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Noam Chomsky (2014) "Declining US Hegemony" (Audio)


Texas fracking verdict puts industry on notice about toxic air emissions

A nearly $3 million jury verdict against a Texas oil and gas company highlights regulatory failures and health risks linked to fracking


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Source: The Center for Public Integrity

 
Between February 2010 and July 2011, Lisa and Bob Parr filed 13 complaints about air pollution from gas and oil operations near their ranch in Wise County, Texas. Sometimes they had trouble breathing, they told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). They also experienced nausea, nosebleeds, ringing ears and rashes.
Other families were also alarmed. Between 2008 and 2011, the TCEQ received 77 complaints from Wise County, in the Barnett Shale drilling area in North Texas. One said the odor was so powerful that the complainant “couldn’t go outside,” according to the TCEQ report.

Frustrated and angry, the Parrs decided to sue. Their attorney warned them that lawsuits against the oil and gas industry rarely, if ever, succeed. But the Parrs persisted and last month won what appears to be the first successful U.S. lawsuit alleging that toxic air emissions from oil and gas production sickened people living nearby. A Dallas County jury found that Aruba Petroleum, a privately owned company based in Plano, Texas, “intentionally created a private nuisance” that affected the family's health and awarded the Parrs almost $3 million in damages.

“When you don’t have a strong regulatory system, a system to prevent what happened to this family, the only place left to turn for help is the courts,” said Robert Percival, director of the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Program.

There are no assurances the verdict against Aruba will survive an appeal or lead to regulatory changes in Texas or any of the other states where people complain their health is jeopardized by gas and oil drilling. The issues are so complex that the industry, the public and policy makers may be sorting through them for years.

Aruba has asked Judge Mark Greenberg, who presided over the Parrs’ case, to reverse the jury’s verdict. Greenberg is expected to hear arguments over the verdict in June.
“This case will be looked at very, very closely because it has set the stage in a way that has never been set before,” said attorney Tomas Ramirez. He represents two families in similar lawsuits in the booming Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas, where emissions are raising the same alarms that have been sounding in the heavily developed Barnett Shale region the Parrs call home.

Aruba used two long-standing industry arguments in its defense: That the emissions could have come from one of its competitors’ wells, and that it was in compliance with Texas environmental rules.

The fact that those arguments failed in this case “exposes every company to more possible litigation,” said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law school professor who specializes in environmental and administrative law.

“Losing this case was not good for the industry,” McGarity said. “My guess is the industry will coalesce around this case. The industry will want to stop the dam from breaking wide open … This is where they will take a stand.”

Aruba officials declined requests for interviews but released a statement though a public relations firm that said: “We contended the plaintiffs were neither harmed by the presence of our drilling operations nor was the value of their property diminished because of our natural gas development.”

In a motion to overturn the verdict, company lawyers argued “there is no evidence that Aruba engaged in any conduct intended to cause harm … Aruba’s operations complied with best industry practices and met the standard for a reasonable and prudent oil and gas operator.”

More than 100 wells have been drilled within two miles of the Parrs’ ranch, Aruba pointed out, and only 22 of them are owned by Aruba. On its website, Aruba says it is the fifth-largest of the 117 companies operating in Wise County.

The Parrs’ attorney, Brad Gilde, said TCEQ documents show Aruba repeatedly violated state regulations and in some cases was fined for its offenses.

There was sufficient evidence to support a jury finding that “Aruba either (1) knew an [emissions] invasion was resulting from its conduct, or (2) knew an invasion was substantially certain to result from its conduct,” Gilde said in his response to Aruba’s motion to overturn the verdict.

William Anaya, a Chicago attorney who often represents the oil and gas industry, said the Parrs’ victory is an anomaly and won’t set a precedent that the industry can be held responsible for dangerous emissions.

Oil and gas development is safe and heavily regulated, he said, which is why cases against the industry rarely even make it to court, much less succeed.
“I’m incredulous of the whole thing,” Anaya said.

The Parrs, meanwhile, are trying to sell their 40-acre ranch, which the jury concluded had lost $275,000 in value because of the Aruba facilities. It has been on the market for two years, but so far they’ve had no offers. Their neighbors, Christine and Tim Ruggiero, also sued Aruba, but agreed to an out-of-court settlement. The Ruggieros’ settlement prohibited them from talking publicly about their case, and they declined to be interviewed for this article.

Lisa Parr said she’s constantly stopped at the supermarket, the gas station and her daughter’s school by people who offer their congratulations and thanks. She said she even gets calls from strangers who start out by saying “You don’t know me but … ”
“They want to tell me how happy they are for us,” she said. “And they thank us for fighting … It’s like they are feeling it too, like our win is their win.”

That the case was won in Texas makes the Parrs’ victory especially unusual. A recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel found that Texas politicians often work hand-in-hand with the industry, regulations are lax and little is known about the risks from the toxic soup of emissions the industry releases.

Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including at least one Aruba facility near the Parrs’ house, self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The TCEQ, which regulates most air emissions, doesn't even know some of these facilities exist.
TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw said the agency doesn’t plan to take any concrete action as a result of the lawsuit. Instead, it will continue to enforce existing regulations, he said during a brief interview earlier this month at the TCEQ Environmental Trade Fair and Conference in Austin.

The agency’s business-as-usual attitude doesn’t surprise former TCEQ Commissioner Larry Soward, whose contentious, six-year term ended in 2009.

“TCEQ is so strongly set in their belief that emissions from oil and gas have little or no effect on air quality or human health that they will simply ignore this case,” Soward said. “They are very pro -industry and they will not change their position because of some jury award.”

‘Burning plastic’

The Parrs’ story began in 2008, after Bob Parr married Lisa and brought her and her daughter Emma to live on his ranch near Decatur, 60 miles northwest of Dallas. Parr bought the land in 2001 and built a 2,500-square-foot house in a gentle valley that he hoped would protect it from the tornadoes that often rip across the plains. There were a couple of old oil wells nearby but little else except rolling prairie and clear skies stretching from horizon to horizon.

Like many people in Texas and other parts of the United States, Parr doesn’t own the mineral rights to his land. When he bought the ranch that didn’t seem to be a problem. The drilling boom in the Barnett Shale   hadn’t begun yet. He had no idea his new house was sitting atop one of the nation’s largest gas and oil reserves.

By the time Lisa and Emma moved to the ranch, gas wells had begun encircling the property. A little less than a year later, Lisa Parr said she started coughing and wheezing and noticing a chemical odor “like burning plastic.” She began noting the dates and details of her ailments in a journal.

She filed her first complaint with the TCEQ on Feb. 20, 2010.

The agency assigned the complaint case number 138794. It succinctly summed up Lisa Parr’s grievance:

“The complainant alleged that odors from a natural gas facility were creating a nuisance,” according to a synopsis of the complaint on the TCEQ’s website.

The matter was investigated the same day and closed with an equally succinct note: “No violations were found.”


Inspector saw ‘heavy plumes’ of emissions

The Parrs didn’t know it at the time, but their neighbors on Star Shell Road, the Ruggieros, also had complained about Aruba.

On two occasions the TCEQ dispatched inspectors to two Aruba facilities near the Ruggieros and the Parrs because of odor complaints it received over an 11-day span in January and February 2010. The TCEQ concluded that Aruba had failed to prevent the discharge of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) onto neighboring properties. Many VOCs — including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene — are known to cause the ailments the Parrs had complained about.

The TCEQ fined Aruba $32,500.

In July, the Parrs complained about a third Aruba facility. They said foul odors coming from a wellhead caused “dizziness and caused their nose to burn,” according to the complaint. The Parrs were also worried because three of their chickens had mysteriously died.

A TCEQ investigator arrived about 2½ hours later and began collecting air samples, according to an agency report. Using an infrared camera, he identified "heavy plumes" of emissions wafting from the Aruba facility and toward the Parr house, 280 feet away.

The investigator walked into the plume to obtain a canister sample. Thirty seconds later he “felt the physical effects of dizziness and a sore throat,” the report said. He left immediately.

The TCEQ uses a three-point rating system — major, moderate and minor — to classify the harm caused by a release. The agency classified the Aruba release as “moderate” but decided the incident warranted a vigorous response.

“Due to the seriousness of the alleged violations and the deterrent effect of a district court order” the case was referred to the Texas attorney general’s office, according to a letter the TCEQ sent to Christine Ruggiero.

Aruba paid $108,000 to settle the court case, the third-highest penalty collected in 99 cases that the attorney general’s office prosecuted on behalf of the TCEQ that year.

Evidence key to the attorney general’s case included an analysis of the air samples the TCEQ investigator had taken. It showed concentrations of five VOCs high enough to cause short-term health effects and 20 compounds in amounts high enough to cause long-term health effects, according to the attorney general’s complaint.

The TCEQ’s report on the incident revealed something else: Aruba had been operating the facility without a TCEQ air emissions permit.

‘Our life turned into a nightmare’

In April 2011, the TCEQ discovered that a separate Aruba facility less than a mile from the Parrs’ ranch had spewed 5,383 pounds of VOCs into the air over a 5½-hour period, according to TCEQ records. The emissions accounted for more than 10 percent of the total amount of VOCs the facility was authorized to emit in an entire year.

The accident was caused by a broken valve. The TCEQ fined Aruba nearly $3,000 for failing to operate its equipment properly and for failing to report the incident within 24 hours, as regulations required. At the time, the TCEQ considered Aruba an “average performer” for compliance.

Meanwhile, Lisa Parr’s symptoms were worsening. She saw six doctors, who were baffled by her illnesses. She had oozing welts on her scalp and lumps the size of walnuts on her neck. Bob Parr and Emma suffered from nosebleeds and irritated throats.

“Our life turned into a nightmare,” Lisa Parr said in an interview. “We were deathly sick, scared and didn’t know what to do.”

The Ruggieros continued to complain. But their situation was different. They had reluctantly allowed Aruba on their land after learning that the property’s original owner had retained the surface and mineral rights. But they were shocked when the company erected a drilling rig the length of a football field away from their front window.

“Based upon their actions, Aruba Petroleum appears not to be concerned with our environment or health at all,” Christine Ruggiero wrote to the TCEQ in August 2010. “They chose to place their operations 300 feet from our children, but they refuse to take proactive measures to protect them.”

As the dispute deepened between the Ruggieros and Aruba, Christine began keeping a log of emissions and spills on and near their property. She shared the log with Lisa Parr, who was stunned when she compared the dates of her health crises with the events Christine had documented. Many of the dates matched.

In October 2010, the Ruggerios sued Aruba, complaining that toxic fumes were drifting from a natural gas well the company had drilled near their home. Aruba denied the allegations, saying it had paid the Ruggieros $30,000 to drill two wells on their land and had been a “reasonable and prudent” operator.

Lisa Parr, meanwhile, told one of her doctors what she had learned from Christine Ruggiero’s logbook. He sent her to a specialist who focuses on illnesses triggered by environmental factors, such as polluted air and water. Tests revealed that chemicals in her blood matched chemicals found in the air samples the TCEQ investigator had taken when he responded to her July complaint.

In March 2011, the Parrs filed a lawsuit against Aruba and 10 other companies, claiming the family was “under constant, perpetual, and inescapable assault of Defendants’ releases, spills, emissions, and discharges of hazardous gases, chemicals, and industrial/hazardous wastes.” They sought up to $66 million in damages.
In November, the Ruggieros settled their case with Aruba. They sold their 10-acre property, which they said had been devalued from $257,330 to $75,240, and moved with their 10-year-old daughter to Pilot Point, Texas, about 45 miles away.

“Leaving Gasland is not winning, it’s merely an end to losing,” Tim Ruggiero wrote in a blog post for Earthworks, an environmental organization that opposes hydraulic fracturing, the process that has made it profitable to tap deeply buried shale deposits, like the Barnett and Eagle Ford.

A narrow win

The trial of the Parrs’ lawsuit began on April 7 and lasted two weeks. Both sides called expert witnesses, who offered contradictory opinions on the effects of gas and oil emissions. According to scientists interviewed by InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity, air monitoring in Texas, and across the nation, is so flawed that scientists don’t fully understand how the industry’s emissions affect public health.

One of the experts the Parrs relied on was Paul Rosenfeld, a California-based environmental chemist. He testified that Aruba’s wells contained VOCs capable of causing headaches, nosebleeds, rashes, dizziness — the very symptoms the Parrs had complained about.

An expert witness for Aruba countered by saying that the amounts of VOCs on the Parrs’ property were so small that they couldn’t have affected the family’s health, according to the company’s motion to reverse the verdict.

The deliberations lasted two days. At one point the jurors were deadlocked and told the judge a verdict might not be possible, said David Davis, the jury foreman. The judge ordered them to keep trying.

In an interview with InsideClimate News, Davis said a couple of factors tipped the balance in the Parrs’ favor.

The medical evidence, including Lisa Parr’s blood tests, bolstered the family’s case, said Davis, who was speaking as an individual juror. While that evidence alone wouldn’t have won the case for the Parrs, it gave the jury “something to evaluate that was documented evidence of what the plaintiffs were claiming,” he said.

Testimony by Aruba officials that they had few formal written plans or policies in place to address emissions weighed against the company, Davis said.

“There was a perception, if you are engaged in this activity, you would have written guidelines that would provide consistency and insure you were following the rules and operating within the confines of state regulations,” he said.

In the end, Davis said, jurors applied the letter of the law as laid out in the judge’s instructions. The equation would have been the same if someone were claiming that smoke from a barbecue restaurant was causing a nuisance, he said.

“It was a matter of did A, B and C meet the definition of a nuisance,” Davis said. “I don’t think anybody realized this was a case of significance outside of what it meant to the plaintiffs and defendant … Nobody was defending the industry or backing an environmental cause. It was simply, did the defendant cause the harm alleged by the plaintiff?”

After the evidence and testimony was added up — a process Davis likened to placing grains of sand on a scale until the balance tipped — the Parrs had proven their case.
On April 22, the jury delivered a 5-1 verdict in the Parrs’ favor. Instead of getting the $66 million they had asked for, they got $3 million. Still, it was a victory.

Gilde, their attorney, hopes the verdict will ripple throughout Texas and across the country. He has already been contacted by other families who want to fight the industry’s air pollution.

“The issues in this case are important,” Gilde said. “It means the consequences of toxic emissions cannot be summarily dismissed. The industry will now be made to be more responsible.”

A wake-up call for regulatory change?

In addition to beating Aruba, the Parrs also highlighted weaknesses in Texas’ regulatory system.

That may not sit well in a state smitten by an industry that pumped $7 billion in taxes into the state’s coffers in the last two years.

“Texas has a long reputation of being extremely pro-business,” said Percival, with the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Program. “The message from all parts of the state, including the regulatory agencies, is one of full speed ahead without being sensitive to the concerns of the public.”

Ilan Levin, an Austin-based lawyer with the Environmental Integrity Project, a research and advocacy organization, worries that instead of being a wake-up call for regulatory change, the Parrs’ case could lead state officials and lawmakers to find ways to block citizens from winning similar lawsuits.

Since 2000, the industry has poured nearly $58 million into the campaign coffers of state candidates in Texas, according to an analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

“What we have is a system that is heavily tilted in favor of those who can play the money game,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks money in politics and monitors government ethics.

“The oil companies see the contributions as a good business investment,” she said. “They are making an investment with an expectation of access when they need it.”
Texas legislators have listened to the industry in the past.

In January 2011, with air quality worsening and the federal government beginning to take notice, the TCEQ adopted rules to reduce emissions in the Barnett Shale.

A few months later, however, the legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill that effectively prevented those regulations from being applied statewide. It later weakened the rule again, by narrowing the law to include only 15 of the 24 counties in the Barnett region.

Ramirez, the attorney who represents two families in the Eagle Ford Shale, is studying the Parrs’ case for strategies that could give his clients an extra edge. He’s sure industry lawyers are doing the same thing, to find ways to defeat future lawsuits.

“Each case has its own set of facts that are subject to intense examination during a trial,” Ramirez said. “While one case may look like another, there are so many subtle and distinguishing differences that you can never be sure how it will play out.”

Jim Morris, a managing editor with the Center for Public Integrity, and Lisa Song, a reporter with InsideClimate News contributed to this report, which is part of an ongoing project by the two organizations.

President Obama Speaks to West Point Graduates (Video/Transcript)

 

The President at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony


U.S. Military Academy-West Point
West Point, New York

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  And thank you, General Caslen, for that introduction.  To General Trainor, General Clarke, the faculty and staff at West Point -- you have been outstanding stewards of this proud institution and outstanding mentors for the newest officers in the United States Army.  I’d like to acknowledge the Army’s leadership -- General McHugh -- Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, as well as Senator Jack Reed, who is here, and a proud graduate of West Point himself.

To the class of 2014, I congratulate you on taking your place on the Long Gray Line.  Among you is the first all-female command team -- Erin Mauldin and Austen Boroff.  In Calla Glavin, you have a Rhodes Scholar.  And Josh Herbeck proves that West Point accuracy extends beyond the three-point line.  To the entire class, let me reassure you in these final hours at West Point:  As Commander-in-Chief, I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses.  (Laughter and applause.)  Let me just say that nobody ever did that for me when I was in school.  (Laughter.)

I know you join me in extending a word of thanks to your families.  Joe DeMoss, whose son James is graduating, spoke for a whole lot of parents when he wrote me a letter about the sacrifices you’ve made.  “Deep inside,” he wrote, “we want to explode with pride at what they are committing to do in the service of our country.”  Like several graduates, James is a combat veteran.  And I would ask all of us here today to stand and pay tribute -- not only to the veterans among us, but to the more than 2.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families.  (Applause.)

This is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, a few days after Memorial Day.  You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  (Applause.)  When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq.  We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan.  Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on al Qaeda’s core leadership -- those who had carried out the 9/11 attacks.  And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the landscape has changed.  We have removed our troops from Iraq.  We are winding down our war in Afghanistan.  Al Qaeda’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more.  (Applause.)  And through it all, we’ve refocused our investments in what has always been a key source of American strength:  a growing economy that can provide opportunity for everybody who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home.

In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.  Those who argue otherwise -- who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away -- are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.  Think about it.  Our military has no peer.  The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative.  Each year, we grow more energy independent.  From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations.  America continues to attract striving immigrants.  The values of our founding inspire leaders in parliaments and new movements in public squares around the globe.  And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help.  (Applause.)  So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.  That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.

But the world is changing with accelerating speed.  This presents opportunity, but also new dangers.  We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.  Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors.  From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums.  And even as developing nations embrace democracy and market economies, 24-hour news and social media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation of sectarian conflicts and failing states and popular uprisings that might have received only passing notice a generation ago.

It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.  The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead -- not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.

Now, this question isn’t new.  At least since George Washington served as Commander-in-Chief, there have been those who warned against foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security or economic wellbeing.  Today, according to self-described realists, conflicts in Syria or Ukraine or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve.  And not surprisingly, after costly wars and continuing challenges here at home, that view is shared by many Americans.

A different view from interventionists from the left and right says that we ignore these conflicts at our own peril; that America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America’s failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future.

And each side can point to history to support its claims. But I believe neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment.  It is absolutely true that in the 21st century American isolationism is not an option.  We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders.  If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American cities.  As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.  Regional aggression that goes unchecked -- whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world -- will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military.  We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries.

And beyond these narrow rationales, I believe we have a real stake, an abiding self-interest, in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped and where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political belief.  I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative, it also helps to keep us safe.

But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.  Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences -- without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.  Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.  As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947:  “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.”

Like Eisenhower, this generation of men and women in uniform know all too well the wages of war, and that includes those of you here at West Point.  Four of the servicemembers who stood in the audience when I announced the surge of our forces in Afghanistan gave their lives in that effort.  A lot more were wounded.  I believe America’s security demanded those deployments.  But I am haunted by those deaths.  I am haunted by those wounds.  And I would betray my duty to you and to the country we love if I ever sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.

Here’s my bottom line:  America must always lead on the world stage.  If we don’t, no one else will.  The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership.  But U.S. military action cannot be the only -- or even primary -- component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.  And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader -- and especially your Commander-in-Chief -- to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.

So let me spend the rest of my time describing my vision for how the United States of America and our military should lead in the years to come, for you will be part of that leadership.

First, let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency:  The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it -- when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger.  In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.  International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life.  (Applause.)

On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake -- when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us -- then the threshold for military action must be higher.  In such circumstances, we should not go it alone.  Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action.  We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action.  In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.

This leads to my second point:  For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is na├»ve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy -- drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al Qaeda leadership.  Instead, it comes from decentralized al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.  And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi.  It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi.

So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat -- one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan.

Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al Qaeda core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.  But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job.  And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police.  Earlier this spring, those forces, those Afghan forces, secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history.  And at the end of this year, a new Afghan President will be in office and America’s combat mission will be over.  (Applause.)

Now, that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces.  But as we move to a train-and-advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa.  So, earlier this year, I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.  Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.  And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria.  As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon.  As President, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that is the right decision.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people.  And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.

So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors -- Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq -- as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders.  I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.  And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share to support the Syrian people.

Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism.  The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do -- through capture operations like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice; or drone strikes like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.  There are times when those actions are necessary, and we cannot hesitate to protect our people.

But as I said last year, in taking direct action we must uphold standards that reflect our values.  That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is no certainty -- there is near certainty of no civilian casualties.  For our actions should meet a simple test:  We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.

I also believe we must be more transparent about both the basis of our counterterrorism actions and the manner in which they are carried out.  We have to be able to explain them publicly, whether it is drone strikes or training partners.  I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information to the public about our efforts.  Our intelligence community has done outstanding work, and we have to continue to protect sources and methods.  But when we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion, we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people, and we reduce accountability in our own government.

And this issue of transparency is directly relevant to a third aspect of American leadership, and that is our effort to strengthen and enforce international order.

After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress -- from NATO and the United Nations, to the World Bank and IMF.  These institutions are not perfect, but they have been a force multiplier.  They reduce the need for unilateral American action and increase restraint among other nations.

Now, just as the world has changed, this architecture must change as well.  At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon, “a gradual evolution in human institutions.”  And evolving these international institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership.

Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action.  For them, working through international institutions like the U.N. or respecting international law is a sign of weakness.  I think they’re wrong.  Let me offer just two examples why.

In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe.   But this isn’t the Cold War.  Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.  Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions; NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine.  And this mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.

This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions.  Yesterday, I spoke to their next President.  We don’t know how the situation will play out and there will remain grave challenges ahead, but standing with our allies on behalf of international order working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future without us firing a shot.

Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years.  But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government.  And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully.

The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement -- one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.  And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.

The point is this is American leadership.  This is American strength.  In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge.  Now we need to do more to strengthen the institutions that can anticipate and prevent problems from spreading.  For example, NATO is the strongest alliance the world has ever known.  But we’re now working with NATO allies to meet new missions, both within Europe where our Eastern allies must be reassured, but also beyond Europe’s borders where our NATO allies must pull their weight to counterterrorism and respond to failed states and train a network of partners.

Likewise, the U.N. provides a platform to keep the peace in states torn apart by conflict.  Now we need to make sure that those nations who provide peacekeepers have the training and equipment to actually keep the peace, so that we can prevent the type of killing we’ve seen in Congo and Sudan.  We are going to deepen our investment in countries that support these peacekeeping missions, because having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods lessens the need for us to put our own troops in harm’s way.  It’s a smart investment.  It’s the right way to lead.  (Applause.)

Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict.  We have a serious problem with cyber-attacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens.  In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.  And we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.  That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change -- a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters and conflicts over water and food, which is why next year I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.

You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example.  We can’t exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everybody else.  We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it’s taking place.  We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by our United States Senate, despite the fact that our top military leaders say the treaty advances our national security.  That’s not leadership; that’s retreat.  That’s not strength; that’s weakness.  It would be utterly foreign to leaders like Roosevelt and Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.  But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.  (Applause.)  And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo -- because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence -- because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.  (Applause.)  America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost.  We stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere.

Which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership:  Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.  America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism -- it is a matter of national security.  Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war.  Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.  Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.

A new century has brought no end to tyranny.  In capitals around the globe -- including, unfortunately, some of America’s partners -- there has been a crackdown on civil society.  The cancer of corruption has enriched too many governments and their cronies, and enraged citizens from remote villages to iconic squares.  And watching these trends, or the violent upheavals in parts of the Arab World, it’s easy to be cynical.

But remember that because of America’s efforts, because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military, more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history.  Technology is empowering civil society in ways that no iron fist can control.  New breakthroughs are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.  And even the upheaval of the Arab World reflects the rejection of an authoritarian order that was anything but stable, and now offers the long-term prospect of more responsive and effective governance.

In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests -- from peace treaties with Israel, to shared efforts against violent extremism.  So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.

And meanwhile, look at a country like Burma, which only a few years ago was an intractable dictatorship and hostile to the United States -- 40 million people.  Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.  We’re now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment, through coaxing and, at times, public criticism.  And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot.  American leadership.

In each of these cases, we should not expect change to happen overnight.  That’s why we form alliances not just with governments, but also with ordinary people.  For unlike other nations, America is not afraid of individual empowerment, we are strengthened by it.  We’re strengthened by civil society.  We’re strengthened by a free press.  We’re strengthened by striving entrepreneurs and small businesses.  We’re strengthened by educational exchange and opportunity for all people, and women and girls.  That’s who we are.  That’s what we represent.  (Applause.)

I saw that through a trip to Africa last year, where American assistance has made possible the prospect of an AIDS-free generation, while helping Africans care themselves for their sick.  We’re helping farmers get their products to market, to feed populations once endangered by famine.  We aim to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa so people are connected to the promise of the global economy.  And all this creates new partners and shrinks the space for terrorism and conflict.

Now, tragically, no American security operation can eradicate the threat posed by an extremist group like Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped those girls.  And that’s why we have to focus not just on rescuing those girls right away, but also on supporting Nigerian efforts to educate its youth.  This should be one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development.  They understood that foreign assistance is not an afterthought, something nice to do apart from our national defense, apart from our national security.  It is part of what makes us strong.

Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty.  We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency.  But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be -- a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in a direction of justice.  And we cannot do that without you.

Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare on the quiet banks of the Hudson.  You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim.  You do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces, for in the course of your service you will work as a team with diplomats and development experts.  You’ll get to know allies and train partners.  And you will embody what it means for America to lead the world.

Next week, I will go to Normandy to honor the men who stormed the beaches there.  And while it’s hard for many Americans to comprehend the courage and sense of duty that guided those who boarded small ships, it’s familiar to you.  At West Point, you define what it means to be a patriot.

Three years ago, Gavin White graduated from this academy. He then served in Afghanistan.  Like the soldiers who came before him, Gavin was in a foreign land, helping people he’d never met, putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of his community and his family, of the folks back home.  Gavin lost one of his legs in an attack.  I met him last year at Walter Reed.  He was wounded, but just as determined as the day that he arrived here at West Point -- and he developed a simple goal.  Today, his sister Morgan will graduate.  And true to his promise, Gavin will be there to stand and exchange salutes with her.  (Applause.)

We have been through a long season of war.  We have faced trials that were not foreseen, and we’ve seen divisions about how to move forward.  But there is something in Gavin’s character, there is something in the American character that will always triumph.  Leaving here, you carry with you the respect of your fellow citizens.  You will represent a nation with history and hope on our side.  Your charge, now, is not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just.   As your Commander-in-Chief, I know you will.

May God bless you.  May God bless our men and women in uniform.  And may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Sunday

President Barack Obama Weekly Address May 24, 2014 (Video/Trascript )

 
President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
May 24, 2014
Hi, everybody.  It’s Memorial Day weekend – a chance for Americans to get together with family and friends, break out the grill, and kick off the unofficial start of summer.  More importantly, it’s a time to remember the heroes whose sacrifices made these moments possible – our men and women in uniform who gave their lives to keep our nation safe and free.

From those shots fired at Lexington and Concord more than two centuries ago to our newest generation of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our history shines with patriots who answered the call to serve.  They put their lives on the line to defend the country they loved.  And in the end, many gave that “last full measure of devotion” so that our nation would endure.

Every single one of us owes our fallen heroes a profound debt of gratitude.  Because every time we cast our votes or speak our minds without fear, it’s because they fought for our right to do that.  Every chance we get to make a better life for ourselves and our families is possible because generations of patriots fought to keep America a land of opportunity, where anyone – of any race, any religion, from any background – can make it if they try.  Our country was born out of a desire to be free, and every day since, it’s been protected by our men and women in uniform – people who believed so deeply in America, they were willing to give their lives for it.

We owe them so much.   So this Memorial Day, we’ll gather together, as Americans, to honor the fallen, with both public ceremonies and private remembrances.  And I hope all Americans will take a moment this weekend to think of those who have died in service to our nation.  Say a prayer in their memories and for their families.  Lay a flower where they’ve come to rest.  Reach out to service members, military families or veterans in your community, or families who have lost loved ones, and let them know that their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Most of all, let’s keep working to make sure that our country upholds our sacred trust to all who’ve served.  In recent weeks, we’ve seen again how much more our nation has to do to make sure all our veterans get the care they deserve.  As Commander in Chief, I believe that taking care of our veterans and their families is a sacred obligation.  It’s been one of the causes of my presidency.  And now that we’ve ended the war in Iraq, and as our war in Afghanistan ends as well, we have to work even harder as a nation to make sure all our veterans get the benefits and opportunities they’ve earned.  They’ve done their duty, and they ask nothing more than that this country does ours – now and for decades to come.

Happy Memorial Day, everybody.  May God watch over our fallen heroes.  And may He continue to bless the United States of America.

Tuesday

Our loss of wisdom - practical wisdom -Barry Schwartz (Video/Transcript)

 
Source: TED
In his inaugural address, Barack Obama appealed to each of us to give our best as we try to extricate ourselves from this current financial crisis. But what did he appeal to? He did not, happily, follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, and tell us to just go shopping. Nor did he tell us, "Trust us. Trust your country. Invest, invest, invest." Instead, what he told us was to put aside childish things. And he appealed to virtue. Virtue is an old-fashioned word. It seems a little out of place in a cutting-edge environment like this one. And besides, some of you might be wondering, what the hell does it mean?

Let me begin with an example. This is the job description of a hospital janitor that is scrolling up on the screen. And all of the items on it are unremarkable. They're the things you would expect: mop the floors, sweep them, empty the trash, restock the cabinets. It may be a little surprising how many things there are, but it's not surprising what they are. But the one thing I want you to notice about them is this: even though this is a very long list, there isn't a single thing on it that involves other human beings. Not one. The janitor's job could just as well be done in a mortuary as in a hospital.

And yet, when some psychologists interviewed hospital janitors to get a sense of what they thought their jobs were like, they encountered Mike, who told them about how he stopped mopping the floor because Mr. Jones was out of his bed getting a little exercise, trying to build up his strength, walking slowly up and down the hall. And Charlene told them about how she ignored her supervisor's admonition and didn't vacuum the visitor's lounge because there were some family members who were there all day, every day who, at this moment, happened to be taking a nap. And then there was Luke, who washed the floor in a comatose young man's room twice because the man's father, who had been keeping a vigil for six months, didn't see Luke do it the first time, and his father was angry. And behavior like this from janitors, from technicians, from nurses and, if we're lucky now and then, from doctors, doesn't just make people feel a little better, it actually improves the quality of patient care and enables hospitals to run well.

Now, not all janitors are like this, of course. But the ones who are think that these sorts of human interactions involving kindness, care and empathy are an essential part of the job. And yet their job description contains not one word about other human beings. These janitors have the moral will to do right by other people. And beyond this, they have the moral skill to figure out what "doing right" means.

"Practical wisdom," Aristotle told us, "is the combination of moral will and moral skill." A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule, as the janitors knew when to ignore the job duties in the service of other objectives. A wise person knows how to improvise, as Luke did when he re-washed the floor. Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. A wise person is like a jazz musician -- using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand. A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims. To serve other people, not to manipulate other people. And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born. Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you're serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.

When you ask the janitors who behaved like the ones I described how hard it is to learn to do their job, they tell you that it takes lots of experience. And they don't mean it takes lots of experience to learn how to mop floors and empty trash cans. It takes lots of experience to learn how to care for people. At TED, brilliance is rampant. It's scary. The good news is you don't need to be brilliant to be wise. The bad news is that without wisdom, brilliance isn't enough. It's as likely to get you and other people into trouble as anything else. (Applause)

Now, I hope that we all know this. There's a sense in which it's obvious, and yet, let me tell you a little story. It's a story about lemonade. A dad and his seven-year-old son were watching a Detroit Tigers game at the ballpark. His son asked him for some lemonade and Dad went to the concession stand to buy it. All they had was Mike's Hard Lemonade, which was five percent alcohol. Dad, being an academic, had no idea that Mike's Hard Lemonade contained alcohol. So he brought it back. And the kid was drinking it, and a security guard spotted it, and called the police, who called an ambulance that rushed to the ballpark, whisked the kid to the hospital. The emergency room ascertained that the kid had no alcohol in his blood. And they were ready to let the kid go.

But not so fast. The Wayne County Child Welfare Protection Agency said no. And the child was sent to a foster home for three days. At that point, can the child go home? Well, a judge said yes, but only if the dad leaves the house and checks into a motel. After two weeks, I'm happy to report, the family was reunited. But the welfare workers and the ambulance people and the judge all said the same thing: "We hate to do it but we have to follow procedure."

How do things like this happen? Scott Simon, who told this story on NPR, said, "Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking." And, to be fair, rules are often imposed because previous officials have been lax and they let a child go back to an abusive household. Fair enough. When things go wrong, as of course they do, we reach for two tools to try to fix them.

One tool we reach for is rules. Better ones, more of them. The second tool we reach for is incentives. Better ones, more of them. What else, after all, is there? We can certainly see this in response to the current financial crisis. Regulate, regulate, regulate. Fix the incentives, fix the incentives, fix the incentives ... The truth is that neither rules nor incentives are enough to do the job. How could you even write a rule that got the janitors to do what they did? And would you pay them a bonus for being empathic? It's preposterous on its face. And what happens is that as we turn increasingly to rules, rules and incentives may make things better in the short run, but they create a downward spiral that makes them worse in the long run. Moral skill is chipped away by an over-reliance on rules that deprives us of the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisations. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. And without intending it, by appealing to rules and incentives, we are engaging in a war on wisdom.

Let me just give you a few examples, first of rules and the war on moral skill. The lemonade story is one. Second, no doubt more familiar to you, is the nature of modern American education: scripted, lock-step curricula. Here's an example from Chicago kindergarten. Reading and enjoying literature and words that begin with 'B.' "The Bath:" Assemble students on a rug and give students a warning about the dangers of hot water. Say 75 items in this script to teach a 25-page picture book. All over Chicago in every kindergarten class in the city, every teacher is saying the same words in the same way on the same day. We know why these scripts are there. We don't trust the judgment of teachers enough to let them loose on their own. Scripts like these are insurance policies against disaster. And they prevent disaster. But what they assure in its place is mediocrity. (Applause)

Don't get me wrong. We need rules! Jazz musicians need some notes -- most of them need some notes on the page. We need more rules for the bankers, God knows. But too many rules prevent accomplished jazz musicians from improvising. And as a result, they lose their gifts, or worse, they stop playing altogether.

Now, how about incentives? They seem cleverer. If you have one reason for doing something and I give you a second reason for doing the same thing, it seems only logical that two reasons are better than one and you're more likely to do it. Right? Well, not always. Sometimes two reasons to do the same thing seem to compete with one another instead of complimenting, and they make people less likely to do it.

  I'll just give you one example because time is racing. In Switzerland, back about 15 years ago, they were trying to decide where to site nuclear waste dumps. There was going to be a national referendum. Some psychologists went around and polled citizens who were very well informed. And they said, "Would you be willing to have a nuclear waste dump in your community?" Astonishingly, 50 percent of the citizens said yes. They knew it was dangerous. They thought it would reduce their property values. But it had to go somewhere and they had responsibilities as citizens. The psychologists asked other people a slightly different question. They said, "If we paid you six weeks' salary every year would you be willing to have a nuclear waste dump in your community?" Two reasons. It's my responsibility and I'm getting paid. Instead of 50 percent saying yes, 25 percent said yes. What happens is that the second this introduction of incentive gets us so that instead of asking, "What is my responsibility?" all we ask is, "What serves my interests?" When incentives don't work, when CEOs ignore the long-term health of their companies in pursuit of short-term gains that will lead to massive bonuses, the response is always the same. Get smarter incentives.

The truth is that there are no incentives that you can devise that are ever going to be smart enough. Any incentive system can be subverted by bad will. We need incentives. People have to make a living. But excessive reliance on incentives demoralizes professional activity in two senses of that word. It causes people who engage in that activity to lose morale and it causes the activity itself to lose morality.

Barack Obama said, before he was inaugurated, "We must ask not just 'Is it profitable?' but 'Is it right?'" And when professions are demoralized, everyone in them becomes dependent on -- addicted to -- incentives and they stop asking "Is it right?" We see this in medicine. ("Although it's nothing serious, let's keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't turn into a major lawsuit.") And we certainly see it in the world of business. ("In order to remain competitive in today's marketplace, I'm afraid we're going to have to replace you with a sleezeball.") ("I sold my soul for about a tenth of what the damn things are going for now.") It is obvious that this is not the way people want to do their work.

So what can we do? A few sources of hope: we ought to try to re-moralize work. One way not to do it: teach more ethics courses. (Applause) There is no better way to show people that you're not serious than to tie up everything you have to say about ethics into a little package with a bow and consign it to the margins as an ethics course.

What to do instead? One: Celebrate moral exemplars. Acknowledge, when you go to law school, that a little voice is whispering in your ear about Atticus Finch. No 10-year-old goes to law school to do mergers and acquisitions. People are inspired by moral heroes. But we learn that with sophistication comes the understanding that you can't acknowledge that you have moral heroes. Well, acknowledge them. Be proud that you have them. Celebrate them. And demand that the people who teach you acknowledge them and celebrate them too. That's one thing we can do.

I don't know how many of you remember this: another moral hero, 15 years ago, Aaron Feuerstein, who was the head of Malden Mills in Massachusetts -- they made Polartec -- The factory burned down. 3,000 employees. He kept every one of them on the payroll. Why? Because it would have been a disaster for them and for the community if he had let them go. "Maybe on paper our company is worth less to Wall Street, but I can tell you it's worth more. We're doing fine."

  Just at this TED we heard talks from several moral heroes. Two were particularly inspiring to me. One was Ray Anderson, who turned -- (Applause) -- turned, you know, a part of the evil empire into a zero-footprint, or almost zero-footprint business. Why? Because it was the right thing to do. And a bonus he's discovering is he's actually going to make even more money. His employees are inspired by the effort. Why? Because there happy to be doing something that's the right thing to do. Yesterday we heard Willie Smits talk about re-foresting in Indonesia. (Applause)

  In many ways this is the perfect example. Because it took the will to do the right thing. God knows it took a huge amount of technical skill. I'm boggled at how much he and his associates needed to know in order to plot this out. But most important to make it work -- and he emphasized this -- is that it took knowing the people in the communities. Unless the people you're working with are behind you, this will fail. And there isn't a formula to tell you how to get the people behind you, because different people in different communities organize their lives in different ways.

So there's a lot here at TED, and at other places, to celebrate. And you don't have to be a mega-hero. There are ordinary heroes. Ordinary heroes like the janitors who are worth celebrating too. As practitioners each and every one of us should strive to be ordinary, if not extraordinary heroes. As heads of organizations, we should strive to create environments that encourage and nurture both moral skill and moral will. Even the wisest and most well-meaning people will give up if they have to swim against the current in the organizations in which they work.

  If you run an organization, you should be sure that none of the jobs -- none of the jobs -- have job descriptions like the job descriptions of the janitors. Because the truth is that any work that you do that involves interaction with other people is moral work. And any moral work depends upon practical wisdom.

  And, perhaps most important, as teachers, we should strive to be the ordinary heroes, the moral exemplars, to the people we mentor. And there are a few things that we have to remember as teachers. One is that we are always teaching. Someone is always watching. The camera is always on. Bill Gates talked about the importance of education and, in particular, the model that KIPP was providing: "Knowledge is power." And he talked about a lot of the wonderful things that KIPP is doing to take inner-city kids and turn them in the direction of college.

  I want to focus on one particular thing KIPP is doing that Bill didn't mention. That is that they have come to the realization that the single most important thing kids need to learn is character. They need to learn to respect themselves. They need to learn to respect their schoolmates. They need to learn to respect their teachers. And, most important, they need to learn to respect learning. That's the principle objective. If you do that, the rest is just pretty much a coast downhill. And the teachers: the way you teach these things to the kids is by having the teachers and all the other staff embody it every minute of every day.

Obama appealed to virtue. And I think he was right. And the virtue I think we need above all others is practical wisdom, because it's what allows other virtues -- honesty, kindness, courage and so on -- to be displayed at the right time and in the right way. He also appealed to hope. Right again. I think there is reason for hope. I think people want to be allowed to be virtuous.

In many ways, it's what TED is all about. Wanting to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. This kind of wisdom is within the grasp of each and every one of us if only we start paying attention. Paying attention to what we do, to how we do it, and, perhaps most importantly, to the structure of the organizations within which we work, so as to make sure that it enables us and other people to develop wisdom rather than having it suppressed.
 
 Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause)
 
 Chris Anderson: You have to go and stand out here a sec.
 
 Barry Schwartz: Thank you very much. (Applause)