CURE Keynote Address

March 11, 2005

Thank you David for that warm introduction. David is not only one of the most brilliant political minds in the business today, he is a loving husband, a committed father, and a dear friend who I've been honored to have by my side. Thank you David for everything you do.

I also want to thank Susan Axelrod and the entire leadership of CURE for allowing me the honor of speaking here this evening. As many of you know, Susan lives and breathes this organization, from the earliest hours of the morning until late at night, every day of her life. And I have no doubt that if the rest of us are willing to offer just a fraction of her level of passion and commitment to this cause, one day we'll be gathered here to finally celebrate a cure.

Since I first learned about this organization from David and Susan, I've often thought about the simple act of hope that began its journey.

I've thought about three mothers, sitting around a kitchen table, sharing the pain and the helplessness that go along with watching the child you love, the child whose happiness you live for, struggle with a disease that mom and dad can't fix. A disease that doesn't necessarily go away with the doctor's medicine, that isn't talked about most nights on the news, that isn't funded and recognized like a lot of the other diseases.

But then I also thought about how on that day, those three mothers said "no more." Maybe it was the memory of the first time they saw a seizure take their child to that lonely place where they could no longer reach them. Maybe they thought about the 2.5 million Americans who suffer from epilepsy, the tens of thousands who succumb to it, and the 181,000 more who will be diagnosed this year.

Or maybe as they sat around that kitchen table, three friends living similar experiences, they simply realized that there are some challenges in life you can't take on by yourself. That there is power and strength in the ability of a community to make a difference. And that as that community reaches out and grows and finds its voice, so grows the hope that it will someday find a cure.

Well, seven years, thirty research grants, one White House conference, and over $3 million in donations later, I can see tonight that the kitchen table has become a lot more crowded and that this community is on its way.

And yet despite all the progress, the question still weighing on your minds is, "how do we get all the way there?" How do we get all the way there when, despite the fact that epilepsy affects more Americans than Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and cerebral palsy combined, it still receives far fewer federal research dollars than any of these diseases? How do we get there when too many policy makers and too much of the public still think that epilepsy is, as Brendan Malone told us in the video, an "inconvenience," rather than a serious, and possibly deadly disease?

I think that we get there the same way that so many of you got us here - by continuing to share your stories and your children's stories with the faith that more and more Americans will open their hearts to listen. With the faith that if there's a little boy who can't sit through a class without suffering the pain and uncomfortable stares that accompany a seizure, it matters to every mother, even if it's not her son. That if there's a young woman who can't work and can't take care of herself and can't have children of her own because of the brain damage caused by epilepsy, it matters to every father, even if it's not his daughter.

Personally, I can't begin to imagine what a parent who has a child with epilepsy goes through on a daily basis. But I know what it's like to be a parent. And as a father with a little girl who suffers from asthma, I can understand the terror you feel when your child wakes you in the middle of the night gasping for air. When you would rather stop breathing yourself if it meant that she could start breathing just a little easier.

In this way, your stories touch me as both a father and a friend, and I will leave here tonight having adopted your cause as my own, as so many have done before me. I will go back to Washington and work with my colleague Rahm Emanuel and others to demand more federal funding for epilepsy research.

But I also believe that if each of us walks out of here and tells the story of the 2.5 million parents, brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons with epilepsy, it will touch others who may not understand this disease, because they are mothers and fathers and friends too. And as they embrace our cause, we will expand this community of concern until there isn't any room left in this country not to listen.

This has been the story of CURE ever since its founding - the inspiring idea that those of you who have dedicated so much of yourselves to this cause are doing so knowing full well that a cure may not arrive in time to heal your loved ones. And yet, you continue fighting with the hope that you may spare a nameless face the pain your families have known. That kind of compassion is heroic, and it is the kind that will eventually defeat this disease.

We need this victory now more than ever because today, we face a new threat in the potential spread of epilepsy to thousands more Americans. Just last week, USA Today reported that hundreds of U.S. soldiers are returning from Iraq with a condition known as traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Even though new technology and better body armor are helping them survive bomb and rocket attacks, the blasts are still causing these soldiers brain damage. As of January, 437 cases have been diagnosed in Army hospitals alone, and some doctors are saying that it could become the "signature wound of the Iraq war."

As some of you may know, TBI is the greatest risk factor for developing epilepsy. In fact, a study of Vietnam vets showed that 51 percent of those who suffered TBI went on to develop the disease.

We have asked these brave men and women to leave their homes, leave their families, and fight for our freedom on the other side of the world. And now we are finding out that when they come home, they may develop a life-threatening, debilitating disease that this country has not done nearly enough to treat. We simply cannot tell our heroes that when it comes to dealing with TBI or epilepsy, they're on their own. I know CURE won't, and I will go back to Washington and make sure the federal government won't either. I plan to work with my colleagues in Congress to provide the VA with the funds to research TBI and epilepsy so we can learn more about the disease and develop better tools to care for our heroes. These soldiers have moms and dads waiting for them at home, they are a part of our community, and we will speak for them.

I know that a lot of you have been struggling with epilepsy for a long time now, and that you've seen both good days and bad. On the bad days, it may seem like salvation will never come, that parents and children will be suffering with this disease for decades to come.

But I think we find hope by remembering that we've been here before. That there was a time when America watched helplessly as a mysterious disease left thousands - especially children - disabled for life. And just as it seemed that no one was paying attention and nothing could be done, a community of compassion awoke and led a March of Dimes to find the cure for polio.

Organized with the help of Franklin Roosevelt and backed by the federal government, the March of Dimes galvanized a nation to conquer polio, dime by dime. And while Roosevelt knew that his own polio would never be cured by the discovery of a vaccine, he also knew that at its best, government can be used a force to accomplish together what we cannot achieve on our own.

And so the people began to care and the dimes piled up and the funding started to flow, and fifty years ago next month, Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine.

I know that we don't have a President with epilepsy, or a major celebrity spokesperson, but we do have a growing community that is on the march. We have allies in government who know that we can defeat this disease if we work together. And we have the hope that every parent has for their child.

The hope you have the first time you bring them to the doctor's office, and you just want them to walk out with some medicine and a lollipop. The hope you have the first day you watch them get on the bus, when you want them to fit in with the rest of the kids and do well in school. The hope you have the day of their first job, when you want them to call you and let you know how great it went. The hope you have when they walk down the aisle, when you want nothing more than for them to find love and happiness in life.

These are hopes we hold not only for our own children, but for every parent and every child every where. And if we leave here tonight determined to turn those hopes into action, into a sustained commitment to fight epilepsy that's more than just about one fundraiser or one benefit, we will find a cure and we will keep hope alive for millions of families for generations to come. Thank you, and God Bless you.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at TechNet

March 08, 2005

Thank you John Doer. It's great to be here with all of you today, and I'm honored that you've given me the opportunity to join this discussion about the role technology can play in our future and our children's future. And before we begin, I'd just like to recognize your CEO, Rick White, who is leaving TechNet after years of inspired leadership and service to this organization and this country. Thank you Rick.

We're here today because when it comes to the global economy, the rules of the game have changed. This is a fact not only understood by a roomful of Silicon Valley CEOs, but by families I met all across Illinois during the campaign. They know that when it comes to their jobs and their wages, they're not only competing with workers in Naperville and Carbondale, but in New Delhi and Calcutta. What's more, they know that when it comes to the high-tech, high skill jobs of the future, their children are not only competing with children here in the United States, but with those on the other side of the globe who are increasingly being educated earlier, longer, and with a special emphasis on the math and science skills required for the industries of tomorrow.

These families tell me that they're anxious about their future. They worry that they could become the first generation of Americans to see their children do worse than they did. They remember that when we were all growing up, our parents knew that if they pushed us to study and work hard, the best universities would be open to us and we could get any job we wanted. But today, parents in cities and towns all over America are losing that hope - they're losing the sense that their kids will be able to dream the American dream.

The rules of the game have changed. And so we must change with them. But in a country of innovators and optimists - a country that pioneered the first moon landing, discovered the cure for polio, and led the technological revolution of the nineties - I have no doubt that we can. This is the great project for our time, and so it must become a larger part of the debate in our politics, our businesses, our schools and our homes.

The good news is that we have the resources, we have the brainpower, and we are still an economic and technological giant. In Illinois alone we have 238,000 high-tech workers. The University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana is where Marc Andreesen developed Mosaic, the browser that made the World Wide Web what it is today. And right now at Argonne National Laboratory, scientists are developing the technology for "grid computing" - which IBM and others believe represents the future of the IT industry.

All across America, world-class universities, first-rate research facilities and brilliant minds are on the cusp of discovering the next big idea that will lift up the quality of our lives, create millions of new jobs, and change our world. We can take comfort in knowing that, but we can't take it for granted, because right now other countries are looking at places like Silicon Valley and North Carolina's Research Triangle and saying "we want that." They're investing in better universities, expanding research budgets and venture capital, producing more science and engineering graduates, and passing innovation-friendly public policies.

None of us expect or want the government to lead the next technological revolution, but I believe that we can provide the spark that fuels America's innovation and competitiveness in the global economy. I believe we can do better than cutting the budget for the National Science Foundation, as this year's budget has done for the first time. We can do better than falling to 10th place in the world when it comes to providing people with access to Broadband. We can do better when it comes to using technology to free ourselves from America's dangerous dependence on Mideast oil. We can do better than burdening businesses with cases of class action abuse, and that's why I cast a tough vote in favor of reform the other week.

And we can do better, think bigger, and act bolder when it comes to education in this country. The best part about Bill Gates' speech last week was when he said that our schools are in danger of becoming obsolete as tools to educate tomorrow's workers for tomorrow's jobs. But schools are where our children's dreams begin, and so schools are where we must begin to make those dreams come true.

We shouldn't wait until high school either. We have to start the way Jim Barksdale of Netscape did when he gave a big grant and a lot of hope to preschoolers in Mississippi. We can't leave kids behind before they even enter the first grade, and that's why I'll continue to focus on early childhood education as a way to give them the best start in life.

We also know that some of the best ideas in education don't come from Washington, but from local schools all over America. That's why charter schools are a great way for us to learn from experiments in Topeka and Springfield that schools in Chicago and L.A. can replicate in their own classrooms. And because the success of your businesses depend on your ability to fill jobs with great minds, we need more corporate and private investment in our schools. John Doer's work with the New Schools Venture Fund is leading the way on this front, and we should all commend him for that.

As parents and citizens, each of us has a stake in making sure that our schools are doing everything possible to give our kids the competitive edge they'll need in a 21st century economy. The tests we have now are great ways to gather information about what works and what doesn't, but they're not enough. I believe that to meet tomorrow's challenges, we should create a national network of academies to train 25,000 new teachers and get them into high-need rural and urban schools. We should give local schools the latest technology training tools as John Chambers has done with the CISCO Networking Academy Program. When I was at the University of Chicago, other faculty members and myself developed a program where we essentially adopted primary schools to help them learn how to use the technological opportunities they were being offered. It's not enough just to set down a computer in a classroom and walk away - we must also train teachers and administrators on how to use that computer and its technology to find new and better ways of educating our children.

Finally, we should work to close the gap that is widening between America and the rest of the world when it comes to math and science graduates.

To do this, we must start by inspiring our children with a sense of nurturing their imagination so that they may dream big and then work hard to reach those dreams. Too often, our children spend hours playing Playstation without ever finding out how to build Playstation. They watch television but never wonder how it's put together. They surf web page after web page on the Internet, but are never taught how to design one.

The incredible story of progress that is America has always been built by those who ask why, what if, and why not. Our schools must begin instilling that wonder in our children again so that their generation will unite around the next great project of our time, whether it be declaring America energy independent or launching the next great technological revolution.

Too often, the debate about education here in Washington degenerates to old arguments and stale ideas. And so it's time to put aside partisan differences and just talk about what works for our kids and what will keep America competitive in this new century. Those are goals we all have and hopes we all share.

Yes, the rules of the game have changed. And now it's time for us to prove to the world that we can still play better than anyone. The families I've met are ready to try. Their kids are ready. TechNet is ready. And in the coming months, I will do my best to work with my colleagues and make sure our government is ready too. I want to thank TechNet for doing your part to get this dialogue going, and now I'd like to take a few questions from the audience. Thank you.

Obama Remarks to the American Legion Legislative Rally

March 01, 2005

Thank you. It's an honor to be here today with all of you Legionnaires. Since joining the Veterans Affairs Committee last month, I've been holding town halls with veterans all over Illinois, and I can tell you that in the days ahead, there will be few issues I'll work harder on than ensuring that the brave men and women who serve our country receive the support they deserve and the benefits they've earned when they come home.

In the coming weeks, you'll hear a lot of debate over the veterans' budget that President Bush submitted to Congress. You'll hear people talk about what we can afford and what adds up on paper, about where we can save money and what percentage increase or decrease we should give to this program or that program.

But I know those aren't the first things that came to your mind when you heard about this budget. And they're not the first things that came to my mind either.

I thought about my grandfather, who signed up for duty in World War II the day after Pearl Harbor. He marched across Europe in Patton's army, and when he came home, it was the education and opportunity offered by the GI Bill that allowed his family to build their own American Dream.

I thought about the hundreds of Illinois veterans I've met over the last few years. We asked them to leave their homes, leave their families, and risk their lives in some far-off place to protect us. And yet, somehow, we're still hearing stories like the one I heard from a veteran named Bill Allen, who told me that on a trip to Chicago, he actually saw homeless veterans fighting over access to the dumpsters. That's what I thought about. And finally, I thought about a young man named Seamus Ahern, who I met during the campaign at a V.F.W. hall in East Moline, Illinois. He told me about how he'd joined the Marines because he was so proud of this country, and he felt that as a young person in his early twenties he wanted to give something back. He was getting shipped out to Iraq the following week, and as I listened to him explain why he'd enlisted, the absolute faith he had in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all that any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: When Shamus comes home, will we serve him as well as he served us? That's the question we should be asking ourselves when we talk about veterans' benefits and the veterans' budget. And that's the standard we should meet.

But how do we meet that standard and serve our veterans when we have a budget that, when adjusted for inflation, has even less money for veterans than it did a year ago? When we have less for health care, for hospitals, and for disability pay?

This budget tells our veterans that if you want increased funding for the VA, you'll have to pay for it yourself. It's a budget that charges 2.2 million veterans a $250 enrollment fee just to enter into the health care program they were promised upon enlisting. A budget that more than doubles veterans' prescription drug co-payments. That will cut $351 million in funding for veterans' nursing homes, and will eliminate more than $100 million in state grants that are desperately needed by VA facilities across the country.

And this is a budget that tells all those veterans still waiting for help to keep waiting. There are roughly 480,000 compensation and pension claims still unprocessed, but this budget only calls for 113 new employees to help deal with this backlog - not enough to make a dent. In Chicago, veterans are waiting an average of 138 days just to start the sometimes decade-long process of getting their disability claim processed. 138 days. How can we make our heroes wait this long?

As troops continue to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers and the need will only increase. We know that soldiers are already coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and we know that a recent Army study showed that one in six soldiers in Iraq reported symptoms of major depression. Some experts predict that more than 100,000 soldiers may need some kind of mental health treatment when they come home. For tens of thousands of others, the wounds they suffered in battle will need care that could last a lifetime.

It is not only our patriotic duty to provide this care, it is our moral duty at the most fundamental level. When our troops return from battle, we should welcome them with the promise of opportunity, not the threat of poverty.

Over half a century ago, it was American Legion National Commander Harry Colmery who first drafted the legislation longhand that would become the GI Bill of Rights - a bill that has since provided education and training for nearly 8 million Americans, housing for nearly 2 million families, and led to the creation of the great American middle-class. That was a bill that told our heroes "When you come home, we're here for you, because we're all in this together."

Today, we shouldn't be scraping to find the bare minimum in benefits and health care for our veterans. And with the largest deployment of troops since Vietnam fighting for freedom in an increasingly dangerous world, we should be talking about a GI Bill for the 21st Century.

Fortunately, my colleague, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, has just introduced such a bill. It's called the Welcome Home Package, and it offers veterans the exact same health care they received during their time in the service, double the education benefit they receive now, and a $5,000 down payment on a home.

When veterans look to Congress for help, this is the kind of legislation they should hear about - not budget cuts and increased fees.

It's time to reassess our priorities. A budget is more than just a series of numbers on a page; it is an embodiment of our values. The President never hesitates to praise the service of our veterans and acknowledge the debt we owe them for their service, and I commend him for that. Now I hope he will renew his commitment by increasing funding for the VA, and ensure that our veterans receive more than just words of praise, but also the health care and benefits they've earned.

George Washington once said: "the willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation."

Washington understood then what every veteran here knows now - that when we make the decision to send our troops to war, we also make the decision to care for them, to speak for them, and to think of them - always - when they come. Thank you and God Bless you.