Saturday, January 29, 2011

We Must Support the Egyptian People and Demand that President Obama Repudiate the Repressive Mubarak Regime!

(Photo: Lukas Beck / The New York Times)

Pro-democracy leader Mohamed El Baradei is calling for Western leaders to explicitly condemn Egypt's current President Hosni Mubarak.


Once again we are confronted with yet another defining "put up or shut up" moment for President Obama and the United States. The only relevant question in a clearly pre-revolutionary situation like the one raging in Egypt at this very moment is this: Will the Obama administration stand up for and support real freedom and democracy in a country where the United States has shamelessly propped up and supported a repressive dictatorship for 30 years? Or will the typically hollow, jingoistic, and banal U.S. rhetoric about being truly "concerned" about international human rights and freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and the press that this President is so fond of always trumpeting with endless, self serving platitudes about the highly dubious 'glories' of "American exceptionalism" be lamely substituted for taking any real, independent stand on openly supporting the Egyptian people's right to self determination and their crucial need to oppose and eradicate such an antidemocratic and oppressive government? Only time will tell of course (and so far the signs don't look good!). But one thing is certain: We will all find out--both Americans and the Egyptian people alike-- IF this President and his administration actually are on the right of History or merely like their lowly and hypocritical predecessors who always came up very short or far worse when it came to actually meaning what they said about "freedom", "justice" and "democracy" in the world--both home and abroad...Stay tuned...


Mohamed ElBaradei: "If Not Now, When?"
Friday 28 January 2011
by: Robert Naiman, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

If Western leaders, who have backed the dictator Mubarak for 30 years, cannot stand before the Egyptian people today and say unequivocally, "we support your right of national self-determination," when can they do it?

That's the question that Egyptian democracy leader and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has put before Western leaders today.

Speaking to The Guardian UK in Cairo, before the planned protests today, ElBaradei stepped up his calls for Western leaders to explicitly condemn Mubarak, who, as The Guardian noted, has been a close ally of the US:

"The international community must understand we are being denied every human right day by day," he said. "Egypt today is one big prison. If the international community does not speak out it will have a lot of implications. We are fighting for universal values here. If the west is not going to speak out now, then when?"

Giving forceful illustration to ElBaradei's words that "Egypt today is one big prison," Egyptian police later doused ElBaradei with a water cannon and beat supporters who tried to shield him, AP reported, then trapped ElBaradei in a mosque by surrounding it with tear gas:

Police fired water cannons at one of the country's leading pro-democracy advocates, Mohamed ElBaradei, and his supporters as they joined the latest wave of protests after noon prayers. They used batons to beat some of ElBaradei's supporters, who surrounded him to protect him.

A soaking wet ElBaradei was trapped inside a mosque while hundreds of riot police laid siege to it, firing tear gas in the streets around so no one could leave.

As I can attest from personal experience, having been under "hotel arrest" in Egypt during the Gaza Freedom March a year ago, this is a standard tactic of Egyptian police - prevent you from participating in a demonstration by detaining you where you are.

What does it say that ElBaradei, a Nobel Prize winner, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister, not to mention a 68-year-old man - is not allowed to peacefully raise his voice in protest against the Egyptian government? Some folks in Washington still seem to be laboring under the illusion that the US can wash its hands of this matter, like Pontius Pilate. If the Egyptian government were not one of the largest recipients of US "foreign aid," largely military "aid," it might be a different story. If the protesters in Egypt weren't painfully aware that the US has long backed Mubarak to the hilt, it might be a different story. But that's not the world in which we live. The world in which we live is the one in which people in Egypt know that the US has backed Mubarak to the hilt. FDR famously said of the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." But FDR didn't say that in 2011. The world has changed. Expectations have been raised. US leaders today have to meet a higher standard today. "Our son of a bitch" isn't going to wash on the streets of Cairo.

ElBaradei told CNN on Tuesday:

"I was stunned to hear Secretary Clinton saying that the Egyptian government is 'stable,' and I asked myself at what price stability. Is it on the basis of 29 years of martial law? ... Is it on the basis of rigged elections? That's not stability. That's living on borrowed time. Stability is when you have a government that is elected on a free and fair basis. And we have seen how elections have been rigged in Egypt, we have seen how people have been tortured. And when you see today over 100,000 young people, getting desperate, going to the street, asking for their basic freedoms, I expected to hear from Secretary Clinton ... democracy, human rights, freedom."

In cities across Egypt today, thousands of people, young and old, secularists and Islamists, Muslims and Christians, workers, lawyers, students and professors, have placed their bodies on the line. Their willingness to sacrifice forces us to consider ElBaradei's question: if not now, when?

As Rabbi Hillel said,
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?


Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Police and protesters clashed in Cairo on Friday.

Violent Clashes on the Streets of Cairo

Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press
Antigovernment protesters climbed atop Egyptian Army vehicles near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday, defying efforts to quell their uprising.




Mubarak Orders Crackdown, With Revolt Sweeping Egypt
January 28, 2011
New York Times

CAIRO — With police stations and the governing party’s headquarters in flames, and much of this crucial Middle Eastern nation in open revolt, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt deployed the nation’s military and imposed a near-total blackout on communications to save his authoritarian government of nearly 30 years.

Protesters continued to defy a nationwide curfew in the early hours of Saturday, as Mr. Mubarak, 82, breaking days of silence, appeared on national television, promising to replace the ministers in his government, but calling popular protests “part of bigger plot to shake the stability” of Egypt. He refused calls, shouted by huge, angry crowds in the central squares of Cairo, the northern port of Alexandria and the canal city of Suez, for him to resign.

“I will not shy away from taking any decision that maintains the security of every Egyptian,” he vowed, as gunfire rang out around Cairo.

Whether his infamously efficient security apparatus and well-financed but politicized military could enforce that order — and whether it would stay loyal to him even if it came to shedding blood — was the main question for many Egyptians.

It was also a pressing concern for the White House, where President Obama called Mr. Mubarak and then, in his own Friday television appearance, urged him to take “concrete steps” toward the political and economic reform that the stalwart American ally had repeatedly failed to deliver.

Whatever the fallout from the protests — be it change that comes suddenly or unfolds over years — the upheaval at the heart of the Arab world has vast repercussions for the status quo in the region, including tolerance for secular dictators by a new generation of frustrated youth, the viability of opposition that had been kept mute or locked up for years and the orientation of regional governments toward the United States and Israel, which had long counted Egypt as its most important friend in the region.

Many regional experts were still predicting that the wily Mr. Mubarak, who has outmaneuvered domestic political rivals and Egypt’s Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, for decades, would find a way to suppress dissent and restore control. But the apparently spontaneous, nonideological and youthful protesters also posed a new kind of challenge to a state security system focused on more traditional threats from organized religious groups and terrorists.

Friday’s protests were the largest and most diverse yet, including young and old, women with Louis Vuitton bags and men in galabeyas, factory workers and film stars. All came surging out of mosques after midday prayers headed for Tahrir Square, and their clashes with the police left clouds of tear gas wafting through empty streets.

For the first time since the 1980s, Mr. Mubarak felt compelled to call the military into the streets of the major cities to restore order and enforce a national 6 p.m. curfew. He also ordered that Egypt be essentially severed from the global Internet and telecommunications systems. Even so, videos from Cairo and other major cities showed protesters openly defying the curfew and few efforts being made to enforce it.

Street battles unfolded throughout the day Friday, as hundreds of thousands of people streamed out of mosques after noon prayers on Friday in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities around the country.

By nightfall, the protesters had burned down the ruling party’s headquarters in Cairo, and looters marched away with computers, briefcases and other equipment emblazoned with the party’s logo. Other groups assaulted the Interior Ministry and the state television headquarters, until after dark when the military occupied both buildings and regained control. At one point, the American Embassy came under attack.

Six Cairo police stations and several police cars were in flames, and stations in Suez and other cities were burning as well. Office equipment and police vehicles burned, and the police seemed to have retreated from Cairo’s main streets. Brigades of riot police officers deployed at mosques, bridges and intersections, and they battered the protesters with tear gas, water, rubber-coated bullets and, by day’s end, live ammunition.

With the help of five armored trucks and at least two fire trucks, more than a thousand riot police officers fought most of the day to hold the central Kasr al-Nil bridge. But, after hours of advances and retreats, by nightfall a crowd of at least twice as many protesters broke through. The Interior Ministry said nearly 900 were injured there and in the neighboring Giza area, with more than 400 hospitalized with critical injuries. State television said 13 were killed in Suez and 75 injured; a total of at least six were dead in Cairo and Giza.

The uprising here was also the biggest outbreak yet in a wave of youth-led revolts around the region since the Jan. 14 ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia — a country with just half Cairo’s population of 20 million. “Tunis, Tunis, Tunis,” protesters chanted outside the Tunisian Embassy here.

“Egyptians right now are not afraid at all,” said Walid Rachid, a student taking refuge from tear gas inside a Giza mosque. “It may take time, but our goal will come, an end to this regime. I want to say to this regime: 30 years is more than enough. Our country is going down and down because of your policies.”

Mr. Mubarak, in his televised address, said he was working to open up democracy and to fight “corruption,” and he said he understood the hardships facing the Egyptian people. But, he said, “a very thin line separates freedom from chaos.”

His offer to replace his cabinet is unlikely to be viewed as a major concession; Mr. Mubarak often changes ministers without undertaking fundamental reforms.

A crowd of young men who had gathered around car radios on a bridge in downtown Cairo to listen to the speech said they were enraged by it, saying that they had heard it before and wanted him to go. “Leave, leave,” they chanted, vowing to return to the streets the next day. “Down, down with Mubarak.”

A bonfire of office furniture from the ruling party headquarters was burning nearby, and the carcasses of police vehicles were still smoldering. The police appeared to have retreated from large parts of the city.

Protesters throughout the day spoke of the military’s eventual deployment as a foregone conclusion, given the scale of the uprising and Egyptian history. The military remains one of Egypt’s most esteemed institutions, a source of nationalist pride.

It was military officers who led the coup that toppled the British-backed monarch here in 1952, and all three Egypt’s presidents, including Mr. Mubarak, a former air force commander, have risen to power through the ranks of the military. It has historically been a decisive factor in Egyptian politics and has become a major player — a business owner — in the economy as well.

Some protesters seemed to welcome the soldiers, even expressing hopes that the military would somehow take over and potentially oust Mr. Mubarak. Others said they despaired that, unlike the relatively small and apolitical army in Tunisia, the Egyptian military was loyal first of all to its own institutions and alumni, including Mr. Mubarak.

“Will they stage a coup?” asked Hosam Sowilan, a retired general and a former director of a military research center here. “This will never happen.” He added: “The army in Tunisia put pressure on Ben Ali to leave. We are not going to do that here. The army here is loyal to this country and to the regime.”

One of the protesters leaving a mosque near Cairo was Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency and has since emerged as a leading critic of the government.

“This is the work of a barbaric regime that is in my view doomed,” he said after being sprayed by a water cannon.

Now, he said, “it is the people versus the thugs.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, for decades Egypt’s only viable opposition movement, had taken a backseat to the youth protest on Tuesday. But, perhaps stunned at the scale of that uprising, it called its supporters to the streets in full force on Friday.

Many protesters shouted religious slogans that were absent on Tuesday, though not the Brotherhood’s trademark “Islam is the solution.” Instead, the crowds seemed so large and diverse that it was impossible to gauge what proportion might have subscribed to the Brotherhood’s Islamist ideology.

“We decided to participate in full force today because we felt that the people were starting to respond,” said Gamal Tag Eddin, a middle-aged lawyer and a member of the Brotherhood. “We could not participate alone because the government uses us to scare people here and abroad. Now that the people have moved, the Brotherhood are in with all their members in order to bring down this oppressive regime.”

Several others said they felt shame that their homeland — the cradle of civilization and a onetime leader of the Arab world — had slipped toward backwardness and irrelevance, eclipsed by the rise of the Persian Gulf states. Some said they felt outdone by tiny Tunisia.

Mohamed Fouad, sitting near the Ramses Hilton nursing a wound from a rubber-coated bullet in the middle of his forehead, wondered how long it would take to dislodge Mr. Mubarak. “In Tunis, they protested for a month,” he said. “But they have 11 million people. We have 85 million.”

Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim, Mona El-Naggar, Liam Stack and Dawlat Magdy from Cairo, Anthony Shadid from Beirut, Lebanon, Alan Cowell from Paris, and Maria Newman and Christine Hauser from New York.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Citizen's Critical Response to President Obama's 2011 'State of the Union' Speech

"The future doesn’t exist. If you keep saying we have to do something because of the future, if you boil it down, it means we have to do this now because I’d like you to. The future is a mythical construct in which there’s no strife. So what the politicians say is that if you do X, Y and Z now, you can have that beautiful future in which there is no strife. It’s the same thing as saying if you get rid of the Jews, or the blacks, or the gays, all the strife will be gone. As somebody said, all great crimes are committed in the name of public tranquillity. To ensure peace, I have to annex the Sudetenland. To ensure peace with honor, I have to stay in Vietnam. To ensure the tranquillity of this town, we have to get rid of all the black Americans. It’s a confidence trick for taking power."

-– David Mamet, October 24, 1997 (Interview in Salon magazine)


In a generally dismal political and economic climate that categorically refuses to even publicly acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of massive social and cultural dysfunction in the midst of pervasive, rapidly deepening, and ever expanding rates of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and despair throughout the country, it's bizarre, even surreal, that the President in his 'State of the Union' address stays fixated on something he keeps obsessively referring to as "the future." Since the PRESENT is the only real incubator and actual societal context of any "future" worth its name, it is very disturbing to say the least that virtually no one in the federal government or the corporate "private sector" is "presently" seriously addressing the root structural and institutional causes of and fundamental impediments to resolving any of these major economic crises while we all wait like strangely curious onlookers at the beach-- who can't swim!-- of huge rumbling ocean tides whose violent gigantic waves will soon (in the ever looming "future"?) sweep us all away...

What follows is one citizen's critical response to and analytical assessment of President Obama's 2011 'State of the Union' speech as well as a full transcript and video link of the President's speech before Congress and the nation on January 25, 2011


Winning the Future for Whom?
by Maya Schenwar | Wednesday 26 January 2011

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

--Langston Hughes, "Democracy," 1949

Last Saturday, as an inadvertent prelude to the State of the Union address, I visited my sister in Gary, Indiana, widely known as one of the worst places in the country to live. (The rumors don't lie - in fact, Gary was featured in the History Channel's "Life After People" series as a glimpse of what Chicago would look like after the extinction of the human race.)

My sister lives off of Grant Street, in a trailer park next to a junk car lot, along a set of railroad tracks that are rarely graced with the rumble of a train. Perched on the side of the tracks is a small wooden marker circled by balloons and plastic flowers, a memorial for a child from the trailer park who died at the spot.

Grant Street, home of the bar where the Jackson Five played its first gig, is now lined with boarded-up storefronts and decaying homes. The car lot is one of the few businesses whose lights are still on, and it's frequented by jobless Garyites (my sister included) looking to pick up scrap metal for a few dollars per day.

We crowd into my sister's trailer. A neighbor drifts in to store food in her refrigerator - his electricity has been shut off - and she tells us of park residents who don't have water, others who don't have heat. (It's currently 6 degrees outside, and dropping.)

Public transportation in Gary barely deserves the label. A bus is scheduled to circle through every hour on Grant Street, but we never see one, and my sister says it sometimes never arrives. In a place where public services are needed more desperately than almost anywhere else in the country, many people are cut off from jobs not only because of the ghastly state of the economy, but because they're rendered functionally immobile.

Many of Gary's residents are, in essence, politically invisible: A host of Gary-area voters were purged from the rolls in recent elections, for reasons that remain unclear. Beyond that, thousands of potential voters are incarcerated, or simply eschew the political system because their energy is funneled into fulfilling basic needs. When the heat is off and the tap runs dry, waiting hours for a bus downtown to procure a state ID often ranks low on the to-do list.

The recession didn't do this to Gary; it's been on the downswing ever since the steel industry started waning (not long after the city was memorialized as the not-to-be-beat hometown of "The Music Man"'s Harold Hill). The recession just hammered in the nail of hopelessness, as it did for many, many cities - and for millions of vulnerable people - across this country.

But the White House isn't seeing Gary, or any of those other places where basic necessities are truly scarce, where jobs are so few and fleeting that many have simply stopped looking, where hope for a hand from the government is dying or dead. And in his State of the Union address, Obama made that vast oversight - or, perhaps, that triangulation-driven choice of calculated neglect - abundantly clear.

In the rousing SOTU, Obama spoke of "winning the future" through innovation: supercomputers that squeeze extra mileage out of nuclear plants, applications that allow firefighters to download designs onto their handhelds, the wonders of near-universal high-speed wireless Internet access. But in a country where one in three Americans don't earn enough to cover their minimum expenses, the president didn't utter a substantive word about the poor.

"In America," Obama told us, "innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living."

If only every American had that option.

It's debatable whether America is the "greatest nation on Earth" (as the president assured us it was in nearly every bullet point of his speech), but one thing is for certain: this country is chockfull of poor people, and most of them are not yearning for a "face-to-face video chat" with their doctor. They're lucky if they can see one at all, let alone the same doctor twice in a row. Most of them are not small business owners who dream of "selling their products all over the world." Many just want a job that's more reliable than collecting scrap metal by the side of an abandoned main street.

In his State of the Union, Obama did allude to the existence of some unmentioned "others." "We may have different backgrounds," he said, "but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything’s possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from."

However, the president seems to have forgotten a large and growing contingent of Americans: those who no longer share that dream of boundless possibility, because their government is not providing them with any proof that it might come true.

In fact, when President Obama spoke most forcefully of uniting our shared desires - of "coming together" - he was referring to a freeze on domestic spending, including funding for some of the very social programs that could begin pulling places like Gary out of the hole. ("I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs," he said, and my heart sank.)

The president spoke of our "democracy" as "contentious and frustrating and messy," but ultimately, the element that sets us apart from – and above - the rest of the world.

So, in the context of the State of the Union, and of Washingtonspeak on the whole, what does "democracy" mean? This brand of "democracy" certainly does not include the voices of the poor - the people who are disenfranchised due to their lack of access to basic necessities, the people who, more than anyone, need their government to care. This spectacle of contention and frustration and mess is ultimately a battle between a narrow sliver of very similar perspectives.

Obama's call to action on deficit reduction, which encapsulates the message of much of the rest of his speech, provides a glimpse of the White House's grand democratic vision:

Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress - Democrats and Republicans - to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done."

Does "working together," then, connote simply uniting the voices and interests of "moderate" Republicans and "centrist" Democrats, in Congress and in corporate America?

In his 1949 poem, "Democracy," Langston Hughes points to a truth that reverberates eerily these 62 years later: "Democracy will not come/Today, this year/Nor ever/Through compromise and fear."

Is it possible that our president, who spoke so ardently of national transformation just two years ago, could be equating democracy with its opposite - the kind of "principled compromise" between the few that tosses the needs of the many to the wind?

This is the logic of the December tax deal, which granted the wishes of the wealthy while according the not-so-wealthy barely a vague acknowledgment of their interests. It's the logic of Congress's refusal to even begin debate on the Employee Free Choice Act and a slew of sorely needed labor reforms. It's a logic that rings hollow and discordant in places like Gary, Indiana, and it sure isn't the logic of democracy.

We must not let ourselves fall prey to this degraded conception of democracy: a decisionmaking process that brings together the weakest, narrowest, least courageous impulses of humanity, and operates on the grounds that participants abandon their highest ideals - along with the urgent needs of vast swaths of society.

A real democracy represents Gary, Indiana as boldly as it represents Washington, DC.

"The idea of America endures," the president concluded Tuesday night, against the backdrop of a near-teary John Boehner. "Our destiny remains our choice."

The question is, for whom does the exalted idea endure? And who is the "our" whose "choice" is deciding America's destiny?

January 25, 2011

(A Full Transcript):

President Obama delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Here is the full text as delivered:
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. (Applause.) And as we mark this occasion, we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague -- and our friend -– Gabby Giffords. (Applause.)

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation. (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow. (Applause.)

I believe we can. And I believe we must. That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

At stake right now is not who wins the next election -– after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together. (Applause.)

We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

But we have to do more. These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They’re right. The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. (Applause.) No workers -- no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. (Applause.) We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. (Applause.) And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living. (Applause.)

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard. Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money. We’re issuing a challenge. We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. (Applause.) I don’t know if -- I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. (Laughter.) So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all -- and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen. (Applause.)

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. (Applause.) We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids. (Applause.)

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities. Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado -- located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their families to go to college. And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.” (Applause.) That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. (Applause.) We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. (Applause.) And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. (Applause.)

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you. (Applause.)

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American. (Applause.) That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. (Applause.) And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college. It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too. As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. (Applause.)

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. (Applause.) I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation. (Applause.)

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information -- from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet. (Applause.)

Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts. (Applause.)

We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. (Applause.) This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down. (Laughter and applause.) As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn’t just about -- (applause) -- this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change. (Applause.)

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit. It can be done. (Applause.)

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans -- and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible. (Applause.)

Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs. That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks. (Applause.)

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. (Applause.) But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people. (Applause.) That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century. It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe. It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws. It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis. (Applause.) And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients. (Applause.)

Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law. (Laughter.) So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses. (Applause.)

What I’m not willing to do -- what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition. (Applause.)

I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business man from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees. As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients’ -- parents’ coverage. (Applause.)

So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward. (Applause.)

Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. (Applause.) Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without. (Applause.)

I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. (Applause.) And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact. (Laughter.)

Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won’t. (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes. (Applause.)

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year -- medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits. (Applause.)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. (Applause.) We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market. (Applause.)

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. (Applause.) Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success. (Applause.)

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code. (Applause.) This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them. (Applause.)

So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further. We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient. We can’t win the future with a government of the past. (Applause.)

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV. There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. (Laughter.) I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked. (Laughter and applause.)

Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed. (Applause.)

In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done -- put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it. (Applause.)

The 21st century government that’s open and competent. A government that lives within its means. An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas. Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West. No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity. And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. (Applause.) American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept. The Iraq war is coming to an end. (Applause.)

Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family. (Applause.)

We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home. (Applause.)

In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe havens are shrinking. And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you. (Applause.)

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists. (Applause.)

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

This is just a part of how we’re shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense. We’ve reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas. Around the globe, we’re standing with those who take responsibility -– helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power -– it must also be the purpose behind it. In south Sudan -– with our assistance -– the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. (Applause.) Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life,” he said. “Now we want to be free.” (Applause.)

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. (Applause.)

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country. (Applause.)

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they’ve served us -- by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. (Applause.) And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation. (Applause.)

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The costs. The details. The letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don’t have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth. (Applause.)

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me. (Laughter and applause.) That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)

That dream -– that American Dream -– is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future. And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment. And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour -- three or four days at a time without any sleep. Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. (Applause.) But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged. He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.” (Applause.)

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.” “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.” “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.” “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there. I know we will.”

We do big things. (Applause.)

The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

William Rivers Pitt On The Clarity, Depth, Passion, and Integrity of Keith Olbermann

Keith Olberman in Washington, DC, in 2009. (Photo: afagen)


It's not merely "comforting" to see that millions of people in this country including Mr. Pitt below strongly agree with me about the serious importance and crucial value of Keith Olbermann and his work but downright inspiring. It's very important in these disturbing times of political cowardice, opportunism, stupidity, and indifference to remember that great fighters never quit no matter what and thankfully for us Olbermann is above all else a truly great fighter...Stay tuned...


The Olbermann Era
by William Rivers Pitt
Tuesday 25 January 2011

A quick confession that might not sit well with many Truthout readers: I was, on a personal level, quite ambivalent about the loss of Keith Olbermann's show, "Countdown," when he announced his exit last week. If "Meh" can sum up an emotion, then that's how I felt when I heard the deal went down.

Don't get me wrong here: I was, and remain, a great and devoted fan of Keith Olbermann and the work he did at MSNBC. I have been a devotee of Mr. Olbermann since his old-school moustache days anchoring the ESPN show “Sportscenter” during the golden age of that program. But I have spent the last several years experiencing his “Countdown” work in text form, i.e. reading instead of watching, and in ten-minute online video snippets, because I avoid all cable “news” programming the way cats avoid water. All of it, even the stuff I tend to agree with.

When "Countdown" first began in 2003, I watched it almost every night - the only cable “news” show I consistently tuned in to - but quickly soured on the whole experience. I just can’t stand it, any of it. I can’t stand the emotional manipulation that comes with all forms of televised “news,” and have for many times many a day now refused to let them in my head. I also never saw the point in getting all riled up at eight o'clock at night. What was I supposed to do with all that rage after nine? Punch the walls and kick the cat, maybe indulge in a little firebombing? Didn’t seem prudent.

The production of "Countdown" - the flashes, the music, the jump cuts - made me feel like I had rocks rolling around in my head. This was not solely an Olbermann problem for me; all cable “news” programming leaves me feeling the same way, which is why I swore it off years ago. If CNN or MSNBC played footage of puppies playing with baby pandas next to a pile of bunnies and kittens, it would still give me a headache. It wasn't Keith's fault. I'm just allergic to the medium itself, and have largely avoided it for more than a decade.

All that aside, there is no doubt that Mr. Olbermann’s “Countdown” was something very special. In a polluted sea of corrupted corporate “news” brainwashing, his was a voice of loud, angry reason. He paved the way for the excellence of Rachel Maddow to make its own impressive mark on the TV “news” landscape. He spoke a great deal of truth that had not been heard on the airwaves for far too long. By modeling himself and his show after Edward R. Murrow, even going so far as to use Murrow's iconic "Good night, and good luck" sign-off at the end of every broadcast, he gave us a daily reminder that the "news" was not always like it is today, and that it can - nay, must - improve for the good of the republic.

His very existence became a thorn in the side of the corporation that owns his network, and the corporations behind all the other networks. He kicked some cash to a few Democratic candidates - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords being one - and it turned into a nine-day wonder of a debate about broadcasting standards and the hypocrisy of MSNBC's upper management. It still cracks me up when I think about it: here were these corporate network owners who scream bloody murder about money equaling speech, but when Olbermann exercised his constitutional right to participate in the political process by way of that particular brand of "speech," he got a two-day rip and a public scolding. The whole charade shamed his bosses deeply and publicly, and probably had more than a bit to do with his eventual departure from the network he pretty much single-handedly put on the map.

To me and so many others, he was a beacon of sanity during the bleak darkness of the Bush years. Remember the timeline here: the 2000 election catastrophe was followed by a ceaseless cable “news” refrain of, "This is an orderly transition of power, nothing to see here, go back to bed," which infuriated everyone who knew that particular game had been fixed. This was followed by the push for war in Iraq ballyhooed by every cable network - "Navy SEALS rock!" - until the bullets started flying and the IED's started going off. All throughout, the myriad scandals and crimes of the Bush administration went largely ignored and unreported...until Keith came along, reminding us that, "Today is the 521st day since the declaration of 'Mission Accomplished' in Iraq."

Mr. Olbermann was one of the only voices in broadcasting who openly discussed the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame by the Bush administration. When the 2004 election results in Ohio were corrupted by brazen manipulation and vote fraud, it was Olbermann who raised the loudest televised cry. It was Olbermann who, day after day, hammered the awful truth about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And it was Olbermann who pounded home the fact that the Bush administration was little more than a deranged criminal enterprise that threatened the very fabric of the nation.

For me, Mr. Olbermann delivered his most memorable, impassioned and important "Special Comment" in 2006, in the aftermath of George W. Bush's press conference in the Rose Garden, in which Bush played the Nazi card and essentially implied that anyone who disagreed with him and his policies was an ally of al Qaeda. That night, Mount Olbermann erupted:

"It is to our deep national shame - and ultimately it will be to the President's deep personal regret - that he has followed his Secretary of Defense down the path of trying to tie those loyal Americans who disagree with his policies - or even question their effectiveness or execution - to the Nazis of the past, and the al Qaeda of the present.

Today, in the same subtle terms in which Mr. Bush and his colleagues muddied the clear line separating Iraq and 9/11 - without ever actually saying so - the President quoted a purported Osama Bin Laden letter that spoke of launching, "a media campaign to create a wedge between the American people and their government."

Make no mistake here - the intent of that is to get us to confuse the psychotic scheming of an international terrorist, with that familiar bogeyman of the right, the "media."

The President and the Vice President and others have often attacked freedom of speech, and freedom of dissent, and freedom of the press.

Now, Mr. Bush has signaled that his unparalleled and unprincipled attack on reporting has a new and venomous side angle: the attempt to link, by the simple expediency of one word - "media" - the honest, patriotic, and indeed vital questions and questioning from American reporters, with the evil of al-Qaeda propaganda.

That linkage is more than just indefensible. It is un-American.

Mr. Bush and his colleagues have led us before to such waters.

We will not drink again.

And the President's re-writing and sanitizing of history, so it fits the expediencies of domestic politics, is just as false, and just as scurrilous.

"In the 1920's a failed Austrian painter published a book in which he explained his intention to build an Aryan super-state in Germany and take revenge on Europe and eradicate the Jews," President Bush said today, "the world ignored Hitler's words, and paid a terrible price."

Whatever the true nature of al Qaeda and other international terrorist threats, to ceaselessly compare them to the Nazi State of Germany serves only to embolden them.

More over, Mr. Bush, you are accomplishing in part what Osama Bin Laden and others seek - a fearful American populace, easily manipulated, and willing to throw away any measure of restraint, any loyalty to our own ideals and freedoms, for the comforting illusion of safety.

It thus becomes necessary to remind the President that his administration's recent Nazi "kick" is an awful and cynical thing.

And it becomes necessary to reach back into our history, for yet another quote, from yet another time and to ask it of Mr. Bush:

"Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

The manner of Mr. Olbermann's departure remains shrouded in mystery; the man himself has made no comment on the matter, which may have something to do with the deal that was cut to end his contract two years early. Many have opined – correctly, in all likelihood - that the looming Comcast takeover of NBC Universal played a large role. As Buzzflash Editor Mark Karlin wrote over the weekend:

"According to James Wolcott of Vanity Fair, the chairman of Comcast Spectacor, Ed Snider, is funding a right-wing cable channel/Internet site called "RightNetwork." Wolcott sniffs at "RightNetwork" as a "pseudo-populist operation" starring an array of right-wing freaks.

Ominously, Wolcott notes "that it was Snider who invited Sarah Palin to drop the hockey puck at the Flyers' season opener in 2008, and Palin's been dropping pucks ever since."

There's little reason to doubt that Olbermann's abrupt exit from MSNBC was the first puck to drop as Comcast slap shots MSNBC away from being a progressive beachhead.

In one man we find the confluence of so many pressing issues. Mr. Olbermann stands at the center of the dire need for – and dire lack of – progressive voices within “mainstream news” broadcasting; he threw his shoulder against the wall of corporate hypocrisy; he stood and bellowed against the misdeeds of those in political power; and, ultimately, he stands today as the likely victim of the continued right-wing domination of the “news” media.

People are understandably outraged and disturbed over his abrupt and ill-defined departure from MSNBC…so how, in the face of all this, can I justify my “Meh” reaction?

Well, I already explained the first reason.

The second reason is simple: Keith Olbermann is not dead. He was not beamed to Neptune, never to be seen or heard from again.

Write it down, carve it in stone, make a note, and bet the farm:

Olbermann will be back.

Somewhere, somehow, some day, in one form or another, Mr. Olbermann will be with us again. We will hear or read his own words on the matter of his departure, and then we will hear him again, and again, and again. Giants do not fall easily, and this particular era of political commentary is not over by a long chalk. Edward R. Murrow had his own troubles with management in the darkness of the McCarthy days, and it did not keep him down or silent one iota. So shall it be with Mr. Olbermann in these dark days of corporate hegemony.

Same as it ever was.

Giants do not fall easily. Count on it.

In the meantime, good night, and good luck.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Compendium of On-Air 'Special Comment' Editorials in Tribute to and Honor of Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann


In honor of and tribute to Keith Olbermann I have enclosed access to various link pages of YouTube videos of his justly famous 'Special Comment' editorial commentaries from his critically acclaimed and award winning MSNBC daily news program 'Countdown' that tragically ended friday, January 21, 2011 after an extraordinary seven year run. I'm sure when his final contractual obligations to his former network employer ends (which I hope is very soon!) I'm absolutely certain that Keith will be back on the national airwaves providing us all with the highly informed, powerful, and always intellectually provocative news analysis and commentary that made him one of the very best and most progressive journalists the U.S. media has ever seen. So please click on page one of the video link at the top of the page above beneath Olbermann's photograph and you will then be able to also access the other various pages of his program videos at the bottom of the first page of the link.

Enjoy both what Keith has to say and how he says it. I promise you won't be disappointed...


Keith Olbermann:
"This is the Last Edition of Countdown" (Video)

Friday 21 January 2011

by: Matt Renner | t r u t h o u t | Report

Keith Olbermann announced tonight that his show "Countdown," a mainstay of progressive media, would end after Friday's broadcast. In a statement, MSNBC said the network and Olbermann "have ended their contract."

"The last broadcast of ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ will be this evening," the statement said. "MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors."

The New York Times reported Friday that Olbermann "came to an agreement with NBC’s corporate management late this week to settle his contract and step down." The Times noted that while Olbermann "did not discuss any future plans...NBC executives said one term of his settlement will keep him from moving to another network for an extended period of time."

Olbermann, who has been a fixture at MSNBC since 2003, extended his contract in 2008 for an additional four years for an estimated $30 million.

This announcement that Olbermann would be leaving MSNBC comes two days after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) gave final approval to a controversial merger between NBC Universal, MSNBC's parent company, and Comcast.

The Times reported, "NBC executives said the move had nothing to do with the impending takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast."

Last year, Olbermann was suspended for two days after Politico reported that, prior to the midterm elections, he donated $2,400 to Arizona Democratic Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Raul Grijalva and Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway in violation of NBC News' "policy and standards."

Giffords and 17 others were shot two weeks ago by Jared Lee Loughner at a public event in Tucson. A federal judge, a nine-year-old girl and four other people were killed, including an aide to Giffords.

NBC Universal Chief Executive Officer Jeff Zucker, who was one of Olbermann's staunch defenders and was expected to be on his way out once the merger received government approval, sent a farewell memo to staff today.

MSNBC said the "The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell" would take over "Countdown's" 8 pm time slot.

Here is the full transcript of Olbermann's closing remarks to his viewers:

I think the same fantasy popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told: 'This will be the last edition of your show.'

You go to the scene from the movie 'Network' complete with the pajamas and the raincoat and go off on a verbal journey of unutterable vision and you insist upon Peter Finch's gutteral resonance. And you will the viewer to go to the window, open it, stick out his head and yell ... You know the rest.

In the mundane world of television goodbyes, reality is laughably uncooperative. When I resigned from ESPN 13-and-a-half years ago, I was given 30 seconds to say goodbye at the end of my last edition of "SportsCenter." With God as my witness, in the commercial break before the moment, the producer got into my earpiece and said 'Can you cut it down to 15 seconds so we can get in the tennis result from Stuttgart?' I'm grateful that i have more time to sign off here. Regardless, this is the last edition of 'Countdown.' It is just under eight years since I returned to MSNBC. I was supposed to fill in for exactly three days; 49 days later, there was a year contract for me to return to this 8:00 time slot that I fled years earlier.

The show established its position as anti-establishment with the stage craft of 'Mission Accomplished' to the exaggerated rescue of Jessica Lynch in iraq to the death of Pat Tillman to Hurricane Katrina to the nexus of politics and terror to the first 'Special Comment.'

There were many occasions where all that surrounded the show and never the show itself was too much for me. With your support and loyalty, if I may use the word 'insistence,' required that I keep going. My gratitude to you is boundless and you think I have done good here, imagine how it looked as you donated $2 million to the National Association of Free Clinics and my dying father watched from his hospital bed and comforted that his struggles were inspiring such good for people, he and I and you would never meet, but would always know.

This may be the only television program where in the host the much more in awe of the audience than vice-versa. You will also be in my heart for that and the donations to the family in Tennessee and these victims of governmental heartlessness in Arizona, to say nothing of every letter and tweet and wave and handshake and online petition. Time ebbs here and top the close with more story. It is still Friday. Let me thank my gifted staff and a few of the many people who fought with me and for me: Eric Sorenson, Neal Shapiro, Michael Weiss, David Bloom, John Palmer, Alana Russo, Rachel Maddow and Bob Costas and my greatest protector, the late Tim Russert.

NOTE: Please click on the following page numbers at the YouTube site ink to the Olbermann videos provided at the very top of this page.
These page numbers can be found at the bottom of the YouTube site. Samples of these page numbers are as follows:

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