President Barack Obama Weekly Address May 23, 2015 (Video/Trascript )

President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
May 23, 2015 
Hi, everybody.  This weekend is Memorial Day—a time to pay tribute to all our men and women in uniform who’ve ever given their lives so that we can live in freedom and security.  This year, the holiday is especially meaningful.  It’s the first Memorial Day since our war ended in Afghanistan. 

On Monday, at Arlington Cemetery, I’ll join our Gold Star families, veterans, and their loved ones to remember all our fallen heroes, including the more than 2,200 American patriots who gave their lives in Afghanistan.  And I plan to share a few of their stories.

Growing up in Arizona, Wyatt Martin loved the outdoors.  To him, a great day was a day spent fishing.  After high school, he enlisted in the Army because he believed that the blessings he enjoyed as an American came with an obligation to give back to his country.

Ramon Morris was born in Jamaica, and as a teenager came to Queens.  Like so many proud immigrants, he felt a calling to serve his new country and joined the Army.  He fell in love, got engaged, and the thing he wanted most was to make the world safer for his three-year-old daughter.

In their lives, Specialist Wyatt Martin and Sergeant First Class Ramon Morris travelled different paths.  But in December, their paths intersected as the final two Americans to give their lives during our combat mission in Afghanistan.

This weekend also reminds us that, around the world, our men and women in uniform continue to serve and risk their lives.  In Afghanistan, our troops now have a new mission—training and advising Afghan forces.  John Dawson was one of them.  From Massachusetts, he loved the Bruins and the Pats.  In April, he gave his life as an Army combat medic—the first American to give his life in this new mission.  This Memorial Day, we’ll honor Corporal Dawson as well.

Like generations of heroes before them, these Americans gave everything they had—not for glory, not even for gratitude, but for something greater than themselves.  We cannot bring them back.  Nor can we ease the pain of their families and friends who live with their loss. 

But we are the Americans they died to defend.  So what we can do—what we must do—is fulfill our sacred obligations to them, just like they fulfilled theirs to us.  We have to honor their memory.  We have to care for their families, and our veterans who served with them.  And as a nation, we have to remain worthy of their sacrifice—forever committed to the country they loved and the freedom they fought for and died for.

Thank you, have a wonderful weekend, and may God bless our fallen heroes and their families.


This Is My Vision Of "Life" (Video/Transcript)

  Richard Dawkins 
Introduction by:John Brockman

Natural selection is about the differential survival of coded information which has power to influence its probability of being replicated, which pretty much means genes. Coded information, which has the power to make copies of itself—“replicator”—whenever that comes into existence in the universe, it potentially could be the basis for some kind of Darwinian selection. And when that happens, you then have the opportunity for this extraordinary phenomenon which we call "life".

My conjecture is that if there is life elsewhere in the universe, it will be Darwinian life. I think there's only one way for this hyper complex phenomenon which we call "life" to arise from the laws of physics. The laws of physics—if you throw a stone up in the air, it describes a parabola, and that's it. But biology, without ever violating the laws of physics, does the most extraordinary things; it produces machines which can run, and walk, and fly, and dig, and swing through the trees, and think, and produce the whole of human technology, human art, human music. This all comes about because at some point in history, about 4 billion years ago, a replicating entity arose, not a gene as we would now see it, but something functionally equivalent to a gene, which because it had the power to replicate and the power to influence its own probability of replicating, and replicated with slight errors, gave rise to the whole of life.

If you ask me what my ambition would be, it would be that everybody would understand what an extraordinary, remarkable thing it is that they exist, in a world which would otherwise just be plain physics. The key to the process is self-replication. The key to the process is that ... let's call them "genes" because nowadays they pretty much all are genes. Genes have different probabilities of surviving. The ones that survive, because they have such high fidelity replication, are the ones which we see in the world, the ones which dominate gene pools in the world. So for me, the replicator, the gene, DNA, is absolutely key to the whole process of Darwinian natural selection. So when you ask the question, what about group selection, what about higher levels of selection, what about different levels of selection, everything comes down to gene selection. Gene selection is fundamentally what is really going on.

Originally these replicating entities would have been floating free and just replicating in the primeval soup, whatever that was. But they “discovered” a technique of ganging together into huge robot vehicles, which we call individual organisms. An individual organism is a unit of selection in a different sense from the replicator being a unit of selection. The replicator is the unit of selection which strictly is the thing that becomes either more numerous or less numerous in the world. Nowadays we say more numerous or less numerous in the gene pool, and that's modern post-Darwin language.

But because the individual organism is such a salient unit in which these replicators, these genes, have ganged up together, we as biologists tend to see the individual organism as the unit of action. The individual organism is the thing that has legs or wings, it has eyes, it has teeth, it has instincts. It's the thing that actually does something. And so it's natural for biologists to phrase their questions of purpose, of pseudo-purpose at the level of the organism. They see the organism as striving for something, working for something, struggling to achieve something.

What's it struggling to achieve? Well, for Darwin it was struggling to achieve survival and reproduction. Nowadays we would say it's struggling to achieve replication of the genes inside it. And this all comes about because, well, one way of putting it, and I've often put it like this, is to say look backwards at the ancestors of all modern animals, any animals, any time, and you can that the individual is descended from an unbroken line of successful ancestors, an unbroken line of individuals which succeeded in surviving and reproducing. What that really means is they succeeded in passing on the genes that built them. So we are conduits for the genes that pass through us. We are temporary survival machines. Everything about biology can be understood in this way. Everything about biology can be understood if you say that what's really going on is differential replicator survival—gene survival in gene pools—and the way in which they do it is by controlling phenotypes. And those phenotypes in practice are nearly all bundled up into these discrete bodies, individual organisms.
If ever there is a bundle of replicators, a bundle of genes, which passes on its genes to the next generation in a single propagule (we do that: we pass on our genes in sperms or eggs) that means that all the genes in a body, in a mammal body, in a vertebrate body, in an animal body, a normal animal with sexual reproduction. Because all the genes in that body have the identical expectation of getting into future generations, namely leaving the present body in a sperm or an egg, that means that all the genes in a body are pulling for the same end. They all have the same goal.

If they didn't (and some of them might not: viruses, for example, have a different goal of being sneezed out, or being spat out, or whatever it might be) they, of course, are quite different, and they do not cooperate with the rest of the genes in the body. But all the genes that have the same expectation of the future, the same expectation of leaving the present body and getting into the next body, they cooperate. They work together. That's why bodies are such coherent wholes. That's why all the limbs and all the sense organs work together. It's simply because all the genes that built them have the same exit route to the next generation. The minority that don't, things like viruses, they have a different exit route, and they don't cooperate, and they may kill you.

Although it's true that the great majority of survival machines are actually discrete organisms, that doesn't necessarily have to be the case, and if genes can influence phenotypes that are outside the body, then they will do so. This is the extended phenotype. The simplest sort of extended phenotype would be an artifact like a bird's nest. So a bird's nest is an organ, it's an organ in just the same sense as a heart or a kidney is an organ, but it just happens to be outside the body and it happens to be made of grass and sticks rather than being made of the cells that contain the genes. But nevertheless, it's a phenotype, which is produced by the animal's nervous system, working through nest-building behavior. And it does exactly the same kind of thing, namely preserve the genes in the form of eggs and chicks, as organs of the body, like kidneys and livers and muscles.

The next kind of extended phenotype that I talk about is hosts of parasites, because there are these spectacular examples, which Dan Dennett is fond of quoting. For example, of parasites which influence their hosts in order to get into the next host. A host body to a parasite gene is like a bird's nest. It's influenced by the genes. We don't normally put it that way. We normally say that the parasite, the fluke, or whatever it is, the whole fluke influences the whole snail to get itself passed on.

But, in fact, if you think at the genetic level, the genes are influencing the fluke's phenotype, which, in turn, influences the snail's phenotype to enhance the propagation of the fluke's genes into the next generation. So there's no reason to draw a line around the fluke's body and say, well, outside that is no longer proper phenotype. It is proper phenotype, it's just that you have to think outside the box ... in this case outside the fluke ... in order to get the true relationship between genes and phenotypes.

And then generalizing further, a cuckoo in a nest influences the behavior of its host by various stimuli, by having a bright red beak, and squawking in the right way and so on. And once again, just as the fluke influences the snail to get itself passed on to the next generation, the cuckoo influences the reed warbler to get itself, to get its genes passed on to the next generation. And the change in reed warbler behavior can properly be regarded as phenotypic expression of cuckoo genes.

My vision of life is that everything extends from replicators, which are in practice DNA molecules on this planet. The replicators reach out into the world to influence their own probability of being passed on. Mostly they don't reach further than the individual body in which they sit, but that's a matter of practice, not a matter of principle. The individual organism can be defined as that set of phenotypic products which have a single route of exit of the genes into the future. That's not true of the cuckoo/reed warbler case, but it is true of ordinary animal bodies. So the organism, the individual organism, is a deeply salient unit. It's a unit of selection in the sense that I call a "vehicle".

There are two kinds of unit of selection. The difference is a semantic one. They're both units of selection, but one is the replicator, and what it does is get itself copied. So more and more copies of itself go into the world. The other kind of unit is the vehicle. It doesn't get itself copied. What it does is work to copy the replicators which have come down to it through the generations, and which it's going to pass on to future generations. So we have this individual / replicator dichotomy. They're both units of selection, but in different senses. It's important to understand that they are different senses. 

Now, because the individual organism is such a salient unit, biologists after Darwin got into the habit of seeing the organism as the unit of action, and therefore they asked the question, what is the organism maximizing? What mathematical function is the organism maximizing? Fitness is the answer. So fitness was coined as a mathematical expression of that which the organism is maximizing. Of course, what fitness really is, or what it ought to be if we understand it properly, is gene survival. For a long time fitness was equated in people's minds with reproduction, with having a large number of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Bill Hamilton and others, but mostly Bill Hamilton, realized that you had to generalize that because, if what's really going on is working to pass on genes, offspring, grandchildren, et cetera, are not the only ways of passing on genes. An organism can work to enhance the survival and reproduction of its siblings, its nephews, its nieces, its cousins and so on. Hamilton worked out the mathematics of that.

I think it was unfortunate that Hamilton, having realized this very important insight, chose to stick with the individual organism as the entity of action. He therefore coined the phrase "inclusive fitness", as the mathematical function which an individual organism will maximize if what it's really doing is maximizing its gene survival. It's a rather complicated thing to calculate. It's difficult to calculate in practice and this has led to a certain amount of, not hostility, but a certain amount of skepticism about inclusive fitness as a measure, skepticism which I share. But for me the remedy of that skepticism is to say, well, forget about the organism and concentrate on the gene itself. Ask yourself (as Hamilton also did) ask yourself, if I were a gene, what would I do to maximize my propagation into the future? Hamilton did that, but he also, I think, later took a sort of false trail (it's strictly correct but not helpful) by saying if I'm an individual, what would I do to maximize my gene survival? Both ways of phrasing it are correct, they're both correct if you can get the calculation right, but one of them is rather harder to do. If you're trying to do intuitive Darwinism, if you're trying to work out what would you expect to happen in the world, I think it's better to ask the question, what would I do if I were a gene, rather than what would I do if I were an elephant?

In both cases this is a personification. Nobody really thinks that either genes or elephants scratch their heads and think, what would I do; but it's a useful trick, a useful dodge when you're trying to get the right answer as a field biologist in the Serengeti. It's a useful trick to say what would I do if I was a ... and you could fill in the end of that sentence by saying either if I was a gene or if I was an elephant. And you'll get the right answer if in the gene case you concentrate on self-replication and if in the elephant case, you concentrate on passing on genes. So we have these two logically equivalent ways of expressing what's going on in Darwinism. Both of them Hamilton used. There is the what-would-I-do-if-I-was-the-gene way of doing it, and there's the what-would-I-do-if-I-was-an-elephant-or-an-aardvark way of doing it and they're both correct. I think some of the opposition to Hamilton, which has recently surfaced, is because people have realized that inclusive fitness is not a very practical way of doing things. It's a difficult thing to calculate. And my suggestion would be (and I actually said this to Hamilton) my suggestion would be to abandon inclusive fitness and to concentrate instead on personification of the gene and then you'll get the right answer.

George C. Williams in 1966 wrote a brilliant book, Adaptation and Natural Selection, roughly at the same time as Hamilton was working, and they both tumbled to the same truth, which is that what's really going on in natural selection is survival of genes. Williams was eloquent on this. Williams said things like, Socrates may have had any number of children, we don't know that, but what Socrates really passed on, if he passed on anything, was genes. It's genes that pass through the generations. And so whenever you're talking about teleonomy, whenever you're talking about the pseudo-purpose, which is what we see in life, what's it for, what's the adaptation for, who benefits, cui bono, whenever you ask that question you should be looking at the level of the gene. Williams realized that, Hamilton realized that.

In The Blind Watchmaker, I wanted to get across the idea that cumulative selection can give rise to immense complexity and dramatic changes. So I wrote a computer program for the Macintosh, which presented on the screen a range of phenotypes which were built by an algorithm which I called its embryology, which was actually a tree-growing algorithm. And the shape of the tree was governed by genes. There were nine genes I think in the first version, and so what the user saw on the screen was a "parent", as I called them, in the middle, and eight [actually fourteen, misremembered as eight in the interview] other biomorphs around it were the offspring. They were built by genes which were nine numbers. The genes could mutate by either having a small amount added to their value or a small amount subtracted from their value. So all the nine biomorphs looked a bit different, were obviously descended from the same parent, but they were a little bit different. And you could choose with a mouse which one to breed from, it glided to the center of the screen, produced fourteen offspring and so on. It went on and on through generation after generation. You could breed anything you like. It was a most extraordinary experience to breed massively different shapes from the original by gradual degrees, and they came out looking like insects, and flowers and all sorts of things.

I'm pleased to note that although I’d thought I’d lost these biomorphs, because modern Macs don’t run the software that old Macs do ... a wonderful man called Alan Canon in Kentucky wrote to me and said he wanted to revive them. So I sent him all my old Pascal code, which would no longer run, and he’s now hard at work producing phoenix from the ashes—my old programs—and I’m simply delighted by this.

I then went to the Artificial Life Conference, organized by Chris Langton, and I gave a talk called "The Evolution of Evolvability", which I think was the first time the phrase had ever been used, and it's being used quite a lot.

The original biomorph program had nine genes. I then later enlarged it to 16 genes. I added genes that did things like segmentation, that had biomorphs that were arranged serially along the body like a centipede which has lots of different segments, or like a lobster which has lots of segments, but each segment can be a little bit different. I had genes that had symmetries of various kinds. So I increased the number of genes from nine to sixteen and the repertoire of biomorphs that became possible to breed then dramatically increased. It was still limited, but nevertheless it increased. And it occurred to me that this was a good metaphor for radical changes in embryology that happened at certain important times in evolution. For example, I just mentioned segmentation. The very first segmented animal had some kind of major mutation, which gave it two segments instead of one, I'm guessing. It may have been three. It can't have had just one and a half segments. There must have been at least two. It duplicated everything about the body. If you look at the body of an earthworm or a centipede, it's like a train, like a truck. Each truck is similar to the neighboring trucks and may be identical.

Before the origin of segmentation in the ancestors of earthworms, or the ancestors of centipedes, the ancestors of vertebrates, animals must have evolved as just one single segment, and they would have evolved in the same sort of way as my biomorphs did when they had only nine genes. Then the first segmented animal was born. It must have been radically different from its parents. This must have been a major mutation. And as soon as the first segmented animal was born with two segments, the same as each other, probably ... it wasn't a difficult thing to do in one sense because all the embryological machinery to make one segment was already there. And so to double it would have been obviously a major step. Nevertheless, all the machinery is there. It's not like inventing a whole new organ, like an eye. That cannot happen. It's got to happen by gradual cumulative selection, which is the main message of The Blind Watchmaker. But once you've got the machinery to make an eye, or to make a vertebra, or to make a heart or anything like that, you could make two because the machinery is already there. That's what segmentation is.

And so when segmentation was invented by some kind of macro mutation, a whole new flowering of evolution became possible and vertebrates, arthropods, annelids, all exploit this new embryological trick of segmentation. And I illustrated this with my biomorphs because when I added the segmentation gene for the macro mutation, which I actually had to program in, when I added it, it meant that a whole new flowering of morphology could appear on the screen. You could evolve much more exciting animals because segmentation was there. Similarly with the genes for symmetry. I had genes doing kind of mirror image morphology in two different planes. And immediately I started being able to breed things like flowers, butterflies, beautiful creatures.

The evolution of evolvability, then, is an evolutionary change which makes a radical alteration in embryology, and that opens up floodgates of further evolution which were not possible before. Segmentation is one example, sex may be another one. Torsion in mollusks may be another one. These are major changes, which I think are rare. They may happen once every 100 million years, but there's kind of normal evolution which goes on by the normal cumulative, slow, gradual process that we mostly teach about. But every now and again I suspect there's a major jump, a macro mutation which opens up new floodgates, and segmentation would be the best example. I was really led to think about this by the addition of seven more genes to my original nine gene biomorph, and that's what I talked about at Chris Langton's Artificial Life Conference, and I called it "The Evolution of Evolvability".

I incorporated these ideas of evolution evolvability in Climbing Mount Improbable, which is a bit similar to The Blind Watchmaker, but has a lot more in it. And by then I'd added a whole lot more genes, in this case introducing colors, and we now have color biomorphs. And perhaps rather more interestingly, I teamed up with Ted Kaehler. He was one of Apple's star programmers. I met him at the Artificial Life Conference. And after that we collaborated on a new project which I called "Arthromorphs", which was somewhat similar to biomorphs, but with a totally different kind of embryology, and much more based upon segmentation, and much more based upon especially arthropod segmentation. And the arthromorph program didn't require the programmer, namely me, to introduce the new watershed changes, the new macro mutations which led to new flowerings of evolution. It happened internally, it happened in the computer. They really were macro mutations. That was a big step in my use of computers in both understanding and teaching about evolution.
One of the things that I've always done is not make a clear separation between books that are aimed at popularizing, books that are aimed at explaining things to other people, and books that explain things to myself, or explain things to my scientific colleagues. I think the separation between doing science and popularizing science has been overdone. And I have found that the exercise of explaining to other people, which I suppose I've been fairly successful at, is greatly helped by the fact that I first have to explain it to myself. And explaining it to myself ... the biomorph program, which I originally wrote to explain to students, and I used them in student practicals ... led me to think anew for myself, stimulated me to understand much better about evolution, stimulated me to understand about the evolution of evolvability in a way that I haven't before.
Nobody knows whether there's life elsewhere in the universe. I think there probably is. The number of stars in the universe is something like 1022, and most of them have probably got planets. It would be pretty astonishing if we were unique. It would go against the lessons of history, you know, we're not the center of the universe, et cetera. Science fiction writers try to speculate about what life elsewhere might be like. I have one contribution to make, which is that I think however weird, and alien, and strange, and different life elsewhere might be, we can say one thing about it, which is that it will be, if we discover it, it will turn out to be Darwinian life.

I think there's only one way for the lead of pure physics to be transmuted into the gold of complex life, and that is differential replicator survival, which is Darwinism in its most general sense. So I would stick my neck out and say that when and if we ever discover life elsewhere in the universe, it will be Darwinian, it will be based upon something like DNA, probably not DNA, but something like DNA in the sense of an ultra-high fidelity, self-replicating coding system with the capability of producing great variety, which is what DNA does. So what I call universal Darwinism is the doctrine, almost, the one thing we know about life everywhere, is that it's Darwinian life.

I gave a talk called "Universal Darwinism" at one of the Darwin Centenary Conferences, the one in Cambridge, and I based it upon looking at all the alternatives that someone might have suggested like Lamarckism, inheritance of acquired characteristics, the principle of use and disuse. The point I tried to make is that contrary to what most biologists have said, the thing that's wrong with Lamarckism is not just that it doesn't work in practice, that acquired characteristics are not as a matter of fact inherited. There are biologists, including Ernst Mayr who have said Lamarck's theory is a fine theory, but unfortunately acquired characteristics are not inherited. The point I made was that even if they were inherited, the Lamarckian theory is nothing like a big enough theory to do the job of producing complex adaptations. Lamarckian theory depends upon use and disuse. The more we use our muscles, the bigger they get. That's fine, that happens, and then inheritance of acquired characteristics, you pass on your bigger muscles to your children. Ernst Mayr said that's a perfectly good theory. The only trouble is it doesn't work because acquired characteristics are not inherited, which of course, is true.

But the point I was making was that even if it was true, the principle wouldn't work to produce real interesting biological evolution. Muscles are fine, that's one thing that does grow bigger when you use them. But something like an eye, the delicate focusing mechanism of the eye, the transparency of the eye, the huge number of light-sensitive cells, three different color coding and so on, that doesn't come about by use and disuse. The more you use your eyes, they don't become more (the lens doesn't become more transparent as photons wash through it. The eyes become better because every single tiny mutation that improves the eye. As Darwin said, nature is daily and hourly scrutinizing. So every little tiny change, no matter how deeply buried in internal cellular biochemistry it is, if it has any effect whatever on survival and reproduction, natural selection will pick it up. The Lamarckian principle will work only for very, very crude growth, things like muscles getting bigger when you use them.

As we look around the world in which we live, what we see is stupefyingly complicated manmade machines like this camera that you're filming with, this recording machine, this computer, cars, ships, planes. These are not produced directly by natural selection, these are produced by human ingenuity, by human brains working together. No one human can make a Boeing 747. I mean, this is a cooperative enterprise involving lots of humans, involving lots of computers. It's a fantastic extension of the Darwinian substrate. So the principles that give rise to the very strong design of a plane, or a car, or a computer, these all come from human brains. But that's not the ultimate explanation. The human brains themselves have to come from Darwinian natural selection. So if we go to other planets and discover extremely complicated technology, that technology itself will be the direct product of Darwinian selection, but it will be the product, ultimately, of Darwinian selection of the brains ... whatever they call them on that planet. It's arguable that something ... this is a different kind of argument now ... it's arguable that something like Darwinism does go on in human technology: that when a human designer is designing on the drawing board, he designs something, doesn't like it, tosses it in the bin, gets a fresh bit of paper, designs a slight variation of it and so on. There might be a Darwinian element to that. That's not what I'm saying.

I'm saying that a wholly new, at least partly new, kind of design came into the world when human brains started to exercise ingenuity, especially social ingenuity, cultural ingenuity. But the ultimate source of that is evolved brains, and the evolved brains have to come about by some version of Darwinian selection, which on other planets might be very different, but it will still be, I conjecture, I bet my shirt on it being Darwinian.


What Went Wrong - Assessing Obama’s legacy


A political virtuoso . . . might write a manifesto suggesting a general assembly at which people should decide upon a rebellion, and it would be so carefully worded that even the censor would let it pass. At the meeting itself he would be able to create the impression that his audience had rebelled, after which they would all go quietly home — having spent a very pleasant evening.
— Kierkegaard, The Present Age

Any summing-up of the Obama presidency is sure to find a major obstacle in the elusiveness of the man. He has spoken more words, perhaps, than any other president; but to an unusual extent, his words and actions float free of each other. He talks with unnerving ease on both sides of an issue: about the desirability, for example, of continuing large-scale investment in fossil fuels. Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled twice by what followed — there must be millions of us — will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received. Yet we are held back by an admonitory intuition. His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.

Source: Harper' Magazine

"Irresponsible & Reckless": Environmentalists Decry Obama’s Approval for Shell Drilling in Arctic (Video/Transcript)

Source:Democracy Now

The Obama administration has tentatively approved Shell’s plans to begin oil extraction off the Alaskan coast this summer. Federal scientists estimate the Arctic region contains up to 15 billion barrels of oil, and Shell has long fought to drill in the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea. Environmentalists warn Arctic drilling will pose a risk to local wildlife and exacerbate climate change. They fear that a drilling accident in the icy Arctic Ocean waters could prove far more devastating than the deadly 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill since any rescue operations could be delayed for months by harsh weather conditions. We speak to Subhankar Banerjee. He is a renowned photographer, writer and activist who has spent the past 15 years working for the conservation of the Arctic and raising awareness about indigenous human rights and climate change. He is editor of the anthology, "Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Obama administration has tentatively approved Shell’s plans to begin oil extraction off the Alaskan coast this summer. Federal scientists estimate the Arctic region contains up to 15 billion barrels of oil, and Shell has long fought to drill in the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea.

AMY GOODMAN: Environmentalists warn Arctic drilling will pose a risk to local wildlife and exacerbate climate change. They fear a drilling accident in the icy Arctic Ocean waters could prove far more devastating than the deadly 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, since any rescue operations could be delayed for months by harsh weather conditions. Speaking to KTUU, Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society denounced the government’s decision to greenlight oil exploration.
LOIS EPSTEIN: Their record from 2012 drilling in the Arctic Ocean was a disaster, by anyone’s measure. One of their of drill rigs grounded near Kodiak. There were fires. There were criminal penalties for air pollution violations.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C.—Washington state, where we’re joined by Subhankar Banerjee. He’s a renowned photographer, writer and activist who’s spent the past 15 years working for the conservation of the Arctic and raising awareness about indigenous human rights and climate change, editor of the anthology, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point. His recent piece for TomDispatch is called "To Drill or Not to Drill, That is the Question." In 2012, he won a Cultural Freedom Award from the Lannan Foundation.

Subhankar Banerjee, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the Obama administration decision and what this means for the Arctic?

SUBHANKAR BANERJEE: The decision is both irresponsible and reckless. But let me clarify something at the beginning. What the administration has approved now is the exploration plans for Shell to drill this summer, starting from July to October. But this is not the—this is the most significant permit that Shell needs, but not all of the permits. So Shell still needs more permits from, like, NOAA, Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies. So that’s why the activists are working very hard to make sure that some are—some of these permits are not granted, because it’s a reckless decision, as you mentioned, for multiple reasons, the primary ones being a spill in the Arctic Ocean would be far more devastating than what happened in the Gulf of Mexico. And the administration has finally acknowledged, after losing in two federal courts—one in 2010 and one in 2014—that there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major spills if exploration leads to production. So a spill is inevitable.

And if a spill does happen, as you mentioned, that, let’s say, a spill happens late in the season, like in October, then that oil will have to be left in place for like nine months, because the sea ice gets covered, covers the Arctic Sea, until the ice melts the following year, when effective cleanup can begin. But even if the spill happens in the summertime, it is a real problem, because the Arctic Sea always has constant dangers of large ice flows—and Shell already encountered that in their 2012 drilling season—as well as deep fog that severely restricts visibility, and the storms have become more violent and more intense. You combine that with the fact that there is absolutely no deep water port in U.S. Arctic—the nearest Coast Guard station is a thousand miles away—and there is no infrastructure in place. Like in your previous segment, you were talking about infrastructure. There is absolutely no infrastructure in place to respond to a large spill. So that’s the spill site.

The second site that we need to understand, that Arctic is what is called the integrator of world’s climate systems, both atmospheric and oceanic. Just to give you a couple of examples, what happens in the Arctic affects not just the Arctic, but the whole planet. The severe—recent years, severe winter weather in the Northeast of U.S. as well as the severe ongoing drought in California both have now been linked by recent scientific studies to slowing down of the Arctic jet stream, because the Arctic is warming at a much faster rate than the lower latitudes. And the second one is the Gulf Stream, where you have the warm water from the Gulf of Mexico and the southern latitudes go up to the Arctic, goes down into the deep ocean, gets cold and comes back. It’s called the Gulf Stream, that maintains, again, our oceanic and atmospheric process. That, too, is slowing down. And its impacts are not yet very well understood, but one thing is that it will further contribute to the increase of the sea level. So what happens in the Arctic affects us all, but also to the indigenous people up there. And you mentioned the ecology of the region. If the American public knew what is in those Arctic seas of America—Beaufort and the Chukchi—they will not allow drilling there, because it is truly a national and an international ecological treasure.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, according to this ad by Shell, the oil company has developed unprecedented Arctic oil spill response contingency plans.
SHELL AD: Shell’s Alaska exploration program is defined by its remoteness, and Shell has gone to great lengths to make sure a worst-case scenario, such as an oil spill, never takes place. But in the unlikely event that one did, Shell’s on-site oil spill response assets would be deployed and recovering oil within one hour. The recovery effort would be aided by nearshore response equipment and onshore oil spill response equipment. This kind of 24/7 response capability is unprecedented.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Subhankar, could you comment on what the Shell ad says and also tell us a little about Shell’s record in the Arctic region?

SUBHANKAR BANERJEE: What you just mentioned, Nermeen, is nothing new. It is sugarcoating on an old rhetoric that Shell has been peddling for the last few years. In 2010, Shell spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign called "Let’s Go" to pressure the Obama administration to grant them the various permits, and then towards the—and also another ad called "We have the technology—Let’s go." So Shell has been saying this for the last at least five years now. Nothing has changed. All of the things I just mentioned previously has not changed. The government acknowledges it, that there would be a major spill. And if it does a spill happen, this whole idea of "We have the technology" is nothing but a PR campaign with no truth behind it, as industry and government would acknowledge, that if a spill does happen in the icy waters, the cleanup would be very ineffective compared to the Gulf of Mexico.

And then I forgot the second part of the question—oh, Shell’s record in the Arctic. So Shell went up there with, again, a conditional permit from the Obama administration in 2012, conditional because they were not allowed to drill all the way to the oil-bearing zone, only a top hole drilling to prepare for the following season. And what ended up happening? The very first day they started drilling, they encountered an ice flow the size of Manhattan, 30 miles by 10 miles long, and had to immediately halt operation and disconnect from the sea floor anchor. When they were coming—while they were going up to the Arctic, their drill ship, Noble Discoverer, almost ran aground off of the Dutch Harbor in Southwest Alaska. And then, while coming back, the Noble Discoverer caught fire, and the engine suffered damage, while the other drill ship, Kulluk, was grounded in the Gulf of Alaska, near Sitkalidak Island. And the reason they were bringing the Kulluk back was—actually, to the Seattle waters, Puget Sound water—is because Shell tried to avoid Alaska taxes. So it all goes back to the fact that right now the price of oil is low. And it is truly incredibly irresponsible, when price is—price of oil is low, and the technologies don’t exist, the infrastructure don’t exist, to send Shell up there, because Shell will try to cut costs, as they did in 2012. And the company and its subcontractor, Noble Drilling, was fined a total of $12 million, Noble Drilling, and $2 million to Shell, for violating numerous environment laws, including the Clean Air Act, as well as the Clean Water Act.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address May 16, 2015 (Video/Trascript )

President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House

May 16, 2015
Hi, everybody. Everything we’ve done over the past six years has been in pursuit of one overarching goal: creating opportunity for all.

What we’ve long understood, though, is that some communities have consistently had the odds stacked against them. That’s true of rural communities with chronic poverty. That’s true of some manufacturing communities that suffered after the plants they depended on closed their doors. It’s true of some suburbs and inner cities, where jobs can be hard to find and harder to get to.

That sense of unfairness and powerlessness has helped to fuel the kind of unrest that we’ve seen in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York. It has many causes -- from a basic lack of opportunity to groups feeling unfairly targeted by police – which means there’s no single solution. But there are many that could make a different and could help. And we have to do everything in our power to make this country’s promise real for everyone willing to work for it.

That’s why last Tuesday, at a summit organized by Catholics and evangelicals, I sat down with a conservative scholar and a poverty expert for a discussion on what it takes to open more doors of opportunity. We know our efforts matter: since 1967, we’ve brought poverty down by about 40 percent, thanks in part to programs like Social Security and the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families. And we know that there are folks from all faiths, and across the ideological spectrum, who care deeply about “the least of these.” So I hope this conversation continues, not as a question of whether, but of how, we can work together to grow opportunity. Because it’s not words, but deeds, that make a difference. And from expanding tax cuts for working parents, to raising high school graduation rates, to helping millions of Americans secure health insurance when they didn’t have it just a few years ago -- our actions are making a difference.

Of course, lack of opportunity is not the only barrier between too many of our young people and the kind of future they deserve. On Monday, I’ll travel to Camden, New Jersey, a city that has faced one of the highest violent crime rates in America. I’ll highlight some of the innovative things they’ve done to help police do their jobs more safely and reduce crime in the process. And I’ll highlight steps all cities can take to maintain trust between the brave law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line, and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect.

Whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or independents; whether we live in one of our poorest communities, one of our wealthiest, or anywhere in between, we all want our country to be one where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded. We want a place where you can make it if you try. That’s the promise we make to our young people. That’s the promise that makes us exceptional. And it’s the promise I’ll never stop fighting to keep, for my children and for yours.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.


The 8 Most Important Things I Learned in College

Student and campus editor-at-large, Indiana University 
 Source: Huffington Ppost
I'm a firm believer that the most important lessons are those that are learned beyond the chalkboard, or in today's modern classroom, beyond the projector. That's not to say that I haven't learned anything in the classroom because trust me, I have. I've slaved over flashcards, PowerPoint presentations, and textbooks just like any other student, but when I look back on my college experience and think about what really stands out, it wasn't the A I stayed up all night studying for, but rather what I learned along the way.

Of course I chose my school for its academics, the beautiful campus, and that weird "it feels right" sensation that rushed through me when I visited for the first time, but it's the unexpected moments and lessons in between those deciding factors that have made the past four years unforgettable.

I knew that leaving the south for what most people called "a random school in the Midwest" was a big step, but it was the step that changed my life, and I can't imagine my life without this crazy college town and all of the people and memories that have filled up these years.

Before I turn into a sappy senior sentimental-fest, I figured I'd break down the eight most important things that I've learned in college. My brother is a freshman at The University of South Carolina, and before he left for school, I poured every bit of my sentimentality into a letter for him, telling him to soak in every moment while he figures out who he is along the way. Now, don't get me wrong: I totally recognize that everyone's college experience is different and unique, but I think these eight pieces of wisdom can apply to anyone, whether you're a sentimental senior, an eager freshman, or somewhere in between:

1. Be yourself

Of course this is the cliché of all clichés, but if you stay true to yourself, everything else just seems to fall into place. Don't get me is great, but when you're first starting off you'll find that being surrounded by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar place can definitely be weird. The first month (and at times the first year) of college kind of feels like summer camp, but once school starts to feel like home, you begin to realize what you're all about.

2. Try new things for the sake of figuring out who you are

Throw caution to the wind and forget about what's "weird." If something sounds cool to you, try it. You may find that you've been missing something you've needed all along. Last semester, I tried hot yoga for the first time, and now I go three or more times a week, and having it in my routine has truly kept me sane.

3. Always say yes

This comes with boundaries, of course. If you feel uncomfortable or pressured, step back for a second (and see #1.) But really, step out of the box and do things you normally wouldn't, even if that means going along with "random" plans or hanging out with "random" people. College is filled with endless opportunities, and sticking to the same routine and the same people just isn't worth it when there's so much to learn about who you are and what you like. Plus, those random plans and people may turn into your favorite memories and your best friends. You'll never know until you try.

4. Make your college town/city your home, not just your school

When I first got to Bloomington, I couldn't help but love the campus. I had the same beautiful walk to class everyday, and I'd always love coming home and heading to the dining hall with my friends on my floor. While that was fun and will always hold a special place in my heart, the moments where I made Bloomington feel like home were the moments that have made this town such a big part of my life. When I think about this precious little college town, I'm going to remember grabbing lunch at the local co-op, visiting a local painter's house for a project, and roaming around Lake Monroe. And with that being said, if you study abroad (which you should if you get the opportunity,) make that new city your home, too. You won't regret it, and for the rest of your life you'll have a home in a foreign city, and nothing compares to that feeling. The moments you spend getting to know your surroundings are the moments that bring you a little closer to who you are.

5. Let yourself fall in love

Fall in love with the campus, your friends, the traditions (no matter how goofy they are), and that boy or girl you just locked eyes with. Just dive head first into everything, and know that you're embarking on a once in a lifetime experience. Randomly snuggle with new friends, don't feel weird when someone suggests making a back massage train and ordering pizza, and realize that some of these people will feel like family before you know it.

6. (And with that...) Don't be afraid to get your heart broken

Falling in love often comes with getting your heart broken, and getting your heart broken often brings you closer to who you are and what you want. Yes, it totally feels like the end of the world when everything comes crashing down, but you also realize who your friends are, and sometimes...just sometimes, that makes the heartbreak worth it. Before long, you'll realize you have a team fighting with you and for you, and there's nothing better than knowing you have people in your life who will always have your back. It's never easy to say goodbye and move on, but you're even more resilient than you think you are, and heartbreaks show us how strong we really are. Risk the love, and embrace the heartbreak if it comes along because one day you'll look back and realize how much it's truly shaped the person you've become.

7. Know what you deserve, and don't settle for less

While friendships, relationships, internship offers, and job offers are such a big part of our lives in college, it's also important to remember that sometimes these things will come and go, and we only deserve the best. Don't settle for the girl or guy who repeatedly breaks up with you out of nowhere, and don't take the first job or internship that comes along just because it's an easy way out. Know that you deserve the best, and don't settle for anything less just because it's more comfortable or easy than putting yourself out there again.

8. Enjoy every second of it, but don't hate yourself when it's over

Soak in every second of these crazy, amazing, and enriching four years, but don't cry when it's over. The beauty of college is that it teaches you more about yourself than you ever thought was possible. While entering the "real world" isn't always an easy transition, the memories we make and the lessons we learn definitely make it easier to become a "real person," and for that, I couldn't be more thankful.


3 Important Thoughts the President Shared on Poverty in America:

Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.

MR. DIONNE:  It's a real honor to be here today with my two Presidents -- President Obama and President DeGioia.  (Laughter.) And my friend, David Brooks, hurled the most vicious insult at me ever once when he said that I was the only person he ever met whose eyes lit up at the words, “panel discussion.”
 (Laughter.) And I have to confess my eyes did light up when I was asked to do this particular panel discussion -- and not just for the obvious reason, to my left -- and, again, it's a real honor to be with you, Mr. President -- or Arthur or Bob.
Poverty is a subject we talk about mainly when tragic events, such as those we witnessed recently in Baltimore, grab our attention.  Then we push it aside; we bury it; we say it's not politically shrewd to talk about it.  So I salute Georgetown, my friend John Carr and Galen Carey, and all the other extraordinary people who are gathered here for the poverty summit from all religious traditions all over the country.

Our friend, Jim Wallis, once said that if you cut everything Jesus said about the poor out of the Gospel you have a book full of holes.  And these are evangelicals, Catholics and others who understand what the Scripture said.

Just two quick organizing points on our discussion.  The first is that when it's time to go, please keep your seat so the President can be escorted out.  The other is that Bob and Arthur and I all agreed that we should direct somewhat more attention to President Obama than to the other members of the panel. 
(Laughter.)  I just say that -- I say that in advance so that you know this was our call and not some exercise in executive power. (Laughter.)  This was our decision to do this.  (Applause.)

And in any event, we hope this will be a back-and-forth kind of discussion.  Bob and Arthur, feel free to interrupt the President if you feel like it.  (Laughter.)
My first question, Mr. President, is the obvious one.  A friend of mine said yesterday, when do Presidents do panels?  And what came to mind is the late Admiral Stockdale, “Who am I?  Why am I here?”  (Laughter.)  And I'd like to ask you why you decided -- this is a very unusual venue for a President to put himself in -- and I'd like to ask you where do you hope this discussion will lead beyond today?

And I was struck with something you said in your speech last week.  You said, politicians talk about poverty and inequality, and then gut policies that help alleviate poverty and reverse inequality.  Why are you doing this, and how do you want us to come out of here? 

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I want to thank President DeGioia, the Georgetown community, all the groups -- nonprofits, faith-based groups and others -- who are hosting this today.  And I want to thank this terrific panel.
I think that we are at a moment -- in part because of what’s happened in Baltimore and Ferguson and other places, but in part because a growing awareness of inequality in our society -- where it may be possible not only to refocus attention on the issue of poverty, but also maybe to bridge some of the gaps that have existed and the ideological divides that have prevented us from making progress.

And there are a lot of folks here who I have worked with -- they disagree with me on some issues, but they have great sincerity when it comes to wanting to deal with helping the least of these.  And so this is a wonderful occasion for us to join together.

Part of the reason I thought this venue would be useful and I wanted to have a dialogue with Bob and Arthur is that we have been stuck, I think for a long time, in a debate that creates a couple of straw men.  The stereotype is that you’ve got folks on the left who just want to pour more money into social programs, and don't care anything about culture or parenting or family structures, and that's one stereotype.  And then you’ve got cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and -- (laughter) -- think everybody are moochers.  And I think the truth is more complicated.

I think that there are those on the conservative spectrum who deeply care about the least of these, deeply care about the poor; exhibit that through their churches, through community groups, through philanthropic efforts, but are suspicious of what government can do.  And then there are those on the left who I think are in the trenches every day and see how important parenting is and how important family structures are, and the connective tissue that holds communities together and recognize that that contributes to poverty when those structures fray, but also believe that government and resources can make a difference in creating an environment in which young people can succeed despite great odds.

And it seems to me that if coming out of this conversation we can have a both/and conversation rather than either/or conversation, then we’ll be making some progress.

And the last point I guess I want to make is I also want to emphasize we can do something about these issues.  I think it is a mistake for us to suggest that somehow every effort we make has failed and we are powerless to address poverty.  That’s just not true.  First of all, just in absolute terms, the poverty rate when you take into account tax and transfer programs, has been reduced about 40 percent since 1967.

Now, that does not lessen our concern about communities where poverty remains chronic.  It does suggest, though, that we have been able to lessen poverty when we decide we want to do something about it.  In every low-income community around the country, there are programs that work to provide ladders of opportunity to young people; we just haven't figured out how to scale them up.

And so one of the things I’m always concerned about is cynicism.  My Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough -- we take walks around the South Lawn, usually when the weather is good, and a lot of it is policy talk, sometimes it’s just talk about values. And one of our favorite sayings is, our job is to guard against cynicism, particularly in this town.  And I think it’s important when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty for us to guard against cynicism, and not buy the idea that the poor will always be with us and there’s nothing we can do -- because there’s a lot we can do.  The question is do we have the political will, the communal will to do something about it.

MR. DIONNE:  Thank you, Mr. President.  I feel as a journalist maybe I’m the one representative of cynicism up here

-- (laughter) -- so I’ll try to do my job.  I want to go through the panel and come back to you, Mr. President.  I want to invite Bob, and I’m going to encourage us to reach for solutions.  But before we get there, I think it’s important to say that your book, Bob, your book, “Our Kids,” is above all a moral call on the country to think about all the kids in the country who have been left out as our kids, in some deep way.  And you make the point that the better off and the poor are now so far apart that the fortunate don’t even see the lives of the unlucky and the left behind.  You wrote, “Before I began this research, I was like that.”

And following on what the President said, you insist that the decline in social mobility, the blocking of the American Dream for so many is a purple problem.  And I may have some questions later on that, but I really would like you to lay out the red and blue components.  And also, how do we break through a politics in which food stamp recipients are still somehow cast as privileged or the poor are demonized.  But I’d like you to lay out sort of the moral call of your book.

MR. PUTNAM:  Thanks, E.J., and thanks to the President and to Arthur for joining me in this conversation.

I think in this domain there’s good news and bad news, and it’s important to begin with the bad news because we have to understand where we are.  The President is absolutely right that the War on Poverty did make a real difference, but it made a difference more for poverty among people of my age than it did for poverty among kids.

And with respect to kids, I completely agree with the President that we know about some things that would work and things that would make a real difference in the lives of poor kids, but what the book that you’ve deferred to, “Our Kids,” what it presents is a lot of evidence of growing gaps between rich kids and poor kids; that over the last 30 or 40 years, things have gotten better and better for kids coming from well-off homes, and worse and worse for kids coming from less well-off homes.

And I don’t mean Bill Gates and some homeless person.  I mean people coming from college-educated homes -- their kids are doing better and better, and people coming from high school-educated homes, they’re kids aren’t.  And it’s not just that there’s this class gap, but a class gap on our watch -- I don’t mean just the President’s watch, but I mean on my generation’s watch -- that gap has grown.
And you can see it in measures of family stability.  You can see it in measures of the investments that parents are able to make in their kids, the investments of money and the investments of time.  You can see it in the quality of schools kids go to.  You can see it in the character of the social and community support that kids -- rich kids and poor kids are getting from their communities.  Church attendance is a good example of that, actually.  Churches are an important source of social support for kids outside their own family, but church attendance is down much more rapidly among kids coming from impoverished backgrounds than among kids coming from wealthy backgrounds.

And so I think what all of that evidence suggests is that we do face, I think, actually a serious crisis in which, increasingly, the most important decision that anybody makes is choosing their parents.  And if -- like my grandchildren are really smart, they were -- the best decision they ever made was to choose college-educated parents and great grandparents.  But out there, someplace else, there is another bunch of kids who are just as talented and just as -- in principle -- just as hardworking, but who happened to choose parents who weren’t very well-educated or weren’t high-income, and those kids’ fate is being determined by things that they had no control over.  And that’s fundamentally unfair.
It also is, by the way, bad for our economy, because when we have this large number of kids growing up in poverty, it’s not like that’s going to make things better for my grandchildren.  It’s going to make things worse for my grandchildren.  So this is, in principle, a solution that we -- a problem that we ought to find solutions to.

And historically, this is a kind of problem that Americans have faced before and have solved, and this is the basis for my optimism.  There have been previous periods in American history when we’ve had a great gap between rich and poor, when we’ve ignored the least of these, in which we’ve -- I’m thinking of the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century -- and both of you have written about that period, in which there was a great gap between rich and poor and we were ignoring lots of kids, especially lots of immigrant kids.  And America seemed to be going to hell in a hand basket.  And there was a dominant philosophy, social Darwinism, which said that it’s better for everybody if everybody is selfish, and the devil take the hindmost.

But that, unlike some of the ideology of Ayn Rand that you referred to -- but that period was quickly -- not quickly -- but was overcome by a real awakening of the conscience of America across party lines, with the important contribution of religious leaders and religious people, to the fact that these are all our kids.

And now is not the time to rehearse all of the lessons of that earlier period, but I think it does actually give me grounds for hope.  This is a kind of problem that we could solve as long as we all recognize that it’s in everybody’s interest to raise up these poor kids and not to leave them in the dust.

MR. DIONNE:  Thank you very much.  By the way, let the record show the President was not looking at Arthur when he referred to cold-hearted capitalists.  (Laughter.)  But it is nice to have somebody here from the AEI.

MR. BROOKS:  Well, D.J., when the President said that, I was just thinking -- what was going through my head was, please don’t look at me, please don’t look at me.  (Laughter.)  But you notice when Bob said this -- about the social Darwinism, he pointed at me.  (Laughter.)  So I'm more outnumbered than my Thanksgiving table in Seattle, let me tell you.  (Laughter.) 

MR. DIONNE:  You just have to look into your heart, Arthur. And in fact, that’s kind of what I want to ask you to do here.  I mean, your views on these subjects have actually changed, and I think it's one of the reasons you wanted to join us today.

Back in 2010, you talked about makers and takers in society and a culture of redistribution.  But in February 2014, you wrote a very important article and commentary -- the open-handed toward your brothers -- and you said we have to declare peace on the safety net, which I think is a really important thing to say.

And as the President suggested, the safety net we have has actually cut poverty substantially.  So twin questions:  Could you talk about how and why your own views have changed -- if I’ve fairly characterized that.  And in the spirit we’re celebrating here of trans-ideological nonpartisanship -- now, there’s a mouthful for you -- in that spirit, where can Republicans cooperate with Democrats, conservatives with liberals, on safety net issues like making the earned income tax credit permanent or expanding the child tax credit?  I mean, where can we find not just verbal common ground, but actual common ground to get things done for the least among us?

MR. BROOKS:  Thank you, E.J.  And thank you, Mr. President. It's an honor to be here and with all of you.  This is such an important exercise in bringing Catholics and evangelicals together, but having a public discussion.
One of the main things that I do as President of AEI is to talk publicly about issues and start a conversation with my colleagues in a way that I hope can stimulate the conversation and spread it around the country.

At the American Enterprise Institute -- where we have a longstanding history of work on the nature of American capitalism -- when we’re focusing very deeply on poverty, it sends a signal to a lot of people that are deeply involved in the free enterprise movement.  My colleague, Robert Doar is here -- he came to AEI because poverty is the most important thing to him. And indeed, the reason I came into the free enterprise movement many years ago is because poverty is the thing I care about the most.

And in point of fact, 2 billion people around the world have been lifted up out of poverty because of ideas revolving around free enterprise and free trade, and the globalization of ideas of sharing through property rights and rule of law, and all the things that the President is talking about in policy debates right now.

That’s why I'm in this particular movement.  But we’ve gotten into a partisan moment where we substitute a moral consensus about how we serve the least of these, our brothers and sisters, where we pretend that that moral consensus is impossible,+++++++ and we blow up policy differences until they become a holy war.  That’s got to stop because it's completely unnecessary.  (Applause.)  And we can stop that, absolutely, with a couple of key principles.

So how are we on the center right talking about poverty in the most effective way?  Number one is with a conceptual matter. We have a grave tendency on both the left and the right to talk about poor people as “the other.”  Remember in Matthew 25, these are our brothers and sisters.  Jim Olsen and I have this roadshow -- we go to campuses and everybody wants to set up something, right-left debates, and it never works out, because it turns out we both have a commitment to the teachings of the Savior when it comes to treating the least of these, our brothers and sisters.

When you talk about people as your brothers and sisters you don’t talk about them as liabilities to manage.  They’re not liabilities to manage.  They’re assets to develop because every one of us made in God’s image is an asset to develop. 
That’s a completely different approach to poverty alleviation.  That’s a human capital approach to poverty alleviation.  That’s what we can do to stimulate that conversation on the political right, just as it can be on the political left.

One concept that rides along with that is to point out -- and this is what I do to many of my friends on Capitol Hill -- I remind them that just because people are on public assistance doesn’t mean they want to be on public assistance.  And that’s the difference between people who factually are making a living and who are accepting public assistance.  It's an important matter to remember about the motivations of people and humanizing them.  And then the question is, how can we come together?  How can we come together?

I have, indeed, written that it's time to declare peace on the safety net.  And I say that as a political conservative.  Why?  Because Ronald Reagan said that; because Friedrich Hayek said that.  This is not a radical position.  In fact, the social safety net is one of the greatest achievements of free enterprise -- that we could have the wealth and largesse as a society, that we can help take care of people who are poor that we've never even met.  It's ahistoric; it's never happened before.  We should be proud of that.

But then when I talk to conservative policymakers, and say how should you distinguish yourself from the traditional positions in a marketplace of ideas from progressives, you should also talk about the fact that the safety net should be limited to people who are truly indigent, as opposed to being spread around in a way that metastasizes into middle-class entitlements and imperils our economy.

And the third part is that help should always come with the dignifying power of work to the extent that we can.  Then we can have, with these three ideas -- declaring peace on the safety net, safety net only for the indigent, and always with work -- then we can have an interesting moral consensus and policy competition of ideas and maybe make some progress.

MR. DIONNE:  Thank you.  In fact, I'm hoping people will challenge each other about what that actually means in terms of policy.  And I want to invite the President to do that.

I'm tempted, Mr. President, to ask you to sort of go in a couple of directions at once.  One is, I am, again, hoping that you can enlist Arthur as your lobbyist on this.  One kind of question I want to ask is if John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were watching this and suddenly had a conversion -- and there are a lot of religious people in the audience, so miracles --

THE PRESIDENT:  I assure you they’re not watching this.  (Laughter.)  But it's a hypothetical.  (Laughter.)

MR. DIONNE:  Well, it's a religious audience.  I believe in miracles.  (Laughter.)  So if they said we are so persuaded that it's time we do something about the poor, Mr. President, tell us a few things that we'll actually pass, we'll do this -- when you think about -- we can talk kind of abstractly about the family on this side, and what government can do.  What do you think would actually make a difference?  So that's one kind of question I'm tempted to ask.

And maybe you could put that into the context of Bob’s mention of the Gilded Age.  As you know, I was much taken by that Osawatomie speech -- I even learned how to pronounce Osawatomie, thanks to you -- back in 20 -- help me.

THE PRESIDENT:  A couple years ago.

MR. DIONNE:  A couple years ago -- 2011.  And it really did put this conversation in context.  We do seem in certain ways to be having the problems we had back then.  So what would you tell Congress?  Please help me on this.  And how do we sort of move out of this Gilded Age feeling kind of period?

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me tease out a couple things that both Bob and Arthur said -- and maybe some of these will be challenging to a couple of them and they may want to respond.  But let me talk about big picture, and then we can talk about specifics.

First of all, I think we can all stipulate that the best antipoverty program is a job, which confers not just income, but structure and dignity and a sense of connection to community.  Which means we have to spend time thinking about the macro-economy, the broader economy as a whole.

Now, what has happened is, is that since, let’s say, 1973, over the last 40 years, the share of income going to the bottom 90 percent has shrunk from about 65 percent down to about 53 percent.  It's a big shift.  It's a big transfer.  And so we can't have a conversation about poverty without talking about what’s happened to the middle class and the ladders of opportunity into the middle class.

And when I read Bob’s book, the first thing that strikes you is when he’s growing up in Ohio, he’s in a community where the banker is living in reasonable proximity to the janitor at the school.  The janitor’s daughter may be going out with the banker’s son.  There are a set of common institutions -- they may attend the same church; they may be members of the same rotary club; they may be active at the same parks -- and all the things that stitch them together.  And that is all contributing to social mobility and to a sense of possibility and opportunity for all kids in that community.

Now, part of what’s happened is that -- and this is where Arthur and I would probably have some disagreements.  We don’t dispute that the free market is the greatest producer of wealth in history -- it has lifted billions of people out of poverty.  We believe in property rights, rule of law, so forth.  But there has always been trends in the market in which concentrations of wealth can lead to some being left behind.  And what’s happened in our economy is that those who are doing better and better -- more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages

-- are withdrawing from sort of the commons -- kids start going to private schools; kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks.  An anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.  And that, in part, contributes to the fact that there’s less opportunity for our kids, all of our kids.

Now, that’s not inevitable.  A free market is perfectly compatible with also us making investment in good public schools, public universities; investments in public parks; investments in a whole bunch -- public infrastructure that grows our economy and spreads it around.  But that’s, in part, what’s been under attack for the last 30 years.  And so, in some ways, rather than soften the edges of the market, we’ve turbocharged it.  And we have not been willing, I think, to make some of those common investments so that everybody can play a part in getting opportunity.

Now, one other thing I’ve got to say about this is that even back in Bob’s day that was also happening.  It’s just it was happening to black people.  And so, in some ways, part of what’s changed is that those biases or those restrictions on who had access to resources that allowed them to climb out of poverty -- who had access to the firefighters job, who had access to the assembly line job, the blue-collar job that paid well enough to be in the middle class and then got you to the suburbs, and then the next generation was suddenly office workers -- all those things were foreclosed to a big chunk of the minority population in this country for decades.

And that accumulated and built up.  And over time, people with less and less resources, more and more strains -- because it’s hard being poor.  People don’t like being poor.  It’s time-consuming’ it’s stressful.  It’s hard.  And so over time, families frayed.  Men who could not get jobs left.  Mothers who are single are not able to read as much to their kids.  So all that was happening 40 years ago to African Americans. And now what we’re seeing is that those same trends have accelerated and they’re spreading to the broader community.

But the pattern that, Bob, you’re recording in some of your stories is no different than what William Julius Wilson was talking about when he talked about the truly disadvantaged.  So I say all this -- and I know that was not an answer to your question.  (Laughter.)  I will be willing to answer it, but I think it is important for us at the outset to acknowledge if, in fact, we are going to find common ground, then we also have to acknowledge that there are certain investments we are willing to make as a society, as a whole, in public schools and public universities; in, today, I believe early childhood education; in making sure that economic opportunity is available in communities that are isolated, and that somebody can get a job, and that there’s actually a train that takes folks to where the jobs are  -- that broadband lines are in rural communities and not just in cities.  And those things are not going to happen through market forces alone.

And if that’s the case, then our government and our budgets have to reflect our willingness to make those investments.  If we don’t make those investments, then we could agree on the earned income tax credit -- which I know Arthur believes in.  We could agree on home visitation for low-income parents.  All those things will make a difference, but the broader trends in our society will make it harder and harder for us to deal with both inequality and poverty.

And so I think it’s important for us to recognize there is a genuine debate here, and that is what portion of our collective wealth and budget are we willing to invest in those things that allow a poor kid, whether in a rural town, or in Appalachia, or in the inner city, to access what they need both in terms of mentors and social networks, as well as decent books and computers and so forth, in order for them to succeed along the terms that Arthur discussed.

And right now, they don’t have those things, and those things have been stripped away.  You look at state budgets, you look at city budgets, and you look at federal budgets, and we don’t make those same common investments that we used to.  And it’s had an impact.  And we shouldn’t pretend that somehow we have been making those same investments.  We haven’t been.  And there’s been a very specific ideological push not to make those investments.  That’s where the argument comes in.

MR. DIONNE:  And if I could follow up, which gets to the underlying problem where we talk, piously, sometimes, about let’s tear down these ideological red/blue barriers, yet when push comes to shove, these things get rejected.  How do you change the politics of that?  I mean, as you said, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner were unlikely to be watching us -- that actually has a kind of political significance.  Not to this event, but in general.

THE PRESIDENT:  I was suggesting they’re busy right now.  They’ve got votes.  (Laughter.)

MR. DIONNE:  No, but I think you were saying something else. How do you tear down those barriers?  Because you laid out a fairly robust agenda there.  And I want to -- forgive me, Arthur and Bob -- but I’m curious, how do you get from here to there?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, part of what happened in our politics and part of what shifted from when Bob was young and he was seeing a genuine community -- there were still class divisions in your small town.

MR. PUTNAM:  True.

THE PRESIDENT:  There were probably certain clubs or certain activities that were still restricted to the banker’s son as opposed to the janitor’s son.  But it was more integrated.  Part of what’s happened is, is that elites in a very mobile, globalized world are able to live together, away from folks who are not as wealthy, and so they feel less of a commitment to making those investments.

In that sense -- and what used to be racial segregation now mirrors itself in class segregation and this great sorting that’s taking place.  Now, that creates its own politics.  Right?  I mean, there’s some communities where I don’t know -- not only do I not know poor people, I don’t even know people who have trouble paying the bills at the end of the month.  I just don’t know those people.   And so there’s a less sense of investment in those children.  So that’s part of what’s happened.

But part of it has also been -- there’s always been a strain in American politics where you’ve got the middle class, and the question has been, who are you mad at, if you’re struggling; if you’re working, but you don’t seem to be getting ahead.  And over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom.  And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leaches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction.

And, look, it's still being propagated.  I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu -- they will find folks who make me mad.  I don’t know where they find them.  (Laughter.)  They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone -- (laughter) -- or whatever.  And that becomes an entire narrative -- right? -- that gets worked up.  And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress -- which is much more typical -- who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.

And so if we’re going to change how John Boehner and Mitch McConnell think, we’re going to have to change how our body politic thinks, which means we’re going to have to change how the media reports on these issues and how people’s impressions of what it's like to struggle in this economy looks like, and how budgets connect to that.  And that’s a hard process because that requires a much broader conversation than typically we have on the nightly news.

MR. DIONNE:  I am tempted to welcome Arthur to defend his network.  But instead, I want to sort of maybe invite him to an alter call here.  (Laughter.)  I want to invite you to a kind of alter call, which is, the President talked about some basis public investments that are actually pretty old-fashioned public investments, along the lines of somebody like President Eisenhower supported a lot of those kinds of investments --

THE PRESIDENT:  Republican President Abraham Lincoln thought things like land-grant colleges and infrastructure, investments in basic research in science were important.

I suspect, Arthur, you’d agree in theory about those investments.  And the question would be, how much?

MR. BROOKS:  Look, no good economist, no self-respecting person who understands anything about economics denies that there are public goods.  There just are public goods.  We need public goods.  Markets fail sometimes -- there’s a role for the state. There are no radical libertarians up here, libertarians who believe that the state should not exist, for example.  Even the libertarians don’t think that.  So we shouldn’t caricature the views of others because, in point of fact, that impugns the motives.

I think that what we’re talking about is, one, when are there public goods?  When can the government provide them?  And when are the benefits higher than the costs of the government proving these things?  Because, in point of fact, when we don’t make cost-benefit calculations at least at the macro level about public goods, the poor pay.  This is a fact.

If you look at what’s happening in the periphery countries of Europe today, as George W. Bush used to say, this is a true fact.  (Laughter.)  It’s more emphasis. 
There’s nothing wrong.  (Laughter.)  If you don't pay attention to the macro economy and the fiscal stability, you will become insolvent.  And if you become insolvent, you will have austerity.  And if you have austerity, the poor always pay.  Jim Wallis taught me this.  The poor always pay when there’s austerity.  The rich never pay.  The rich never are left with the bill.  It’s the poor who are left with the bill.

So if you join me in believing the safety net is a fundamental, moral right, and it’s a privilege of our society to provide, you must avoid austerity and you must avoid insolvency. And the only way that you can do that is with smart policies.
And I’m 100 percent sure the President agrees with me about smart macro-economic public policies, so I’m not caricaturing these views either.  Although can you believe he said “Obama phone”?  (Laughter.)  And he’s against the Obama phone.  So let’s stipulate to that.  (Laughter.)  Just because they took away his phone.  (Laughter.)

Now, since we believe that there should be public goods, then we're really talking about the system that provides them and provides them efficiently.  The President talked about the changing structure of the income distribution, and it’s unambiguously true.  What I would urge us to regret is this notion that it’s not a shift, but a transfer.  It’s not a transfer.

Since the 1970s, it’s not that the rich have gotten richer; because the poor have gotten poorer.  The poor are not having their money taken away and given to the rich.  The rich have gotten richer faster than the poor have moved up.  And we might be concerned with that because that also reflects on opportunity. And as an opportunity society, as an equal opportunity society, we should all be really concerned with that.

But the extent that we can get away from this notion that the rich are stealing from the poor, then we can look at this in I think in a way that's constructive.  Why?  Because the rich are our neighbors and the poor are our neighbors, and everybody else should be our neighbors and they're all our kids.  And I think getting away from that rhetoric is really important.

And then the last point, actually, as we come to consensus is remembering that capitalism or socialism or social democracy or any system is just a system.  Look, it’s just a system.  It’s just a machine.  It’s like your car.  You can do great good with it, you can do great evil with it.  It can't go uninhibited.  So far it can't drive on its own.  It will soon enough.  The economy never will be able to.

Capitalism is nothing more than a system, and it must be predicated on right morals.  It must be.  Adam Smith taught me that.  Adam Smith, the father of modern economics -- he wrote “The Wealth of Nations,” in 1776 -- 17 years before he wrote “The Theory of Moral sentiments,” which was a more important book because it talked about what it meant as a society to earn the right to have free enterprise, to have free economics.  And it was true then, and it’s still true today.
So this is why this conference is so important.  This conversation with the President of the United States is so important, from my point of view -- I say with appropriate humility -- is because we're talking about right morality toward our brothers and sisters, and built on that, that's when we can have an open discussion to get our capitalism right.  And then the distribution of resources is only a tertiary question.  (Applause.)

MR. DIONNE:  I still want to know how much infrastructure you're actually willing to vote for, but I’ll take --

MR. BROOKS:  $41 billion.

MR. DIONNE:  All right, it’s a start.  We can negotiate.

I want to -- this is in a way for both the President and Bob, because in this conversation about poverty, there’s kind of consensus on this stage that, yes, you need to care about family structure, it really matters, but if you don't worry about the economy, you're not sort of thinking about why the battering ram is against the family.

And yet, this family conversation can make a lot of people feel uneasy because it sounds like either you're not taking politics seriously, or you're not taking the real economic pressure seriously.  And I just want to share two things with the President and Bob, and have you respond.

One, as you can imagine, I asked a lot of smart people what they would ask about if they were in my position.  And one very smart economist said, look, what we know is when we have really tight labor markets, unemployment down below -- down to 4 or even lower -- Kennedy, Johnson years, World War II, at the end of the Clinton years -- all kinds of good things start happening to poor people.  So maybe, this person said, even though, he says, yes, family structure matters, let’s stop with the moral lectures and just run a really tight economic policy, and we could have some really good things happen to us.

And then the other thing I wanted to share -- and I’m being pointed here, Mr. President, because you know and I’ve heard you talk about this, but not that often publicly, which is -- you know, I’ve heard you in those sessions you do with opinion reporters -- Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote something back in 2013 about your talk about what needs to happen inside the African American community -- I know you remember this:  “Taking full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people and particularly black youth, and another way of addressing everyone else.  I would have a hard time imagining the President telling the women of Barnard that ‘there's no longer room for any excuses’ -- as though they were in the business of making them.”

I’d love you to address sort of the particular question about -- maybe it is primarily about economics because we can’t do much about the other things through government policy, and also answer Ta-Nehisi’s critique, because I know you hear that a lot.

THE PRESIDENT:  Why don’t we let Bob --

MR. DIONNE:  Let Bob --

MR. PUTNAM:  Well, I’m going to try to respond to that, and of course, I want to hear what the President has to say about that.  But I wanted to just comment briefly on that earlier conversation, first of all, about public goods.

I agree very much with the President’s framing of this issue -- that is that we disinvested in collective assets, collective goods that would benefit everybody but are more important for poor people because they can’t do it on their own.  I want to just give one example of that that’s very vivid, and this is a case where we’ve clearly shot ourselves in the foot.

For most of the 20th century, all Americans of all walks of life thought that part of getting a good education was getting soft skills -- not just reading, writing, arithmetic, but cooperation and teamwork, and so on.  And part of that was that everybody in the country got free access to extracurricular activities -- band and football, and music and so on.  But beginning about 20 years ago, the view developed -- which is really, really deeply evil -- that that’s just a frill.

And so we disinvested, and we said if you want to take part in football here, or you want to take part in music, you’ve got to pay for it.  And of course, what that means is that poor people can’t pay for it.  It’s a big deal -- $1,600 on average for two kids in a family.  Well, $1,600 to play football, or play in the band, or French club or whatever -- it’s not a big deal if your income is $200,000; but if you income is $16,000, who in their right mind is going to be paying 10 percent of their family income?

So it seems to me that that’s a case where the allocation that the benefits of learning teamwork and hard skills -- I mean grit were only on the individual.  But that wasn’t true.  The whole country was benefitting from the fact that we had a very broad-based set of skills that people had.  So I’m trying to emphasize this -- how deep runs this antipathy in some quarters for the notion that these are all our kids and, therefore, we’ve got to invest in all of them.

But I also want to then come back, if I can, to I think the thing we maybe haven’t spent enough time here, and that is this is a purple problem.  There are those of us who on the left can see most clearly the economic sources of this problem and want to do something about it.  But then there are people on the conservative side, especially religious people, who use a different lens and they can see most clearly the effects of family disruption among poor families of all races on the prospects of kids.

And in the stories of the kids that we gathered across America -- I want to return a little bit not just to the abstract discussion of poverty, but to real kids.  Mary Sue from -- doesn’t have anything the like the same opportunities as my granddaughter.  But part of that is because Mary Sue’s parents behaved in very irresponsible ways.  We interviewed a kid from -- a young woman from Duluth who is now on drugs.  How did she get on drugs?  Because her dad was addicted to meth and wanted to get high, but didn’t want to get high alone, so her dad taught -- Molly is her name -- how to smoke -- how to do meth.  I don’t even know how you do meth myself.  I’ll have to check with him.  (Laughter.)

And it’s systematically -- the fact is we all know this, that it’s -- I’m not making an attack on single moms, who are often doing terrific jobs in the face of lots of obstacles, but I am saying it’s harder to do that.  And therefore, we need to think, all of us, including those of us -- and I know the President agrees with me about this -- even those of us on the more progressive side have to think, how did we get into a state in which two-thirds of American kids coming from what we used to call the working class have only a single parent, and what can we do to fix that?

I’m not sure this is government’s role.  But I do think that if we’re concerned about poverty, we also, all of us, have to think about this purple side of the problem -- I mean, this family side of the problem.  And we shouldn’t -- those of us -- I’m now speaking to my side of the choir -- we shouldn’t just assume that anybody who talks about family stability is somehow saying that the economics don’t matter.  Of course, the economics matter.  It’s both/and; it’s not either/or.  (Applause.)

MR. DIONNE:  Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  A couple of things I would say.  First of all, just going back to something Arthur said earlier about how we characterize the wealthy, and do they take this extra wealth from the poor, the middle class -- these are broad economic trends turbocharged by technology and globalization, a winner-take-all economy that allows those with even slightly better skills to massively expand their reach and their markets, and they make more money and it gets more concentrated, and that then reinforces itself.  But there are values and decisions that have aided and abetted that process.

So, for example, in the era that Bob was talking about, if you had a company in that town, that company had a whole bunch of social restraints on it because the CEO felt it was a member of that community and the sense of obligation about paying a certain wage or contributing to the local high school or what have you was real.  And today the average Fortune 500 company -- some are great corporate citizens, some are great employers -- but they don’t have to be, and that’s certainly not how they’re judged.

And that may account for the fact that where a previous CEO of a company might have made 50 times the average wage of the worker, they might now make a thousand times or two thousand times.  And that’s now accepted practice inside the corporate boardroom.  Now, that’s not because they’re bad people.  It's just that they have been freed from a certain set of social constraints.

And those values have changed.  And sometimes tax policy has encouraged that, and government policy has encouraged that.  And there’s a whole literature that justifies that as, well, that's what you’d need to get the best CEO and they're bringing the most value, and then you do tip into a little bit of Ayn Rand.

Which, Arthur, I think you’d be the first to acknowledge because I’m in dinners with some of your buddies and I have conversations with them.  (Laughter.)  And if they're not on a panel, they’ll say, you know what, we created all this stuff and we made it, and we're creating value and we should be able to make decisions about where it goes.

So there’s less commitment to those public goods -- even though a good economist who’s read Adam Smith’s “Moral Sentiments” would acknowledge that actually we're under-investing, or at least we have to have a certain investment.  So that's point number one.

Point number two, on this whole family-character values-structure issue.  It’s true that if I’m giving a commencement at Morehouse that I will have a conversation with young black men about taking responsibility as fathers that I probably will not have with the women of Barnard.  And I make no apologies for that.  And the reason is, is because I am a black man who grew up without a father and I know the cost that I paid for that.  And I also know that I have the capacity to break that cycle, and as a consequence, I think my daughters are better off.  (Applause.)

And that is not something that -- for me to have that conversation does not negate my conversation about the need for early childhood education, or the need for job training, or the need for greater investment in infrastructure, or jobs in low-income communities.

So I’ll talk till you're blue in the face about hard-nosed, economic macroeconomic policies, but in the meantime I’ve got a bunch of kids right now who are graduating, and I want to give them some sense that they can have an impact on their immediate circumstances, and the joys of fatherhood.

And we did something with My Brother’s Keepers -- which emphasizes apprenticeships and emphasizes corporate responsibility, and we're gathering resources to give very concrete hooks for kids to be able to advance.  And I’m going very hard at issues of criminal justice reform and breaking this school-to-prison pipeline that exists for so many young African American men.  But when I’m sitting there talking to these kids, and I’ve got a boy who says, you know what, how did you get over being mad at your dad, because I’ve got a father who beat my mom and now has left, and has left the state, and I’ve never seen him because he’s trying to avoid $83,000 in child support payments, and I want to love my dad, but I don't know how to do that -- I’m not going to have a conversation with him about macroeconomics.  (Laughter and applause.)

I’m going to have a conversation with him about how I tried to understand what it is that my father had gone through, and how issues that were very specific to him created his difficulties in his relationships and his children so that I might be able to forgive him, and that I might then be able to come to terms with that.

And I don't apologize for that conversation.  I think -- and so this is what I mean when -- or this is where I agree very much with Bob that this is not an either/or conversation.  It is a both-and.  The reason we get trapped in the either/or conversation is because all too often -- not Arthur, but those who have argued against a safety net, or argued against government programs, have used the rationale that character matters, family matters, values matter as a rationale for the disinvestment in public goods that took place over the course of 20 to 30 years.

If, in fact, the most important thing is character and parents, then it’s okay if we don't have band and music at school -- that's the argument that you will hear.  It’s okay.  Look, there are immigrant kids who are learning in schools that are much worse, and we're spending huge amounts in the district and we still get poor outcomes, and so obviously money is not the issue.  And so what you hear is a logic that is used as an excuse to under-invest in those public goods.

And that's why I think a lot of people are resistant to it and are skeptical of that conversation.  And I guess what I’m saying is that, guarding against cynicism, what we should say is we are going to argue hard for those public investments.  We're going to argue hard for early childhood education because, by the way, if a young kid -- three, four years old -- is hearing a lot of words, the science tells us that they're going to be more likely to succeed at school.  And if they’ve got trained and decently paid teachers in that preschool, then they're actually going to get -- by the time they're in third grade, they’ll be reading at grade level.

And those all very concrete policies.  But it requires some money.  We're going to argue hard for that stuff.  And lo and behold, if we do those things, the values and the character that those kids are learning in a loving environment where they can succeed in school, and they're being praised, and they can read at grade level, and they're less likely to drop out, and it turns out that when they're succeeding at school and they’ve got resources, they're less likely to get pregnant as teens, and less likely to engage in drugs, and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system -- that is a reinforcement of the values and character that we want.

And that's where we, as a society, have the capacity to make a real difference.  But it will cost us some money.  It will cost us some money.  It’s not free.

You look at a state like California that used to have, by far, the best public higher education system in the world, and there is a direct correlation between Proposition 13 and the slow disinvestment in the public university system so that it became very, very expensive.  And kids got priced out of the market, or they started taking on a whole bunch of debt.  Now, that was a public policy choice, based on folks not wanting to pay property taxes.  And that's true in cities and counties and states all across the country.  And that's really a big part of our political argument.

So I am all for values; I am all for character.  But I also know that that character and the values that our kids have that allow them to succeed, and delayed gratification and discipline and hard work -- that all those things in part are shaped by what they see, what they see really early on.  And some of those kids right now, because of no fault of those kids, and because of history and some tough going, generationally, some of those kids, they're not going to get help at home.  They're not going to get enough help at home.  And the question then becomes, are we committed to helping them instead?

MR. DIONNE:  Mr. President, I want to follow up on that and then invite Arthur and Bob to reply.  Arthur, you clearly got a plenary indulgence in this session on all kinds of positions.  (Laughter.)

A lot of us, I think, feel that we made bargains with our friends on the conservative side that -- I agree with the idea that you've got to care about what happens in the family if you're going to care about social justice, and you got to care about social justice of you care about the family.  Yet when people like you start talking like this, there doesn’t seem to be much giveback on, “okay, we agree on these values; where’s the investment in these kids?”

Similarly, when welfare reform was passed back in the ‘90s, there were a lot of people who said, okay, we’re not going to hear about welfare cheats anymore because all these people are going to have to work.  And yet we get the same thing back again. It’s as if the work requirement was never put in the welfare bill.  How do we change this conversation so that it becomes an actual bargain where the other half of the agenda that you talked about gets recognized and that we do something about it?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask Arthur for some advice on this -- because, look, the devil is in the details.  I think if you talk to any of my Republican friends, they will say, number one, they care about the poor -- and I believe them.  Number two, they’ll say that there are some public goods that have to be made -- and I’ll believe them.  But when it comes to actually establishing budgets, making choices, prioritizing, that’s when it starts breaking down.

And I actually think that there will come a time when political pressure leads to a shift, because more and more families -- not just inner-city African-American families, or Hispanic families in the barrio, but more and more middle-class or working-class folks are feeling pinched and squeezed -- that there will be a greater demand for some core public goods and we’ll have to find a way to pay for them.  But ultimately, there are going to have to be some choices made.

When I, for example, make an argument about closing the carried interest loophole that exists whereby hedge fund managers are paying 15 percent on the fees and income that they collect, I’ve been called Hitler for doing this, or at least this is like Hitler going into Poland.  That’s an actual quote from a hedge fund manager when I made that recommendation.  The top 25 hedge fund managers made more than all the kindergarten teachers in the country.

So when I say that, I’m not saying that because I dislike hedge fund managers or I think they’re evil.  I’m saying that you’re paying a lower rate than a lot of folks who are making $300,000 a year.  You pretty much have more than you’ll ever be able to use and your family will ever be able to use.  There’s a fairness issue involved here.  And, by the way, if we were able to close that loophole, I can now invest in early childhood education that will make a difference.  That’s where the rubber hits the road.

That’s, Arthur, where the question of compassion and “I’m my brother’s keeper” comes into play.  And if we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then, really, this conversation is for show.  (Applause.)
And by the way, I’m not asking to go back to 70 percent marginal rates, which existed back in the golden days that Bob is talking about when he was a kid.  I’m just saying maybe we can go up to like -- tax them like ordinary income, which means that they might have to pay a true rate of around 23, 25 percent which, by historical standards in postwar era, would still be really low.

So that’s the kind of issue where if we can’t bridge that gap, then I suspect we’re not going to make as much progress as we need to -- although we can find some areas of agreement like the earned income credit, which I give Arthur a lot of credit for extolling because it encourages work and it could help actually strengthen families.

MR. DIONNE:  Arthur raised capital gains taxes for us here.

MR. BROOKS:  Yes, sure.  Fine.  These are show issues.  Corporate jets are show issues.  Carried interest is a show issue.  The real issue?  Middle-class entitlements -- 70 percent of the federal budget.  That’s where the real money is.  And the truth of the matter is until we can take that on -- if we want to make progress, if the left and right want to make progress politically as they put together budgets, they’re going to have to make progress on that.

Now, if we want to create -- if we want to increase taxes on carried interest, I mean, that’s fine for me -- not that I can speak for everybody, certainly not everybody on the Republican side.

And by the way, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are watching, at least indirectly, and they’re paying attention to this -- 100 percent sure, because they care a lot about this.  And they care a lot about both culture and economics, and they care a lot about poverty.  And, again, we have to be really careful not to impugn their motives, and impugning motives on the other side is the number-one barrier against making progress.  Ad hominem is something we should declare war on and defeat because then we can take on issues on their face, I think.  It’s really important morally for us to be able to do that.

Who, by the way, were you having dinner with who was discussing Ayn Rand and why wasn’t I invited?  (Laughter.)

So if we want to make progress, I think let’s decide that we have a preference -- I mean, let’s have a rumble over how much money we’re spending on public goods for poor people, for sure.  And Republicans should say, I want to spend money on programs for the poor, but I think these ones are counterproductive and I think these ones are ineffective, and Democrats should say, no they’re not, we’ve never done them right and they’ve always been underfunded.  I want to have that competition of ideas.  That’s really productive.

But we can’t even get to that when politicians on the left and the right are conspiring to not touch middle-class entitlements, because we’re looking at it in terms of the right saying all the money is gone on this, and the left saying all we need is a lot more money on top of these things -- when most people who are looking at it realize that this is an unsustainable path.  It’s an unsustainable path for lots of things, not just programs for the poor.  We can’t adequately fund our military.

I think you and I would have a tremendous amount of agreement about the misguided notion of the sequester, for lots of reasons, because we can’t spend money on purpose.  And that’s what we need to do.  And when we’re on an automatic path to spend tons of money in entitlements that are leading us to fiscal unsustainability, we can’t get to these progressive conversations where conservatives and liberals really disagree and can work together, potentially, to help poor people and defend our nation.

MR. DIONNE:  I just want to say if the carried interest is a show issue, why can’t we just get it out of the way and move forward?  (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It is real money.  It’s real money.

MR. DIONNE:  Here is what I’d like to do.  I think we have about three minutes left, so I’d like Bob to speak, and then I have one last question for the President.
MR. PUTNAM:  All of us would agree about this -- we need to a little bit rise out of the Washington bubble and the debates about these things.  Of course, they’re important.  I understand why they’re important.  But, actually, we’re speaking here to an audience of people of faith.  We’re speaking, more largely, to America.  And I think we ought not to disempower ordinary Americans.  If they care about these problems, Americans can change the politics that would, over the next five to 10 years, make a huge difference.

And I’m not talking about changing Republican-Democrat.  I’m talking about making poverty and the opportunity to escape from poverty a higher issue on both parties’ agendas.  (Applause.)  I have some hope that that will happen.  I understand -- this may not be true, Mr. President -- I understand that there is going to be an election next year.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s a true fact.  (Laughter and applause.)

MR. PUTNAM:  And I think American voters should insist that the highest domestic priority issue is this issue of the opportunity gap, the fact that we’re talking about.  This is not a third order issue, it's a really important issue.  And ask candidates, what are you going to do about it?  And then just use your own common sense.  Is that the right way to go forward?

I think that we need, as a country, not just from the top down and from Washington, but from across the grassroots, to focus -- and in congregations and parishes all across this country, focus on what we can do to reduce this opportunity gap in America.

MR. DIONNE:  Mr. President, I wanted you to reflect on this religious question.  I mean, one of your first salaries was actually paid for by a group of Catholic churches, something -- Cardinal McCarrick knows that, but not a lot of Catholic bishops notice that -- (laughter) -- that you were organizing for a group of South Side churches.  You know what faith-based groups can do. And I’d like you to talk about sort of three things at the same time, which is the role of the religious community simply in calling attention to this problem; the issues of how government can cooperate with these groups; and sort of the prophetic role of these ideas for you, where your own reflections on your own faith have led you on these questions.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, it's true, my first job was funded through the Campaign for Human Development, which was the social justice arm of the Catholic Church.  (Applause.)  And I think that faith-based groups across the country and around the world understand the centrality and the importance of this issue in a intimate way -- in part because these faith-based organizations are interacting with folks who are struggling and know how good these people are, and know their stories, and it's not just theological, but it's very concrete.  They’re embedded in communities and they’re making a difference in all kinds of ways.

So I think that what our administration has done is really a continuation of work that had been done previously by the Bush administration, the Clinton administration.  We’ve got our office of faith-based organizations that are working on an ongoing basis around a whole host of these issues.  My Brother’s Keeper is reaching out to churches and synagogues and mosques and other faith-based groups consistently to try to figure out, how do we reach young boys and young men in a serious way?

But the one thing I guess I want to say, E.J., is that when I think about my own Christian faith and my obligations, it is important for me to do what I can myself -- individually mentoring young people, or making charitable donations, or in some ways impacting whatever circles and influence I have.  But I also think it's important to have a voice in the larger debate.  And I think it would be powerful for our faith-based organizations to speak out on this in a more forceful fashion.
This may sound self-interested because there have been -- these are areas where I agree with the evangelical community and faith-based groups, and then there are issues where we have had disagreements around reproductive issues, or same-sex marriage, or what have you.  And so maybe it appears advantageous for me to want to focus on these issues of poverty, and not as much on these other issues.

But I want to insist, first of all, I will not be part of the election next year, so this is more just a broader reflection of somebody who has worked with churches and worked in communities.

There is great caring and great concern, but when it comes to what are you really going to the mat for, what’s the defining issue, when you're talking in your congregations, what’s the thing that is really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, or as Catholics, or what have you, that this is oftentimes viewed as a “nice to have” relative to an issue like abortion.  That's not across the board, but there sometimes has been that view, and certainly that's how it’s perceived in our political circles.

And I think that there’s more power to be had there, a more transformative voice that's available around these issues that can move and touch people.  Because the one thing I know is that -- here’s an area where, again, Arthur and I agree -- I think fundamentally people want to do the right thing.  I think people don't set out wanting to be selfish.  I think people would like to see a society in which everybody has opportunity.  I think that's true up and down the line and across the board.  But they feel as if it’s not possible.

And there’s noise out there, and there’s arguments, and there’s contention.  And so people withdraw and they restrict themselves to, what can I do in my church, or what can I do in my community?  And that's important.  But our faith-based groups I think have the capacity to frame this -- and nobody has shown that better than Pope Francis, who I think has been transformative just through the sincerity and insistence that he’s had that this is vital to who we are.  This is vital to following what Jesus Christ, our Savior, talked about.

And that emphasis I think is why he’s had such incredible appeal, including to young people, all around the world.  And I hope that that is a message that everybody receives when he comes to visit here.  I can't wait to host him because I think it will help to spark an even broader conversation of the sort that we're having today.

MR. DIONNE:  All events are better with a reference to Pope Francis.  Thank you so much, Mr. President.  (Applause.)

I really want to thank Arthur and Bob.  And thank you, Bob, for writing this book that's moved us all.  And thank you, Mr. President, for being here.  And John and Galen and then so many others for creating this.

If I may close by simultaneously quoting Amos and Dr. King, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.  Bless you all.”
Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.