROMANS: Those interest rates can be as high as 19 percent.


ROMANS: But for many students, there is no choice. Training and education, they are told, are the key to keeping up with the global economy. And keeping up means starting out thousands and thousands of dollars in debt -- Lou.

DOBBS: Indeed. Something is going to have to be done. A number of good ideas are out there, but this government, the federal government, has got to deal with the crisis in our public schools and in our colleges as the emergency that it is.

Christine Romans, thank you very much.

Tonight, our series of special reports on our broken government continues. At 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, it's "America Votes 2006: Where the Right Went Wrong," an in-depth look at where the Republican Party may have taken a wrong turn. It's anchored by CNN's senior political analyst Jeff Greenfield. Jeff is with us tonight from New York.

Jeff, that looks like an exciting topic and a terrific broadcast.


And what we've done here is to spend the hour talking only to conservatives about an interest paradox. For 15 years, conservatives have steadily moved from the margins of American politics to the point where they now control the presidency and both houses of the Congress for the first time in more than 80 years.

And yet after six years of this, a growing number of conservatives seem to be saying, what has been done in the name of conservatism that we can approve of? Because in issue after issue, as you are about to see, many conservatives say this isn't what we had in mind at all. Let's take a look.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bill I signed today authorizes...

This legislation will authorize $200 million per year.

There's no doubt we increased our budgets.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST (voice-over): The biggest increase in discretionary domestic spending of any administration since LBJ's.

BUSH: Our government is finally bringing prescription drug coverage to the seniors of America.

GREENFIELD: The biggest new entitlement, the prescription drug program, since Medicare.

BUSH: In order to fight and win the war, it requires an expenditure of money.

GREENFIELD: A war in Iraq premised on a foreign policy that aimed to bring democracy to every corner of the globe...

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is an investigation going on by the Justice Department.

GREENFIELD: ... and embraced by congressional Republicans of the very behavior...

BUSH: I don't know him.

GREENFIELD: ... trading legislative favors for campaign cash and personal enrichment, that outraged conservatives when Democrats were in control. REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: I believe that, as a movement, that we have veered off course into the dangerous and uncharted waters of big-government Republicanism.

GREENFIELD: Mike Pence is far from alone.

In recent months, conservative have penned a stack of books, accusing Bush and congressional Republicans of abandoning the conservative cause. And a growing number of conservatives have been asking out loud, what ever happened to the core conservative notion proclaimed by Ronald Reagan in his first inaugural?

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.


GREENFIELD: Now, it should be noted -- and we do tonight, that on a lot of other issues -- tax cuts, the appointment of judges to the federal bench, and for most conservatives, the fighting of this global war on terror, the president and the Congress still have high marks from most conservatives.

But what is intriguing is that the discontent among some has grown so loud that recently more than half a dozen of well-known conservatives published their view that it was time that they lose the congressional elections but better to regain their political soul -- Lou.

DOBBS: Jeff, thank you very much. Looking forward to it. Please be sure to watch more of Jeff's reporting in this important hour in our series "BROKEN GOVERNMENT." Jeff Greenfield tonight, anchoring, "AMERICA VOTES 2006: WHERE THE RIGHT WENT WRONG," tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, here on CNN.

Up next, our distinguished panel of political experts join me here in Washington tonight. Midterm elections, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Iraq, war on the middle-class, all on the agenda.

And our weekly tribute to our men and women in uniform, serving this nation in Iraq and Afghanistan, around the world. Tonight, a tribute to a fallen West Point hero. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Joining us here tonight, "Washington Times" columnist, Diana West -- good to have you with us, Diana -- Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, and Republican strategist Charlie Black. Gentlemen, good to have you with us. Let's, if we may, begin by listening to something that Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: That is a complicated issue. It's going to be complicated. We're looking out into the future. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty, so you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated. It's difficult. We're in the political season. You know that, and that's what's happening. I didn't just fall off a turnip truck.

QUESTION: Sir, General Casey and the ambassador said the Iraqis had agreed that they would go through this exercise. Are you saying they haven't agreed on the need to do it?

RUMSFELD: The problem is the word it.


DOBBS: The problem is the word it, echoes of the Clinton administration, Diana?

DIANA WEST, "WASHINGTON TIMES": Oh, boy. There's a lot of problems besides the word it, and I think one of the main problems here is that there is a lack of understanding that we are trying to build a government on a hill of cards or a deck of cards, and what I mean by that is we're trying to stabilize a Shiite-dominated government.

DOBBS: Well, I know what we're trying to do. I think most of our viewers on this broadcast -- this is a very smart audience. What I'm curious about is, Donald Rumsfeld, complicated definitions, parsing it. This is a man either being far too clever, clever by at least half, or suddenly deciding he wants to parse the ambiguous, which seems rather specific.

WEST: I think he doesn't want to talk about it.

DOBBS: What do you think, Joe?

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think he was really certain when we were going into the war he knew exactly where the weapons of mass destruction were. Now all of a sudden it's confusing and complicated.

I just think, look, it's -- they are in a very bad spot. The administration is in a really bad spot with Iraq right now. It's affecting all the elections and he's trying to wiggle around and not say much right now.

DOBBS: Charlie?

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The secretary is trying to counsel patience on the part of the American people and the news media, because war is unpredictable. There's an inclination to want to know did we win this week? Did we lose this week. It's not that simple. It is a long-term war and a long-term battle and he's just trying to get people to be patient.

DOBBS: Yes, when you say that, Charlie, I guess, it's my sense that less it's a cry for patience than the continued tolerance of mounting casualties in Iraq. I think that's what disturbs most folks and they don't see a clear strategy for winning. BLACK: Well, I think the generals have a strategy. As we've said this week, you have to adapt the strategy and the tactics to changing circumstances on the ground. But we've come a long way in Iraq. We've had eight million people go and vote several times to establish this government. Yes, it's going to be hard to sustain, but they have voted for it.

DOBBS: The president signed the border fence legislation this week. That has got to make everybody happy. I want to just -- if everybody would listen to what David Letterman had to say about it all.


DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Down there in Washington -- now this is one of those things you have to listen to it twice, because you don't believe it. President Bush has authorized the building of a 700-mile fence, 700-mile fence they are going to build between the United States and Mexico. And he says -- he says, by the way, he knows where we can get some cheap labor to build it.


DOBBS: Charlie, what do you think? Is this a sea change at the house?

BLACK: Well, it's not. I mean, the president always said that securing the border was the first step of his comprehensive proposal for immigration reform. This will make a lot of people happy, especially the conservative Republican base that we want to go out and vote here.

DOBBS: How about 300 million Americans who want to be safe in this country, have the borders and ports secure?

BLACK: It should make everybody happy, that's absolutely right, especially some of the conservatives who were a little disillusioned about this issue.

TRIPPI: And there's no money to build it, no money allocated to build it. I mean, this is another election-year thing. They're putting it out there right before the election and nothing is going to happen.

WEST: It's the best reason to keep the House Republican that there is.

DOBBS: OK, that's fair. New Jersey moving toward gay marriage with its court ruling this week. What do you think?

WEST: Being pushed. I mean, here we have another case of judicial activism where you have judges for life telling elected officials what kind of legislation to write and how fast they should write it. I think it's outrageous.

DOBBS: And it didn't take long for President Bush to make that point when he was out in Iowa this week.

We've got a nasty, nasty race in Tennessee, Joe, Harold Ford up against Corker, some really nasty ads running there.

TRIPPI: Yes, they are running racist ads that the RNC put together and the Republicans keep saying that they are not racist. They are racist ads, and they're so racist that Jesse Jackson and the NAACP not only demanded that they be brought down, but now it's asking Wal-Mart to fire the consultant that made them, because the consultant works for them and the Republicans. So I think you've got real bad stuff happening down there.

WEST: The letter of Jesse Jackson ...

BLACK: There was nothing racist about the ad. The ad made the point that Harold Ford was a social liberal who attended "Playboy" magazine parties, which is not the average lifestyle in Tennessee. That was the whole point of the ad and there was nothing racist about it.

TRIPPI: If the NAACP calls the ad racist, I'm going to take them over the Republican consultant who made it any day of the week and, again, this is spreading beyond politics now into other issues like Wal-Mart and why they are hiring these guys to ...


BLACK: Why didn't they something about racism is Maryland, where Michael Steele has been subjected to all kinds of racial epithets by Democrats.

TRIPPI: We do. I worked for Kweisi Mfume and I said stuff when that happened.

BLACK: It's true, Joe. You did.

WEST: I would say Jesse Jackson is not the best acid test on what is or was not racist. However, I would say that when a man does hand out business cards with the 10 commandments on the back that he is inviting some sort of extra scrutiny of his lifestyle.

DOBBS: Or reflection on the 10 commandments at the very least.

The idea that we've also got a race that has taken a two bizarre turns in Virginia, between George Allen and James Webb. This latest thing, going to the literature of James Webb, what's your reaction?

BLACK: Well, I haven't -- I haven't read his books, but, listen, anything you write is fair game in politics. I agree with Senator Allen that this race should be decided on the big issues facing the country and not these personal issues.

TRIPPI: The books are fiction. You know, it's a novel. I mean, I could understand if he wrote a children's book with this stuff in it. He didn't. He wrote novels. I mean, for this even to be an issue is amazing to me. WEST: Well, it is fiction, and certainly it doesn't necessarily reflect on James Webb, because it is fiction. However, he used to be a novelist, he wrote some racy stuff, some graphic stuff, and it's part of what voters evaluate the politician on. We used to think the politicians used to be square Joes, they didn't use to come from the art world. It's fair game.

DOBBS: You have the last word, Joe, because you are outmanned here tonight, or outmanned at the moment.

TRIPPI: This is just this whole year now is getting down to racist ads, attacking a guy for novels he wrote. I mean, let's get to the issues. We have an Iraq war going on, we've got other issues happening.

DOBBS: We got another war, too, I'd sure like to see some discussion on.

TRIPPI: Right, and we're not talking about that, we're talking about this stuff. And it's because the Republicans are desperate. They have got to try to hold the Senate and that's what they are trying to do.

DOBBS: And will they try, Charlie?

BLACK: But George Allen wins on the issues. Yes, we will hold it. We had a good week this week in Senate races.

TRIPPI: I don't think so. I think there is a real wave happening out there now, and people -- and I think this stuff is not going to work.

WEST: I don't think the -- yes, the Democratic wave has stopped. I think now we're back to tossup time.

DOBBS: So the pundits call. OK, we'll see which way the waves break here, coming up rather shortly. Thank you all for being here. Good to have you here, Charlie.

BLACK: Thank you.

WEST: Thank you, Lou.

TRIPPI: Thank you.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Diane. Thanks.

Still ahead here, "Heroes." Stay with us.


DOBBS: Coming up shortly, here on CNN, "THE SITUATION ROOM," with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We've got a major interview that we're going to be airing unedited, Lou, the complete interview I did with the wife of the Vice President Dick Cheney. Lynne Cheney is in "THE SITUATION ROOM." She is very angry, angry about references to her husband and torture, angry about the Virginia Senate race. She's also very angry at CNN. We're going to give all of that, the complete, unedited interview that airs in "THE SITUATION ROOM" at the top of the hour.

DOBBS: Terrific. Wolf, looking forward to it. Thank you very much and thanks for being so hospitable to us while we're here in D.C.

BLITZER: We love having you in Washington.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

Coming up next here, "Heroes." Stay with us.


DOBBS: And "Heroes" tonight, Second Lieutenant Emily Perez, a remarkable young woman, the highest-ranking minority female in the history of West Point. She was killed in Iraq last month, leading her troops in battle.

Barbara Starr has her story.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What her family remembers most about Second Lieutenant Emily Perez is her smile. Her parents now mourn the little girl who became, for a short while, a young commander, leading troops in Iraq.

VICKI PEREZ, MOTHER OF 2ND LT. PEREZ: When she was a little girl, she wanted to be a nun, and I told her, Emily, we're Baptists, you can't be a nun.

STARR: Last month, 23-year-old Emily became the first West Point female graduate to die in Iraq, when her convoy was hit by a roadside bomb. She was bringing medical supplies to field units.

Emily entered West Point shortly before the 9/11 attacks, quickly rising to a leadership role inside the competitive cadet corps. She never planned to go to West Point, but after visiting during high school, her parents say she was hooked.

V. PEREZ: When people would say, well, what's your second choice, she would say, I'm going to West Point. And I would say well, Emily, you know -- no, mom, I'm going, and she didn't apply to any other college.

STARR: After Emily went to Iraq, her mother never stopped worrying.

V. PEREZ: I would wake up in the middle of the night, and send e-mails to her when I heard the news, and she would call -- one morning, as a matter of fact, I sent her one answer me ASAP, and about two hours later, the phone rang. Ma, you need to quit looking at the news.

STARR: The young soldier, who ran track and started an AIDS ministry at her Baptist Church became more than 50 military woman that have died in Iraq. Technically, the U.S. still does not allow women to serve in front line combat positions. Her father, Daniel, a former soldier himself, has no doubt his daughter was on the frontline.

DANIEL PEREZ, FATHER OF 2ND LT. PEREZ: Emily was one who always lived from the front, and her thing was I'm going to be in the lead vehicle because these are my soldiers and I have to bring them back home safe.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


DOBBS: We thank you for watching. Good night from Washington D.C. "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer begins now -- Wolf.