President Obama in Address to the People of Europe (Video/Transcript)

Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Guten tag!  It is wonderful to see all of you, and I want to begin by thanking Chancellor Merkel for being here.  (Applause.)  On behalf of the American people, I want to thank Angela for being a champion of our alliance.  And on behalf of all of us, I want to thank you for your commitment to freedom, and equality, and human rights, which is a reflection of your inspiring life.  I truly believe you’ve shown us the leadership of steady hands -- how do you call it?  The Merkel-Raute.  (Laughter.)  And over the last seven years, I have relied on your friendship and counsel, and your firm moral compass.  So we very much appreciate your Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

To the members of the Bundestag, Prime Minister Weil, Mayor Schostock, distinguished guests, people of Germany.  And I’m especially pleased to see the young people here -- from Germany and across Europe.  We also have some proud Americans here.  (Laughter and applause.)

I have to admit that I have developed a special place in my heart for the German people.  Back when I was a candidate for this office, you welcomed me with a small rally in Berlin, where I spoke of the change that’s possible when the world stands as one.  As President, you've treated me and Michelle and our daughters to wonderful hospitality.  You've offered me excellent beer -- (laughter) -- and weisswurst in Krun.  You've now hosted our delegation here in Hannover.

My only regret is that I have never been to Germany for Oktoberfest.  (Laughter.)  So I will have to come back.  And I suspect it's more fun when you're not President.  (Laughter and applause.)  So my timing will be good.  (Applause.)  

And as always, I bring the friendship of the American people.  We consider the German people, and all of our European allies, to be among our closest friends in the world -- because we share so much experience and so many of the same values.  We believe that nations and peoples should live in security and peace.  We believe in creating opportunity that lifts up not just the few but the many.  And I’m proud to be the first American President to come to Europe and be able to say that, in the United States, health care is not a privilege, it is now a right for all.  We share that as well.  (Applause.)

Perhaps most importantly, we believe in the equality and inherent dignity of every human being.  Today in America, people have the freedom to marry the person that they love.  We believe in justice, that no child in the world should ever die from a mosquito bite; that no one should suffer from the ache of an empty stomach; that, together, we can save our planet and the world’s most vulnerable people from the worst effects of climate change.  These are things that we share.  It's borne of common experience.

And this is what I want to talk to you about today -- the future that we are building together -- not separately, but together.  And that starts right here in Europe.

And I want to begin with an observation that, given the challenges that we face in the world and the headlines we see every day, may seem improbable, but it’s true.  We are fortunate to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous, most progressive era in human history.  That may surprise young people who are watching TV or looking at your phones and it seems like only bad news comes through every day.  But consider that it’s been decades since the last war between major powers.  More people live in democracies.  We’re wealthier and healthier and better educated, with a global economy that has lifted up more than a billion people from extreme poverty, and created new middle classes from the Americas to Africa to Asia.  Think about the health of the average person in the world -- tens of millions of lives that we now save from disease and infant mortality, and people now living longer lives.  

Around the world, we’re more tolerant -- with more opportunity for women, and gays and lesbians, as we push back on bigotry and prejudice.  And around the world, there’s a new generation of young people -- like you -- that are connected by technology, and driven by your idealism and your imagination, and you're working together to start new ventures, and to hold governments more accountable, and advance human dignity.

If you had to choose a moment in time to be born, any time in human history, and you didn't know ahead of time what nationality you were or what gender or what your economic status might be, you'd choose today -- which isn't to say that there is not still enormous suffering and enormous tragedy and so much work for us to do.  It is to remember that the trajectory of our history over the last 50, 100 years has been remarkable.  And we can't take that for granted, and we should take confidence in our ability to be able to shape our own destiny.

Now, that doesn't mean that we can be complacent because today dangerous forces do threaten to pull the world backward, and our progress is not inevitable.  These challenges threaten Europe and they threaten our transatlantic community.  We're not immune from the forces of change around the world.  As they have elsewhere, barbaric terrorists have slaughtered innocent people in Paris and Brussels, and Istanbul and San Bernardino, California.  And we see these tragedies in places central to our daily lives -- an airport or cafĂ©, a workplace or a theater -- and it unsettles us.  It makes us unsure in our day-to-day lives -- fearful not just for ourselves but those that we love.  Conflicts from South Sudan to Syria to Afghanistan have sent millions fleeing, seeking the relative safety of Europe’s shores, but that puts new strains on countries and local communities, and threatens to distort our politics.

Russian aggression has flagrantly violated the sovereignty and territory of an independent European nation, Ukraine, and that unnerves our allies in Eastern Europe, threatening our vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.  And it seems to threaten the progress that's been made since the end of the Cold War.

Slow economic growth in Europe, especially in the south, has left millions unemployed, including a generation of young people without jobs and who may look to the future with diminishing hopes.  And all these persistent challenges have led some to question whether European integration can long endure; whether you might be better off separating off, redrawing some of the barriers and the laws between nations that existed in the 20th century.

Across our countries, including in the United States, a lot of workers and families are still struggling to recover from the worst economic crisis in generations.  And that trauma of millions who lost their jobs and their homes and their savings is still felt.  And meanwhile, there are profound trends underway that have been going on for decades -- globalization, automation that -- in some cases, of depressed wages, and made workers in a weaker position to bargain for better working conditions.  Wages have stagnated in many advanced countries while other costs have gone up.  Inequality has increased.  And for many people, it’s harder than ever just to hold on.

This is happening in Europe; we see some of these trends in the United States and across the advanced economies.  And these concerns and anxieties are real.  They are legitimate.  They cannot be ignored, and they deserve solutions from those in power.

Unfortunately, in the vacuum, if we do not solve these problems, you start seeing those who would try to exploit these fears and frustrations and channel them in a destructive way.  A creeping emergence of the kind of politics that the European project was founded to reject -- an “us” versus “them” mentality that tries to blame our problems on the other, somebody who doesn’t look like us or doesn’t pray like us -- whether it’s immigrants, or Muslims, or somebody who is deemed different than us.

And you see increasing intolerance in our politics.  And loud voices get the most attention.  This reminds me of the poem by the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats, where the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity. 

So this is a defining moment.  And what happens on this continent has consequences for people around the globe.  If a unified, peaceful, liberal, pluralistic, free-market Europe begins to doubt itself, begins to question the progress that’s been made over the last several decades, then we can’t expect the progress that is just now taking hold in many places around the world will continue.  Instead, we will be empowering those who argue that democracy can’t work, that intolerance and tribalism and organizing ourselves along ethnic lines, and authoritarianism and restrictions on the press -- that those are the things that the challenges of today demand.

So I’ve come here today, to the heart of Europe, to say that the United States, and the entire world, needs a strong and prosperous and democratic and united Europe.  (Applause.)

Perhaps you need an outsider, somebody who is not European, to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved.  The progress that I described was made possible in large measure by ideals that originated on this continent in a great Enlightenment and the founding of new republics.  Of course, that progress didn’t travel a straight line.  In the last century -- twice in just 30 years -- the forces of empire and intolerance and extreme nationalism consumed this continent.  And cities like this one were largely reduced to rubble.  Tens of millions of men and women and children were killed.

But from the ruins of the Second World War, our nations set out to remake the world -- to build a new international order and the institutions to uphold it.  A United Nations to prevent another world war and advance a more just and lasting peace.  International financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to promote prosperity for all peoples.   A Universal Declaration of Human Rights to advance the “inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”  And here in Europe, giants like Chancellor Adenauer set out to bind old adversaries through commerce and through trade.  As Adenauer said in those early days, “European unity was a dream of a few.  It became a hope for [the] many.  Today it is a necessity for all of us.”  (Applause.)

And it wasn’t easy.  Old animosities had to be overcome.  National pride had to be joined with a commitment to a common good.  Complex questions of sovereignty and burden-sharing had to be answered.  Ant at every step, the impulse to pull back -- for each country to go its own way -- had to be resisted.  More than once, skeptics predicted the demise of this great project.

But the vision of European unity soldiered on -- and having defended Europe’s freedom in war, America stood with you every step of this journey.  A Marshall Plan to rebuild; an airlift to save Berlin; a NATO alliance to defend our way of life.  America’s commitment to Europe was captured by a young American President, John F. Kennedy, when he stood in a free West Berlin and declared that “freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.”
With strength and resolve and the power of our ideals, and a belief in a unified Europe, we didn’t simply end the Cold War -- freedom won.  Germany was reunited.  You welcomed new democracies into an even “ever closer union.”  You may argue over whose football clubs are better, vote for different singers on Eurovision.  (Laughter.)  But your accomplishment -- more than 500 million people speaking 24 languages in 28 countries, 19 with a common currency, in one European Union -- remains one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times.  (Applause.)

Yes, European unity can require frustrating compromise.  It adds layers of government that can slow decision-making.  I understand.  I've been in meetings with the European Commission.  And, as an American, we're famously disdainful of government.  We understand how easy it must be to vent at Brussels and complain.  But remember that every member of your union is a democracy.  That's not an accident.  Remember that no EU country has raised arms against another.  That's not an accident.  Remember that NATO is as strong as it’s ever been.

Remember that our market economies -- as Angela and I saw this morning -- are the greatest generators of innovation and wealth and opportunity in history.  Our freedom, our quality of life remains the envy of the world, so much so that parents are willing to walk across deserts, and cross the seas on makeshift rafts, and risk everything in the hope of giving their children the blessings that we -- that you -- enjoy -- blessings that you cannot take for granted.
This continent, in the 20th century, was at constant war.  People starved on this continent.  Families were separated on this continent.  And now people desperately want to come here precisely because of what you've created.  You can't take that for granted.

And today, more than ever, a strong, united Europe remains, as Adenauer said, a necessity for all of us.  It’s a necessity for the United States, because Europe’s security and prosperity is inherently indivisible from our own.  We can’t cut ourselves off from you.  Our economies are integrated.  Our cultures are integrated.  Our peoples are integrated.  You saw the response of the American people to Paris and Brussels -- it’s because, in our imaginations, this is our cities.

A strong, united Europe is a necessity for the world because an integrated Europe remains vital to our international order.  Europe helps to uphold the norms and rules that can maintain peace and promote prosperity around the world.

Consider what we’ve done in recent years:  Pulling the global economy back from the brink of depression and putting the world on the path of recovery.  A comprehensive deal that's cut off every single one of Iran’s paths to a nuclear bomb -- part of our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons.  In Paris, the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change.  (Applause.)  Stopping Ebola in West Africa and saving countless lives.  Rallying the world around new sustainable development, including our goal to end extreme poverty.  None of those things could have happened if I -- if the United States did not have a partnership with a strong and united Europe.  (Applause.)  It wouldn’t have happened.

That’s what’s possible when Europe and America and the world stand as one.  And that’s precisely what we're going to need to face down the very real dangers that we face today.  So let me just lay out the kind of cooperation that we're going to need.  We need a strong Europe to bear its share of the burden, working with us on behalf of our collective security.  The United States has an extraordinary military, the best the world has ever known, but the nature of today’s threats means we can’t deal with these challenges by ourselves.

Right now, the most urgent threat to our nations is ISIL, and that’s why we’re united in our determination to destroy it.  And all 28 NATO allies are contributing to our coalition -- whether it’s striking ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq, or supporting the air campaign, or training local forces in Iraq, or providing critical humanitarian aid.  And we continue to make progress, pushing ISIL back from territory that it controlled.

And just as I’ve approved additional support for Iraqi forces against ISIL, I’ve decided to increase U.S. support for local forces fighting ISIL in Syria.  A small number of American Special Operations Forces are already on the ground in Syria and their expertise has been critical as local forces have driven ISIL out of key areas.  So given the success, I’ve approved the deployment of up 250 additional U.S. personnel in Syria, including Special Forces, to keep up this momentum.  They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces that continue to drive ISIL back.

So, make no mistake.  These terrorists will learn the same lesson as others before them have, which is, your hatred is no match for our nations united in the defense of our way of life.  And just as we remain relentless on the military front, we’re not going to give up on diplomacy to end the civil war in Syria, because the suffering of the Syrian people has to end, and that requires an effective political transition.  (Applause.)

But this remains a difficult fight, and none of us can solve this problem by ourselves.  Even as European countries make important contributions against ISIL, Europe, including NATO, can still do more.  So I’ve spoken to Chancellor Merkel and I’ll be meeting later with the Presidents of France and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and of Italy.  In Syria and Iraq, we need more nations contributing to the air campaign.  We need more nations contributing trainers to help build up local forces in Iraq.  We need more nations to contribute economic assistance to Iraq so it can stabilize liberated areas and break the cycle of violent extremism so that ISIL cannot come back.

These terrorists are doing everything in their power to strike our cities and kill our citizens, so we need to do everything in our power to stop them.  And that includes closing gaps so terrorists can’t pull off attacks like those in Paris and Brussels.

Which brings me to one other point.  Europeans, like Americans, cherish your privacy.  And many are skeptical about governments collecting and sharing information, for good reason. That skepticism is healthy.  Germans remember their history of government surveillance -- so do Americans, by the way, particularly those who were fighting on behalf of civil rights.

So it’s part of our democracies to want to make sure our governments are accountable.
But I want to say this to young people who value their privacy and spend a lot of time on their phones:  The threat of terrorism is real.  In the United States, I’ve worked to reform our surveillance programs to ensure that they’re consistent with the rule of law and upholding our values, like privacy -- and, by the way, we include the privacy of people outside of the United States.  We care about Europeans’ privacy, not just Americans’ privacy.

But I also, in working on these issues, have come to recognize security and privacy don’t have to be a contradiction.  We can protect both.  And we have to.  If we truly value our liberty, then we have to take the steps that are necessary to share information and intelligence within Europe, as well as between the United States and Europe, to stop terrorists from traveling and crossing borders and killing innocent people.

And as today’s diffuse threats evolve, our alliance has to evolve.  So we’re going to have a NATO summit this summer in Warsaw, and I will insist that all of us need to meet our responsibilities, united, together.  That means standing with the people of Afghanistan as they build their security forces and push back against violent extremism.  It means more ships in the Aegean to shut down criminal networks who are profiting by smuggling desperate families and children.

And that said, NATO’s central mission is, and always will be, our solemn duty -- our Article 5 commitment to our common defense.  That’s why we’ll continue to bolster the defense of our frontline allies in Poland and Romania and the Baltic states.

So we have to both make sure that NATO carries out its traditional mission, but also to meet the threats of NATO’s southern flank.  That’s why we need to stay nimble, and make sure our forces are interoperable, and invest in new capabilities like cyber defense and missile defense.  And that’s why every NATO member should be contributing its full share -- 2 percent of GDP -- towards our common security, something that doesn’t always happen.  And I’ll be honest, sometimes Europe has been complacent about its own defense.
Just as we stand firm in our own defense, we have to uphold our most basic principles of our international order, and that’s a principle that nations like Ukraine have the right to choose their own destiny.  Remember that it was Ukrainians on the Maidan, many of them your age, reaching out for a future with Europe that prompted Russia to send in its military.  After all that Europe endured in the 20th century, we must not allow borders to be redrawn by brute force in the 21st century.  So we should keep helping Ukraine with its reforms to improve its economy and consolidate its democracy and modernize its forces to protect its independence.

And I want good relations with Russia, and have invested a lot in good relations with Russia.  But we need to keep sanctions on Russia in place until Russia fully implements the Minsk agreements that Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande and others have worked so hard to maintain, and provide a path for a political resolution of this issue.  And ultimately, it is my fervent hope that Russia recognizes that true greatness comes not from bullying neighbors, but by working with the world, which is the only way to deliver lasting economic growth and progress to the Russian people.
Now, our collective security rests on a foundation of prosperity, so that brings me to my second point.  The world needs a prosperous and growing Europe -- not just a strong Europe, but a prosperous and growing Europe that generates good jobs and wages for its people. 

As I mentioned before, the economic anxieties many feel today on both sides of the Atlantic are real.  The disruptive changes brought about by the global economy, unfortunately, sometimes are hitting certain groups, especially working-class communities, more heavily.  And if neither the burdens, nor the benefits of our global economy are being fairy distributed, it’s no wonder that people rise up and reject globalization.  If there are too few winners and too many losers as the global economy integrates, people are going to push back.

So all of us in positions of power have a responsibility as leaders of government and business and civil society to help people realize the promise of economic and security in this integrated economy.  And the good news is, we know how to do it.  Sometimes we just lack the political will to do it.
In the United States, our economy is growing again, but the United States can’t be the sole engine of global growth.  And countries should not have to choose between responding to crises and investing in their people.  So we need to pursue reforms to position us for long-term prosperity, and support demand and invest in the future.  All of our countries, for example, could be investing more in infrastructure.  All of our countries need to invest in science and research and development that sparks new innovation and new industries.  All of our countries have to invest in our young people, and make sure that they have the skills and the training and the education they need to adapt to this rapidly changing world.  All of our countries need to worry about inequality, and make sure that workers are getting a fair share of the incredible productivity that technology and global supply chains are producing.

But if you’re really concerned about inequality, if you’re really concerned about the plight of workers, if you’re a progressive, it’s my firm belief that you can’t turn inward.  That’s not the right answer.   We have to keep increasing the trade and investment that supports jobs, as we’re working to do between the United States and the EU.  We need to keep implementing reforms to our banking and financial systems so that the excesses and abuses that triggered the financial crisis never happen again.

But we can’t do that individually, nation by nation, because finance now is transnational.  It moves around too fast.  If we’re not coordinating between Europe and the United States and Asia, then it won’t work.

As the world has been reminded in recent weeks, we need to close loopholes that allow corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes through tax havens and tax avoidance, trillions of dollars that could be going towards pressing needs like education and health care and infrastructure.  But to do that, we have to work together.

Here in Europe, as you work to strengthen your union -- including through labor and banking reforms, and by ensuring growth across the Eurozone -- you will have the staunch support of the United States.  But you’re going to have to do it together, because your economies are too integrated to try to solve these problems on your own.  And I want to repeat:  We have to confront the injustice of widening economic inequality. But that is going to require collective work, because capital is mobile, and if only a few countries are worrying about it, then a lot of businesses will head toward places that don’t care about it quite as much.

For a lot of years, it was thought that countries had to choose between economic growth and economic inclusion.  Now we know the truth -- when wealth is increasingly concentrated among the few at the top, it’s not only a moral challenge to us but it actually drags down a country’s growth potential.  We need growth that is broad and lifts everybody up.  We need tax policies that do right by working families. 

And those like me who support European unity and free trade also have a profound responsibility to champion strong protections for workers -- a living wage and the right to organize, and a strong safety net, and a commitment to protect consumers and the environment upon which we all depend.  If we really want to reduce inequality, we've got to make sure everyone who works hard gets a fair shot -- and that's especially true for young people like you -- with education, and job training, and quality health care and good wages.  And that includes, by the way, making sure that there's equal pay for equal work for women.  (Applause.)

The point is, we have to reform many of our economies.  But the answer to reform is not to start cutting ourselves off from each other.  Rather, it's to work together.  And this brings me back to where I began.  The world depends upon a democratic Europe that upholds the principles of pluralism and diversity and freedom that are our common creed.  As free peoples, we cannot allow the forces that I’ve described -- fears about security or economic anxieties -- to undermine our commitment to the universal values that are the source of our strength.   

Democracy, I understand, can be messy.  It can be slow.  It can be frustrating.  I know that.  I have to deal with a Congress.  (Laughter.)  We have to constantly work to make sure government is not a collection of distant, detached institutions, but is connected and responsive to the everyday concerns of our people.  There's no doubt that how a united Europe works together can be improved.  But look around the world -- at authoritarian governments and theocracies that rule by fear and oppression -- there is no doubt that democracy is still the most just and effective form of government ever created.  (Applause.)

And when I talk about democracy, I don't just mean elections, because there are a number of countries where people get 70, 80 percent of the vote, but they control all the media and the judiciary.  And civil society organizations and NGOs can't organize, and have to be registered, and are intimidated.  I mean real democracy, the sort that we see here in Europe and in the United States.  So we have to be vigilant in defense of these pillars of democracy -- not just elections, but rule of law, as well as fair elections, a free press, vibrant civil societies where citizens can work for change.

And we should be suspicious of those who claim to have the interests of Europe at heart and yet don't practice the very values that are essential to Europe, that have made freedom in Europe so real.
So, yes, these are unsettling times.  And when the future is uncertain, there seems to be an instinct in our human nature to withdraw to the perceived comfort and security of our own tribe, our own sect, our own nationality, people who look like us, sound like us.  But in today's world, more than any time in human history, that is a false comfort.  It pits people against one another because of what they look or how they pray or who they love.  And yet, we know where that kind of twisted thinking can lead.  It can lead to oppression.  It can lead to segregation and internment camps.  And to the Shoah and Srebrenica.

In the United States, we’ve long wrestled with questions of race and integration, and we do to this day.  And we still have a lot of work to do.  But our progress allows somebody like me to now stand here as President of the United States.  That's because we committed ourselves to a larger ideal, one based on a creed -- not a race, not a nationality -- a set of principles; truths that we held to be self-evident that all men were created equal.  And now, as Europe confronts questions of immigration and religion and assimilation, I want you to remember that our countries are stronger, they are more secure and more successful when we welcome and integrate people of all backgrounds and faith, and make them feel as one.  And that includes our fellow citizens who are Muslim.  (Applause.)     

Look, the sudden arrival of so many people from beyond our borders, especially when their cultures are very different, that can be daunting.  We have immigration issues in the United States as well, along our southern border of the United States and from people arriving from all around the world who get a visa and decide they want to stay.  And I know the politics of immigration and refugees is hard.  It's hard everywhere, in every country.  And just as a handful of neighborhoods shouldn't bear all the burden of refugee resettlement, neither should any one nation.  All of us have to step up, all of us have to share this responsibility.  That includes the United States.

But even as we take steps that are required to ensure our security; even as we help Turkey and Greece cope with this influx in a way that is safe and humane; even as Chancellor Merkel and other European leaders work for an orderly immigration and resettlement process, rather than a disorderly one; even as we all need to collectively do more to invest in the sustainable development and governance in those nations from which people are fleeing so that they can succeed and prosper in their own countries, and so that we can reduce the conflicts that cause so much of the refugee crisis around the world -- Chancellor Merkel and others have eloquently reminded us that we cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings who are here now, and need our help now.  (Applause.)  We have to uphold our values, not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

In Germany, more than anywhere else, we learned that what the world needs is not more walls.  We can't define ourselves by the barriers we build to keep people out or to keep people in.  At every crossroads in our history, we've moved forward when we acted on those timeless ideals that tells us to be open to one another, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

And I think of so many Germans and people across Europe who have welcomed migrants into their homes, because, as one woman in Berlin said, “we needed to do something.”  Just that human impulse to help.  And I think of the refugee who said, “I want to teach my kids the value of working.”  That human impulse to see the next generation have hope.  All of us can be guided by the empathy and compassion of His Holiness, Pope Francis, who said “refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and [they] need to be treated as such.”

And I know it may seem easy for me to say all this, living on the other side of the ocean.  And I know that some will call it blind hope when I say that I am confident that the forces that bind Europe together are ultimately much stronger than those trying to pull you apart.  But hope is not blind when it is rooted in the memory of all that you've already overcome -- your parents, your grandparents.
So I say to you, the people of Europe, don't forget who you are.  You are the heirs to a struggle for freedom.  You're the Germans, the French, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Luxembourgers, the Italians -- and yes, the British -- (applause) -- who rose above old divisions and put Europe on the path to union.  (Applause.)

You’re the Poles of Solidarity and the Czechs and Slovaks who waged a Velvet Revolution.  You’re the Latvians, and Lithuanians and Estonians who linked hands in a great human chain of freedom.  You’re the Hungarians and Austrians who cut through borders of barbed wire.  And you’re the Berliners who, on that November night, finally tore down that wall.  You’re the people of Madrid and London who faced down bombings and refused to give in to fear.

And you are the Parisians who, later this year, plan to reopen the Bataclan.  You’re the people of Brussels, in a square of flowers and flags, including one Belgian who offered a message -- we need “more.”  More understanding.  More dialogue.  More humanity.

That's who you are.  United, together.  You are Europe -- “United in diversity.”   Guided by the ideals that have lit the world, and stronger when you stand as one.  (Applause.)

As you go forward, you can be confident that your greatest ally and friend, the United States of America, stands with you, shoulder-to-shoulder, now and forever.  Because a united Europe -- once the dream of a few -- remains the hope of the many and a necessity for us all.

Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)


President Obama Holds a Town Hall in London

President Barack Obama Weekly Address April 16, 2016 (Video/Transcript)

President Barack Obama 
 Weekly Address
The White House
April 16, 2016
Hello, everybody.  One of America’s greatest strengths is our free market.  A thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy – it’s how we create jobs, expand opportunities, and give everybody a shot at success.  It’s what has made America the strongest country on Earth.

The most essential ingredient in a healthy free market is competition.  But right now, too many companies are engaging in behaviors that stifle competition – like blocking new competitors from entering the market or limiting the information and options that give consumers real choice.  As a consequence, the rest of us pay higher prices for lower quality products and services.  Workers receive lower wages than they otherwise would.  Small businesses and entrepreneurs can get squeezed out of the market.  And none of that is fair – or good for our economy.

The deck should not be stacked in favor of the wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations, against working Americans.  That’s why my administration is doing everything we can to reverse this trend and promote more competition in the marketplace.  In addition to enforcing the rules on the books, I’ve directed federal agencies to identify anti-competitive behavior in different industries, and find new and specific ways to promote competition.

One industry that’s ripe for change is cable TV.  Right now, 99 percent of cable and satellite TV customers rent set-top boxes from their providers.  According to one survey, this costs households an average of more than $230 per year.  We spend some $20 billion to rent these devices.  While we have almost unlimited choice in what we watch on television, from traditional programming to online content, there’s next to no competition to build a better, user-friendly product that allows you to easily access all this content in one place.  So most consumers just rent whatever the cable company offers.  Because we have to.  That means companies have little incentive to innovate.  As a consequence, we need multiple devices and controllers to access content from different sources.  That makes no sense.

So my administration has encouraged the FCC to remove the barriers to competition that prevent new players from offering innovative cable box options to consumers.

We know this works.  For years, Americans had to rent our telephones from the phone company.  This was a while ago, but when the FCC finally unlocked competition for home phones, the marketplace was flooded with all kinds of phone options with new features, and at different price points.  Consumers suddenly had many options.  And the whole industry moved forward as a result.  The same can happen with cable boxes, and in dozens of areas of our economy – all of which can make a difference in your everyday life.

The bottom line is, competition is good for consumers, workers, businesses, and our economy.  So I’m going to keep doing everything I can to make sure that our free market works for everyone.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.  


The hunger mood

Hunger isn’t in your stomach or your blood-sugar levels. It’s in your mind – and that’s where we need to shape up

I decided to take a try at the great problem of our time: how to lose weight without any effort. So I did an experiment on myself. I was ripe for it, if truth be told. Here I am eight months later and 50 pounds lighter, so something must have worked. My approach to the problem was different from the usual perspective. I’m a psychologist, not a doctor. From the start I suspected that weight regulation was a matter of psychology, not physiology.

If weight were a matter of calories in and calories out, we’d all be the weight we choose. Everyone’s gotten the memo. We all know the ‘eat less’ principle. Losing weight should be as easy as choosing a shirt colour. And yet, somehow it isn’t, and the United States grows heavier. It’s time to consider the problem through an alternative lens.

Whatever else it is, hunger is a motivated state of mind. Psychologists have been studying such states for at least a century. We all feel hungry before dinner and full after a banquet, but those moments are the tip of the iceberg. Hunger is a process that’s always present, always running in the background, only occasionally rising into consciousness. It’s more like a mood. When it slowly rises or eases back down, even when it’s beneath consciousness, it alters our decisions. It warps our priorities and our emotional investment in long-term goals. It even changes our sensory perceptions – often quite profoundly. 

You sit down to dinner and say: ‘That tiny, little hamburger? Why do they have to make them so small? I’ll have to eat three just to break even.’ That’s the hunger mood making food look smaller. If you’re full, the exact same hamburger looks enormous. It isn’t just the food itself. Your own body image is warped. When the hunger mood rises, you feel a little thinner, the diet feels like it’s working and you can afford a self-indulgence. When satiety kicks in, you feel like a whale. 

Even memory can be warped. Suppose you keep a log of everything you eat. Is that log trustworthy? Not only have you drastically misjudged the size of your meals, but you’ve almost certainly forgotten items. Depending on your hunger state, you might snarf up three pieces of bread and after the meal sincerely remember only one. One recent study found that most of the calories people eat come through snacks between meals. But when you ask people, they deny it. They’re surprised to find out just how much they snack. 

The hunger mood is hard to control, precisely because it operates outside of consciousness. This might be why obesity is such an intractable problem. 

The hunger mood is controlled by the brain stem. The part most responsible for regulating hunger and other basic motivated states is called the hypothalamus, and it sits at the bottom of your brain. It has sensors that literally taste the blood. They detect levels of fat, protein and glucose, as well as blood pressure and temperature. The hypothalamus gathers this data and combines it with sensory signals that percolate in through other systems in the brain – fullness in the gut, the feel and taste and smell of food, the sight of food, even the time of day and other surrounding circumstances.

Given all this data, the neural circuits train up on our dietary habits. That’s why we get hungry at certain times of the day – not because of an empty stomach, but because of a sophisticated neural processor that anticipates the need for more nutrition. If you skip a meal, at first you feel acutely hungry, but then you actually begin to feel less hungry again as that accustomed mealtime passes by. That’s also why we get full at the end of a meal. Again, not because of a full stomach. If that’s your only signal, then you’re drastically overeating. As counterintuitive as it might sound, there’s normally a healthy gap between feeling full and having your stomach actually full. Psychological fullness is a feeling of sufficiency that comes from a much more complex computation. The hypothalamus in effect says: ‘You’ve just eaten a burger. I know from past experience with burgers that in about two hours the protein and fat in your blood will rise. Therefore, in anticipation, I’ll turn off your hunger now.’ The system learns, anticipates, and regulates. It operates in the background. We can consciously interfere with it, but not usually to good effect.

Take in fewer calories and you’ll lose weight. But explicitly try to reduce calories, and you’ll do the exact opposite

Here’s what happens when you interfere with your hypothalamus – when medical advice collides with psychology. Let’s say you decide to cut back on calories. You eat less for a day. The result? It’s like picking up a stick and poking a tiger. Your hunger mood rises and for the next five days you’re eating bigger meals and more snacks, perhaps only vaguely realising it. People tend to judge how much they’ve eaten partly by how full they feel afterward. But since that feeling of fullness is partly psychological, if your hunger mood is up, you might eat more than usual, feel less full than usual, and so mistakenly think that you’ve cut back. You might feel like you’re making progress. After all, you’re constantly vigilant. Sure, now and then you slip up, but you get yourself right back on track again. You feel good about yourself until you get on a scale and notice that your weight isn’t responding. It might go down one day and then blip up the next two days. Dancing under the surface of consciousness, your hunger mood is warping your perceptions and choices.

I’m not denying the physics here. If you take in fewer calories, you’ll lose weight. But if you explicitly try to reduce calories, you’re likely to do the exact opposite. Almost everyone who tries to diet goes through that battle of the bulge. Diets cause the psychological struggle that causes weight gain. 

Let’s say you try another standard piece of advice: exercise. If you burn calories at the gym you’ll definitely lose weight, right? Isn’t that just physics? Except that, after you work out, for the rest of the day you’re so spent that you might actually burn fewer calories on a gym day than on a regular one. Not only that, but after a workout you’ve assuaged your guilt. Your emotional investment in the cause relaxes. You treat yourself to a chocolate chip muffin. You might try to be good and decline the muffin, but the exercise revs up that subtle hunger mood lurking under the surface and then you don’t even know any more how much you’re overeating. Meals grow bigger while seeming to grow smaller. Extra snacks sneak in.

Let’s say you’ve tried all the standard advice – every diet out there. Some of them might even work for a short time, until you fall off the wagon and gain back even more than before. After a while you start to doubt your willpower. If the prevailing medical theory is correct, if weight is a matter of calorie control, then your problem is a weak character. It’s your own fault. That’s the message beamed across our culture from all directions. 

But the concept of willpower is anathema in psychology. Cognitive control is much more subtle, complex and limited in its ability than the lay notion of willpower. That notion is false and harmful to mental health. What is willpower anyway? It’s pitting long-term rewards against short-term rewards, and you’re going to fall off that wagon sooner or later. Every time you fall off, you do more damage than you can undo by climbing back on again. And even when you think you’re firmly on the wagon, most of the psychological complexity runs under the surface of consciousness and therefore you can’t possibly realise how much you’re sabotaging your own efforts.

Where does that leave you? At the end of that seemingly inevitable progression, you’re demoralised and depressed. You can do anything else you put your mind to but somehow you can’t manage the weight loss. And so you enter a disastrous spiral. If you’re going to be miserable anyway, you might as well indulge yourself. The food at least mitigates the misery. You slip into comfort eating, self-medication and addiction, and lose all motivation. You fall into the deepest part of the psychological quagmire and your chance of recovery is small. A recent study showed that if you’re obese, your chance of getting back into the normal range is less than one in 100. 

Most doctors, trainers, and healthcare professionals think about weight from the perspective of chemistry. It’s calories in versus calories out. Eat less, exercise more. Different schools of thought posit that all calories are equivalent, or that fat calories are especially bad, or that carbohydrate calories are particularly to be avoided. All these approaches focus on the way that calories are digested and deployed in the body. They ignore psychology. Most studies treat the psychology of hunger as an inconvenience. A ‘properly’ controlled study forces participants to eat a set amount of calories, thus screening out the annoying influence of autonomous human behaviour. And still, for all that has been learned from this mainstream medical approach, the advice is failing us. More than two-thirds of the US population is overweight. More than one-third is obese.

As I reviewed the discouraging rise of obesity in the US and all over the world, and the discouraging shrinking space between my own belly and my desktop, it seemed to me that the mainstream focus is almost entirely wrong. The obesity epidemic is not an issue of calories or willpower. I began to suspect that our problem with obesity is a problem of poisoning the normal regulatory system. We possess a system that’s intricate and beautifully calibrated. It evolved over millions of years to be good at its job. It should work in the background without any conscious effort, but for more than two-thirds of us it doesn’t. What are we doing to ourselves to screw up the hunger and satiety system?

For about a year, I experimented on myself. I used what’s called an event-related design, which involved some arduous sacrifice (or at least some boredom). Simply put, I ate the same damn thing every day to establish a consistent baseline. I measured weight, waistline, and kept notes on everything I could think of. Then I changed one thing in one meal and monitored its tiny, perturbing effect over the next several days. When the measurements went back to baseline, I’d try a new perturbation. Each tweak by itself gave a small signal, but after a while I could average across many events and watch the pattern emerge. Of course I had no illusions of discovering anything new. This wasn’t formal science. It had a sample size of one. The point was to find out which of all the conflicting advice flying back and forth out there resonated with my own personal data. What should I believe?

As usual, the most instructive part of the experiment turned out to be an incidental observation. Never mind whether some foods grew or shrank my poundage. I noticed instead that some acts grew or shrank my level of hunger. I knew when my hunger mood was up, even if I didn’t consciously feel hungry, because somehow I’d end up at the lunch deli early. And after I finished eating, it didn’t seem like I’d had as much food as usual. Maybe they’d slipped me a smaller sandwich? 

When my hunger mood was down, the roster of priorities would shift and I’d get caught up in my work. Somehow lunch would get delayed by an hour. My moment-by-moment decision-making was warped. Each time it happened it seemed as though there was some other reason for it, but I couldn’t ignore the pattern accumulating in my notes.

Three bad habits appeared to consistently boost my hunger. I call them the super-high death-carb diet, the low-fat craze, and the calorie-counting trap.

The super-high death-carb diet has become normal US fare. We get up in the morning and eat a croissant, or pancakes with syrup, or a muffin. Or cereal and milk. The cereal is all carbs. Then comes lunch. Suppose I’m unhealthy and eat a fast-food, McDonald’s lunch. We think of it as greasy food, but beyond the grease the burger has a bun and the ketchup is sugar paste. The fries are all carbs. The large soda is sugar water. The grease is only a tiny part of the meal. Maybe you feel morally superior and prefer a ‘healthy’ lunch, a deli sandwich that’s mainly French bread. And chips. And a Snapple. All carbs. 

The afternoon snack is some sugary beverage at Starbucks and a cookie. Or a power bar, which is a candy bar with spin. If you’re good, maybe a banana, which is as high carb as you get in the fruit world. Dinner? Piled with potatoes, pasta, rice, bread. We think we’re healthy eating sushi but it’s mostly rice. Maybe you go for a nice healthy soup. It’s thickened with flour and has noodles and potatoes. And every meal comes with soda, or juice, or ice tea, or some other sweetened drink. Then dessert. Then a snack before bed. It’s all carbs. You can’t walk through a supermarket without being assaulted by carbs on all sides. Some people talk about complex carbs versus refined sugar. They have a point, but take out the refined sugar and it’s still a staggering amount of carbohydrates. The super-high death-carb diet has warped our sense of normal.

The low-carb people might be right for the wrong reasons. Starting with Robert Atkins, the American cardiologist who first popularised the diet, an entire physiological theory has sprung up. In that theory, if you cut out enough carb, your body switches from using glucose to using ketones as the main energy-transporting molecule in your blood. By using ketones, the body begins to draw on its fat reserves. Moreover, by reducing blood sugar, you reduce insulin, the main hormone that promotes the deposition of fat in the body. Less carbs, less fat. The theory sounds good and might have some validity, but its impact on obesity remains controversial. One recent paper seems to smack it down entirely. 

The study monitored two groups of people. For six days, one group ate low-carb, the other low-fat. Both were strictly forced to eat the same number of calories. The result? The low-carb group did not lose more weight. Actually, the low-fat group did. The low-carb people might have reduced their insulin, but the theory didn’t really translate into magical weight loss. Given all that contradiction, what can we say about the low-carb approach?

Skip breakfast, cut calories at lunch, eat a small dinner, be constantly mindful of the calorie count, and you poke the hunger tiger

The theory and the experiments might be right as far as they go, but they miss the most important point. They emphasise how calories are deployed in the body instead of emphasising the motivated state of hunger. It would be encouraging to see more studies on how different diets affect hunger regulation. It is now well-established that a high-carbohydrate diet increases your hunger. A low-carb diet removes that stimulant. Taking all this together, the evidence suggests that a low-carb diet doesn’t make you lose weight because of its effect on your energy utilisation. It makes you lose weight because you eat less. Or (perhaps more accurately), the ridiculous, super-high death-carb diet stokes up the hunger mechanism and your eating goes out of control. 

Because that hunger state runs mostly beneath consciousness, it’s easy to misattribute the result. But in the end, if you follow the death-carb diet to its conclusion, you can’t help noticing the effect on your appetite. Extremely obese people reach a point where they’re always hungry, never full. They can eat six dinners’ worth until their stomachs feel stretched and terrible, about to split in the middle, but the brain isn’t satisfied.

The low-fat craze works the same way. I grew up in the era when public service commercials on TV warned us about the dangers of fat. Poor data and a rush to conclusions might have led the medical community to that recommendation. Don’t eat butter. Don’t eat eggs. Don’t drink whole milk. Take the skin off chicken. Eat low-fat yogurt (which is still chock-full of sugar). Dietary fat might have its medical downside; I don’t think the data are perfectly clear yet. But cutting out the fat has led to a disaster. As numerous studies have now established, fat reduces hunger. Take it away and the hunger mood soars. It’s not a simple relationship, and the effect is gradual. Remember, your hypothalamus takes in complex data and learns associations over time. Give it a few months of training with a diet that’s stripped of fat, and it will ratchet up your sense of hunger. 

But the most insidious attack on the hunger mechanism might be the chronic diet. The calorie-counting trap. The more you try to micromanage your automatic hunger control mechanism, the more you mess with its dynamics. Skip breakfast, cut calories at lunch, eat a small dinner, be constantly mindful of the calorie count, and you poke the hunger tiger. All you do is put yourself in the vicious cycle of trying to exert willpower and failing. That’s when you enter the downward spiral.

All three of these effects – high carb, low fat, and calorie counting – are increasingly evident in the scientific literature on diet, and also showed up in my self-observations. Amazingly, even a small tweak to one meal on one day had a noticeable effect on my hunger mood.

At the end of all my self-observations and meditations, the time had come to put the theory to a test. I tried a simple formula. First, moderately low-carb. The Atkins and Paleo diet purists would scoff. I reduced my carbohydrate intake by about 90 per cent and in doing so came nowhere near a low-carb diet. I wanted to avoid the super-high death-carb diet that most of us eat most of the time. Second, a little higher fat. I know some people swear by high fat and snack on entire sticks of butter. I don’t know what the research is on that kind of thing, but all I wanted was to avoid the extremity of a diet stripped of fat. Third, I could eat as much as I like at each meal. That last proposition was the hardest. When you want to lose weight, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the concept of eating more. I simply had to trust a bizarre psychological twist: if I try to eat less, I’ll end up eating more.

I could give a list of foods – salmon, peanut butter, pork chops, apples, tomatoes, chicken with the skin, tofu, eggs, and on and on – but really the concept is more revealing than the details. The diet had nothing to do with standard health advice. It had nothing to do with how those particular foods chemically affect my body. I wasn’t thinking of my arteries or my liver or my insulin. The approach was designed to speak to my unconscious hunger control mechanism, to encourage it to eat less. And it worked at a slow drip of about two pounds a week, trailing off finally to a much more comfortable weight. Twenty years of accumulation, 50 extra pounds (I cringe to admit it) went away in a few months.

There is no effort in an all-I-want diet of moderately fat comfort food. I simply sat back and watched my brainstem do its thing

The beauty of the method was that it required no effort. By effort, I mean that dubious concept of willpower. Pitting long-term goals against short-term rewards. When the hunger mood rises, the personal struggle is heartbreaking. I know all about that struggle and the weird thing is, the struggle is alluring. It might be dreadful, and it might be counterproductive, but it makes you feel like you’re doing something. Our society is impressed by hard work. Think of those people exercising maniacally on that TV show The Biggest Loser. We expect progress to be punishing, and we admire the people who push themselves to super-human limits. Another psychological trap, I guess. None of that self-flagellation turned out to be necessary. I had to reconcile myself to what felt like a lazy method. There is really no effort in an all-I-want diet full of moderately fat comfort food. I simply sat back and watched my brainstem do its thing. 

I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. Others have tried a similar diet, though perhaps for other reasons. Advocating for one particular weight-loss diet isn’t my point. My message is this: your weight is in large measure about your psychology. It’s about the hunger mood. Obesity is a crippling social problem, but to our detriment the research has almost uniformly ignored this aspect of the situation. Consider this to be a call to science to focus a great deal more on the psychology of the hunger mood.

In some ways, the hunger system is like the breathing system. The brain has an unconscious mechanism that regulates breathing. Suppose that system got shut down so that it was up to you to consciously control your own breath, adjusting its rate and depth depending on factors such as blood oxygen, carbon dioxide level, physical exertion, and so on. What would happen? You’d die in about 10 minutes. You’d lose track of the necessities. The intellectual, conscious mind is not really good at these matters of regulating the internal environment. It’s better to leave the job as much as possible to the dedicated systems that evolved to do it. 

What you can do with your conscious mind is to set the general parameters. Put yourself in a place where your automatic systems can operate correctly. Don’t put a plastic bag over your head. 

Likewise, don’t eat the super-high death-carb, low-fat diet. Don’t micromanage your brainstem by counting every calorie. You might be surprised at how well your health self-regulates.


To Protect Hillary Clinton, Democrats Wage War on Their Own Core Citizens United Argument

Glenn Greenwald
Source: The Intercept

FOR YEARS, THE Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United was depicted by Democrats as the root of all political evil. But now, the core argument embraced by the Court’s conservatives to justify their ruling has taken center stage in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — because Clinton supporters, to defend the huge amount of corporate cash on which their candidate is relying, frequently invoke that very same reasoning.

The crux of the Citizens United ruling was that a legal ban on independent corporate campaign expenditures constituted a limit on political speech without sufficient justification, and thus violated the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee. A primary argument of the Obama Justice Department and Democrats generally in order to uphold that campaign finance law was that corporate expenditures are so corrupting of the political process that limits are justified even if they infringe free speech. In rejecting that view, this was the key argument of Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the five-judge conservative majority (emphasis added):
For the reasons explained above, we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.
Does that sound familiar? It should. That key argument of the right-wing justices in Citizens United has now become the key argument of the Clinton campaign and its media supporters to justify her personal and political receipt of millions upon millions of dollars in corporate money: “Expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” — at least when the candidate in question is Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, the Clinton argument actually goes well beyond the Court’s conservatives: In Citizens United, the right-wing justices merely denied the corrupting effect of independent expenditures (i.e., ones not coordinated with the campaign). But Clinton supporters in 2016 are denying the corrupting effect of direct campaign donations by large banks and corporations and, even worse, huge speaking fees paid to an individual politician shortly before and after that person holds massive political power.

Another critical aspect of the right-wing majority argument in Citizens United was that actual corruption requires proof of a “quid pro quo” arrangement: meaning that the politician is paid to vote a certain way (which is, basically, bribery). Prior precedent, said the Citizens United majority, “was limited to quid pro quo corruption,” quoting a prior case as holding that “the hallmark of corruption is the financial quid pro quo: dollars for political favors.”

Does that sound familiar? It should. That, too, has become a core Clinton-supporting argument: Look, if you can’t prove that Hillary changed her vote in exchange for Goldman Sachs speaking fees or JPMorgan Chase donations (and just by the way, Elizabeth Warren believes she can prove that), then you can’t prove that these donations are corrupting. After all, argue Clinton supporters (echoing the Citizens United majority), “the hallmark of corruption is the financial quid pro quo: dollars for political favors.”

Conversely, the once-beloved Citizens United dissent from the Court’s liberals, written by Justice Stevens, was emphatic in its key claim: that there are many other forms of corruption brought about by corporate campaign expenditures beyond such quid pro quo — i.e., bribery — transactions. Their argument was that large amounts of corporate cash are almost inevitably corrupting, and certainly undermine trust in the political system, because of the many different ways (well beyond overt quid pro quos) that corporations convert their expenditures into undue influence and access:

That core argument from the liberal Citizens United dissenters has been the central critique the Sanders campaign and its supporters have used to denounce Clinton’s massive corporate-based campaign (and personal) wealth. Incredibly, to defend their candidate against this critique, Clinton supporters have waged war on the crux of the liberal critique of Citizens United.

Oh no, Clinton supporters insist, the mere fact that a candidate is receiving millions upon millions of dollars — both politically and personally — from Wall Street banks, hedge funds, and large corporations is not remotely suggestive of corruption, and we’re actually offended at the suggestion that it is. They are explicitly channeling Antonin Scalia and Mitch McConnell in defending the integrity of politicians who accept massive corporate money. As campaign finance reformer Zephyr Teachout wrote about a 1999 Supreme Court opinion authored by Scalia that “set the table for Citizens United“: “The Court suggests that using money to influence power through gifts is both inevitable and not troubling” — i.e., the 2016 argument of Clinton supporters.

What’s most amazing about all of this is that Clinton defenders are going even further in defending the integrity of corporate cash expenditures than many defenders of Citizens United did. There were many reluctant defenders of that decision on free speech grounds — such as the ACLU, Eliot Spitzer, various unions, and myself — who argued that the solution to domination of corporate donations was not to vest the government with the power to restrict political speech (the case began when an advocacy group was barred from distributing an anti-Hillary film) but, instead, to institute a system of robust public financing to even the playing field, to disempower corporations by rendering their expenditures unnecessary. But those of us who defended the decision on free speech grounds nonetheless accepted, and indeed vehemently argued, that corporate expenditures are corrupting in the extreme. As I wrote after that decision, “Corporate influence over our political process is easily one of the top sicknesses afflicting our political culture.”

Incredibly, Clinton supporters, to defend their candidate, have resorted to denying what was once a core orthodoxy of Democratic politics: that big corporate donations (let alone being personally enriched by huge Wall Street speaking fees in between stints in public office) are corrupting. In doing so, these Democrats — just as they did when they instantly transformed from opponents to supporters of Guantánamo, drones, and spying once Obama stopped denouncing those things and started doing them — have spent the 2016 campaign vehemently renouncing the crux of the argument in favor of campaign finance reform. About this incredibly cynical and destructive ploy, Adam Johnson wrote yesterday:

Precisely. To make a similar point yesterday, I posted this Twitter poll:

If you’re a Clinton supporter, how do you answer that question? What had been the only possible answer — of course it’s not ideal that Clinton relies on huge amounts of corporate cash, but she has no choice if she wants to raise the amounts needed to be competitive — has been decisively disproven by the Sanders campaign. And, either way, none of that justifies jettisoning what has, for many years, been at the heart of the liberal critique of the political system: that massive corporate donations corrupt. But as establishment Democrats have repeatedly proven, there is literally no principle, no belief, immune from being dispensed with the minute they think doing so helps empower their leaders.


Why Free Speech Is Fundamental

More than two centuries after freedom of speech was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, that right is very much in the news. Campus speech codes, disinvited commencement speakers, jailed performance artists, exiled leakers, a blogger condemned to a thousand lashes by one of our closest allies, and the massacre of French cartoonists have forced the democratic world to examine the roots of its commitment to free speech.

Is free speech merely a symbolic talisman, like a national flag or motto? Is it just one of many values that we trade off against each other? Was Pope Francis right when he said that "you cannot make fun of the faith of others"? May universities muzzle some students to protect the sensibilities of others? Did the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists "cross a line that separates free speech from toxic talk," as the dean of a school of journalism recently opined? Or is free speech fundamental — a right which, if not absolute, should be abrogated only in carefully circumscribed cases?

The answer is that free speech is indeed fundamental. It's important to remind ourselves why, and to have the reasons at our fingertips when that right is called into question.

The first reason is that the very thing we're doing when we ask whether free speech is fundamental — exchanging and evaluating ideas — presupposes that we have the right to exchange and evaluate ideas. In talking about free speech (or anything else) we're talking. We're not settling our disagreement by arm-wrestling or a beauty contest or a pistol duel. Unless you're willing to discredit yourself by declaring, in the words of Nat Hentoff, "free speech for me but not for thee," then as soon as you show up to a debate to argue against free speech, you've lost it.

Those who are unimpressed by this logical argument can turn to one based on human experience. One can imagine a world in which oracles, soothsayers, prophets, popes, visionaries, imams, or gurus have been vouchsafed with the truth which only they possess and which the rest of us would be foolish, indeed, criminal, to question. History tells us that this is not the world we live in. Self-proclaimed truthers have repeatedly been shown to be mistaken — often comically so — by history, science, and common sense.

Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history — one that is prior to every other discovery — is that our traditional sources of belief are in fact generators of error and should be dismissed as grounds for knowledge. These include faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, augury, prophesy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom, and subjective certainty.

How, then, can we know? Other than by proving mathematical theorems, which are not about the material world, the answer is the process that the philosopher Karl Popper called conjecture and refutation. We come up with ideas about the nature of reality, and test them against that reality, allowing the world to falsify the mistaken ones. The "conjecture" part of this formula, of course, depends upon the exercise of free speech. We offer these conjectures without any prior assurance they are correct. It is only by bruiting ideas and seeing which ones withstand attempts to refute them that we acquire knowledge.

Once this realization sank in during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, the traditional understanding of the world was upended. Everyone knows that the discovery that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice-versa had to overcome fierce resistance from ecclesiastical authority.

But the Copernican revolution was just the first event in a cataclysm that would make our current understanding of the world unrecognizable to our ancestors. Everything we know about the world — the age of our civilization, species, planet, and universe; the stuff we're made of; the laws that govern matter and energy; the workings of the body and brain — came as insults to the sacred dogma of the day. We now know that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.

A third reason that free speech is foundational to human flourishing is that it is essential to democracy and a bulwark against tyranny. How did the monstrous regimes of the 20th century gain and hold power? The answer is that groups of armed fanatics silenced their critics and adversaries. (The 1933 election that gave the Nazis a plurality was preceded by years of intimidation, murder, and violent mayhem.) And once in power, the totalitarians criminalized any criticism of the regime. This is also true of the less genocidal but still brutal regimes of today, such as those in China, Russia, African strongman states, and much of the Islamic world.

Why do dictators brook no dissent? One can imagine autocrats who feathered their nests and jailed or killed only those who directly attempted to usurp their privileges, while allowing their powerless subjects to complain all they want. There's a good reason dictatorships don't work that way. The immiserated subjects of a tyrannical regime are not deluded that they are happy, and if tens of millions of disaffected citizens act together, no regime has the brute force to resist them. The reason that citizens don't resist their overlords en masse is that they lack common knowledge — the awareness that everyone shares their knowledge and knows they share it. People will expose themselves to the risk of reprisal by a despotic regime only if they know that others are exposing themselves to that risk at the same time.

Common knowledge is created by public information, such as a broadcasted statement. The story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" illustrates the logic. When the little boy shouted that the emperor was naked, he was not telling them anything they didn't already know, anything they couldn't see with their own eyes. But he was changing their knowledge nonetheless, because now everyone knew that everyone else knew that the emperor was naked. And that common knowledge emboldened them to challenge the emperor's authority with their laughter.

The story reminds us why humor is no laughing matter — why satire and ridicule, even when puerile and tasteless, are terrifying to autocrats and protected by democracies. Satire can stealthily challenge assumptions that are second nature to an audience by forcing them to see that those assumptions lead to consequences that everyone recognizes are absurd.

That's why humor so often serves as an accelerant to social progress. Eighteenth- century wiseguys like Voltaire, Swift, and Johnson ridiculed the wars, oppressions, and cruel practices of their day. In the 1960s, comedians and artists portrayed racists as thick-witted Neanderthals and Vietnam hawks and nuclear cold warriors as amoral psychopaths. The Soviet Union and its satellites had a rich underground current of satire, as in the common definition of the two Cold War ideologies: "Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man; Communism is the exact opposite."

We use barbed speech to undermine not just political dictators but the petty oppressors of everyday life: the tyrannical boss, the sanctimonious preacher, the blowhard at the bar, the neighborhood enforcer of stifling norms.

It's true that free speech has limits. We carve out exceptions for fraud, libel, extortion, divulging military secrets, and incitement to imminent lawless action. But these exceptions must be strictly delineated and individually justified; they are not an excuse to treat speech as one fungible good among many. Despots in so-called "democratic republics" routinely jail their opponents on charges of treason, libel, and inciting lawlessness. Britain's lax libel laws have been used to silence critics of political figures, business oligarchs, Holocaust deniers, and medical quacks. Even Oliver Wendell Holmes's famous exception to free speech — falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater — is easily abused, not least by Holmes himself. He coined the meme in a 1919 Supreme Court case that upheld the conviction of a man who distributed leaflets encouraging men to resist the draft during World War I, a clear expression of opinion in a democracy.

And if you object to these arguments — if you want to expose a flaw in my logic or a lapse in my accuracy — it's the right of free speech that allows you to do so.


With Friends Like These...: Erdogan's Assault on Freedom and Democracy

The EU has placed its fate in the hands of Turkish President Erdogan. But the man who is to help solve the refugee crisis has recently shown more clearly than ever that he prefers autocracy to democracy. He is the price Europe must pay for failure. By SPIEGEL Staff

 Celil Sagir doesn't have much left to lose. On March 28, he was fired, shoved aside. Now, he can talk about what is currently happening in Turkey and describe what it looks like when one man subordinates an entire country.

 Sagir was managing editor of Today's Zaman, the English-language offshoot of the country's largest opposition newspaper. But on March 4, police stormed the paper's editorial offices in Istanbul. Anti-terror specialists took part in the raid, as did several burly men in riot gear to put down protests. In their wake came the so-called trustees, sent to monitor the paper on behalf of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

 The police searched the editorial offices and supervised the journalists as they prepared the next issue for print. Anyone wanting to enter the building was forced to pass through police checkpoints. Several journalists who were trying to get to their desks were fired by the police, told that their contracts had been terminated and that they should get lost. The rest of the editorial team was instructed to continue their work.

How, though, was that possible? The first issues of Zaman and Today's Zaman printed after the takeover lacked the critical stance and uncomfortable stories the publications were famous for. Such texts were either thrown out or rewritten. Zaman appeared with an amicably smiling president on the front page, prominently placed above the fold. When Sagir complained, "the trustee responsible told me: There are authorities above the trustees." He thinks "that somebody close to the president decided what would be published."

 "Press freedom isn't only about free speech, it's more about democracy," says Sagir. Many of those opposition activists able to leave the country, he says, have now done so: academics, intellectuals and business people. They were afraid of raids and of being arrested, he says. Afraid of being prosecuted as terrorists and traitors.

 "I would go too if I could," Sagir says, but he has three sons. He tried to keep working because he didn't want his newspaper to die and because he wanted to demonstrate to his children that he wasn't giving up. But he has given up his hope for an open, modern Turkey -- because it looks as though things are turning out just as Erdogan himself once said they would. "Democracy is like a train," he said. "You get off once you have reached your destination."

Making a Fool out of Merkel

Erdogan's modus operandi became even clearer last week in the absurd diplomatic dust-up over a satirical video aired by German public broadcaster NDR on its "extra 3" show. The clip, a rather harmless critique of Erdogan's heavy-handed ways, is only about two minutes long -- but it triggered an unhinged tantrum from the "Boss of the Bosporus," as NDR called him. His aids fumed, the German ambassador was summoned and the government in Berlin, after initial caution, grudgingly issued a statement. Erdogan wanted the video to disappear -- a position that clearly reveals his view of the state. It is that of a sultan, not that of a democrat. And it is definitely not the view of a leader who belongs in Europe.

 Yet of all people, the Turkish president has become one of the most important politicians for Europe. Perhaps the most important. The dispute over the video served to demonstrate just how dependent on Erdogan the European Union has become. His reaction made a fool out of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU. He can toy with the EU, provoke it and use it to tighten his own grip on power.

The reason is clear. Without Erdogan's Turkey, the refugee compromise would fail and the EU wouldn't know how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people heading north from Syria and Africa. Even more border fences would be built and borders closed. Europe, as a free continent, as an open community of nations, would be in danger.

Since the deal with Turkey was negotiated, Erdogan has made it clear just how much power he wields. The German ambassador was first summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara on Feb. 19. Ambassador Martin Erdmann had to answer questions pertaining to a handout about genocide given to teachers in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. The handout dealt extensively with the massacre of the Armenians during World War I, which Ankara denies. Included is a caricature showing Erdogan walking on the skulls of the victims.

Then came the satire affair. Erdogan was actually only the third choice of targets for the NDR satirists. They first considered doing a song about the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany, and then thought Social Democratic Party leader Sigmar Gabriel might make a good target. In the end, though, they came up with the idea of transforming an old Nena hit into an anti-Erdogan ditty.

The resulting video is much less caustic than many of "extra 3's" satirical treatments of other politicians. One of the authors says that he has rarely produced a satire with so little exaggeration. "Actually, we just sang about reality, one-to-one," he says. Erdogan's war on the Kurds, his approach to the opposition, equal rights for women: All such issues were addressed.

A Tweet and a Scandal
But on March 22, just a few days after the piece was broadcast, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Erdmann again. Initially, the summons was not made public, with Erdmann preferring to keep it under wraps.

On Good Friday, though, he told the story to Left Party parliamentarian Sevim Dagdelen. Dagdelen is her party's spokesperson for international affairs and she had traveled to Istanbul to monitor the beginning of a trial against two journalists from the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet. She met with Erdmann while there.

The diplomat told her that he was grilled about the video by a Foreign Ministry division head for a full hour. In preparation for the meeting, he had brought along a Turkish-language version of the German constitution and a few unflattering caricatures of Angela Merkel, hoping to use the material to elucidate Germany's understanding of freedom of the press.

That Sunday morning, Dagdelen wrote a tweet with a link to the satirical song: "This fantastic video from @extra3 has angered #Erdogan so much that he summoned the German ambassador in Ankara." The story was out.

America's Election Shame

US political culture long served as an example to others. But the political culture on display in the Republican primaries has been a mixture of primary school, mafia and porn industry.

America wasn't the world's first democracy, but for a long time, it was its proudest. No other country spoke as passionately or confidently about its system of government. If things continue as they have in this primary election, those days will be numbered.

The United States' political culture served as a model for others, one that was worthy of emulation and exported worldwide. Today, however, US diplomats look ridiculous when giving lessons in democracy to others.

Much of the blame lies squarely in the Republican camp. More than merely an embarrassment for the party of Abraham Lincoln, it is also a stain on the entire nation. Just over two weeks ago supporters of presidential hopeful Ted Cruz published an old photo of Melania Trump, once a model and now the wife of Republican candidate Donald Trump, in which she posed naked for the camera. It was accompanied by the sardonic caption, "Meet Melania Trump. Your next first lady." In retaliation, Trump shared a collage of photos portraying Cruz's wife as rather unattractive and Trump's wife as quite good looking. The line preceding it read, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Then an article appeared in the sleazy National Enquirer, whose editor is a close friend of Trump's, alleging Cruz has had five extra-marital affairs. Cruz suspected Trump's team was behind the story and consequently referred to Trump as a "rat" in his response. In the meantime, Trump, who called Cruz a "fraud," a "maniac" and a "world class liar" during the campaign, had to jump in to defend his campaign manager, who was arrested for battery after being accused of violently pulling a reporter out of a crowd. Physical violence is not objectionable for Trump. He has offered to pay the legal costs of supporters who beat protesters at his rallies should the victims sue.

Trump had previously exclaimed during a TV debate, unprovoked, that he had a large penis ("I guarantee.") He claimed a TV journalist's critical questions were a consequence of menstruation problems. He also mockingly acted out another journalist's physical disability live on television.

The political culture that is emerging here is a mixture of primary school, mafia, and porn industry. It alternates between cries of "He started it!," brawls, misogyny, and penis size comparison. It's almost as if guests at a formal dinner, where basic table manners were a given, suddenly began to belch and break wind without restraint. America is currently experiencing not only political but also moral bankruptcy. Dirty tricks are not new in US election campaigns, but the new lows to which the candidates are currently stooping are unprecedented.

It's not just the two bullies at the top who are to blame. Their rise was made possible through a decline in values such as decency, honesty, tolerance and fairness -- a process that has been hastened by the Republican Party more than anyone else. For too long, it has pursued fiscal, economic and social policies that served only companies and the rich, the financial backers of their election campaigns. At the same time, millions of Americans slid into precarity. Cultural declines are often the consequence of real economic decline. Propriety isn't the primary concern of those with financial worries, those who are embittered and living without hope. Instead, the neglected long for a culture of radicalism and coarseness. Destruction, they believe, may presage something better.

 Over the course of decades, the Republicans have likewise built up a culture of contempt for public goods and services. They argue for educational policies that exclude the non-privileged, instead pushing them towards stultification and barbarization. They allow billionaires like the Koch brothers to direct the party's policy and appoint it's key candidates. A few years ago, Republicans furthermore embraced the radical and destructive Tea Party movement, thus marking the party's departure from any semblance of moderation.

It is too late to turn back the clock. Attempts to block Trump's nomination at the Republican National Convention in July won't help either. Trump already has too many votes and his millions of voters would feel justifiably betrayed. Trump himself has already predicted "riots." The Republicans have no choice but to make fools of themselves with Trump as their candidate in the general election.

Only then, in the face of an implosion following a -- hopefully -- substantial electoral defeat will the party be able to take stock of its situation. It will then have to investigate what led to this state of neglect. The changes made must be so far-reaching that they amount to a refounding: the founding of a civilized, sincere party with close ties to its constituents. Fans of America should wish for nothing less.