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Presidents charm CTIA crowd : Bush, Clinton talk telecom’s role in gov’t, world

Former president George H.W. Bush admitted to a Blackberry addiction, and his fellow former Oval Office denizen Bill Clinton lamented his new role as Bush’s straight man during the final keynote of CTIA Wireless 2007 in Orlando.
The show closed out with the perspectives of two ex-presidents: one looking back on the changes in technology, and one looking forward to the possibilities ahead. Both charmed the audience with good humor and evident camaraderie. The event was quite simply CTIA’s most successful third-day keynote ever; thousands of attendees lined up to hear the presidents speak, and the standing-room-only crowd burst into spontaneous applause several times during the speeches.
“You have just witnessed the punishment I have received from God for beating President Bush,” Clinton said wryly after the elder Bush had repeatedly worked the crowd into laughter. “It is my fate now to spend the rest of my natural life as his straight man.”
Both men, despite their different political backgrounds, agreed on one thing: divisive politics bode well for no one.
“He and I are trying to send out the message that there are things greater and far more important than individual politics,” said Bush.
Bush went on to recount the evolution of technology during his lifetime, from television to GPS, and how wireless technology influenced the course of history, citing examples of television being beamed into East Germany during the Cold War to expose citizens there to the rest of the world-and promote a desire for freedom. Bush also shared how secure wireless technology allowed him, when president, to keep up with events while away from Washington, D.C., make contact with world leaders while at his home in Kennebuckport, Maine, and deal with international matters no matter the location.
Bush recalled in particular an Oval Office meeting as Operation Desert Storm wound down in 1991, during which he asked for access to commanders on the ground in order to make the decision whether to end the brief war to push Iraq out of Kuwait. Colin Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, asked someone to get Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on the phone, Bush said, “and 30 seconds later, we were talking to Stormin’ Norman in the desert, halfway around the world and on a totally secure line.”
Clinton took the stage to discuss how wireless technology can provide community connections and shared opportunities to combat terrorism, which thrives on divisiveness and poverty.
He noted that the explosion of information technology-related jobs helped push up the median wage during the 1990s, and technology’s move out of Silicon Valley and into everyday work and personal life helped create thousands of new jobs, accounting for 28 percent of U.S. economic growth between 1996 and 2000. However, Clinton also pointed out that the benefits of wireless have touched the world unequally, and that much of the world’s population still does not have the access that might allow them to transform their economic position. Opportunities exist for using wireless to help educate people in poor, rural locations around the world, he said, and to help them improve their livelihoods. Clinton cited several examples, including micro-loans to allow village women in Bangladesh to purchase cellphones and then sell use of the phone to fellow villagers. Clinton said that a recent World Bank study found that for every 10-percent increase in cellphone penetration in developing countries, those countries’ gross domestic product increased by an average 0.6 percent.
While wireless technology offers to help keep the world connected, Clinton pointed out that the technology also can be used by terrorists. However, wireless can potentially help forge a sense of community by emphasizing commonalities instead of the divisions terrorists seek to stoke, he said.
He called upon the wireless industry to think of small ways that it can make positive influences beyond the bottom line.
“What I’d like to ask you to do is to think about not only what the economic opportunities are for you . but also to keep widening the circle of opportunity,” Clinton said, so that the industry helps build a positive wireless future.

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