Bush proposes tech funding and defends wiretapping

In his annual State of the Union address Tuesday night, U.S.President George W. Bush proposed a multibillion dollar initiativeto encourage research and development in the U.S. and strengtheneducation in math and the sciences. He also defended thegovernment’s controversial wire-tapping efforts.

The “American Competitiveness Initiative” seeks to commit US$136billion to research and development and better education over thenext 10 years, including $5.9 billion in 2007.

“We must continue to lead the world in human talent andcreativity,” Bush said during the televised speech. “Our greatestadvantage in the world has always been our educated, hard-working,ambitious people — and we are going to keep that edge.”

The initiative covers three main areas. It would double thegovernment’s commitment to basic research in physical sciences andareas such as supercomputing and nanotechnology, make permanent aresearch tax credit to encourage private sector development, andstrengthen education in maths and sciences. On this last issue,Bush proposed training 70,000 high-school teachers for maths andscience subjects and bringing 30,000 professionals into classroomsto teach.

The plan was praised by several technology executives and lobbygroups.

“Discovery, ingenuity and innovation have always been at theforefront of the U.S. economic and technological leadership,” CraigBarrett, chairman of Intel Corp., said in a statement.”Unfortunately recent indicators show that we are at risk of losingour competitive edge. The business community commends the Presidentfor making American competitiveness a national goal.”

The speech also touched on technology use in the healthcareindustry. The President called for wider use of electronic recordsand other health information technology systems to help keep costsdown and reduce errors.

The address, the fifth since the September 2001 terrorist attackson the U.S., led off with military and defense issues, and Bushaddressed the controversial U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)program to intercept Internet and telephone communications of U.S.citizens. A civil liberties organization, the Electronic FrontierFoundation, filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T Corp.earlier in the day for assisting with the program.

“Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorismhere at home,” Bush said. “It is said that prior to the attacks ofSeptember 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of theconspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the U.S.placed telephone calls to al-Qaeda operatives overseas. But we didnot know about their plans until it was too late.”

The program has been widely criticized and Bush used Tuesdaynight’s speech to repeat his assertion that the program lies withinthe law and under powers granted to him in the U.S.Constitution.

“This terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terroristattacks,” he said. “It remains essential to the security ofAmerica. If there are people inside our country who are talkingwith al-Qaeda, we want to know about it — because we will not sitback and wait to be hit again.”

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