President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address (Video/Transcript)

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.
An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup, and did her part to add to the more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.
An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world, and did his part to help America wean itself off foreign oil.

A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.  A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford.  A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but dreaming big dreams for his son.  And in tight-knit communities across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades, and give thanks for being home from a war that, after twelve long years, is finally coming to an end.

Tonight, this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: it is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.

Here are the results of your efforts:  The lowest unemployment rate in over five years.  A rebounding housing market.  A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.  Our deficits – cut by more than half.  And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.  After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.

The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress.  For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government.  It’s an important debate – one that dates back to our very founding.  But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people.
As President, I’m committed to making Washington work better, and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here.  I believe most of you are, too.  Last month, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, this Congress finally produced a budget that undoes some of last year’s severe cuts to priorities like education.  Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to invest in this country’s future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way.  But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.

In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together.  Let’s make this a year of action.  That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.  And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.

Let’s face it: that belief has suffered some serious blows.  Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better.  But average wages have barely budged.  Inequality has deepened.  Upward mobility has stalled.  The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead.  And too many still aren’t working at all.
Our job is to reverse these trends.  It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.  But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.  Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.  But America does not stand still – and neither will I.  So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.

As usual, our First Lady sets a good example.  Michelle’s Let’s Move partnership with schools, businesses, and local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in thirty years – an achievement that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come.  The Joining Forces alliance that Michelle and Jill Biden launched has already encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses.  Taking a page from that playbook, the White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit where already, 150 universities, businesses, and nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education – and help every hardworking kid go to college and succeed when they get to campus.  Across the country, we’re partnering with mayors, governors, and state legislatures on issues from homelessness to marriage equality.

The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments, and are moving this country forward.  They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.  That’s what drew our forebears here.  It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.

Opportunity is who we are.  And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.

We know where to start: the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.  With the economy picking up speed, companies say they intend to hire more people this year.  And over half of big manufacturers say they’re thinking of insourcing jobs from abroad.
So let’s make that decision easier for more companies.  Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad.  Let’s flip that equation.  Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home.

Moreover, we can take the money we save with this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes – because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure.  We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.  But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.

We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs.  My administration has launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh and Youngstown, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies.  Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year.  Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create.  So get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work.

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America.  Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.  And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs.  We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”  China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines.  Neither should we.

We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.  This is an edge America cannot surrender.  Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones.  That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel.  And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.

Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy.  The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.

One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.  Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas.  I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas.  My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities.  And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too.  Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.  Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders, and local communities to reduce the energy we consume.  When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars.  In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet.  Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.  But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.  That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.  The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way.  But the debate is settled.  Climate change is a fact.  And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.  Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted.  I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same.  Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.  And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

The ideas I’ve outlined so far can speed up growth and create more jobs.  But in this rapidly-changing economy, we have to make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs.

The good news is, we know how to do it.  Two years ago, as the auto industry came roaring back, Andra Rush opened up a manufacturing firm in Detroit.  She knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in America, and she knew how to make them.  She just needed the workforce.  So she dialed up what we call an American Job Center – places where folks can walk in to get the help or training they need to find a new job, or better job.  She was flooded with new workers.  And today, Detroit Manufacturing Systems has more than 700 employees.

What Andra and her employees experienced is how it should be for every employer – and every job seeker.  So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.  That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life.  It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs.  And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.

I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy.  But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.

Let me tell you why.

Misty DeMars is a mother of two young boys. She’d been steadily employed since she was a teenager.  She put herself through college.  She’d never collected unemployment benefits.  In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home.  A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved.  Last month, when their unemployment insurance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a letter – the kind I get every day.  “We are the face of the unemployment crisis,” she wrote.  “I am not dependent on the government…Our country depends on people like us who build careers, contribute to society…care about our neighbors…I am confident that in time I will find a job…I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our children in their own home in the community we love.  Please give us this chance.”

Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance.  They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game.  That’s why I’ve been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at that new job and new chance to support their families; this week, many will come to the White House to make that commitment real.  Tonight, I ask every business leader in America to join us and to do the same – because we are stronger when America fields a full team.

Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce.  We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.
Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine.  But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.  And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids.  We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance.  Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math.  Some of this change is hard.  It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.  But it’s worth it – and it’s working.

The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time.  That has to change.

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education.  Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old.  As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own.  They know we can’t wait.  So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.  And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.

Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years.  Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.

We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.  We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education.  We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to ten percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.  And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.

The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us.  But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

Today, women make up about half our workforce.  But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.  That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.  She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.  A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too.  It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.  This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves.  Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.

Now, women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs – but they’re not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages.  Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success.  But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.

In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs.  Many businesses have done it on their own.  Nick Chute is here tonight with his boss, John Soranno.  John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough.  Only now he makes more of it: John just gave his employees a raise, to ten bucks an hour – a decision that eased their financial stress and boosted their morale.

Tonight, I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead and do what you can to raise your employees’ wages.  To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on.  And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too.  In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.

Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here.  Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10.  This will help families.  It will give businesses customers with more money to spend.  It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program.  So join the rest of the country.  Say yes.  Give America a raise.

There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point.  But I agree with Republicans like Senator Rubio that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids.  So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.

Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension.  A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own.  And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks.  That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg.  MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in.  And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans.  Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can.  And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations of Americans.

One last point on financial security.  For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system.  And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that.

A pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance.  But on January 1st, she got covered.  On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain.  On January 6th, she had emergency surgery.  Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy.

That’s what health insurance reform is all about – the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything.

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.

More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

And here’s another number: zero.  Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman.  And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Now, I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law.  But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles.  So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice – tell America what you’d do differently.  Let’s see if the numbers add up.  But let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda.  The first forty were plenty.  We got it.  We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.

And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight.  Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country, but he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families.  “They are our friends and neighbors,” he said.  “They are people we shop and go to church with…farmers out on the tractors…grocery clerks…they are people who go to work every morning praying they don’t get sick.  No one deserves to live that way.”
Steve’s right.  That’s why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st.  Moms, get on your kids to sign up.  Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application.  It will give her some peace of mind – plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.

After all, that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward.  It’s the spirit of citizenship – the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.

Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote.  Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened.  But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it; and the bipartisan commission I appointed last year has offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote.  Let’s support these efforts.  It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.

Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.  I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.  And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure.  When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, all our troops are out of Iraq.  More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan.  With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.

After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future.  If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda.  For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.

The fact is, that danger remains.  While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects  the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks.  And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.

We have to remain vigilant.  But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office.  But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts.

We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.
So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks – through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners – America must move off a permanent war footing.  That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.  That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.  And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.

You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.  American diplomacy has rallied more than fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.  American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear. As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.

And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade.  As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.  It is not installing advanced centrifuges.  Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.  And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

These negotiations will be difficult.  They may not succeed.  We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away.  But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb.  If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible.  But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.  For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.  If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.  But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want.  And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.

Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.  From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy.  In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future.  Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.  In the Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.  And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America!”

We do these things because they help promote our long-term security.  And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.  And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment – when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium – and brings home the gold.

My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do.  On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might – but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them.

No one knows this better than those who serve in uniform.  As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life.  We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care – including the mental health care – that they need.  We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home.  And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families.

Let me tell you about one of those families I’ve come to know.

I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day.  Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack.  We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.

A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

For months, he lay in a coma.  The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move.  Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye.  He still struggles on his left side.  But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”
Cory is here tonight.  And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.

My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy.  Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy.  Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.  But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.  The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy.  But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.
Believe it.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Tin Trouble

Indonesia is the world’s biggest tin exporter but for poverty stricken miners, the costs are deadly.

Source:Al Jazeera
It is nightfall and Rusdanila is on his way to meet an illegal tin dealer. Carrying almost 4kg of tin in a bucket, the product of a hard day’s work, he goes to the first collector, hoping that the metal will fetch at least $3.50 per kilogramme.

Here in the little island of Bangka, east of Sumatra, miners like Rusdanila are at the mercy of the price of ore determined thousands of miles away at the London Metal Exchange.

But in Indonesia, this precious mineral is largely mined illegally.

In 2012, the country exported 98,000 tons of tin, supplying 40 percent of international demand. Major electronics consumer brands like Samsung, Apple and Philips rely heavily on Indonesia’s tin. Each mobile phone contains seven grams of the mineral.
Currently, tin rakes in around $28m a year for Indonesia but the human and environmental toll is proving costly.

Families outside of the islands of Bangka and Belitung are cashing in on the mining boom, rushing to illegal mines sprouting across the land. The work is dangerous – landslides are common and the mined tin is usually mixed with radioactive elements.
In Bangka, tin is getting harder to find in the ravaged ground, so the private companies, as well as the illegal miners, are taking it one step further: they are searching the offshore seabed.

While it is as dangerous as mining on land, sourcing tin in the sea has an added disadvantage – poor visibility. Officially, dredging is illegal within four miles of the coastline but the community bribes a middleman to grease the palms of policemen, allowing the miners to set up their equipment a few hundred metres away from the shore.

Yudi, 25, works with a diver out in a makeshift barge. The diver is given a breathing tube attached to a compressor and he needs to suck the seabed, digging deeper to reach the tin in the lower layers. Yudi knows if there is a landslide in the water, his diver will not be able to see, much less anticipate it. “The danger also comes from the compressor, because the oxygen we are breathing is not pure oxygen. Since it’s coming from the compressor, it’s dangerous for the lungs,” he says.

In addition to a steadily rising death toll, local ecosystems are being ravaged by massive deforestation, water pollution, soil depletion and the collapse of fish stocks. “It will take centuries, thousands of years, before everything can return to normal,” says biologist Eddy Nurtjahya.

Even though it is against the law to buy tin from illegal mines, transactions between miners and dealers and then private smelters are commonplace, fuelled by rampant corruption.

101 East travels to Indonesia and explores the deadly cost of extracting precious tin.


What Makes Humans Unique (Video/Transcript)

Laurie Santos is Associate Professor, Department of Psychology; Director, Comparative Cognition Laboratory, Yale University.
Source: Edge

[LAURIE SANTOS:]  I'm going to talk about some new findings in my field, comparative cognition. I'm interested in what makes humans unique. There are findings that I think are fantastically cool, in that they might be redefining how we think about human nature, but first they're going to pose for us some really interesting new problems.

I'm doing this, in part, because I think already having redefined human nature in the last couple of years is sort of a tall order, and that scared me, but also because I think that open questions about human nature can actually be more fun and I couldn't help but use this audience to kind of get some feedback on this stuff.

The findings in comparative cognition I'm going to talk about are often different than the ones you hear comparative cognitive researchers typically talking about. Usually when somebody up here is talking about how animals are redefining human nature, it's cases where we're seeing animals being really similar to humans—elephants who do mirror self-recognition; rodents who have empathy; capuchin monkeys who obey prospect theory—all these cases where we see animals doing something really similar.

Today, I'm going to talk about two sets of findings where we're seeing, at least in the case of nonhuman primates, young nonhuman primates doing something really different than humans. In one case they're doing something different than humans, which you might think of as cognitively less rich. That makes the human looking like, "Wow, they're super smart." But in a second case they're doing something that looks like animals in this case, so the nonhuman primates are doing something that's cognitively a bit more rational, but I think it's also going to lead to some deep insight into human nature. So those were what I took my marching orders to be, and now I'll sort of jump into two separate findings.

As I do that I'm going to violate another principal immediately that John told me to do, which is to stick to questions and findings that are very, very recent. The first set of findings bear on a question that's, in fact, very, very old, and it's a question that Premack and Woodruff posed way back in 1978, asking the question of whether or not the chimpanzee or any other animal has a theory of mind. What Premack meant by this question was, does the chimpanzee look out into its world and see all these agents just behaving—doing different behaviors? Or do they do what we do, which is to intuit inside everybody's heads all these things going on—things like intentions, and theories, and beliefs, and desires, and so on?

This is a very old question, as I said this was 1978. Some of us around the table weren't born yet, but some of us around the table thankfully were born and were writing important critiques of Premack and Woodruff studies, (Dan) which were really important to the field, because it got off the ground this question of what could actually count as evidence for this question. We can verbally talk to each other and come up with the idea that we think of each other as having beliefs and desires, but how could you ask this of a non-linguistic creature? What would really count as evidence that they're thinking not just about behaviors, but about these mental states that are different from behaviors?

...if you really want to know whether an organism is thinking in terms of other individuals' behavior, or thinking in terms of what's going on inside another individual's head, you have to use these creative kinds of cases where what they would do if they're monitoring behavior is different than what they would do if they were thinking in terms of what's going on inside somebody's head.

Dan, and Zenon Pylyshyn and others who commented on this really important paper came up with a set of marching orders for the researchers at that time about how you could design studies to potentially tell the difference. That's what launched, in the eighties, this long field of what's been known as false belief studies. Many of you know about this, but for those that don't, please just be patient with me.

These are studies which are trying to look at whether or not people are actually representing the beliefs inside someone's head as distinct from their behaviors by using this special case of false beliefs—this special case where people are doing behaviors that don't necessarily match what you might see in reality. So if I had a false belief that this event was over, I might do something crazy in my behavior like, get up, take my microphone off, go inside, have a couple beers, and so on. That would be different than what I should really be doing in reality—what reality should be telling me—but there's this sort of false content in my head, this sort of false thing that's going on. And, cleverly, folks pointed out that if you really want to know whether an organism is thinking in terms of other individuals' behavior, or thinking in terms of what's going on inside another individual's head, you have to use these creative kinds of cases where what they would do if they're monitoring behavior is different than what they would do if they were thinking in terms of what's going on inside somebody's head.

This launched this whole set of inquiry in the field of developmental psychology, where I think developmental psychologists had a bit of a leg up on those of us who are comparative cognition researchers, because they had the tool of language to ask children about different scenarios. This led to a long history of research showing that it seemed like there was some important developmental changes over the first couple years of life, and children's ability to think about what's going on inside the heads of others. The comparative researchers, though, were a bit stymied, and they came up with a lot of experiments that, even though they didn't have the fantastic commentaries that came after Premack and Woodruff's paper, I think if they had, people like Dan, and Pylyshyn and others, would say the same thing, "These aren't good tests to really get at what's going on in terms of what other animals know about other's mental states."

This was the state of the field well into the nineties, until researchers started coming up with what I think are somewhat better tests that use these nice nonverbal measures to come up with good tests of whether or not other animals have false beliefs. Here's where I have to kind of give a nod to a conversation we were having earlier about the "Noble" Prize, which for those that don't know watching this, would be a potential prize they were hoping someone out there would donate lots of money for so we can give prizes to researchers who, upon having evidence that their idea was wrong, admitted that their idea was wrong.

Here I have to give a shout out to one potential winner of this, who is Mike Tomasello, who in 1997 wrote a book that said, "I don't think any other animal has any representation of other individual's mental states," and in 2003 he wrote a paper that updated that and said, "Because of new evidence I have to say that I was completely wrong in that book. I published that book, and I was wrong. Now there's good evidence that they do."

What's that evidence? Well, the evidence comes from a variety of different tasks showing that other animals seem to process information about other individual's perception or visual access. One version of this type of test asks:  do other nonhuman animals actually pay attention to what other individuals can see? So if you give them the option of trying to deceive somebody who is looking away versus somebody who is looking at a piece of food, what you find is on the first trial with no training, nonhuman primates know who to steal from; they steal from the guy who can't see.

They also seem to know something about the fact that visual access passes into the future. So if somebody saw something at one point, they might recognize that that past visual access predicts that that individual might know something about what's happening in the future, and, therefore, won't steal from that individual, and so on. As Mike reported, we're starting to get more evidence that primates are doing better than we thought, but so far there hadn't been a really good test that would qualify for the kinds of critiques that Dan and others brought up.

Until such time as a group of clever developmental psychologists came up with a very good nonverbal false belief test—a nonverbal test that allowed us to show that maybe these might be representing something that's going on inside somebody's head, and we, as comparative cognition researchers, like it very much when developmental psychologists are clever like this, because when they come up with a good nonverbal test, we can then take it and do it ourselves and get the same answer.

And this is what happened a couple years ago when Onishi and Baillargeon came up with a good nonverbal test of false beliefs that they used in 15-month-old infants, that we and others were later able to import to nonhuman primates.

And here's how the test goes. Imagine that I say Danny, in this case, is either a monkey or an infant, and you're watching a display of me acting on the world. Later I'm going to ask the predictions you make about my behavior. Imagine, if you will, that I have a PowerPoint that shows an image of me with two different boxes where I'm hiding objects. 
So Danny, just this casual observer, will be watching as I hid an object in one of these boxes—I'll hide it in the box on the left. The question is where do you think I'm going to look? Well, if you were correctly representing that I had a true belief, you might expect me to reach over here. However, you might find it surprising, if you understood my true belief, that I would reach to the second box that didn't have this object that I desired.
It turns out that both 15-month-old infants and, in our case, Rhesus Monkeys show that effect. If you monitor how long they watch this event, or quasi-measure their attention or their surprise, they look longer at this event where I reach in the wrong spot. So we're just saying they're tracking information about what I might know about the world and how I'm going to act. The question is what happens in this critical case of a false belief, where reality should be telling me to do something, but my belief, if you understood it, would be telling me to do something else. This would be a case where again two boxes, I would place an object in one box, and as I wasn't looking, the object would move to the other side. Now if you're tracking my belief you should expect me to go to the box where the object was, but if you were analyzing my actions just in terms of my behavior, you might expect me to go where the object is because of course that's where it is.

What do 15-month-old infants do? The 15-month-old infants, when they see me put an object here, they see it move to the other side, they expect me to reach over here, and they're very surprised if I reach in the correct box. And this was some of the first evidence that within the second year of life babies might be tracking another individual's false belief, published in Science, this was a great thing. What we did was to say, "Ah, this is a fantastic test. Let's apply this to our macaque monkeys." I have to be honest, when we first did this test, I assumed if 15-month-old infants are tracking this information, that's exactly what the monkeys are going to do.

So, again, the test is put the object here, person's not looking, object moves over here. And as I hit the button on our stats package, and looked at all our data, as I hit the button to generate the means, I thought we're going to see one of two patterns.

The thing that was really curious was that we didn't see either of those two patterns. What we saw was that in both cases the monkeys looked very little at these different options. They looked very little when I put the object here, it moved, whether I reached here or whether I reached here. And that was really different than what we'd seen in the other case. And they said, "Why?" What it looked like is that the monkeys aren't just behaviorists, in this sense. They're not just tracking what my behavior is. They don't expect me to reach where the object is. But the monkeys might not have a full-blown representation of another person's belief, the content of where it is.

What it seemed that they were doing is they were tracking our visual access. We, as researchers, keep referring to this as knowledge, although we take it that this is not what philosophers refer to as knowledge, but monkeys are tracking our historic vision access and expecting individuals to act on it.  What happens when you lose that visual access is that all the representations go away, all bets are off. You're just ignorant. And the monkey might expect you, or Danny in this case, might expect you to look on the moon, because you don't actually know where the object is. This was surprising to us, because it wasn't the kind of result we expected. As we followed up on this, it turns out that the monkey system for thinking about how we act seems to, again, not have any representation of other's beliefs, but it seems to be relatively sophisticated in its own right.

By 15 months of age babies seem to be tracking other individuals' false beliefs, but this raises this question of whether or not they have this other same system that's going on under the surface, that's also tracking this visual access, too. 

Well, the first thing we've learned is that it seems to take into account what other individual's inferences are, and this is work not by me, but Mike Tomasello and his colleagues looking at the kinds of simple inferences you might make about where a piece of food is hidden. So they did this clever experiment with chimpanzees, where they had a delicious piece of food that they hid behind a screen, and when they lifted the screen, there were two pieces of cloth on the table, one that was totally flat, and one that was beveled exactly in the shape of the food. They asked:  can chimpanzees smartly make the inference that the food has to be hidden under the beveled thing? The answer is yes. Not so surprising. Chimpanzees are pretty smart.

The surprising thing is that chimpanzees can also represent in another chimpanzee that same inference. So if they watch a different individual have this test where they see a piece of food hidden, one is upright, they have the same intuition that the chimpanzee should search in that spot.

The second, even more surprising thing we found is that the way the monkeys seem to shut off their inference about whether you have visual access or whether you have knowledge seems to actually be pretty sophisticated, and seems to not bear on what you may expect from behavior. So here's this test that we ran. Again, in one of these situations Danny would be watching me hiding different objects. You'd watch as I hid the object in this location, and just as I couldn't see, it popped right out and went right back in. So all the features of the world should tell where I'm going to reach, I should reach over here. But this is not what we find in the nonhuman primates. What we find is that they, again, say well, you lost your visual access. You should be ignorant. You can search on the moon. So even though all these features of the world are telling them the way we should behave, we seem to have this interesting disconnect.

Why am I telling you all this stuff? First, I think we're finally getting some important insight into this age-old question that Premack and Woodruff gave us about whether or not other animals are mentalists. And I think the answer is that they don't seem to have representations of other's false beliefs, but they might not be as tight a behavior as we thought in the first place.

The second insight, and the reason I think this bears importantly on human nature, is it seems like we have a phylogenetically old system to track information about an individual's visual access that seems to be present in monkeys, and we have no idea yet whether or not it's present in humans as well. By 15 months of age babies seem to be tracking other individuals' false beliefs, but this raises this question of whether or not they have this other same system that's going on under the surface, that's also tracking this visual access, too. And I think that makes some interesting predictions about whether you get some disconnects between cases of these two systems, cases where what you're tracking with the sort of phylogenetically earlier system tells you something different. I think those kinds of questions would be very interesting to explore, and might redefine the way we're thinking about how other animals track other minds.

So that's set of questions number one, which I, in part, wanted to tell you because I think Mike Tomasello should win the Noble Prize; he'd certainly be getting my vote. The second set of studies I wanted to tell you about I think are even more relevant for some of this stuff we've already talked about, because I think in some ways they fall out of this case of us being a species that has a phylogenetically relatively recent system for representing other's beliefs. And the possibility I think is that when natural selection builds in new systems, they tend to be a little bit kludgy and they might actually have some problems inherent in them.

This raises the question of how we deploy our systems for representing other's beliefs. How is that we look out into the world and think that Danny might have a certain belief about something, but he's ignorant about something else. How quickly do we deploy these things? And there's a couple different options. One is that we're kind of cognitively lazy. We should only deploy these kinds of complicated systems in these cases where we really, really need to. So if Josh were to give me some complicated moral scenario about some guy knew something, but somebody had another belief, I would have to turn on all this machinery to make sense of it. But I shouldn't be kind of doing it haphazardly, just when there are kind of random things around the screen.

The second set of results I wanted to tell you is that it seems like that's not actually the case. It seems like there might be some interesting automaticity to the extent to which we turn on our mindreading abilities. And it seems like this automaticity might be different in nonhuman animals. This comes from a study that came out by Agnes Kovacs and her colleagues recently in Science, where she was asking, again, about the automaticity with which we start thinking about another individual's beliefs.

And it must have been the most boring study ever for subjects to do, because what it involved is just a subject, say Danny, in this case, is just tracking an object that's moving behind an occluder and all Danny's task was is to say when the object fell behind the occluder and the occluder went away, does he think the object is there or not. Just a basic visual detection test. And, of course, since we're tricky cognitive scientists, what we'll do is have some trials in which the object looked like it went back there, but when the screen falls, it's gone. And, of course, even though Danny is a fantastically smart person, he's going to make errors and be slower when I mess with him in that way. And that's just what you find. No surprise there.

The question is what happens in the case where there's another individual who happens to also be watching the scene, who has a different perspective than you do, who might even have a different belief about what you're seeing than you do, and the way Kovacs and colleagues tested this was to put a cartoon Smurf head on the screen, so the Smurf is on the screen while Danny is doing this task. It's completely incidental. Subjects know the Smurf doesn't matter at all. But it sometimes shares Danny's belief. Sometimes it sees it go back there just like Danny, and the screen drops, and it's gone. And sometimes it actually has a different belief. Sometimes it turns away at this critical moment where the object moves.

And the question was, even though this is a cartoon Smurf, even though it's completely incidental from the task, does it affect the way Danny responds? And I think the surprising answer is yes. What you find is that if the Smurf thought something was back there, even in the case where Danny didn't, he speeded up. So he doesn't take a reaction time pause for a belief that he would have had that was false. There's another individual in the scene who has that belief.

What does this mean? Well, it means a couple things. One is that we might be implicitly tracking the perspectives and beliefs of a variety of other individuals around us. This is the thing that Ian Apperly and his colleagues refer to as altercentric interference. We might be getting this interesting interference by other people's beliefs, other people's contents, even though we know them to be different from our own.
Why am I, as a comparative person, telling you this? Well, we've recently been able to run a study like this on nonhuman primates, and what we find is that the monkeys are a lot more rational than people in this sense. They don't seem to be automatically computing other individual's visual perspective, and they don't seem to get messed up. In this sense the monkeys react as though if they saw the object back there, it's back there. If they didn't, it didn't. Okay?

What are the implications for some of this stuff? Well, I really wish Fiery was still here, because one of the implications, I think, is that we might have automatic systems for tracking what other individuals know, and speculatively I can extend this to what other people intend, what other people's attitudes are, and so on. These things might deploy automatically and be relatively under the hood in a way that we might not expect, but that's exactly the kind of mechanisms you might need for the sorts of uniquely human things Fiery was talking about—namely things like social learning, namely things like picking up on other's reinforcement histories, all the kinds of things that humans do that we think of as unique —might rely on this kind of kludgy mechanism, where we just get interference with the contents of our own mental states versus somebody else's.

Is this really true? Do we see any data that something like this might really be happening? This is an extra third line of comparative studies that are coming out that I'll tell you about, which is some interesting work on the cases in which other animals can socially learn from us, and cases in which humans might learn from others in a way that's less rational than other animals.

One of the leftover empirical results from the 1990s is often folks think that other animals can't imitate. It's not true. They can actually follow our own actions and imitate, but they tend to do it in relatively select situations. What are those situations? Well, it tends to be situations in which they, themselves, don't know how to do something. So if you give chimpanzees an opaque puzzle box and they have no idea how to open it, what they will do is they will watch how you open it, and they will follow exactly what you do. If you give, in contrast, chimpanzees a transparent puzzle box and they can kind of figure it out, they just go on the basis of what they know.

The critical question is what I've just told you predicts that humans might do worse at this task, and this is what Vickie Horner and Andy Whiten tested, where they gave these opaque puzzle boxes and transparent puzzle boxes to chimpanzees and children, and they gave them a demonstrator who wasn't a smart demonstrator, but who was doing something dumb. So imagine you see a puzzle box, you don't know how it works, but you see me take a tool, and I probe into the top of the puzzle box in this little opening, and then I use the tool to open up a door in the front and I take candy out. What you do is you then give this to children and chimpanzees. It's an opaque box. They don't know how this works. They do exactly what the human demonstrator did, they probe into the top and use it to open the box.

Now, the critical test is you bring out a transparent box and you can see that the box is just empty. All you can do is open the door and there's the candy. But you see this demonstrated. He painstakingly sticks the tool in the top, opens the thing. What do you do? Well, chimpanzees just cut to the chase. They just open the door and take the food. What do human four year olds do? They slavishly copy exactly what they see the human do. And you might think, well, the kid doesn't want to, you know, annoy the human adult, who's just been teaching them. A graduate student at Yale, Derek Lyons, did a whole variety of controlled conditions to show it's not that the kids think that this is normative. Watching an adult demonstrator has changed the way the kids think about the causal mechanism of this box. They think somehow, I don't know the causal mechanism, but you have to do this thing at the top, or else you can't open it.

This is very profound, and, again, it suggests that in some ways animals, in their noninterference or cross-mental states, might be more rational than us, but I think this provides a powerful mechanism for teaching, a powerful mechanism for the kinds of rewards structures that Fiery has talked about, and potentially a powerful mechanism to solve the chicken and egg problem that I was asking Nick about earlier, which is if we want to know why these crazy things transmit through networks, things like our attitudes, or whether or not we smoke, or whether or not we're obese, and so on, it might be that if we're constantly walking around automatically having interference between other people's attitudes and beliefs, that's a really easy way for just being around some friend to transmit these kinds of things.

All of this stuff I talked to you about at the end has been pretty speculative, but this is exactly the reason I wanted to talk about this stuff in front of you guys. I'm not sure, if you followed John's marching orders, you get deep insight into human nature just yet, but I think these new kinds of findings where we're seeing differences are pointing us to new directions not just in the ways that humans might be unique cognitively, but the way these different cognitive mechanisms might play out in a broader context, allows us to do all kinds of human thinking things, like culture, and so on.

Just to kind of round out the discussion we had last night at dinner, I hope I've posed some interesting new questions for you, given you some zany speculation, and talked to you about some spots where the jury is still out. Thank you.

DENNETT: My bumper sticker these days says, "Competence without Comprehension." The idea is that human comprehension is built up out of competences which are themselves relatively uncomprehending. The Whiten result fits beautifully into that, in that it even permits you to speculate that it's an adaptation for cultural transmission that we ape more than apes do, and this opens the gates for all sorts of advanced techniques that we can acquire, and then have in our toolkit, that we don't yet have to understand. They bring us benefits, and then we can build other things out of them, but we don't require any level of comprehension in order to take them on, and then they can help us develop comprehension later.

SANTOS:  Yes.  Although I think with some of the other over imitation results you might need to amend the bumper sticker to, "Competence, not comprehension, but then later comprehension," because I think the powerful thing about some of these results is not just that the kids followed the behavior, it's that they developed rich causal explanations based on the fact that somebody had an intent to do something. And so the thing that I find most fascinating is it's not just the behavioral transmission, what goes with it when you see an intentional human do something, it's the fact that it must have been done for a reason. There must be this explanation, and kids, based on this social input, are completely willing to override the physics.

One of the powerful results that Derek had is he asked the separate children how this object works, and all of them are sharp enough to exactly know the physics of how this object works. You see a human do a dumb thing on this object, this kind of strange thing that you wouldn't do. All of the kids override what they saw before, not that you just have to do it, but that this is how the object causally works, and they spin a ton of different interesting stories that don't make any physical sense to come up with how this works. So it's not just that you can get these things without comprehension, but seeing it build in a comprehension that may or may not be accurate, based on your knowledge.

CHRISTAKIS: The thing that you're saying now that prompts a thought in me, and it was also prompted by something June said earlier today was, of course, experimentally these are fascinating things, right, to think about the way you're describing them, and the experiments are so fiendishly clever, like it makes me want to switch fields, and do the experiments, and there's so much thought and creativity in making them. And, of course, when we do experiments, we isolate down to particular actions, and so forth.
But maybe it's the case that while it's seemingly "irrational" for the baby to behave this way in this clear puzzle box, in aggregate it's better for the organism to do what the adults do. And, of course, you know, it's like genes and competition, right? I mean you could have, you know, "dysfunctional genes," or emotions earlier we were talking about. I mean there may be ways in which across time it makes no sense for you to be happy when the world is collapsing, when we look at a single packet of time, but maybe on average, in fact, across time maybe it's good for you to feel happy no matter what's happened. I don't know. I'm making it up. But the point is if you expand your horizon maybe it's no longer as crazy. Maybe it's my resistance to not wanting to think that chimps are smarter than I am, but, you know, when you describe it  like they are behaving more rationally, yes, in this particular case, but maybe more generally that's a price we pay for …

SANTOS:  So it makes a prediction about the kind of extended phenotype in which we humans find ourselves in, which is that the social information we get is often pretty accurate …

CHRISTAKIS:  And sometimes we're led astray. Yeah.

SANTOS:  And sometimes we can get led astray. And for the kinds of physical environments where we, at least as modern humans find ourselves in, that's, for sure true, right? If I were just to use my physical intuitions to try to figure out this iPad, I would be completely screwed, but as soon as Josh hits one button and does it, then I have insight into this.

When Derek Lyons talks about some of these results, he always starts his talks with the latest whatever the winning new Rube Goldberg experiment is. He puts that up, and then a coconut, and he says the coconut is the most complicated thing in the chimpanzee world, this is the causal thing that they cannot figure out, whereas we deal with these causal systems that are incredibly complicated. And he chooses Rube Goldberg to say the beauty of these is that you can, with your naive physics, understand all this stuff, but that's the teeniest, tiniest crazy causal system that we have to deal with as humans. We're constantly faced with these causal systems that we just don't have the ability to understand, but other people do.

And I think the interesting thing, the reason I think this relates to Fiery's stuff, is that it might not at least be for complicated causal systems, it might be for elaborate social reward structures, elaborate sets of goals and behaviors that you want to link together, but you, yourself, haven't done yet, and I think we really need to look en mass atthose kinds of cases and ask the question:  Do these kinds of low-level mechanisms work in all these cases, and do they ultimately derive the kinds of smart answers you're talking about?

CHRISTAKIS:  Have you seen that YouTube video that went viral a year or two ago of a little baby, I don't know how old, holding a magazine, like an old-fashioned magazine, and going like this to try make the picture bigger? They have to learn, you know …

SANTOS:  The other thing that you get out of this is the power of your social input, and one of the things you learn if you hang out with toddlers who have access to iPads, it's just how incredibly reinforcing these structures are. I think part of it is that they're reinforcing for that reason that Fiery is talking about, that they're getting incredible social input that this is a reinforcing thing. They see their parents and caregivers around these objects, interacting with them in a way that says this is the more important thing, than any food or anything. They're like the rats that were getting the cocaine except they're like the rats that are getting the iPad. But the key is the kids don't have to do that themselves. The inputs we're providing are getting sucked in in different ways.

KNOBE:  It seemed like the answer you were giving to Nicholas was that what we really want to do is understand the causal structure of some object, but luckily there are people around who already know it. We're just kind of using them as a means to do this other task. But I wonder if there's any evidence for that view as opposed to another possible view that it's not really as crucially important for us to get the right answer about the causal structure of this object. It's just to get along with other people.
What we're really concerned with is not using other people as a means to correctly understand the causal structure of this object, but interacting with other people and working with other people in certain ways, and even if we get the causal structure of the object wrong, if we connect up with other people by doing it the same way they do, and we're better off.

SANTOS:  Right. So if we make really strong cooperators, even if we don't understand how the box works, we still don't get attacked or whatever.

KNOBE:  Suppose I have the option of getting it right, but everyone thinks I'm a weirdo, or getting it wrong, but everyone things I'm good. Maybe I'd be better off getting a wrong answer.

SANTOS:  Yes.  Well, the question is why it has to go with the wrong answer, though, right? So you could imagine a whole set of mechanisms of conformity that didn't go with the competence, plus comprehension, plus comprehension, extra part, right? You could imagine a whole case of conformity that was of the form, "Wow, like Josh is such a weirdo when he's opening the thing that way. I'll open it that way in front of Josh so he won't hate me, but as soon as Josh leaves, like that's it, because I know that that's not the way to do this. I just won't test the waters of being a jerk in terms of my conformity." 

But that doesn't seem to be what kids are doing. So the fact that their causal analysis goes along with [what others do] that suggests that it's not just about relating, or something similar, or setting up your ingroup to do actions in the same way. The fact is that what goes along with it is a rich causal analysis that goes beyond what I think just if we're trying to get long. I mean maybe that might come along for the ride, and so on, but I think we need an extra thing to explain why that part comes, too, and I think that's the nice thing about some of these studies, is that they've kind of controlled for that possibility.

The way Derek did it was really elegant. So a child comes in, and they learn this task. They see the experimenter do things and Derek, as the experimenter, convinces the child that the experiment is totally over. The child is like, oh, the experiment is over, the kid gets their prize, everything is fine. And then Derek convinces the child that some emergency has happened. The emergency is there's a new child there, and we all forgot to check if the object was back in the thing. So somebody needs to open the object as quickly as possible while Derek leaves, and nobody is going to watch, but it's got to be incredibly fast. Nobody is going to watch you, and like it's very, very urgent. Derek runs out of the room, and what you see is not that the child stopped doing the stupid thing, they just do it really fast, and really urgently.  It doesn't seem like it's about just relating. It seems like it's really changing their comprehension, and I'm not sure why you get that, but you do.

CHRISTAKIS:  That's so clever.

Pay no attention to those insurance lobbyists behind the Medicare curtain!

Commentary: 'Grass roots' group says it represents seniors but is really run by health insurers


Source:The Center for Public Integrity

If you go to 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 500, in Washington, D.C. in search of what you’ve been told is the address of a grass roots organization concerned about “cuts” to Medicare, you will likely be surprised what you find there.

You will indeed find an organization that is lobbying hard to keep federal dollars flowing, but it is anything but grass roots.

Ads supposedly sponsored by the Coalition for Medicare Choices started appearing last week on buses and subway trains and on Washington TV stations warning that seniors will face higher costs, fewer benefits and a loss of provider choice if Congress and the Obama Administration don’t take action to keep planned rate cuts from going into effect.
The ads are part of what POLITICO described as “the new seven-figure campaign … that is the group’s biggest mobilization to date for Medicare Advantage,” the alternative to traditional Medicare that is operated by private insurance companies.

The real sponsor of the ads is the real tenant of 601 Pennsylvania Avenue., N.W., Suite 500: America’s Health Insurance Plans, which is one of the best-funded and influential lobbying and PR outfits in the nation’s capital.

As I noted last week, several insurance companies make a boatload of money by participating in the Medicare Advantage program. The Government Accountability Office noted in a recent report that the federal government spent about $135 billion on the Medicare Advantage program in 2012 alone. And much of that was in the form of overpayments that the government has been sending to private insurers for years.

Brian Biles, professor of health policy at George Washington University, explained in testimony before the Senate Committee on Aging last Wednesday that Medicare has paid private plans more than the costs of traditional Medicare since 1997 when Congress authorized extra payments to entice private plans to operate in rural areas. Six years later, those extra payments were extended to just about all private Medicare plans.

Biles testified that those extra payments to Medicare Advantage plans nationwide averaged 13 percent—or $1,100 per enrollee—in 2009. The Congressional Budget Office projected that year that the excess payments would total more than $150 billion over ten years.

As lawmakers were debating health care reform in 2009, they inserted a provision in what became the Affordable Care Act to get rid of those overpayments. Alarmed, AHIP has been hard at work ever since trying to figure out how to keep the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services  (CMS) from carrying out that provision of the law.

And for good reason. Insurers like UnitedHealth and Humana with a substantial number of Medicare Advantage enrollees are able to convert those excess payments into hefty profits. Financial analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated a few years ago that 66 percent of the net income at Humana, where I used to work, came from its Medicare Advantage business.

Not all of that money goes to profits, however. Some of it is used to add benefits like dental and vision and gym memberships, which many seniors enrolled in the plans do indeed value. But another big chunk of the extra payments goes to advertising and sales activities—and to AHIP to finance the group’s lobbying and PR campaigns.

The Coalition for Medicare Choices current campaign is heavy on intimidation, all of it directed toward members of Congress. Under the headline, “Seniors are Watching,” is this warning:

“In 2010, Seniors saw Washington cut Medicare Advantage funding by $200 billion, causing rate cuts that already hurts them. Now more rate cuts are looming. Rate cuts that would mean higher costs, lost benefits and lost provider choices for seniors. As next year’s Medicare Advantage rates are being set, seniors are watching more closely than ever. They don’t want to see any more rate cuts. More than 1.5 million seniors are ready to defend the Medicare Advantage coverage they like and want to keep. They know from experience that seeing is believing.”

That reference to “coverage they like and want to keep” is, of course, a not-so-subtle reference to President Obama’s ill-advised assurance that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

And there was this thinly veiled threat in the POLITICO story from “an insurance industry source familiar with the campaign:”

“If CMS doesn’t keep Medicare Advantage payment rates flat next year, it is going to create a huge political problem for members of Congress this fall when they have to face millions of angry seniors who just found out they are losing benefits and choices they were promised they could keep.”

Translation: AHIP will be behind those huge political problems during the re-election campaigns this fall.

Overdraft fee abuse

Al Jazeera America

Before you swipe your debit card again, you might want to think twice. Overdraft fees have become a huge profit center for consumer banks. How big? Even though banks make only about 5 percent of their total revenue from checking accounts, last year they raked in $32 billion in overdraft fees.
Critics have some serious concerns about overdraft protection, which allows a bank customer to continue withdrawing money from a checking account even if there are no funds left in it. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says overdraft protection can cause the kind of harm that federal consumer-protection laws are designed to prevent. The Pew Charitable Trusts maintains that overdraft protection has the potential to impose hidden, unnecessary and potentially dangerous risks to consumers.

Jacqueline Forde, a mother of two from Brooklyn, N.Y., learned the hard way about the potential dangers of swiping her debit card. “Some months,” she said, “I would have $250 to $300 in overdraft fees for that month alone.” After she paid the overdraft fees, “there really wasn’t enough to even pay the rent.”

Some months I would have $250 to $300 in overdraft fees for that month alone.
Jacqueline Forde
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Forde is not alone. According to the most recent study by the CFPB, Americans continue to rack up overdraft fees, with about 27 percent of all consumer accounts experiencing at least one such fee in 2011. Since mid-2010, federal regulators have required consumers to opt in to overdraft protection for their checking accounts. The feds did that because of worries they had back then about the growth in the fees banks charge for the service, and because of heavy overdraft use by many consumers.

The American Bankers Association said overdraft protection is a “service customers freely elect to have, and it provides peace of mind to know your payments will be covered.” But critics contend that it’s more like a loan with a sky-high interest rate.

Susan Weinstock from Pew said that “according to the FDIC, the typical size of an overdraft is $36. If you then apply the $35 overdraft fee, which is the typical size of the fee that goes on top of that overdraft, and if you spread that out for a year, it would be about 5,000 percent interest. That’s excessive.”

Moreover, many consumers don’t even know they’ve opted in for overdraft protection because the information is often buried in lengthy disclosure agreements. “The form is not very clear,” said Weinstock, “so when you’re opening a new account, the banker is handing you pieces of paper. If you just sign away, you’ve just opted in to the most expensive form of overdraft, which is $35 every time you overdraft. And it can really add up.”

Indeed, in a recent survey by Pew, 54 percent of overdrafters said they did not believe they had opted in to coverage, and 75 percent said they would rather have a transaction declined.

But even more disturbing to critics is how some banks calculate overdraft fees. Consumers might think banks routinely process their checking account transactions in chronological order. However, many banks engage in a practice called “transaction reordering,” in which a customer’s transactions are arranged from the highest to lowest amounts, regardless of which transaction came first. With this method, the account balance is drained more quickly, triggering even more overdraft fees.

Al Jazeera America asked several banks to tell us why they reorder from highest to lowest. Most didn’t respond. But one bank, PNC, did defer to the American Bankers Association, which said that, “for some customers, paying the largest transactions first is important because it ensures that payments like mortgage, rent or credit card bills will be paid.”

Nonetheless, many big financial institutions have been sued for unfair and fraudulent business practices because of this method of “high to low” transaction reordering — and to date at least 14 banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, have settled for more than $800 million. The trial judge in one lawsuit went so far as to say that “the only motives behind the challenged practices were gouging and profiteering,” and that high-to-low transaction reordering is a “trap that would escalate a single overdraft into as many as 10 through the gimmick of processing in descending order.”

However, none of the banks has admitted to any wrongdoing. Wells Fargo opted not to settle and told Al Jazeera, “We don’t believe that the judge’s ruling was in line with the facts of this case or the law, and we have filed an appeal.”

“Banks are allowed to reorder transactions from high to low and maximize overdraft fees,” said Weinstock. “There are no rules that say that they can’t. A lot of the banks have stopped doing this because of litigation. But, in their disclosure agreements, they all say, ‘We reserve the right to change the terms and conditions of this account at any time.’ So, while they’ve stopped doing it now, they could start doing it again at a later date.”

In fact, Pew studied 50 of the nation’s largest banks and found that, as of May 2013, many of those banks were still actively engaged in high-to-low reordering, including Capital One, SunTrust and TD Bank. Capital One and TD did not respond to a written request from Al Jazeera, but SunTrust did confirm that it still processes transactions from the highest to lowest amounts, adding, however, that it doesn’t charge overdraft fees “for any items below $5.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., wants to make banks more accountable and is co-sponsoring a bill that would require more transparency from banks and regulate the overdraft fees they charge.

“Well, right now, without the legislation,” said Maloney, “financial institutions can engage in transaction reordering to their benefit, forcing overdrafts and other deceptive practices that are very costly to consumers. So the legislation is needed to put the force of law behind it.”

However, the bill, despite having 45 co-sponsors, is likely to remain in committee for the time being. Furthermore, the American Bankers Association said in a written statement to Al Jazeera, “We oppose this legislation, which would harm banks and limit consumer choice.”

Maloney disagrees. “What I’ve seen is, oftentimes a consumer will make three, four, five, six small purchases and end up with $300, $400, $500 in overdraft fees. This is unfair. Then they are trapped with interest rates that they have to pay off, that keeps them in a cycle of poverty,” she said.

It’s a lesson Jacqueline Forde has learned all too well. “I’ve had it with these overdraft fees,” she said. “I closed that account. I said, you know, this is enough. I decided to get a bank that is safer, that doesn’t do these type of tricks.”

For now, the CFPB recommends tracking balances carefully and linking checking and savings accounts instead of opting in to costly, and potentially dangerous, overdraft protection plans that could keep consumers on an endless treadmill of high-cost credit.