Senate Floor Statement of Senator Barack Obama on the PATRIOT Act

December 15, 2005

Four years ago, following the most devastating attack in our history, this body passed the USA PATRIOT Act in order to give our nation's law enforcement the tools they need to track down terrorists who plot and lurk within our own borders and all over the world - terrorists who, right now, are looking to exploit weaknesses in our laws and our security to carry out even deadlier attacks than we saw on September 11th.

We all agree that we needed legislation to make it harder for suspected terrorists to go undetected in this country. And we all agree we needed to make it harder for them to organize and strategize and get flight licenses and sneak across our borders. Americans everywhere wanted that.

But soon after the PATRIOT Act passed, a few years before I ever arrived in the Senate, I began hearing concerns from people of every background and political leaning that this law - the very purpose of which was to protect us - was also threatening to violate our rights and freedoms as Americans. That it didn't just provide law enforcement the powers it needed to keep us safe, but powers it didn't need to invade our privacy without cause or suspicion.

In Washington, this issue has tended degenerate into an "either-or" type debate. Either we protect our people from terror or we protect our most cherished principles. But that is a false choice. It asks too little of us and assumes too little about America.

That's why as it's come time to reauthorize this law, we've been working in a bipartisan way to do both - to show the American people that we can track down terrorists without trampling on our civil liberties. To show the American people that the federal government will only issue warrants and execute searches because it needs to, not because it can. What we have been trying to achieve, under the leadership of a bipartisan group of Senators, is some accountability in this process - to get answers and see evidence where there is suspicion.

Several weeks ago, this work bore fruit. The Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Senate managed to pass a piece of bi-partisan legislation that, while I can't say is perfect, was able to address many of these most serious problems in the existing law.

Unfortunately, that strong bi-partisan legislation has been tossed aside in Conference. Instead, we have been forced to consider a piece of rushed legislation that fails to address the concerns of members of both parties as well as the American people.

This is legislation that puts our own Justice Department above the law. When National Security Letters are issued, they allow federal agents to conduct any search on any American, no matter how extensive or wide-ranging, without ever going before a judge to prove that the search is necessary. They simply need sign-off from a local FBI official. That's all.

Once a business or a person receives notification that they will be searched, they are prohibited from telling anyone about it, and they are even prohibited from challenging this automatic gag order in court. Even though judges have already found that similar restrictions violate the First Amendment - this Conference Report disregards the case law and the right to challenge the gag order.

If you do decide to consult an attorney for legal advice - you have to tell the FBI that you have done so. This is unheard of - there is no such requirement in any other area of law, and I don't see why it is justified here.

And if someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document - through library books they've read and phone calls they've made - this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case.

This is just plain wrong.

Giving law enforcement the tools they need to investigate suspicious activity is one thing - and it's the right thing - but doing it without any real oversight seriously jeopardizes the rights of all Americans and the ideals America stands for.

Supporters of this Conference Report have argued that we should just hold our noses and support the legislation, because it's not going to get any better. That does not convince me that I should support this report. I believe we owe it to the nation to do whatever we can to make this legislation better. We don't have to settle for a PATRIOT Act that sacrifices our liberties or our safety - we can have one that secures both.

There have been proposals on both sides of Congress, from both parties, to extend the PATRIOT Act for three months so that we can reach agreement on this bill. I support those efforts and will oppose cloture on this unacceptable Conference Report.

"Moving Forward in Iraq" - Senator Barack Obama at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations

Chicago, IL | November 22, 2005

Good afternoon.

It is a privilege to give this speech at the Council on Foreign Relations here in Chicago.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While I was there, I met a young man whose legs had been blown off from mortar fire and who had sustained severe nerve damage in his arms and hands. He was sewing as a means of regaining his small motor skills, and as his wife looked on, they talked about their efforts to piece their lives back together. They talked about the wonderful way their young daughter had embraced her father and told him she loved him despite his disfigurement.

I also met a young man who had lost a leg and an arm and who now had a breathing tube in his throat. He was working with two of the therapists in a mock-up kitchen to cook hamburgers on his own.

We went down to the physical therapy area where I talked to a 19-year-old former track star who had lost both his legs and was working out on one of the weight machines. And I spoke to a sergeant from Iowa who had lost one of his legs but was working vigorously to get accustomed to his prosthetic leg so he could return to Iraq as soon as he could. I then went up to the wards to visit with other injured veterans - to take pictures, talk about basketball, and to say thank you.

Listening to the stories of these young men and women, most of them in their early twenties, I had to ask myself how I would be feeling if it were my son, my nephew, or my sister lying there. I asked myself how I would be feeling if it were me struggling to learn how to walk again? Would I feel bitter? Would I feel hopeless?

I don't know. None of us can answer that question fully until we find ourselves in that situation. What I do know is that the extraordinary men and women that I met seemed uninterested in rage or self-pity. They were proud of their service. They were hopeful for their future. They displayed the kind of grit and optimism and resourcefulness that represents the very best of America.

They remind us, in case we need reminding, that there is no more profound decision that we can make than the decision to send this nation's youth to war, and that we have a moral obligation not only to send them for good reasons, but to constantly examine, based on the best information and judgment available, in what manner, and for what purpose, and for how long we keep them in harm's way.

Today, nearly 160,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are risking their lives in the Middle East. They are operating in some of the most dangerous and difficult circumstances imaginable. Well over 2,000 men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice - given their full measure of devotion. Thousands more have returned with wounds like those that I saw at Walter Reed.

These men and women are willing to lay down their lives to protect us. When they were told there was danger that needed to be confronted they said, "I will go. I will leave my family and my friends and the life I knew and I will fight." And they went. And they're fighting still.

And so as the war rages on and the insurgency festers - as another father weeps over a flag-draped casket and another wife feeds her husband the dinner he can't fix for himself - it is our duty to ask ourselves hard questions. What do we want to accomplish now that we are in Iraq, and what is possible to accomplish? What kind of actions can we take to ensure not only a safe and stable Iraq, but that will also preserve our capacity to rebuild Afghanistan, isolate and apprehend terrorist cells, preserve our long-term military readiness, and devote the resources needed to shore up our homeland security? What are the costs and benefits of our actions moving forward? What urgency are we willing to show to bring our troops home safely? What kind of answers are we willing to demand from those in charge of the war?

In other words -- What kind of debate are we willing to have?

Last week, the White House showed exactly what kind of debate it wants on future of Iraq - none.

We watched the shameful attempt to paint John Murtha - a Marine Corp recipient of two-purple hearts and a Bronze Star - into a coward of questionable patriotism. We saw the Administration tell people of both parties - people who asked legitimate questions about the intelligence that led us to war and the Administration's plan for Iraq - that they should keep quiet, end the complaining, and stop rewriting history.

This political war - a war of talking points and Sunday news shows and spin - is not one I'm interested in joining. It's a divisive approach that only pushes us further from what the American people actually want - a pragmatic solution to the real war we're facing in Iraq.

I do want to make the following observations, though. First, I am part of that post Baby Boom generation that was too young to fight in Vietnam, not called to fight in Desert Storm, too old for the current conflict. For those like me who - for whatever reason - have never seen battle, whether they be in the Administration or in Congress, let me suggest that they put the words "coward" and "unpatriotic" out of their vocabulary - at least when it comes to veterans like John Murtha who have put their lives on the line for this country. I noticed that the President recognized this bit of wisdom yesterday. I hope others do to.

Second - the Administration is correct to say that we have real enemies, that our battle against radical Islamist terrorism will not be altered overnight, that stability in the Middle East must be part of our strategy to defeat terrorism, that military power is a key part of our national security, that our strategy cannot be poll driven. The Administration is also correct when it says that many overestimated Saddam's biological and chemical capacity, and that some of its decisions in going to war were prompted by real errors in the intelligence community's estimates.

However, I think what is also true is that the Administration launched the Iraq war without giving either Congress or the American people the full story. This is not a partisan claim - you don't have to take my word for it. All you need to do is to match up the Administration's statements during the run-up to the war with the now declassified intelligence estimates that they had in their possession at the time. Match them up and you will conclude that at the very least, the Administration shaded, exaggerated and selectively used the intelligence available in order to make the case for invasion.

The President told the American people about Iraqi attempts to acquire yellow cake during the State of the Union. The Vice-President made statements on national television expressing certainty about Iraq's nuclear weapons programs. Secretary Rice used the words "mushroom cloud" over and over again.

We know now that even at the time these unequivocal statements were made, intelligence assessments existed that contradicted these claims. Analysis from the CIA and State Department was summarily dismissed when it did not help the Administration make the case for war.

I say all this not to score cheap political points. I say this because war is a serious business. It requires enormous sacrifice, in blood and treasure, from the American people. The American people have already lost confidence in the credibility of our leadership, not just on the question of Iraq, but across the board. According to a recent Pew survey, 42% of Americans agree with the statement that the U.S. should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own" - a significant increase since the immediate aftermath of 9/11. We risk a further increase in isolationist sentiment unless both the Administration and Congress can restore the American people's confidence that our foreign policy is driven by facts and reason, rather than hopes and ideology. And we cannot afford isolationism - not only because our work with respect to stabilizing Iraq is not complete, but because our missteps in Iraq have distracted us from the larger threat of terrorism that we face, a threat that we can only meet by working internationally, in cooperation with other countries.

Now, given the enormous stakes in Iraq, I believe that those of us who are involved in shaping our national security policies should do what we believe is right, not merely what is politically expedient. I strongly opposed this war before it began, though many disagreed with me at that time. Today, as Americans grow increasingly impatient with our presence in Iraq, voices I respect are calling for a rapid withdrawal of our troops, regardless of events on the ground.

But I believe that, having waged a war that has unleashed daily carnage and uncertainty in Iraq, we have to manage our exit in a responsible way - with the hope of leaving a stable foundation for the future, but at the very least taking care not to plunge the country into an even deeper and, perhaps, irreparable crisis. I say this not only because we owe it to the Iraqi people, but because the Administration's actions in Iraq have created a self-fulfilling prophecy - a volatile hotbed of terrorism that has already begun to spill over into countries like Jordan, and that could embroil the region, and this country, in even greater international conflict.

In sum, we have to focus, methodically and without partisanship, on those steps that will: one, stabilize Iraq, avoid all out civil war, and give the factions within Iraq the space they need to forge a political settlement; two, contain and ultimately extinquish the insurgency in Iraq; and three, bring our troops safely home.

Last week's re-politicization of the war makes this kind of focus extremely difficult. In true Washington fashion, the Administration has narrowed an entire debate about war into two camps: "cut-and-run" or "stay the course." If you offer any criticism or even mention that we should take a second look at our strategy and change our approach, you're branded cut-and-run. If you're ready to blindly trust the Administration no matter what they do, you're willing to stay the course.

A variation on this is the notion that anything short of an open-ended commitment to maintain our current troop strength in Iraq is the equivalent of issuing a "timetable" that will, according to the Administration, undermine our troops and strengthen the insurgency.
This simplistic framework not only misstates the position of thoughtful critics on both sides of the aisle - from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to Democrat Russ Feingold. It completely misses where the American people are right now.

Every American wants to see a peaceful and stable Iraq. No American wants to leave behind a security vacuum filled with terrorism, chaos, ethnic cleansing and genocide. But no American wants a war without end - a war where our goals and strategies drift aimlessly regardless of the cost in lives or dollars spent, and where we end up with arbitrary, poll-driven troop reductions by the Administration - the worst of all possible outcomes.

It has been two years and seven months since the fall of Baghdad and any honest assessment would conclude that the Administration's strategy has not worked. The civilian efforts to rebuild Iraq, establish a secure environment, and broker a stable political framework have, thus far, come up short.

The Administration owes the American people a reality-based assessment of the situation in Iraq today. For the past two years, they've measured progress in the number of insurgents killed, roads built, or voters registered. But these benchmarks are not true measures of fundamental security and stability in Iraq.

When the Administration now talks about "condition-based" withdrawal, we need to know precisely what those conditions are.

This is why the amendment offered by Senator Levin and the one that passed from Senator Warner are so important. What the Administration and some in the press labeled as a "timetable" for withdrawal was in fact a commonsense statement that: one, 2006 should be the year that the Iraqi government decreases its dependency on the United States; two, that the various Iraqi factions must arrive at a fair political accommodation to defeat the insurgency; and three, the Administration must make available to Congress critical information on reality-based benchmarks that will help us succeed in Iraq.

We need to know whether the Iraqis are making the compromises necessary to achieve the broad-based and sustainable political settlement essential for defeating the insurgency.

We need to know how many Iraqi security forces and police and the level of skill they will require to permit them to take the lead in counter-insurgency operations, the defense of Iraq's territory, and maintaining law and order throughout the country.

We need to get accurate information regarding how many Iraqi troops are currently prepared for the transition of security responsibilities, and a realistic assessment of the U.S. resources and time it will take to make them more prepared.

And, we need to know the Administration's strategy to restore basic services, strengthen the capacities of ministries throughout the country, and enlist local, regional, and international actors in finding solutions to political, economic, and security problems.

Straight answers to critical questions - for the most part, that is what both the Levin Amendment and the Warner Amendment call for. Members of both parties and the American people have now made clear that it is not enough to for the President to simply say "we know best" and "stay the course."

As I have said before, there are no magic bullets for a good outcome in Iraq. I am not the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, or the Director of National Intelligence. I have neither the expertise nor the inclination to micro-manage war from Washington.

Nevertheless, given the best information I have, and in an effort to offer constructive ideas, I would suggest several broad elements that should be included in any discussion of where we go from here. I should add that some of these ideas have been put forward in greater detail by other senators and foreign policy experts - I claim no pride of authorship, but rather offer my best assessment of the steps we need to take to maximize the prospects for success.

First and foremost, after the December 15 elections and during the course of next year, we need to focus our attention on how reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq. Notice that I say "reduce," and not "fully withdraw."

This course of action will help to focus our efforts on a more effective counter-insurgency strategy and take steam out of the insurgency.

On this point, I am in basic agreement with our top military commander in Iraq. In testimony before Congress earlier this year, General Casey stated that a key goal of the military was to "reduce our presence in Iraq, taking away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency: that of the coalition forces as an occupying force."

This is not and should not be a partisan issue. It is a view shared by Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, and someone with whom I am proud to serve on the Foreign Relations Committee.

I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq. The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with a shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.

At the same time, sufficient numbers of U.S. troops should be left in place to prevent Iraq from exploding into civil war, ethnic cleansing, and a haven for terrorism.

We must find the right balance - offering enough security to serve as a buffer and carry out a targeted, effective counter-insurgency strategy, but not so much of a presence that we serve as an aggravation. It is this balance that will be critical to finding our way forward.

Second, we need not a time-table, in the sense of a precise date for U.S. troop pull-outs, but a time-frame for such a phased withdrawal. More specifically, we need to be very clear about key issues, such as bases and the level of troops in Iraq. We need to say that there will be no bases in Iraq a decade from now and the United States armed forces cannot stand-up and support an Iraqi government in perpetuity - pushing the Iraqis to take ownership over the situation and placing pressure on various factions to reach the broad based political settlement that is so essential to defeating the insurgency.

I agree with Senator Warner that the message should be "we really mean business, Iraqis, get on with it." Without a time-frame, this message will not be sent.

With the Shiites increasingly in control of the government, the U.S. is viewed as the military force that is keeping the Shiites in power, picking sides in the conflict, driving a wedge between the factions, and keeping the Sunnis out of the government.

Wrong as these perceptions may be, they are one of the key elements unifying the insurgency and serving as its best recruiting slogan.

We need to immediately recognize and address this problem.

On October 25, Ambassador Khailizad stated that he believes that the United States is on the right track to start significant reductions of U.S. military forces in the coming year. Earlier in the year, when I pressed Ambassador Khalizad on this during his confirmation hearing to be more specific about a time-frame for withdrawal, he said that there would not be a U.S. presence in Iraq a decade from now. That's at a start - but I think we need to be clearer than somewhere between one and ten years.

Third, we need to start thinking about what an Iraqi government will look like in the near term.

The post-election period will be critically important in working with the Shia and Kurdish leaders to help address Sunni concerns and to take steps to bring them into the government.

In testimony before Congress, Secretary Rice stated that while she believed it was possible to create a multi-ethnic, democratic Iraq under a unified national government, it was also possible that, in the near term, Iraq may look more like a loose federation and less like a tightly-knit, multi-ethnic society. According to the deal struck in the writing of the Constitution, the structure of the national government may still be altered by discussion among the three major factions. If it is the Administration's most realistic assessment that the Iraqi government will take the form of a loose confederation, then we need to be thinking about how we should calibrate our policies to reflect this reality. We cannot, and should not, foist our own vision of democracy on the Iraqis, and then expect our troops to hold together such a vision militarily.

Fourth, we have to do a much better job on reconstruction in Iraq.

The Iraqi people wonder why the United States has been unable to restore basic services - sewage, power, infrastructure - to significant portions of Iraq. This has caused a loss of faith among the Iraqi people in our efforts to rebuild that nation and help it recover from decades of brutal tyranny.

The Administration tells us there can not be reconstruction without security, but many Iraqis make the opposite argument. They say Iraq will never be secure until there is reconstruction and citizens see that a better future awaits them.

The Administration also tells us that they are making progress, but can not publicize the specific successes out of security concerns.

If we are unable to point out the progress, how are Iraqis - especially ones we are trying to persuade to claim a bigger stake in the future of their country - ever to know that the Americans efforts are helping to make their lives better? How does this approach help to quell the insurgency?

We need to break this cycle. We have to get more Iraqis involved with the reconstruction efforts. After all, it is the Iraqis who best know their country and have the greatest stake in restoring basic services.

We need to work with the best and brightest Iraqis, inside and outside of government to come up with a plan to get the power back on in Baghdad and help to restore the faith of the Iraqi people in our important mission in Iraq.

Fifth, we have to launch a major diplomatic effort to get the international community, especially key neighboring states and Arab nations, more involved in Iraq. If one looks at the Balkans - our most recent attempt to rebuild war torn nations - the international community, from the European Union to NATO to the United Nations, were all deeply involved. These organizations, driven largely by European countries in the region, provided legitimacy, helped with burden-sharing, and were an essential part of our exit strategy. Ten years later, conditions are not perfect, but the blood-shed has been stopped, and the region is no longer destabilizing the European Continent. And so a part of any strategy in Iraq must more deeply integrate Iraq's neighbors, international organizations, and regional powers around the world.

Finally, it is critical for this Administration, and Congress, to recognize that despite the enormous stakes the United States now has in seeing Iraq succeed, we cannot let this mission distract us from the larger front of international terrorism that remains to be addressed. Already we are getting reports that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Our progress in improving our intelligence capabilities - particularly human intelligence - has lagged. Iraq has absorbed resources that could have gone into critical homeland security measures, or in improved coordination with our global allies and partners. At the outset of this war, I challenged the Administration's assertion that deposing Saddam Hussein was the central measure in our war on terrorism. And although I believe we must stabilize Iraq, I continue to believe that the Administration's tendency to equate the military defeat of the Iraqi insurgency with the defeat of international terrorism is dangerously short-sighted.

Long the before the war in Iraq, international terrorism posed a grave security threat to the United States. Well over two years after the start of the Iraq war, these threats to our way of life remain every bit as serious. Some have argued that these threats have grown. The Administration has to be capable of finding a solution in Iraq and strengthening our efforts to combat international terrorism.

In the end, Iraq is not about one person's legacy, a political campaign, or rigid adherence to an ideology.

What is happening in Iraq is about the security of the United States. It is about our men and women in uniform. It is about the future of the Middle East. It is about the world in which our children will live.

Responsible voices from all parts of the political spectrum are coming forth to say this in increasing numbers.

Colin Powell had the courage to call his presentation to the United Nations on Iraq a "blot" on his distinguished record. And recently John Edwards said he made a mistake in voting to go to war in Iraq, and accepted responsibility for this decision.

It is no coincidence that both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Powell no longer serve the government in Washington. Those of us in Washington are falling behind the debate that is taking place across America on Iraq. We are failing to provide leadership on this issue.

Iraq was a major issue in last year's election.

But that election is now over.

We need to stop the campaign.

The President could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to the American people "Yes, we made mistakes. Yes, there are things I would have done differently. But now that we're here, I am willing to work with both Republicans and Democrats to find the most responsible way out."

Nearly four decades ago, John F. Kennedy took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He admitted that mistakes had been made. He didn't spend a good deal of time publicly blaming the previous Administration, or the other party, or his critics. And through these decisive actions, he earned the respect of the American people and the world - respect that allowed his diplomacy to be trusted a few years later during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Americans everywhere are crying out for this kind of leadership today. They want to find pragmatic solutions to the difficult and complicated situation in Iraq. They want to move forward on of the greatest foreign policy challenges that this nation has faced in a generation. And they want to get it right for every American son and daughter who's been willing to put their lives on the line to defend the country they love. It's time for us in Washington to offer the rest of the country this leadership. Thank you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Ceremony

Washington, DC | November 16, 2005

Thank you. It's an honor to be here today, and I'd also like to congratulate Stephen Bradbury on his award and on all the wonderful work he's been doing on behalf of the people of New Orleans.

I come to this with tremendous humility. I was only seven when Bobby Kennedy died. Many of the people in this room knew him as brother, as husband, as father, as friend.

I knew him only as an icon. In that sense, it is a distance I share with most of the people who now work in this Capitol - many of whom were not even born when Bobby Kennedy died. But what's interesting is that if you go throughout the offices in the Capitol, everywhere you'll find photographs of Kennedy, or collections of his speeches, or some other memento of his life.

Why is this? Why is it that this man who was never President, who was our Attorney General for only three years, who was New York's junior Senator for just three and a half, still calls to us today? Still inspires our debate with his words, animates our politics with his ideas, and calls us to make gentle the life of a world that's too often coarse and unforgiving?

Obviously, much has to do with charisma and eloquence - that unique ability, rare for most but common among Kennedys, to sum up the hopes and dreams of the most diverse nation on Earth with a simple phrase or sentence; to inspire even the most apathetic observers of American life.

Part of it is his youth - both the time of life and the state of mind that dared us to hope that even after John was killed; even after we lost King; there would come a younger, energetic Kennedy who could make us believe again.

But beyond these qualities, there's something more.

Within the confines of these walls and the boundaries of this city, it becomes very easy to play small-ball politics. Somewhere between the partisan deadlock and the twenty-four hour news cycles, the contrived talking points and the focus on the sensational over the substantive, issues of war and poverty, hopelessness and lawlessness become problems to be managed, not crises to be solved. They become fodder for the Sunday show scrum, not places to find genuine consensus and compromise. And so, at some point, we stop reaching for the possible and resign ourselves to that which is most probable.

This is what happens in Washington.

And yet, as this goes on, somewhere another child goes hungry in a neighborhood just blocks away from one where a family is too full to eat another bite. Somewhere another hurricane survivor still searches for a home to return to or a school for her daughter. Somewhere another twelve-year-old is gunned down by an assailant who used to be his kindergarten playmate, and another parent loses their child on the streets of Tikrit.

But somewhere, there have also always been people who believe that this isn't the way it was supposed to be - that things should be different in America. People who believe that while evil and suffering will always exist, this is a country that has been fueled by small miracles and boundless dreams - a place where we're not afraid to face down the greatest challenges in pursuit of the greater good; a place where, against all odds, we overcome.

Bobby Kennedy was one of these people.

In a nation torn by war and divided against itself, he was able to look us in the eye and tell us that no matter how many cities burned with violence, no matter how persistent the poverty or the racism, no matter how far adrift America strayed, hope would come again.

It was an idealism not based in rigid ideology. Yes, he believed that government is a force for good - but not the only force. He distrusted big bureaucracies, and knew that change erupts from the will of free people in a free society; that it comes not only from new programs, but new attitudes as well.

And Kennedy's was not a pie-in-the-sky-type idealism either. He believed we would always face real enemies, and that there was no quick or perfect fix to the turmoil of the 1960s.

Rather, the idealism of Robert Kennedy - the unfinished legacy that calls us still - is a fundamental belief in the continued perfection of American ideals.

It's a belief that says if this nation was truly founded on the principles of freedom and equality, it could not sit idly by while millions were shackled because of the color of their skin. That if we are to shine as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world, we must be respected not just for the might of our military, but for the reach of our ideals. That if this is a land where destiny is not determined by birth or circumstance, we have a duty to ensure that the child of a millionaire and the child of a welfare mom have the same chance in life. That if out of many, we are truly one, then we must not limit ourselves to the pursuit of selfish gain, but that which will help all Americans rise together.

We have not always lived up to these ideals and we may fail again in the future, but this legacy calls on us to try. And the reason it does - the reason we still hear the echo of not only Bobby's words, but John's and King's and Roosevelt's and Lincoln's before him - is because they stand in such stark contrast to the place in which we find ourselves today.

It's the timidity of politics that's holding us back right now - the politics of can't-do and oh-well. An energy crisis that jeopardizes our security and our economy? No magic wand to fix it, we're told. Thousands of jobs vanishing overseas? It's actually healthier for the economy that way. Three days late to the worst natural disaster in American history? Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.

And of course, if nothing can be done to solve the problems we face, if we have no collective responsibility to look out for one another, then the next logical step is to give everyone one big refund on their government - divvy it up into individual tax breaks, hand ‘em out, and encourage everyone to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, their own schools, their own roads, their own levees...

We know this as the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it - Social Darwinism - every man or women for him or herself. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford - tough luck. It allows us to say to the child who was born into poverty - pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It let's us say to the workers who lose their job when the factory shuts down - you're on your own.

But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. Yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on individual initiative, on a belief in the free market. But it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity.

Robert Kennedy reminded us of this. He reminds us still. He reminds us that we don't need to wait for a hurricane to know that Third World living conditions in the middle of an American city make us all poorer. We don't need to wait for the 3000th death of someone else's child in Iraq to make us realize that a war without an exit strategy puts all of our families in jeopardy. We don't have to accept the diminishment of the American Dream in this country now, or ever.

It's time for us to meet the whys of today with the why nots we often quote but rarely live - to answer "why hunger" and "why homeless," "why violence" and "why despair" with "why not good jobs and living wages," "why not better health care and world class schools," "why not a country where we make possible the potential that exists in every human being?"

If he were here today, I think it would be hard to place Robert F. Kennedy into any of the categories that so often constrain us politically. He was a fervent anti-communist but knew diplomacy was our way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He sought to wage the war on poverty but with local partnerships and community activism. He was at once both hard-headed and big-hearted.

And yet, his was not a centrism in the sense of finding a middle road or a certain point on the ideological spectrum. His was a politics that, at its heart, was deeply moral - based on the notion that in this world, there is right and there is wrong, and it's our job to organize our laws and our lives around recognizing the difference.

When RFK made his famous trip to the Mississippi Delta with Charles Evers in 1967, the story is often told about the destitute they encountered as they walked from shack to shack. As they walk into one with hardly a ceiling and a floor full of holes, Kennedy sees a small child with a swollen stomach sitting in the corner. He tries and tries to talk to this child again and again, but he gets no response, no movement, not even a look of awareness. Just a blank stare from cold, wide eyes so battered by poverty that they're barely alive.

And at that point we're told that Kennedy begins to cry. And he turns to Evers and asks "How can a country like this allow it?" and Evers responds "Maybe they just don't know."

Bobby Kennedy spent his life making sure that we knew - not only to wake us from indifference and face us with the darkness we let slip into our own backyard, but to bring us the good news that we have it within our power to change all this; to write our own destiny. Because we are a people of hope. Because we are Americans.

This is the good news we still hear all these years later - the message that still points us down the road that Bobby Kennedy never finished traveling. It's a road I hope our politics and our country begin to take in the months and years to come. Thank you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at the National Womens Law Center

National Women's Law Center, Washington, DC | November 10, 2005

Thank you Duffy for that generous introduction, and I also want to thank you and Marcia and the National Women's Law Center for inviting me here.

As I was thinking about tonight's dinner and all the progress the women's movement has made in the last century, the first thing that came to mind wasn't all the legal cases won or the legislation passed; it wasn't the issues debated or even the individual rights secured.

I thought about my daughters.

I thought about the world that Sasha and Malia will grow up in, about the chances they'll have and the challenges they'll face. And I thought about my hopes for them - that they'll be able to dream without limit, achieve without constraint, and be free to seek their own happiness.

At its heart, this has always been the essence of the women's movement in America - the quest to ensure that our daughters will have the same opportunities as our sons.

Now, I realize that one day, my girls will discover that this journey is not over - that there are doors left to be open and glass ceilings yet to be shattered.

But if they ever come to me and ask whether change is possible - whether it's worth trying - then the people in this room and all those who've come before will have given me an inspiring story to tell.

I'll tell my daughters that there was a time when no one asked a young woman what she wanted to be when she grew up because everyone already knew the answer.

But then women stood up and changed that answer.

I'll tell them there was a time when women were routinely passed over for jobs that went to less qualified men; when they'd lose their jobs for the crime of becoming pregnant; when female athletes would lose out on thousands in college scholarships - a time when all of this was sanctioned by the law.

But then women stood up and changed those laws.

I'll tell them there was a time when women could be openly harassed and demeaned and abused right in the place where they worked or went to school.

But then brave Americans like Anne Ladky and Nancy Kreiter stood up and women everywhere were protected.

And when my daughters ask me whether change is possible, I'll tell them that there was a time when a woman who graduated third in her class at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country couldn't find a single firm in America that would hire her. And that with all her talent and brilliance, she had to start her career as an unpaid assistant to a legal secretary at a county attorney's office in Arizona.

But I'll also mention that years later, the progress made by the women's movement made it possible for Sandra Day O'Connor to leave Arizona and become the first female justice of the United States Supreme Court. And today, if they want to find a female lawyer in a position of prominence, they need look no further than the one they call Mom.

I will tell them all of this not to understate the challenges women face in this new century - challenges to choice and about pay and violence and employment and family - but to illustrate that in all the struggles of past generations, one of the most remarkable achievements of this very American movement has been to forge a consensus around this ideal of equal opportunity - around the notion that discrimination based on gender has no place in our society or in our laws.

The result of this consensus is that today, if you ask any number of men, women, Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives, "Do you believe that your daughters should have the same opportunities as your sons?", the answer you would hear most frequently is "Of course." And when you say "of course," it becomes harder to argue that women shouldn't get equal pay for an equal day's work, or that they shouldn't get the support they need to be good workers and good parents at the same time.

The other side knows this - they know that equal opportunity has always been a winning argument for us. And that's why those who don't want to make it a reality choose to fight on other terms. They make sure that in any given campaign or debate, the only woman's issue that ever comes up is not equal pay or health care or family leave, but the narrowest, most divisive issues like late-term abortion.

Now, the ability for a woman to make decisions about how many children to have and when - without interference from the government - is one of the most fundamental freedoms we have. We all know, becoming a parent is one of the most - if not the most - important jobs there is. No one should make that decision for a woman and her family but them. And we must keep defending their right to make this choice in the years to come.

But even as we defend this right, it's important for us to acknowledge the moral dimension to the choice that's made. Too often in our advocacy, we forget that. And yet we know that many women who make the choice may never forget the difficulty that accompanies it. I noticed that when Hillary Clinton acknowledged this in a speech earlier this year, some criticized her. But she was merely recognizing an important moral reality for many.

I also think that whenever possible, we need frame choice within the broader context of equality and opportunity for women. Because when we argue big, we win. But when the entire struggle for opportunity is narrowed, it plays into the hands of those who thrive on the politics of division; who win by fueling culture wars.

A few weeks ago, I was in Nebraska speaking at the local chapter of Girls, Inc. As many of you know, this is an organization that, for over a century, has helped young women gain self-esteem and opportunity through programs that build job and educational skills, encourage health awareness, and send women to college on scholarships. Recently, the American Girl doll company decided to help out Girls, Inc. by selling special bracelets and donating the proceeds to the organization - a gesture that seems both harmless and well-intentioned.

Unless, of course, you're the conservative right, in which case the most sensible response is to call for a boycott of American Girl. Because apparently, even though it's an issue they don't discuss much and barely mention on their website, Girls, Inc. happens to believe in a woman's right to choose and support for girls regardless of their sexual orientation. And so just like that, an organization dedicated to expanding horizons and providing new opportunity for young women is turned into a front for "abortion-on-demand."

This is what they do. But we don't have to let them drag us into it. There's too much still at stake for women on too many different issues for us to keep fighting on their terms. Here at NWLC, you work on child care and education and health care and welfare and employment - and there's no reason that work should be drowned out by a cultural jihad.

In the coming weeks, many will be scouring the record of Judge Alito to find out exactly where he stands on choice. Since he would replace a pivotal swing vote on the Court, this makes sense. But Sandra Day O'Connor was an independent voice on a host of important women's issues - and her story exemplifies the equality of opportunity at the heart of the women's movement.

Whether Samuel Alito will put the law on the side of upholding this ideal for every American should be at the center of our inquiry into his judicial philosophy, and I know that NWLC will be leading the way on this.

It's time to find strength in this movement's roots of opportunity. At a time where the forces of globalization are transforming the way we work and live, this means taking a new look at the way government can help create economic opportunity for all Americans. In this debate, which has only just begun, it's women who have the most at stake, and women who should be the strongest voices.

The social contract between Americans and their government - the bargain that says if you're willing to work hard for your country then your country will make it easier for you to get ahead and raise a family - was made for a time when most women stayed home with the kids and most workers stayed with one company for their entire lives.

But even though this time is long past - even though the vast majority of women with children today are working, including single mothers - we still have social policies designed around the old model of the male breadwinner.

And so women still earn 76% of what men do. They receive less in health benefits, less in pensions, less in Social Security. They receive little help for the rising cost of child care. They make up 71% of all Medicaid beneficiaries, and a full two-thirds of all the Americans who lost their health care this year. When women go on maternity leave, America is the only country in the industrialized world to let them go unpaid. When their children become sick and are sent home from school, many mothers are forced to choose between caring for their child and keeping their job.

In short, when it comes to making your way in a twenty-first century economy, our daughters still do not have the same opportunities as our sons.

The Administration's answer to this would only exacerbate the problem for women. The idea here is to give everyone one big refund on their government - divvy it up into some tax breaks, hand them out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own unemployment insurance, education, and so forth.

But for the single mom who's already making less than her male counterpart - the mom who had to go without a paycheck for three months when her daughter was born, who's now facing skyrocketing child care costs and an employer who doesn't provide health care coverage for part-time work - for this mom, getting a few hundred bucks off the next tax bill won't solve the problem, will it?

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it - Social Darwinism, every man and woman for him or herself. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford - tough luck. It allows us to say to the women who lose their jobs when they have to care for a sick child - life isn't fair. It let's us say to the child born into poverty - pull yourself up by your bootstraps

But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. Our economic dominance has depended on individual initiative and belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity

And so if we're serious about this opportunity, if we truly value families and don't think it's right to penalize parenting, then we need to start acting like it. We need to update the social contract in this country to include the realities faced by working women.

When a parent takes parental leave, we shouldn't act like caring for a newborn baby is a three-month break - we should let them keep their salary. When parents are working and their children need care, we should make sure that care is affordable, and we should make sure our kids can go to school earlier and longer so they have a safe place to learn while their parents are at work. When a mom or a dad has to leave work to care for a sick child, we should make sure it doesn't result in a pink slip. When a woman does lose a job, she should get unemployment insurance even if the job loss was due to a family emergency and even if she's looking for a part-time job. And in an economy where health and pension coverage are shrinking, where people switch jobs multiple times and women don't always depend on their husbands for benefits, we should have portable health care plans and pensions that any individual can take with them to any part-time or full-time job and Medicaid that's there when you need it.

These are ideas that you've all been fighting for here at NWLC; ideas that go beyond the culture wars we're used to and should be able to get support on both sides of the aisle. Ideas that - at their core - are about expanding opportunity for our daughters.

The other day, I was reading through Jonathan Kozol's new book, Shame of a Nation, which tells of his travels to underprivileged schools across America.

At one point, Kozol tells about his trip to Fremont High School in Los Angeles, where he met a girl who tells him that she'd taken hairdressing twice, because there were actually two different levels offered by the high school. The first was in hairstyling; the other in braiding.

Another girl, Mireya, listened as her friend told this story. And she began to cry. When asked what was wrong, she said, "I don't want to take hairdressing. I did not need sewing either. I knew how to sew. My mother is a seamstress in a factory. I'm trying to go to college. I don't need to sew to go to college. My mother sews. I hoped for something else."

I hoped for something else

From the first moment a woman dared to speak that hope - dared to believe that the American Dream was meant for her too - ordinary women have taken on extraordinary odds to give their daughters the chance for something else; for a life more equal, more free, and filled with more opportunity than they ever had. In so many ways we have succeeded, but in so many areas we have much work left to do. The National Women's Law Center has been at the forefront of this journey, and I look forward to working with you as you continue to spread hope and expand opportunity for young women in the years to come. Thank you.

Remarks of U.S. Senator Barack Obama - "Sex on TV 4" Report, Kaiser Family Foundation Washington, DC

Kaiser Family Foundation, Washington, DC | November 9, 2005

I want to start by thanking the Kaiser foundation for the work you've done not only on today's report, but on making these issues of media and family a part of the national conversation.

This is a subject many of us come to not as politicians or policy makers, as but as parents most of all.

Because it's one thing to discuss sex and violence on television within the larger context of the culture wars - as a values debate between First Amendment crusaders and those who believe government should decide what we can and cannot watch - but it's a another thing altogether to be faced with these issues while you're sitting in front of the TV with your child.

I watch with my daughters, Sasha and Malia, and I can tell you that when we're in the middle of a family program and a commercial for Cialis comes on, it's more than troubling to find yourself wondering how you'll explain certain medical conditions that last longer than three hours to a four-year-old and a seven-year-old.

From the time they're young, we try to instill in our children a sense of what's right and wrong; a sense of what's important, of what's worth striving for. As best we can, we also try to shield them from the harsher elements of life, and introduce them to the realities of adulthood at the appropriate age.

But the concern shared by so many parents today - a concern that frankly hasn't been taken seriously enough by some on the left - is that raising your children this way has become exceedingly difficult in a mass media culture that saturates our airwaves with a steady stream of sex, violence, and materialism.

Revolutions in information and technology over the last few decades have caused this stream to grow exponentially, as we're bombarded at every turn with sounds and images from DVDs, iPods, video games, and websites that we can't always control.

At the center of it all sits the television, which still consumes the vast majority of our media use - even more so for our children. And as we're spending more free time immersed in this media culture, the amount of questionable content spilling across our screens is growing by the year.

Still, it's important for us to realize that the real problem we're facing is not simply one of quantity, or even the existence of sex and violence in the media per se.

After all, the adult content in Schindler's List is far different from the type on Desperate Housewives, and the violence in Saving Private Ryan is not the same as the kind our kids try to imitate in some of the most popular video games.

Rather, as your study today demonstrates, the larger concern here is one of message; it's what the media is teaching our kids about what is ok and what is not; about how to treat others and how to treat themselves.

It's a concern that mass media is contributing to an overall coarsening of our culture.

That with all the time our children are spending in front of the television, with all the choices they have to see whatever they want whenever they want, the content of their viewing is not enriching their minds, but numbing them; not broadening intellectual curiosity or appreciation for the arts, but trivializing the important and desensitizing us to the tragic.

It may seem to some that the effect on our children has been overstated. But the studies coming in from the NIH and others show that the connection is real. When children are exposed to sex without consequences, they're more likely to have it.

When they are shown the risks and responsibilities that go along with sex, at least one major subgroup - African-American youth - are more likely to abstain. Mindless violence and macho aggression on television begets the same behavior in our kids. And when eighty percent of African-American teens in a city like Washington think that they'll be rich and over half think they'll be famous, it hurts to hear them say that the path to success lies with the hoop dreams and rap careers glorified on television.

We don't teach our children that healthy relationships involve drunken, naked parties in a hot tub with strangers - but that's what they see when they turn on The Real World. We don't teach them to express their anger by seeing how much blood they can draw with a round of ammo - but that's what they learn in the most popular video games. And we don't teach our kids that the height of success is inheriting a family fortune to buy Gucci bags without ever working a serious day in your life - but that's how Paris Hilton gets by on The Simple Life. You can say that kids know this isn't real, but when they're fed a steady diet of these depictions over and over again from the time they're very young, this behavior becomes acceptable - even normal.

So what do we do about this? What do we do when bad television becomes the enemy of good parenting?

We start by turning off the TV altogether. Our children now spend an average of three hours a day in front of the television - for African-American children, it's four hours. Two out of every three households have the TV on during meals.

This is too much - period. And so I think it would help if parents start setting down stricter rules on how much TV their kids watch and limit their hours. I know this is difficult. At the end of a long day, when Michelle and I are tired, it's easy to just sit the kids in front of the television and relax.

But I think that as parents, we have an obligation to our children to turn off the TV, pick up a book, and read to them more often.

Beyond that, when our kids do watch television, we should be watching it with them - this means finding programming that everyone can watch as a family and being there to answer any questions it may raise with our kids.

Now, at a time when both parents are more likely to work longer hours outside the home, this is a lot easier said than done. We try to compete with these media messages, but it's nearly impossible to be there every moment our kids are watching television.

And so there's a broader responsibility here.

We know that with the pervasiveness of mass media today - the existence of so many means of communication that are so easily accessible all over the world - it's very difficult to regulate our way out of this problem. And for those of us who value our First Amendment freedoms - who value artistic expression - we wouldn't want to.

But that doesn't mean we have to accept this coarsening of our culture.

Decades ago, when television was still in its infancy, we provided broadcasters free use of the public airwaves, which they were to operate as trustees for the public. And just last week, the Senate voted to set a final date for the transition to digital television.

Today, we need to make it clear that the free use of the public airwaves continues to come with certain specific obligations. But we also need to make it clear that for both broadcasters and their competitors there are larger civic obligations to the American public. Obligations to reflect not the basest elements of American culture, but the profound and the proud.

Obligations to seek not just the quick buck or the bottom line, but healthy discussion and debate in the public square of the information age. Obligations to our children; to our families.

Today, we have far more choice in what we watch than we could have ever imagined - more channels and more programming. As we move further into the digital age, the transformation of entertainment will be even more dramatic than the one from stage to screen.

And yet, with all these new choices for consumers, there has been remarkably little done to give parents the tools and the information necessary to make their own informed choices about what their children are watching.

This is what the industry must do today. As we move towards a digital environment, there is a golden opportunity for them to do it on their own - to use the latest in technology to give parents more information and more choice.

For example, this technology could make it possible for parents to create their own family tier just by programming their television to block certain channels, block certain genres of programming like dramas, or block television at certain times of the day. There's no reason the industry can't make it as easy to find family-friendly television as it is to program TiVo.

But if the industry fails to act - if it fails to give parents advanced controls and new choices - Congress will.

I know that Senator Stevens and Senator Inouye are putting pressure on both broadcasters and cable companies to do a better job fighting indecency, and I'm fully behind their efforts to get the industry to change. I also applaud their announcement that they will be convening a summit on these issues with the goal of achieving immediate, meaningful reforms.

But I'd like to outline some additional reforms that I think can make a difference for parents today.

First, parents should be able to get better information right away - by improving the voluntary rating system we currently have. Right now, our television ratings involve nothing more than a tiny box containing some letters and numbers that flashes in the upper left-hand corner of the screen for a few seconds at the beginning of each program. It's hard to understand and easy to miss. Broadcasters must improve this system to include a full-screen, detailed rating that gives parents a more precise understanding of exactly what content will be shown in the program.

They must also ensure that promos for horror movies and ads for the show Las Vegas aren't being shown in the middle of a cartoon or a family sitcom with a more restrictive rating.

Beyond simply blocking out negative messages, however, we also know from Kaiser's studies that television has the power to promote positive messages that can influence behavior and raise awareness.

Public service announcements have actually led to reductions in teen pregnancy, and we should all be proud of the media initiative undertaken by the Kaiser Foundation with Viacom, BET, UPN and other networks to eradicate ignorance about HIV and AIDS.

There has been a long debate about what obligations broadcasters will have to the public in this new digital age. The FCC took a first step in defining these obligations by requiring that broadcasters air children's educational programming on all their digital streams.

As they continue this process, the FCC must make sure they spell out these obligations before the transition to digital programming is complete.

When they do this, they need to make sure that broadcasters have a concrete obligation to provide public service announcements at times when people can actually see them, as well as better coverage of elections. They should donate the public service time to a third-party like the Ad Council that works with reputable non-profits. If they do not do this, Congress should.

In addition, we should also fight to prevent any attempt to gut funding or support for the Public Broadcasting System - positive television with educational messages that generations of children have been raised on.

Finally, there's current legislation out there that would promote further studies - like this one - which would study the effects of media on the health and development of our children. This will provide parents with even more information, it's got bipartisan support in Congress, and I think it's a good idea to pursue.

In Newton Minow's famous "Vast Wasteland" speech to the National Association of Television Broadcasters, he told them that,

"It is not enough to cater to the nation's whims - you must also serve the nation's needs."

Four decades later, we find ourselves immersed in a mass media culture that is at once more vast and more wasteful than ever before. And so once again, we find ourselves asking those in charge to serve the needs of a nation that has a higher calling than simply peddling indecency and materialism for profit. We don't have to accept what we see today as inevitable. We can all work together to make media a place where big ideas and great debates are communicated. We owe this much to ourselves, and we certainly owe it to our children. Thank you.

Non-Proliferation and Russia: The Challenges Ahead

Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, DC | November 01, 2005

Good morning. As some of you know, Senator Lugar and I recently traveled to Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan to witness firsthand both the progress we're making in securing the world's most dangerous weapons, as well as the serious challenges that lie ahead.

Senator Obama at the podiumNow, few people understand these challenges better than the co-founder of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, Dick Lugar, and this is something that became particularly clear to me during one incident on the trip.

We were in Ukraine, visiting a pathogen laboratory in Kiev. This is a city of two and a half million, and in a non-descript building right in the middle of town stood this facility that once operated on the fringes of the Soviet biological weapons program.

We entered through no fences or discernible security, and once we did, we found ourselves in a building with open first-floor windows and padlocks that many of us would not use to secure our own luggage.

Our guide then brought us right up to what looked like a mini-refrigerator. Inside, staring right at us, were rows upon rows of test tubes. She picked them up, clanked them around, and we listened to the translator explain what she was saying. Some of the tubes, he said, were filled with anthrax. Others, the plague.

At this point I turned around and said "Hey, where's Lugar? Doesn't he want to see this?" I found him standing about fifteen feet away, all the way in the back of the room. He looked at me and said, "Been there, done that."

Of course, Dick has been there and he has done that, and thanks to the Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs he co-founded with Senator Sam Nunn, we've made amazing progress in finding, securing, and guarding some of the deadliest weapons that were left scattered throughout the former Soviet Union after the Cold War.

But this is one story that shows our job is far from finished at a time when demand for these weapons has never been greater.

Right now, rogue states and despotic regimes are looking to begin or accelerate their own nuclear programs. And as we speak, members of Al Qaeda and other terrorists organizations are aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction, which they would use without hesitation.

We've heard the horror stories - attempts by rogue states to recruit former Soviet weapons scientists; terrorists shopping for weapons grade materials on the black market. Some weapons experts believe that terrorists are likely to find enough fissile material to build a bomb in the next ten years - and we can imagine with horror what the world will be like if they succeed.

Today, experts tell us that we're in a race against time to prevent this scenario from unfolding. And that is why the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons within the borders of the former Soviet Union represent the greatest threat to the security of the United States - a threat we need to think seriously and intelligently about in the months to come.

Fortunately, the success of Cooperative Threat Reduction - especially in securing nuclear weapons - serves as a model of how we can do this. And so the question we need to be asking ourselves today is, what is the future of this program? With the situation in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union so drastically different than it was in 1991, or even in 1996 or 2001, what must we do to effectively confront this threat in the days and years to come?

The answers to these questions will require sustained involvement by the Executive Branch, Congress, non-governmental organizations, and the international community. Everyone has a role to play, and everyone must accelerate this involvement.

For my part, I would suggest three important elements that should be included in such a discussion.

First, the Nunn-Lugar program should be more engaged in containing proliferation threats from Soviet-supplied, civilian research reactors throughout Russia and the Independent States.

The Department of Energy and others have certainly made progress in converting civilian reactors to low-enriched uranium, taking back spent fuel, and closing unnecessary facilities.

Yet, a serious threat still remains. Many of these aging research facilities have the largest, least secure quantities of highly enriched uranium in the world - the quickest way to a nuclear weapon. For a scientist or other employee to simply walk out of the lab with enough material to construct a weapon of mass destruction is far too easy, and the consequences would be far too devastating. Not to mention the environmental and public health and safety catastrophe that could come from a failure to store and transport these materials safely and securely.

In a way that balances the needs of science and security, more needs to be done to bring these materials - as well as other sources that can be used to construct improvised nuclear weapons and radiological devices -- under control and dramatically reduce the proliferation threat they pose.

In the years ahead, this should become an increasing priority for the Nunn-Lugar program, the Congress, and the Russians, who are already taking important steps to help implement these programs.

I want to turn to a second critical area: biological weapons threat reduction programs.

Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union was engaged in a massive undertaking in the field of germ warfare.

At its height in the late 1980's, this program stockpiled of some of the most dangerous agents known to man - plague, smallpox, and anthrax - to name just a few. As one book says, "disease by the ton was its industry."

Besides the devastation they can cause to a civilian population, biological agents can also be effective in asymmetrical warfare against U.S. troops. While they are often difficult to use, they are easy to transport, hard to detect, and, as we saw in Kiev, not always well secured.

Here in Washington, we saw what happened when just two letters filled with just a few grams of Anthrax were sent to the U.S. Senate. Five postal employees were killed and the Senate office buildings were closed for months.

This was two letters.

Fortunately, however, we've made some good progress on this front. For years, Nunn-Lugar programs have been effectively upgrading security at sites in six countries across the former Soviet Union. And the Kiev story is heading in the right direction - while we were in Ukraine, Dick, through his tireless and personal intervention, was able to achieve a breakthrough with that government, bringing that facility and others under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program.

But because of the size, secrecy, and scope of the Soviet biological weapons program, we are still dangerously behind in dealing with this proliferation threat. We need to be sure that Nunn-Lugar is increasingly focused on these very real non-proliferation and bioterrorism threats.

One of the most important steps is for Russia to permit the access and transparency necessary to deal with the threat.

Additional steps should also be taken to consolidate and secure dangerous pathogen collections, strengthen bio-reconnaissance networks to provide early warning of bio-attack and natural disease outbreaks, and have our experts work together to develop improved medical countermeasures. As the Avian Influenza outbreak demonstrates, even the zealous Russian border guard is helpless against the global sweep of biological threats.

My third recommendation - which I'll just touch briefly on and let Senator Lugar talk about in more detail - is that we need to start thinking creatively about some of the next-generation efforts on nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

On our trip, we saw two areas where this is possible: elimination of heavy conventional weapons, and interdiction efforts to help stop the flow of dangerous materials across borders.

In Donetsk, I stood among piles of conventional weapons that were slowly being dismantled. While the government of Ukraine is making progress here, the limited funding they have means that at the current pace, it will take sixty years to dismantle these weapons. But we've all seen how it could take far less time for these weapons to leak out and travel around the world, fueling insurgencies and violent conflicts from Africa to Afghanistan. By destroying these inventories, this is one place we could be making more of a difference.

One final point. For any of these efforts that I've mentioned to work as we move forward, we must also think critically and strategically about Washington's relationship with Moscow.

Right now, there are forces within the former Soviet Union and elsewhere that want these non-proliferation programs to stop. Our detention for three hours in Perm is a testament to these forces. Additionally, in the last few years, we've seen some disturbing trends from Russia itself - the deterioration of democracy and the rule of law, the abuses that have taken place in Chechnya, Russian meddling in the former Soviet Union - that raise serious questions about our relationship.

But when we think about the threat that these weapons pose to our global security, we cannot allow the U.S.-Russian relationship to deteriorate to the point where Russia does not think it's in their best interest to help us finish the job we started. We must safeguard these dangerous weapons, material, and expertise. .

One way we could strengthen this relationship is by thinking about the Russians as more of a partner and less of a subordinate in the Cooperative Threat Reduction effort.

This does not mean that we should ease up one bit on issues affecting our national security. Outstanding career officials who run the Nunn-Lugar program -- people like Col. Jim Reid and Andy Weber who are here this morning -- will be there every step of the way to ensure that U.S. interests are protected.

Time and time again on the trip, I saw their skill and experience when negotiating with the Russians. I also saw their ability to ensure that shortcomings were addressed and programs were implemented correctly.

But thinking of the Russians more as partners does mean being more thoughtful, respectful, and consistent about what we say and what we do. It means that the Russians can and should do more to support these programs. And it means more sustained engagement, including more senior-level visits to Nunn-Lugar program sites.

It's important for senior officials to go and visit these sites, to check their progress and shortcomings; to see what's working and what's not. But lately we haven't seen many of these visits. We need to see more.

We also need to ensure that the Cooperative Threat Reduction umbrella agreement, due to expire in 2006, is renewed in a timely manner.

And we need to work together to obtain a bilateral agreement on biological threat reduction.

There is no doubt that there is a tough road ahead. It will be difficult. And it will be dangerous.

But, when I think about what is at stake I am reminded by a quote from the late President Kennedy given in a speech at American University in 1963 about threats posed by the Soviet Union.
"Let us not be blind to our differences--but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved...For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.''

Much of what President Kennedy described in 1963 remains true to this day - and we owe it to ourselves and our children to get it right.

Thank you.

Statement of Sen. Barack Obama Chicago White Sox - Senate Floor Statement

October 27, 2005

I rise today as a U.S. Senator, as an Illinoisan, and as a proud resident of the Southside of Chicago, to congratulate the Chicago White Sox for winning the 2005 World Series. As my fellow Southsiders know, it has been a long time coming.

Founded in 1900 as the Chicago White Stockings, this year's team reached the World Series for the first time since 1959. Over a century of White Sox fans have cheered for superstars such as Luke Appling, Nellie Fox, Carlton Fisk, Luis Aparicio, Harold Baines, and of course Big Frank Thomas. But we haven't savored the sweet taste of a World Series championship since 1917 - until now.

Back then, Woodrow Wilson was President, and the Great War was raging in Europe. The White Sox were a bright spot in tough times.

The Sox won last night the way they have won all season--by playing aggressively, scrapping for every base and every run. When Juan Uribe threw to Paul Konerko for the final out, it was fitting that the ball beat the runner by only half a step. The four games against the Astros were decided by a total of six runs. Win by the skin of your teeth. Win or die trying, that's our motto this year.

Jermaine Dye is the World Series MVP, and I congratulate him for that, but I'm sure he'll be the first to say that everyone on this year's team deserves a part of that award. This is a team with so many great players, but no undisputed leader on the field. I don't claim to be a baseball expert - or particularly unbiased on this matter - but this is one of the most selfless, balanced teams I've ever seen. A team of unlikely heroes.

Scott Podsednik, who hadn't hit a home run all season, stepped up and hit two in the playoffs, including the walk-off winner in Game 2 on Sunday. Willie Harris, who barely played in the playoffs, got a pinch hit to get on base and bring home the only run last night. Geoff Blum, a former Astro, who got a pinch hit homer in the 14th inning to give us the margin of victory in Game 3. And the pitching--four complete games to close out the American League Championship Series. An 11 and 1 record in the playoffs. 15 scoreless innings to finish the World Series.

Before the season started, the Sox were a consensus .500 team. Even as we built and maintained the best record in the American League all season, there were many doubters. Towards the end of the season, we hit a rough patch, and the doubters got louder. They said Cleveland had more playoff experience. They said even if we held on to make the playoffs, we would get embarrassed in the first round. But during the stretch run, manager Ozzie Guillen and his "kids," as he calls them, were calm and relaxed. Even as Cleveland came on strong and our lead in the Central Division dwindled, Ozzie's kids continued to play pranks on each other in the clubhouse, and continued to run hard on the basepaths.

Once the playoffs started, there was no looking back. That difficult September was gone in an instant. We silenced the doubters by sweeping the World Champion Boston Red Sox. We silenced the Angels during the ALCS in five games. And we swept the Astros in four games.

I had the privilege of attending game one of the World Series on Saturday, and the fans in and around the park were a cross-section of the city. There were plenty of folks old enough to remember the '59 team. Almost everyone remembered the 2000 team that made the playoffs. A few were even alive in 1917. A staffer of mine, a Southside Irishman and a Sox fan all his life, mentioned a 92-year-old woman at Saturday's game. She was jumping and cheering so much with every hit and every run that my staffer worried for her health!

I would like to congratulate the entire White Sox organization, in particular Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and Ozzie Guillen. We will be celebrating this victory for a long time on the Southside, around the city of Chicago, and around the entire state of Illinois.

Later today, Senator Durbin and I will be introducing a resolution honoring the White Sox, and we will be asking for its immediate consideration and adoption. Thank you, and I yield the floor.

Teaching Our Kids in a 21st Century Economy

Center for American Progress | October 25, 2005

The other day, I was reading through Jonathan Kozol's new book, Shame of a Nation. In it, he talks about his recent travels to schools across America, and how fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, we have an education system in this country that is still visibly separate and painfully unequal.

At one point, Kozol tells about his trip to Fremont High School in Los Angeles, where he meets some children who explain with heart-wrenching honesty what living in this system is like. One girl told him that she'd taken hairdressing twice, because there were actually two different levels offered by the high school. The first was in hairstyling; the other in braiding.

Another girl, Mireya, listened as her friend told this story. And she began to cry. When asked what was wrong, she said, "I don't want to take hairdressing. I did not need sewing either. I knew how to sew. My mother is a seamstress in a factory. I'm trying to go to college. I don't need to sew to go to college. My mother sews. I hoped for something else."

I hoped for something else.

It's a simple dream, but it speaks to us so powerfully because it is our dream - one that exists at the very center of the American experience. One that says if you're willing to work hard and take responsibility, then you'll have the chance to reach for something else; for something better.

The ideal of public education has always been at the heart of this bargain. From the moment the earliest Americans stepped out from the shadows of tyranny and built the first free schools in the towns of New England and across the Southern plains, it was the driving force behind Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "...talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition."

It's a bargain our government kept as we moved from a nation of farms to a nation of factories, setting up a system of free public high schools to give every American the chance to participate in the new economy. It's a bargain we expanded after World War II, when we sent over two million returning heroes to college on the GI Bill, creating the largest middle class in history.

And even when our government refused to hold up its end of this bargain; when America fell short of its promise and forced Linda Brown to walk miles to a dilapidated Topeka school because she wasn't allowed in the well-off, white-only school near her house; even then, ordinary people marched and bled, they took to the streets and fought in the courts, they stood up and spoke out until the day when the arrival of nine little children at a school in Little Rock made real the decision that in America, separate could never be equal. Because in America, it's the promise of a good education for all that makes it possible for any child to transcend the barriers of race or class or background and achieve their God-given potential.

In this country, it is education that allows our children to hope for something else.

And as the twenty-first century unfolds, we are called once again to make real this hope - to meet the new challenges of a global economy by carrying forth the ideals of progress and opportunity through public education in America.

We now live in a world where the most valuable skill you can sell is knowledge. Revolutions in technology and communication have created an entire economy of high-tech, high-wage jobs that can be located anywhere there's an internet connection. And today, a child in Chicago is not only competing for jobs with one in Boston, but thousands more in Bangalore and Beijing who are being educated longer and better than ever before.

America is in danger of losing this competition. We now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized country. By 12th grade, our children score lower on their math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And today, countries like China are graduating eight times as many engineers as we do.

And yet, as these fundamental changes are occurring all around this, we still hear about schools that are giving students the choice between hairstyling and braiding.

Let's be clear - we are failing too many of our children. We're sending them out into a 21st century economy by sending them through the doors of 20th century schools.

Right now, six million middle and high school students are reading at levels significantly below their grade level. Half of all teenagers can't understand basic fractions; half of all nine year olds can't perform basic multiplication or division. For some students, the data is even worse: almost 60% of African-American fourth-graders can't read at even the basic level, and by 8th grade, nearly nine in ten African-American and Latino students are not proficient in math. More students than ever are taking college entrance exams, but these tests are showing that only twenty percent are prepared to take college-level classes in English, math, and science. For African-American students, the figure dips to just ten percent.

What happens to these kids? What happens to the one in four eighth graders who never go on to finish high school in five years? What happens to the one in two high school graduates who never go on to college?

Thirty or forty years ago, they may have gone on to find a factory job that could pay the bills and support a family. But we no longer live in that world. Today, the average salary of a high school graduate is only $33,000 a year. For high school dropouts, it's even closer to the poverty line - just $25,000.

If we do nothing about this, if we accept this kind of economy; this kind of society, we face a future where the ideal of American meritocracy could turn into an American myth. A future that's not only morally unacceptable for our children; but economically untenable for a nation that finds itself in a globalized world, as countries who are out-educating us today out-compete our workers tomorrow.

Now, the American people understand that government alone can't meet this challenge. They understand that we need to transform our educational culture, from one of complacency to one that constantly strives for excellence. And they understand that government cannot replace parents as the primary motivator for the hard work and commitment that excellence requires.

But they also know that government, through the public schools, plays a critical role. And what they've seen from government for close to two decades is not innovation or bold calls to action. Instead, what they've seen is inaction and tinkering around the edges of our education system - a paralysis that is fueled by ideological battles that are as outdated as they are predictable.

You know the arguments. On one side, you'll here conservatives who will look at children without textbooks and classrooms without computers and say money doesn't matter. On the other side, you'll find liberals who will look at failing test scores and failing schools and not realize how much reform matters. One side will blame teachers, and the other side will never ask them to change. Some will say that no matter what you do, some children just can't learn. Others will make excuses for them when they won't learn.

Some will say that the same public school system that succeeded for generations must now be dismantled and privatized, no matter who it leaves behind. And others will defend the status quo in these schools even when they fail to teach our kids.

Like most ideological debates, this one assumes that there's an "either-or" answer to our education problems. Either we need to pour more money into the system, or we need to reform it with more tests and standards.

But we don't make much progress for our kids when we constrain ourselves like this. It appeared for a brief moment that the President, working with leaders like Senator Kennedy understood this, and many of us were initially encouraged by the passage of No Child Left Behind. It may not be popular to say in Democratic circles, but there were good elements to this bill - its emphasis on the achievement gap, raising standards, and accountability. Unfortunately, because of failures in implementation, particularly its failure to provide adequate funding and a failure to design better assessment tests that provide a clearer path for schools to raise achievement, the bill's promise is not yet fulfilled.

The shortcomings of NCLB shouldn't end the conversation, however. They should be the start of a conversation about how we can do better. Yes, it's a moral outrage that this Administration hasn't come through with the funding for what it claims has been its number one domestic priority. But to wage war against the entire law for that reason is not an education policy, and Democrats need to realize that.

If we truly believe in our public schools, then we have a moral responsibility to do better - to break the either-or mentality around school reform, and embrace a both-and mentality. Good schools will require both the structural reform and the resources necessary to prepare our kids for the future.

It's not as if innovation isn't taking place around the country. It's taking place in wealthier schools, like Illinois' Adlai Stevenson High School, which has one of the highest percentages of students taking AP exams in the country, and California's New Tech High, which puts a computer in front of every child. But it's also taking place in schools where large majorities of children find themselves below the poverty line yet above the national average in achievement -- places like Newark's Branch Book Elementary and Chicago's Carson Elementary School.

The problem is that we are not applying what we've learned from these successes to inform national policy. We need new vision for education in America - one where we move past ideology to experiment with the latest reforms, measure the results, and make policy decisions based on what works and what doesn't.

Now, if we are going to learn from schools that work, we must begin by admitting the obvious: money matters. In too many places, kids are going to school in trailers where rats are more numerous than computers. Smaller classes, books and lab supplies, better paid teachers, modernized buildings with the latest technology - all of this is critical if we are serious about educating our next generation.

But money alone won't make a difference without reform. And by the way, we won't be able to muster the political will to get more money into the system unless taxpayers are convinced that the money will produce measurable results. Fortunately, those who work in the field know what reforms really work: a more challenging and rigorous curriculum with emphasis on math, science, and literacy skills. Longer hours and more days to give kids the time and attention they need to learn. Early childhood education for every child so they're not left behind before they even start school. Meaningful, performance-based assessments that can give us a fuller picture of how a student is doing. And putting effective teachers and transformative principals in front of our kids.

All of these reforms need to be scaled-up and replicated across the country. But in the time I have remaining, let me use just talk about a few to point to what's possible, starting with one place where I think we can start making a big difference in education right now.

From the moment our children step into a classroom, new evidence shows that the single most important factor in determining their achievement today is not the color of their skin or where they come from; it's not who their parents are or how much money they have.

It's who their teacher is. It's the person who will brave some of the most difficult schools, the most challenging children, and accept the most meager compensation simply to give someone else the chance to succeed.

One study shows that two groups of students who started third grade at about the same level of math achievement finished fifth grade at vastly different levels. The group with the effective teacher saw their scores rise by nearly 25%. The group with the ineffective teacher actually saw their scores drop by 25%.

But even though we know how much teaching matters, in too many places we've abandoned our teachers, sending them into some of the most impoverished, underperforming schools with little experience or pay; little preparation or support. After a few years of experience, most will leave to pick wealthier, less challenging schools.

The result is that some of our neediest children end up with less-experienced, poorly-paid teachers who are far more likely to be teaching subjects in which they have no training. Minority students are twice as likely to have these teachers. In Illinois, students in high-poverty schools are more than three times as likely to have them. The No Child Left Behind law, which states that all kids should have highly qualified teachers, is supposed to correct this, but so far it hasn't, because no one's followed through on the promise.

If we hope to give our children a chance, it's time we start giving our teachers a chance. We can't change the whole country overnight. But what we can do is give more school districts the chance to revolutionize the way they approach teaching. By helping spark complete reform across an entire school district, we can learn what actually works for our kids and then replicate those policies throughout the country.

So here's what I'm proposing: the creation of what I call Innovation Districts. School districts from around the country that want to become seedbeds of reform would apply and we'd select the twenty with the best plans to put effective, supported teachers in all classrooms and increase achievement for all students. We'd offer these districts substantial new resources to do this, but in return, we'd ask them to try systemic new reforms. Above all, we'd require results.

In Innovation Districts, we'd ask for reforms in four broad areas: teaching, most importantly, but also how teachers use their time, what they teach, and what we can do to hold our schools accountable for achievement.

We'd begin by working with these districts to strengthen their teaching, and we'd start with recruitment. Right now we don't have nearly enough effective teachers in the places we need them most: urban and rural schools, and subject areas like math and science. One of the main reasons for this, cited by most teachers who leave the profession, is that no one gives them the necessary training and preparation.

Around the country, organizations like the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago are changing this by recruiting and training new, highly-qualified teachers for some of the hardest-to-teach classrooms in the country. We need to expand this by giving districts help in creating new teacher academies that will partner with organizations like this to recruit effective teachers for low-performing, high-poverty schools. Each teacher would undergo an extensive training program before they begin, including classroom observation and participation.

After we recruit great teachers, we need to pay them better. Right now, teaching is one of the only professions where no matter how well you perform at your job, you're almost never rewarded for success. But with six-figure salaries luring away some of our most talented college graduates from some of our neediest schools, this needs to change. That's why teachers in these Innovation Districts who are successful in improving student achievement would receive substantial pay increases, as would those who choose to teach in the most troubled schools and the highest-need subject areas, like math and science. The city of Denver is trying pay increases in partnership with the local union, and when Chattanooga, Tennessee offered similar incentives for teachers who taught in high-need schools, student reading scores went up by over 10%.

Of course, teachers don't just need more pay, they need more support. One thing I kept hearing when I visited Dodge Elementary School in Chicago is how much an encouraging principal or the advice of an experienced teacher can make a difference. That's why teachers would be paired with mentor teachers who've been there before. After a few years of experience, they'd then have the chance to become mentor teachers themselves.

And to help them deal with those few disruptive students who tend to slow down the rest of the class - a problem I hear about from teachers all the time - we'd expand innovative programs being used in states like Illinois that teach students about positive behavior.

Finally, we would also require Innovation Districts to work with their unions to uncover bureaucratic obstacles that leave poor kids without good teachers, including hiring, funding and transfer policies. Districts would work with unions to tackle these problems so that we can provide every child with an effective teacher.

Beyond policies that help teachers specifically, we'd also ask Innovation Districts to try reforms that create a more effective teaching environment. To give teachers more time with their students and more time to learn from each other, these districts would be asked to restructure their schedules and implement either longer days or summer school. In addition to more learning, this would provide kids a safe, educational environment while their parents are at work.

And we'd make sure that in every school district across the country, educators are teaching a curriculum that will prepare our kids for the global economy. In many states, students are taught the anatomy of a flower as many as six times over the course of their education. Yet, they are never taught what they need to become a productive citizen in a global economy - like computer technology, how the economy works, why skyscrapers stand, or how to design a new product. Some states are successfully using this kind of project-based learning to give our kids real world, hands-on experience in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. We will provide funding for more of this learning in more of our schools.

To hold schools and teachers accountable for the results of all these reforms, Innovation Districts would be asked to support schools that succeed and shut down those that don't. To find out what works and what doesn't, we'd provide them with powerful data and technology, and also give them the option of partnering with local universities to help them improve performance, like what happens at the University of Chicago's Urban Education Initiative. Schools that raise student achievement would be given bonuses. For schools that don't improve, the districts would close them and replace them with new, smaller schools that can replicate some of the successful reforms taking place elsewhere. Entire districts that do not improve would be removed from the program.

These reforms would take an important first step toward fixing our broken system by putting qualified, supported teachers in the schools that need them most. But beyond that, they would show us the progress we can make when money is well spent. And they would allow us to finally break free from the either-or mentality that's put bureaucracy and ideology ahead of what works; ahead of what's best for our kids.

When it comes to education, the time for excuses has passed - for all of us.

During my visit to Dodge Elementary, I was able to speak with a few of the teachers about some of the challenges they're facing in educating their students. And one teacher mentioned to me that in one of the biggest obstacles in her view is what she referred to as the "These Kids" syndrome.

She said that when it comes to educating students today, people always seem to find a million excuses for why "these kids" can't learn. That you'll hear how "these kids are nothing but trouble," or "these kids come from tough backgrounds," or "these kids don't want to learn." And the more people talk about them as "these kids," the easier it is for "these kids" to become somebody else's problem.

But of course, the children in this country - the children in Dodge Elementary, and South Central L.A., and rural Arkansas, and suburban Maryland - they are not "these kids." They are our kids. They want a chance to achieve - and each of us has a responsibility to give them that chance.

In the end, children succeed because somewhere along the way, a parent or teacher instills in them the belief that they can. That they're able to. That they're worth it.

At Earhart Elementary in Chicago, one little girl, raised by a single mom from a poor background, was asked the secret to her academic success.

She said, "I just study hard every night because I like learning. My teacher wants me to be a good student, and so does my mother. I don't want to let them down."

In the months and years to come, it's time for this nation to rededicate itself to the ideal of a world class education for every American child. It's time to let our kids hope for something else. It's time to instill the belief in every child that they can succeed - and then make sure we make good on the promise to never let them down. Thank you.