Sunday

America's Election Shame

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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.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address May 28, 2016 (Video/Transcript)

President Barack Obama 
 Weekly Address
The White House
May 28, 2016 
Hi, everybody.  Right now, there are American troops serving in harm’s way and standing sentry around the world.  There are veterans who’ve served honorably in times of war and peace, and often came home bearing the invisible and visible wounds of war.  They may not speak the loudest about their patriotism – they let their actions do that.  And the right time to think of these men and women, and thank them for their service and sacrifice, is every day of the year.

Memorial Day, which we’ll observe Monday, is different.  It’s the day we remember those who never made it home; those who never had the chance to take off the uniform and be honored as a veteran.  It’s the day we stop to reflect with gratitude on the sacrifice of generations who made us more prosperous and free, and to think of the loved ones they left behind.

Remembering them – searing their stories and their contributions into our collective memory – that’s an awesome responsibility.  It’s one that all of us share as citizens.

As Commander-in-Chief, I have no more solemn obligation than leading our men and women in uniform.  Making sure they have what they need to succeed.  Making sure we only send them into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary.  And if they make the ultimate sacrifice – if they give their very lives – we have to do more than honor their memory.

We have to be there for their families.  Over the years, Michelle and I have spent quiet moments with the families of the fallen – husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.  They’ve shared their pain – but also their pride in the sacrifices their loved ones made under our proud flag.
It’s up to the rest of us to live our lives in a way that’s worthy of these sacrifices.

The idea to set aside a Memorial Day each year didn’t come from our government – it came from ordinary citizens who acknowledged that while we can’t build monuments to every heroic act of every warrior we lost in battle, we can keep their memories alive by taking one day out of the year to decorate the places where they’re buried.

That’s something that so many of our fellow Americans are doing this weekend.  Remembering.  Remembering the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who died in our defense.  Remembering those who remain missing.  Remembering that they were our fellow citizens and churchgoers, classmates and children, and more often than not, the best of us.

So this Memorial weekend, I hope you’ll join me in acts of remembrance.  Lay a flower or plant a flag at a fallen hero’s final resting place.  Reach out to a Gold Star Family in your community, and listen to the story they have to tell.  Send a care package to our troops overseas, volunteer to make a wounded warrior’s day a little easier, or hire a veteran who is ready and willing to serve at home just as they did abroad.

Or just pause, take a moment, and offer a silent word of prayer or a public word of thanks.
The debt we owe our fallen heroes is one we can never truly repay.  But our responsibility to remember is something we can live up to every day of the year.

Thanks.  May God watch over our fallen heroes and their families, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Peter Eigen: How to expose the corrupt




Source:TED
I am going to speak about corruption, but I would like to juxtapose two different things. One is the large global economy, the large globalized economy, and the other one is the small, and very limited, capacity of our traditional governments and their international institutions to govern, to shape, this economy. Because there is this asymmetry, which creates, basically, failing governance. Failing governance in many areas: in the area of corruption and the area of destruction of the environment, in the area of exploitation of women and children, in the area of climate change, in all the areas in which we really need a capacity to reintroduce the primacy of politics into the economy, which is operating in a worldwide arena. And I think corruption, and the fight against corruption, and the impact of corruption, is probably one of the most interesting ways to illustrate what I mean with this failure of governance.

  Let me talk about my own experience. I used to work as the director of the World Bank office in Nairobi for East Africa. At that time, I noticed that corruption, that grand corruption, that systematic corruption, was undermining everything we were trying to do. And therefore, I began to not only try to protect the work of the World Bank, our own projects, our own programs against corruption, but in general, I thought, "We need a system to protect the people in this part of the world from the ravages of corruption." And as soon as I started this work, I received a memorandum from the World Bank, from the legal department first, in which they said, "You are not allowed to do this. You are meddling in the internal affairs of our partner countries. This is forbidden by the charter of the World Bank, so I want you to stop your doings."

  In the meantime, I was chairing donor meetings, for instance, in which the various donors, and many of them like to be in Nairobi -- it is true, it is one of the unsafest cities of the world, but they like to be there because the other cities are even less comfortable. And in these donor meetings, I noticed that many of the worst projects -- which were put forward by our clients, by the governments, by promoters, many of them representing suppliers from the North -- that the worst projects were realized first. Let me give you an example: a huge power project, 300 million dollars, to be built smack into one of the most vulnerable, and one of the most beautiful, areas of western Kenya. And we all noticed immediately that this project had no economic benefits: It had no clients, nobody would buy the electricity there, nobody was interested in irrigation projects. To the contrary, we knew that this project would destroy the environment: It would destroy riparian forests, which were the basis for the survival of nomadic groups, the Samburu and the Turkana in this area. So everybody knew this is a, not a useless project, this is an absolute damaging, a terrible project -- not to speak about the future indebtedness of the country for these hundreds of millions of dollars, and the siphoning off of the scarce resources of the economy from much more important activities like schools, like hospitals and so on. And yet, we all rejected this project, none of the donors was willing  
  The good projects, which we as a donor community would take under our wings, they took years, you know, you had too many studies, and very often they didn't succeed. But these bad projects, which were absolutely damaging -- for the economy for many generations, for the environment, for thousands of families who had to be resettled -- they were suddenly put together by consortia of banks, of supplier agencies, of insurance agencies -- like in Germany, Hermes, and so on -- and they came back very, very quickly, driven by an unholy alliance between the powerful elites in the countries there and the suppliers from the North. Now, these suppliers were our big companies. They were the actors of this global market, which I mentioned in the beginning. They were the Siemenses of this world, coming from France, from the UK, from Japan, from Canada, from Germany, and they were systematically driven by systematic, large-scale corruption. We are not talking about 50,000 dollars here, or 100,000 dollars there, or one million dollars there. No, we are talking about 10 million, 20 million dollars on the Swiss bank accounts, on the bank accounts of Liechtenstein, of the president's ministers, the high officials in the para-statal sectors.

  This was the reality which I saw, and not only one project like that: I saw, I would say, over the years I worked in Africa, I saw hundreds of projects like this. And so, I became convinced that it is this systematic corruption which is perverting economic policy-making in these countries, which is the main reason for the misery, for the poverty, for the conflicts, for the violence, for the desperation in many of these countries. That we have today more than a billion people below the absolute poverty line, that we have more than a billion people without proper drinking water in the world, twice that number, more than two billion people without sanitation and so on, and the consequent illnesses of mothers and children, still, child mortality of more than 10 million people every year, children dying before they are five years old: The cause of this is, to a large extent, grand corruption.

Now, why did the World Bank not let me do this work? I found out afterwards, after I left, under a big fight, the World Bank. The reason was that the members of the World Bank thought that foreign bribery was okay, including Germany. In Germany, foreign bribery was allowed. It was even tax-deductible. No wonder that most of the most important international operators in Germany, but also in France and the UK and Scandinavia, everywhere, systematically bribed. Not all of them, but most of them. And this is the phenomenon which I call failing governance, because when I then came to Germany and started this little NGO here in Berlin, at the Villa Borsig, we were told, "You cannot stop our German exporters from bribing, because we will lose our contracts. We will lose to the French, we will lose to the Swedes, we'll lose to the Japanese." And therefore, there was a indeed a prisoner's dilemma, which made it very difficult for an individual company, an individual exporting country to say, "We are not going to continue this deadly, disastrous habit of large companies to bribe."

  So this is what I mean with a failing governance structure, because even the powerful government, which we have in Germany, comparatively, was not able to say, "We will not allow our companies to bribe abroad." They needed help, and the large companies themselves have this dilemma. Many of them didn't want to bribe. Many of the German companies, for instance, believe that they are really producing a high-quality product at a good price, so they are very competitive. They are not as good at bribing as many of their international competitors are, but they were not allowed to show their strengths, because the world was eaten up by grand corruption.

  And this is why I'm telling you this: Civil society rose to the occasion. We had this small NGO, Transparency International. They began to think of an escape route from this prisoner's dilemma, and we developed concepts of collective action, basically trying to bring various competitors together around the table, explaining to all of them how much it would be in their interests if they simultaneously would stop bribing, and to make a long story short, we managed to eventually get Germany to sign together with the other OECD countries and a few other exporters.

  In 1997, a convention, under the auspices of the OECD, which obliged everybody to change their laws and criminalize foreign bribery. (Applause) Well, thank you. I mean, it's interesting, in doing this, we had to sit together with the companies. We had here in Berlin, at the Aspen Institute on the Wannsee, we had sessions with about 20 captains of industry, and we discussed with them what to do about international bribery. In the first session -- we had three sessions over the course of two years. And President von Weizs├Ącker, by the way, chaired one of the sessions, the first one, to take the fear away from the entrepreneurs, who were not used to deal with non-governmental organizations. And in the first session, they all said, "This is not bribery, what we are doing." This is customary there. This is what these other cultures demand. They even applaud it. In fact, [unclear] still says this today. And so there are still a lot of people who are not convinced that you have to stop bribing. But in the second session, they admitted already that they would never do this, what they are doing in these other countries, here in Germany, or in the U.K., and so on. Cabinet ministers would admit this. And in the final session, at the Aspen Institute, we had them all sign an open letter to the Kohl government, at the time, requesting that they participate in the OECD convention.

  And this is, in my opinion, an example of soft power, because we were able to convince them that they had to go with us. We had a longer-term time perspective. We had a broader, geographically much wider, constituency we were trying to defend. And that's why the law has changed. That's why Siemens is now in the trouble they are in and that's why MIN is in the trouble they are in. In some other countries, the OECD convention is not yet properly enforced. And, again, civil societies breathing down the neck of the establishment.

  In London, for instance, where the BAE got away with a huge corruption case, which the Serious Fraud Office tried to prosecute, 100 million British pounds, every year for ten years, to one particular official of one particular friendly country, who then bought for 44 billion pounds of military equipment. This case, they are not prosecuting in the UK. Why? Because they consider this as contrary to the security interest of the people of Great Britain. Civil society is pushing, civil society is trying to get a solution to this problem, also in the U.K., and also in Japan, which is not properly enforcing, and so on.

  In Germany, we are pushing the ratification of the UN convention, which is a subsequent convention. We are, Germany, is not ratifying. Why? Because it would make it necessary to criminalize the corruption of deputies. In Germany, we have a system where you are not allowed to bribe a civil servant, but you are allowed to bribe a deputy. This is, under German law, allowed, and the members of our parliament don't want to change this, and this is why they can't sign the U.N. convention against foreign bribery -- one of they very, very few countries which is preaching honesty and good governance everywhere in the world, but not able to ratify the convention, which we managed to get on the books with about 160 countries all over the world.

  I see my time is ticking. Let me just try to draw some conclusions from what has happened. I believe that what we managed to achieve in fighting corruption, one can also achieve in other areas of failing governance. By now, the United Nations is totally on our side. The World Bank has turned from Saulus to Paulus; under Wolfensohn, they became, I would say, the strongest anti-corruption agency in the world. Most of the large companies are now totally convinced that they have to put in place very strong policies against bribery and so on. And this is possible because civil society joined the companies and joined the government in the analysis of the problem, in the development of remedies, in the implementation of reforms, and then later, in the monitoring of reforms.

  Of course, if civil society organizations want to play that role, they have to grow into this responsibility. Not all civil society organizations are good. The Ku Klux Klan is an NGO. So, we must be aware that civil society has to shape up itself. They have to have a much more transparent financial governance. They have to have a much more participatory governance in many civil society organizations. We also need much more competence of civil society leaders. This is why we have set up the governance school and the Center for Civil Society here in Berlin, because we believe most of our educational and research institutions in Germany and continental Europe in general, do not focus enough, yet, on empowering civil society and training the leadership of civil society.

  But what I'm saying from my very practical experience: If civil society does it right and joins the other actors -- in particular, governments, governments and their international institutions, but also large international actors, in particular those which have committed themselves to corporate social responsibility -- then in this magical triangle between civil society, government and private sector, there is a tremendous chance for all of us to create a better world.

  Thank you.

Trevor Timm: How free is our freedom of the press?




Source:TED
So this is James Risen. You may know him as the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. Long before anybody knew Edward Snowden's name, Risen wrote a book in which he famously exposed that the NSA was illegally wiretapping the phone calls of Americans. But it's another chapter in that book that may have an even more lasting impact. In it, he describes a catastrophic US intelligence operation in which the CIA quite literally handed over blueprints of a nuclear bomb to Iran. If that sounds crazy, go read it. It's an incredible story.

  But you know who didn't like that chapter? The US government. For nearly a decade afterwards, Risen was the subject of a US government investigation in which prosecutors demanded that he testify against one of his alleged sources. And along the way, he became the face for the US government's recent pattern of prosecuting whistleblowers and spying on journalists.

  You see, under the First Amendment, the press has the right to publish secret information in the public interest. But it's impossible to exercise that right if the media can't also gather that news and protect the identities of the brave men and women who get it to them. So when the government came knocking, Risen did what many brave reporters have done before him: he refused and said he'd rather go to jail. So from 2007 to 2015, Risen lived under the specter of going to federal prison.

  That is, until just days before the trial, when a curious thing happened. Suddenly, after years of claiming it was vital to their case, the government dropped their demands to Risen altogether. It turns out, in the age of electronic surveillance, there are very few places reporters and sources can hide. And instead of trying and failing to have Risen testify, they could have his digital trail testify against him instead. So completely in secret and without his consent, prosecutors got Risen's phone records. They got his email records, his financial and banking information, his credit reports, even travel records with a list of flights he had taken. And it was among this information that they used to convict Jeffrey Sterling, Risen's alleged source and CIA whistleblower.

 Sadly, this is only one case of many. President Obama ran on a promise to protect whistleblowers, and instead, his Justice Department has prosecuted more than all other administrations combined. Now, you can see how this could be a problem, especially because the government considers so much of what it does secret. Since 9/11, virtually every important story about national security has been the result of a whistleblower coming to a journalist. So we risk seeing the press unable to do their job that the First Amendment is supposed to protect because of the government's expanded ability to spy on everyone.

  But just as technology has allowed the government to circumvent reporters' rights, the press can also use technology to protect their sources even better than before. And they can start from the moment they begin speaking with them, rather than on the witness stand after the fact. Communications software now exists that wasn't available when Risen was writing his book, and is much more surveillance-resistant than regular emails or phone calls. For example, one such tool is SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system that was originally created by the late Internet luminary Aaron Swartz, and is now developed at the non-profit where I work, Freedom of the Press Foundation. Instead of sending an email, you go to a news organization's website, like this one here on The Washington Post. From there, you can upload a document or send information much like you would on any other contact form. It'll then be encrypted and stored on a server that only the news organization has access to. So the government can no longer secretly demand the information, and much of the information they would demand wouldn't be available in the first place.

SecureDrop, though, is really only a small part of the puzzle for protecting press freedom in the 21st century. Unfortunately, governments all over the world are constantly developing new spying techniques that put us all at risk. And it's up to us going forward to make sure that it's not just the tech-savvy whistleblowers, like Edward Snowden, who have an avenue for exposing wrongdoing. It's just as vital that we protect the next veteran's health care whistleblower alerting us to overcrowded hospitals, or the next environmental worker sounding the alarm about Flint's dirty water, or a Wall Street insider warning us of the next financial crisis. After all, these tools weren't just built to help the brave men and women who expose crimes, but are meant to protect all of our rights under the Constitution.

Thank you.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address May 21, 2016 (Video/Transcript)

President Barack Obama 
 Weekly Address
The White House
May 21, 2016
Hi everybody.  Last summer, I got a letter from a woman named Elizabeth Paredes from Tucson, Arizona.  Elizabeth is the mom of a 3-year-old boy, and an assistant manager at a sandwich shop.  She earns about $2,000 a month, and she routinely works some 50 hours a week, sometimes even more.  But because of outdated overtime regulations, she doesn’t have to be paid a dime of overtime.
She wrote: “It’s not easy work and requires a lot of time away from my son… at times I find [it's] not worth it.”

Things like the 40-hour workweek and overtime are two of the most basic pillars of a middle class life.  But for all the changes we’ve seen in our economy, our overtime rules have only been updated once since the 1970s.  Just once.  In fact, forty years ago, more than 60 percent of workers were eligible for overtime based on their salaries.  But today, that number is down to seven percent.  Only seven percent of full-time salaried workers are eligible for overtime based on their income.

That’s why this week, my Administration took a step to help more workers get the overtime pay they’ve earned.  The Department of Labor finalized a rule to extend overtime protections to 4.2 million more Americans.  It’s a move that will boost wages for working Americans by $12 billion over the next 10 years.  We’re more than doubling the overtime salary threshold.  And what that means is, most salaried workers who earn less than about $47,500 a year will qualify for overtime.

Or, their employers can choose to give them a raise so that they earn more than $47,500.  Or, if employers don’t want to raise wages, they can let them go home after 40 hours and see their families or train for new jobs.  Any way you slice it, it’s a win for working families.  And we’re making sure that every three years, there will be an automatic update to this threshold – so that working families won’t fall through the cracks for decades at a time ever again.

This is the single biggest step I can take through executive action to raise wages for the American people.  It means that millions of hardworking Americans like Elizabeth will either get paid for working more than 40 hours, or they’ll get more time with their families.  Either way, they win.  The middle class wins.  And America wins.

We still have more work to do to make sure this economy works for everybody, not just those at the top.  That’s why I’ll never stop fighting for as long as I hold this office – to restore the sense that in America, hard work should be rewarded with the chance to get ahead.

Thanks everybody.  Have a great weekend.

Monday

President Barack Obama Weekly Address May 7, 2016 (Video/Transcript)

President Barack Obama 
 Weekly Address
The White House
May 7, 2016
Hello, everybody.  In our house, everybody knows that President is only the third-most important job in the family.  So this weekend, I’m going to take a little extra time to say thank you to Michelle for the remarkable way she does the most important job: being a mom.  And I’m going to give extra thanks to my mother-in-law for the role model she’s always been to Michelle and the countless selfless ways in which she’s helped Michelle and me raise Malia and Sasha.  I am incredibly lucky to have women who help me raise, love, and look after our girls.

I hope you’ll also take a moment to say thank you to the women in your life who love you in that special way mothers do.  Biological moms, adoptive moms, and foster moms; single moms, grandmoms and godmothers; aunts and mentors – whomever you think of when you think of Mother’s Day.  Or take a moment, like I will, to remember the moms who raised us, whose big hearts sustained us, and whom we miss every day, no matter how old we get.

Giving flowers is always a good idea.  But I hope that on this Mother’s Day, we’ll recommit ourselves to doing more than that: Through deeds that match our words, let’s give mothers the respect they deserve, give all women the equality they deserve, and give all parents the support they need in their most important roles.

That includes paid maternity and paternity leave, sick leave, accommodations for workers who are pregnant, good health care, affordable child care, flexibility at work, equal pay, and a decent minimum wage.  We ask our mothers to do more than their fair share of just about everything.  Making sure they’re treated fairly is the least we can do.

The idea of setting aside a Sunday in May for our mothers became an official holiday with a Congressional resolution a little more than 100 years ago.  They did it on May 8 – the same day we’ll celebrate Mother’s Day this year.  If Congress can make a holiday, surely they can back it up with the things that give it meaning.  After all, that’s what my mother taught me.  I couldn’t just say I was going to do the right thing, or say I agreed with it on principle.  I had to actually do it.

So this Mother’s Day, say thank you.  Say, “I love you.”  And let’s make sure we show that gratitude and appreciation through acts of respect throughout the year.  No one deserves that more than our moms.

Happy Mother’s Day, and have a great weekend.

Tuesday


You can’t say it, but you know it is true.

Good evening everybody. It is an honor to be here at my last, and perhaps the last White House correspondents’ dinner. You all look great. The end of the Republic has never looked better.
I do apologize. I know I was a little late tonight. I was running on CPT, which stands for jokes that white people should not make. That’s a tip for you, Jeff.

Anyway, here we are, my eighth and final appearance at this unique event. And I am excited. If this material works well, I’m going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year. Earn me some serious Tubmans. That’s right. That’s right.

My brilliant and beautiful wife Michelle is here tonight. She looks so happy to be here. It’s called practice. It’s like learning to do three-minute planks. She makes it look easy now. But…
Next year at this time, someone else will be standing here in this very spot and it’s anyone guess who she will be. But standing here I can’t help but be reflective and a little sentimental.

Eight years ago I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific. Eight years ago, I was a young man full of idealism and vigor. And look at me now, I am gray, grizzled and just counting down the days to my death panel.

Hillary once questioned whether I would be up ready for a 3 a.m .phone call. Now, I’m awake anyway because I have to go to the bathroom. I’m up.

In fact somebody recently said to me, ‘Mr. President, you are so yesterday. Justin Trudeau has completely replaced you. He is so handsome and he’s so charming. He’s the future.’ And I said ‘Justin, just give it a rest.’ I resented that.

Meanwhile, Michelle has not aged a day. The only way you can date her in photos is by looking at me. Take a look. [Show photos over the years] Here we are in 2008. Here we are a few years later. And this one is from two weeks ago. [skelton photo from Canada dinner] So time passes.

In just six short months, I will be officially a lame duck, which means Congress now will flat out reject my authority, and Republican leaders won’t take my phone calls. And this is going to take some getting use to. It’s really gonna… It’s a curve ball. I don’t know what to do with it. Of course, in fact, for four months now congressional Republicans have been saying there are things I cannot do in my final year. Unfortunately, this dinner was not one of them.

But on everything else, it’s another story. And you know who you are, Republicans. In fact, I think we’ve got Republican senators Tim Scott and Cory Gardner. They are in the house, which reminds me … security bar the doors. Judge Merrick Garland come on out. We are going to do this right here. Right now.

It’s like the red wedding.

But it’s not just Congress. Even some foreign leaders, they’ve been looking ahead, anticipating my departure. Last week, Prince George showed up to our meeting in his bathrobe. That was a slap in the face. A clear breach of protocol.

Although, while in England I did have lunch with her Majesty the Queen, took in a performance of Shakespeare, hit the links with David Cameron. Just in case anyone was debating whether I am black enough, I think that settles the debate.

I won’t lie, look, this is a tough transition. It’s hard. Key staff are now starting to leave the White House. Even reporters have left me. Savannah Guthrie, she has left the White House press corps to host the “Today” show. Norah O’Donnell left the briefing room to host ‘CBS This Morning.’ Jake Tapper left journalism to join CNN.

But the prospect of leaving the White House is a mixed bag. You might have heard that someone jumped the White House fence last week, but I have to give the Secret Service credit. They found Michelle and brought her back. She’s safe back at home now. It’s only nine more months, baby. Settle down.

And yet somehow, despite all this, despite the churn, in my final year my approval ratings keep going up. The last time I was this high I was trying to decide on my major.


And here’s the thing, I haven’t really done anything differently. So it’s odd. Even my age can’t explain the rising poll numbers. What has changed nobody can figure it out. [Image of Cruz and Trump]. Puzzling.

Anyway. In this last year, I do have more appreciation for those who have been with me on this amazing ride. Like one of our finest public servants, Joe Biden. God bless him. I love that guy. I love Joe Biden. I really do. And I want to thank him for his friendship, for his counsel, for always giving it to me straight, for not shooting anybody in the face. Thank you, Joe.

Also, I would be remiss. Let’s give it up for our host, Larry Wilmore. Also known as one of the two black guys who’s not Jon Stewart. You’re the South African guy, right? I love Larry. And his parents are here, who are from Evanston, which is great town. I also would like to acknowledge some of the award winning reporters that we have with us here tonight. Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber. Thank you all for everything you have done. I’m just joking. As you know, “Spotlight” is a film, a movie about investigative journalists with the resources and the autonomy to chase down the truth and hold the powerful accountable. Best fantasy film since “Star Wars.”

Look. That was maybe a cheap shot. I understand the news business is tough these days. It keeps changing all the time. Every year at this dinner somebody makes a joke about Buzzfeed, for example, changing the media landscape. And every year The Washington Post laughs a little bit less hard. Kind of a silence there. Especially at the Washington Post table.

GOP chairman Reince Priebus is here as well. Glad to see that you feel you have earned a night off. Congratulations on all your success, the republican party, the nomination process. It’s all going great. Keep it up.

Kendall Jenner is also here. And we had a chance to meet her backstage. She seems like a very nice, young woman. I’m not exactly sure what she does, but I’m told that my twitter mentions are about to go through the roof.

Helen Mirren is here tonight. I don’t even have a joke here, I just think Helen Mirren is awesome. She’s awesome.

Sitting at the same table I see Mike Bloomberg. Mike, a combative, controversial New York billionaire is leading the GOP primary and it is not you. That has to sting a little bit. Although it’s not an entirely fair comparison between you and the Donald. After all Mike was a big city mayor. He knows policy in depth. And he’s actually worth the amount of money that he says he is.
What an election season. For example, we’ve got the bright new face of the Democratic party here tonight, Mr. Bernie Sanders. Bernie, you look like a million bucks. Or, to put in terms you’ll understand, you look like 37,000 donations of $27 each.

A lot of folks have been surprised by the Bernie phenomenon, especially his appeal to young people. But not me. I get it. Just recently a young person came up to me and said she was sick of politicians standing in the way of her dreams. As if we were actually going to let Malia go to Burning Man this year. Was not going to happen. Bernie might have let her go. Not us.

I am hurt though, Bernie, that you have been distancing yourself little from me. I mean that’s just not something that you do to your comrade.

Bernie’s slogan has helped his campaign catch fire among young people. ‘Feel the Bern.’ ‘Feel the Bern.’ That’s a good slogan. Hillary’s slogan has not had the same effect. Let’s see this. [image of a boulder on a hill with the slogan “Trudge up the Hill”]

Look, I’ve said how much I admire Hillary’s toughness, her smarts, her policy chops, her experience. You’ve got admit it though, Hillary trying appeal to young voters is a little bit like your relative who just signed up for Facebook. ‘Dear America, did you get my poke? Is it appearing on your wall? I’m not sure I’m using this right. Love, Aunt Hillary.’ It’s not entirely persuasive.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, things are a little more, how shall we say this, a little more loose. Just look at the confusion over the invitations to tonight’s dinner. Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish. But instead, a whole bunch of you wrote in Paul Ryan. That’s not an option people. Steak or fish. You may not like steak or fish, but that’s your choice.


Meanwhile, some candidates aren’t polling high enough to qualify for their own joke tonight. [image of Kasich eating]. The rules were well established ahead of time.

And then there’s Ted Cruz. Ted had a tough week. He went to Indiana. Hoosier country. Stood on a basketball court and called the hoop a basketball ring. What else is in his lexicon. Baseball sticks. Football hats. But sure, I’m the foreign one.

Well let me conclude tonight on a more serious note. I want thank the Washington press corps. I want to thank Carol for all that you do. The free press is central to our democracy and, nah, I’m just kidding! You know I’m going to talk about Trump. Come on. We weren’t just going to stop there. Come on.

Although I am a little hurt that he’s not here tonight. We had so much fun that last time, And it is surprising. You’ve got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras. And he says no. Is this dinner too tacky for the Donald? What could he possibly be doing instead? Is he at home eating a Trump steak, tweeting out insults to Angela Merkel? What’s he doin’?

The republican establishment is incredulous that he is their most likely nominee. Incredulous. Shocking. They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be president. But in fairness, he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan.

And there is one area where Donald’s experience could be invaluable and that’s closing Guantanamo because Trump knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground. Alright, that is probably enough. I mean I’ve got more material. No, no, no.

I don’t want to spend too much time on The Donald. Following your lead, I want to show some restraint. Because I think we can all agree that from the start he’s gotten the appropriate amount of coverage befitting the seriousness of his candidacy. Ha. I hope you all are proud of yourselves. The guy wanted to give his hotel business a boost and now we are praying that Cleveland makes it through July. Mmm mmm mmn. Hmmm.

As for me and Michelle, we’ve decided to stay in D.C. for a couple more years. Thank you. This way our youngest daughter can finish up high school. Michelle can stay closer to her plot of carrots. She’s already making plans to see them every day. Take a look [image of Michelle].

But our decision has actually presented a bit of a dilemma because traditionally presidents don’t stick around after they’re done. And it’s something that I’ve been brooding about a little bit. Take a look…

There you go. I am still waiting for all of you to respond to my invitation to connect to LinkedIn. But I know you have jobs to do which is what really brings us here tonight.

I know that there are times that we’ve had differences and that’s inherent in our institutional roles. That is true of every president and his press corps. But we’ve always shared the same goal to root our public discourse in the truth. To open the doors of this democracy. To do whatever we can to make our country and our world more free and more just.

And I’ve always appreciated the role that you have all played as equal partners in reaching these goals. Our free press is why we once again recognize the real journalists who uncover the horrifying scandal and brought some measure of justice for thousands of victims around the world. They are here with us tonight: Sacha Pfeiffer, Mike Rezendes, Walter Robinson, Matt Caroll and Ben Bradlee Jr. Please give them a big round of applause.

A free press is why, once again, we honor Jason Rezaian, as Carol noted. Last time this year we spoke of Jason’s courage as he endured the isolation of an Iranian prison. This year we see that courage in the flesh, and it’s a living testament to the very idea of a free press and a reminder of the rising level of danger and political intimidation and the physical threats faced by reporters overseas.
And I can make this commitment that as long as I hold this office my administration will continue to fight for the release of American journalists held against their will. And we will not stop until they see the same freedom as Jason had.

At home and abroad journalists like all of you engage in the dogged pursuit of informing citizens and holding leaders accountable, and making our government of the people possible. And it’s an enormous responsibility. And I realize it’s an enormous challenge at a time when the economics of the business sometimes incentivizes speed over depth, and when controversy and conflict are what most immediately attract readers and viewers. The good news is there are so many of you that are pushing against those trends and as a citizen of this great democracy, I am grateful for that.

For this is also a time around the world when some of the fundamental ideals of liberal democracies are under attack and when notions of objectively and of a free press and of facts and of evidence are trying to be undermined or in some cases ignored entirely. And in such a climate it’s not enough just to give people a megaphone. And that’s why your power and your responsibility to dig and to question and to counter distortions and untruths is more important than even ever.

Taking a stand on behalf of what is true does not require you shedding your objectivity. In fact, it is the essence of good journalism. It affirms the idea that the only way we can build consensus, the only way that we can move forward as a country, the only way we can help the world mend itself is by agreeing on a baseline of facts when it comes to the challenges that confront us all. So this night is a testament to all of you who have devoted your lives to that idea, who push to shine a light on the truth every single day. So, I want to close my final White House correspondents’ dinner by just saying thank you. I’m very proud of what you’ve done. It has been an honor and a privilege to work side by side with you to strengthen our democracy. With that I just have two more words to say: Obama out. [Drops mic].

TTIP Leaks

Greenpeace Netherlands has released secret TTIP negotiation documents. We have done so to provide much needed transparency and trigger an informed debate on the treaty. This treaty is threatening to have far reaching implications for the environment and the lives of more than 800 million citizens in the EU and US.


Whether you care about environmental issues, animal welfare, labour rights or internet privacy, you should be concerned about what is in these leaked documents. They underline the strong objections civil society and millions of people around the world have voiced: TTIP is about a huge transfer of power from people to big business.

You can download all the documents below, as a whole and per chapter. For more background info on the content of these documents and TTIP in general, please check here. Press contacts can be found here.



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Monday

Human nature and the blank slate

Linguist 
Source: TED

A year ago, I spoke to you about a book that I was just in the process of completing, that has come out in the interim, and I would like to talk to you today about some of the controversies that that book inspired. The book is called "The Blank Slate," based on the popular idea that the human mind is a blank slate, and that all of its structure comes from socialization, culture, parenting, experience. The "blank slate" was an influential idea in the 20th century. Here are a few quotes indicating that: "Man has no nature," from the historian Jose Ortega y Gasset; "Man has no instincts," from the anthropologist Ashley Montagu; "The human brain is capable of a full range of behaviors and predisposed to none," from the late scientist Stephen Jay Gould. 

There are a number of reasons to doubt that the human mind is a blank slate, and some of them just come from common sense. As many people have told me over the years, anyone who's had more than one child knows that kids come into the world with certain temperaments and talents; it doesn't all come from the outside. Oh, and anyone who has both a child and a house pet has surely noticed that the child, exposed to speech, will acquire a human language, whereas the house pet won't, presumably because of some innate different between them. And anyone who's ever been in a heterosexual relationship knows that the minds of men and the minds of women are not indistinguishable. There are also, I think, increasing results from the scientific study of humans that, indeed, we're not born blank slates. One of them, from anthropology, is the study of human universals. If you've ever taken anthropology, you know that it's a -- kind of an occupational pleasure of anthropologists to show how exotic other cultures can be, and that there are places out there where, supposedly, everything is the opposite to the way it is here. But if you instead look at what is common to the world's cultures, you find that there is an enormously rich set of behaviors and emotions and ways of construing the world that can be found in all of the world's 6,000-odd cultures. The anthropologist Donald Brown has tried to list them all, and they range from aesthetics, affection and age statuses all the way down to weaning, weapons, weather, attempts to control, the color white and a worldview.  

Also, genetics and neuroscience are increasingly showing that the brain is intricately structured. This is a recent study by the neurobiologist Paul Thompson and his colleagues in which they -- using MRI -- measured the distribution of gray matter -- that is, the outer layer of the cortex -- in a large sample of pairs of people. They coded correlations in the thickness of gray matter in different parts of the brain using a false color scheme, in which no difference is coded as purple, and any color other than purple indicates a statistically significant correlation. Well, this is what happens when you pair people up at random. By definition, two people picked at random can't have correlations in the distribution of gray matter in the cortex. This is what happens in people who share half of their DNA -- fraternal twins. And as you can see, large amounts of the brain are not purple, showing that if one person has a thicker bit of cortex in that region, so does his fraternal twin. And here's what happens if you get a pair of people who share all their DNA -- namely, clones or identical twins. And you can see huge areas of cortex where there are massive correlations in the distribution of gray matter.

  Now, these aren't just differences in anatomy, like the shape of your ear lobes, but they have consequences in thought and behavior that are well illustrated in this famous cartoon by Charles Addams: "Separated at birth, the Mallifert twins meet accidentally." As you can see, there are two inventors with identical contraptions in their lap, meeting in the waiting room of a patent attorney. Now, the cartoon is not such an exaggeration, because studies of identical twins who were separated at birth and then tested in adulthood show that they have astonishing similarities. And this happens in every pair of identical twins separated at birth ever studied -- but much less so with fraternal twins separated at birth. My favorite example is a pair of twins, one of whom was brought up as a Catholic in a Nazi family in Germany, the other brought up in a Jewish family in Trinidad. When they walked into the lab in Minnesota, they were wearing identical navy blue shirts with epaulettes; both of them liked to dip buttered toast in coffee, both of them kept rubber bands around their wrists, both of them flushed the toilet before using it as well as after, and both of them liked to surprise people by sneezing in crowded elevators to watch them jump. Now -- the story might seem to good to be true, but when you administer batteries of psychological tests, you get the same results -- namely, identical twins separated at birth show quite astonishing similarities. 

Now, given both the common sense and scientific data calling the doctrine of the blank slate into question, why should it have been such an appealing notion? Well, there are a number of political reasons why people have found it congenial. The foremost is that if we're blank slates, then, by definition, we are equal, because zero equals zero equals zero. But if something is written on the slate, then some people could have more of it than others, and according to this line of thinking, that would justify discrimination and inequality. 

Another political fear of human nature is that if we are blank slates, we can perfect mankind -- the age-old dream of the perfectibility of our species through social engineering. Whereas, if we're born with certain instincts, then perhaps some of them might condemn us to selfishness, prejudice and violence. Well, in the book, I argue that these are, in fact, non sequiturs. And just to make a long story short: first of all, the concept of fairness is not the same as the concept of sameness. And so when Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," he did not mean "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are clones." Rather, that all men are equal in terms of their rights, and that every person ought to be treated as an individual, and not prejudged by the statistics of particular groups that they may belong to. Also, even if we were born with certain ignoble motives, they don't automatically lead to ignoble behavior. That is because the human mind is a complex system with many parts, and some of them can inhibit others. For example, there's excellent reason to believe that virtually all humans are born with a moral sense, and that we have cognitive abilities that allow us to profit from the lessons of history. So even if people did have impulses towards selfishness or greed, that's not the only thing in the skull, and there are other parts of the mind that can counteract them. 

In the book, I go over controversies such as this one, and a number of other hot buttons, hot zones, Chernobyls, third rails, and so on -- including the arts, cloning, crime, free will, education, evolution, gender differences, God, homosexuality, infanticide, inequality, Marxism, morality, Nazism, parenting, politics, race, rape, religion, resource depletion, social engineering, technological risk and war. And needless to say, there were certain risks in taking on these subjects. When I wrote a first draft of the book, I circulated it to a number of colleagues for comments, and here are some of the reactions that I got: "Better get a security camera for your house." "Don't expect to get any more awards, job offers or positions in scholarly societies." "Tell your publisher not to list your hometown in your author bio." "Do you have tenure?" (Laughter) 

Well, the book came out in October, and nothing terrible has happened. I -- I like -- There was indeed reason to be nervous, and there were moments in which I did feel nervous, knowing the history of what has happened to people who've taken controversial stands or discovered disquieting findings in the behavioral sciences. There are many cases, some of which I talk about in the book, of people who have been slandered, called Nazis, physically assaulted, threatened with criminal prosecution for stumbling across or arguing about controversial findings. And you never know when you're going to come across one of these booby traps. My favorite example is a pair of psychologists who did research on left-handers, and published some data showing that left-handers are, on average, more susceptible to disease, more prone to accidents and have a shorter lifespan. It's not clear, by the way, since then, whether that is an accurate generalization, but the data at the time seemed to support that. Well, pretty soon they were barraged with enraged letters, death threats, ban on the topic in a number of scientific journals, coming from irate left-handers and their advocates, and they were literally afraid to open their mail because of the venom and vituperation that they had inadvertently inspired. 

Well, the night is young, but the book has been out for half a year, and nothing terrible has happened. None of the dire professional consequences has taken place -- I haven't been exiled from the city of Cambridge. But what I wanted to talk about are two of these hot buttons that have aroused the strongest response in the 80-odd reviews that The Blank Slate has received. I'll just put that list up for a few seconds, and see if you can guess which two -- I would estimate that probably two of these topics inspired probably 90 percent of the reaction in the various reviews and radio interviews. It's not violence and war, it's not race, it's not gender, it's not Marxism, it's not Nazism. They are: the arts and parenting. (Laughter) So let me tell you what aroused such irate responses, and I'll let you decide if whether they -- the claims are really that outrageous. 

Let me start with the arts. I note that among the long list of human universals that I presented a few slides ago are art. There is no society ever discovered in the remotest corner of the world that has not had something that we would consider the arts. Visual arts -- decoration of surfaces and bodies -- appears to be a human universal. The telling of stories, music, dance, poetry -- found in all cultures, and many of the motifs and themes that give us pleasure in the arts can be found in all human societies: a preference for symmetrical forms, the use of repetition and variation, even things as specific as the fact that in poetry all over the world, you have lines that are very close to three seconds long, separated by pauses. Now, on the other hand, in the second half of the 20th century, the arts are frequently said to be in decline. And I have a collection, probably 10 or 15 headlines, from highbrow magazines deploring the fact that the arts are in decline in our time. I'll give you a couple of representative quotes: "We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline, that the standards of culture are lower than they were 50 years ago, and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity." That's a quote from T. S. Eliot, a little more than 50 years ago. And a more recent one: "The possibility of sustaining high culture in our time is becoming increasing problematical. Serious book stores are losing their franchise, nonprofit theaters are surviving primarily by commercializing their repertory, symphony orchestras are diluting their programs, public television is increasing its dependence on reruns of British sitcoms, classical radio stations are dwindling, museums are resorting to blockbuster shows, dance is dying." That's from Robert Brustein, the famous drama critic and director, in The New Republic about five years ago. 

Well, in fact, the arts are not in decline. I don't think this will as a surprise to anyone in this room, but by any standard they have never been flourishing to a greater extent. There are, of course, entirely new art forms and new media, many of which you've heard over these few days. By any economic standard, the demand for art of all forms is skyrocketing, as you can tell from the price of opera tickets, by the number of books sold, by the number of books published, the number of musical titles released, the number of new albums and so on. The only grain of truth to this complaint that the arts are in decline come from three spheres. One of them is in elite art since the 1930s -- say, the kinds of works performed by major symphony orchestras, where most of the repertory is before 1930, or the works shown in major galleries and prestigious museums. In literary criticism and analysis, probably 40 or 50 years ago, literary critics were a kind of cultural hero; now they're kind of a national joke. And the humanities and arts programs in the universities, which by many measures, indeed are in decline. Students are staying away in droves, universities are disinvesting in the arts and humanities. 

Well, here's a diagnosis. They didn't ask me, but by their own admission, they need all the help that they can get. And I would like to suggest that it's not a coincidence that this supposed decline in the elite arts and criticism occurred in the same point in history in which there was a widespread denial of human nature. A famous quotation can be found -- if you look on the web, you can find it in literally scores of English core syllabuses -- "In or about December 1910, human nature changed." A paraphrase of a quote by Virginia Woolf, and there's some debate as to what she actually meant by that. But it's very clear, looking at these syllabuses, that -- it's used now as a way of saying that all forms of appreciation of art that were in place for centuries, or millennia, in the 20th century were discarded. The beauty and pleasure in art -- probably a human universal -- were -- began to be considered saccharine, or kitsch, or commercial. Barnett Newman had a famous quote that "the impulse of modern art is the desire to destroy beauty" -- which was considered bourgeois or tacky. And here's just one example. I mean, this is perhaps a representative example of the visual depiction of the female form in the 15th century; here is a representative example of the depiction of the female form in the 20th century. And, as you can see, there -- something has changed in the way the elite arts appeal to the senses. 

Indeed, in movements of modernism and post-modernism, there was visual art without beauty, literature without narrative and plot, poetry without meter and rhyme, architecture and planning without ornament, human scale, green space and natural light, music without melody and rhythm, and criticism without clarity, attention to aesthetics and insight into the human condition. (Laughter) Let me give just you an example to back up that last statement. But here, there -- one of the most famous literary English scholars of our time is the Berkeley professor, Judith Butler. And here is an example of one of her analyses: "The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from the form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects ..." Well, you get the idea. By the way, this is one sentence -- you can actually parse it. Well, the argument in "The Blank Slate" was that elite art and criticism in the 20th century, although not the arts in general, have disdained beauty, pleasure, clarity, insight and style. People are staying away from elite art and criticism. What a puzzle -- I wonder why. Well, this turned out to be probably the most controversial claim in the book. Someone asked me whether I stuck it in in order to deflect ire from discussions of gender and Nazism and race and so on. I won't comment on that. But it certainly inspired an energetic reaction from many university professors. 

Well, the other hot button is parenting. And the starting point is the -- for that discussion was the fact that we have all been subject to the advice of the parenting industrial complex. Now, here is -- here is a representative quote from a besieged mother: "I'm overwhelmed with parenting advice. I'm supposed to do lots of physical activity with my kids so I can instill in them a physical fitness habit so they'll grow up to be healthy adults. And I'm supposed to do all kinds of intellectual play so they'll grow up smart. And there are all kinds of play -- clay for finger dexterity, word games for reading success, large motor play, small motor play. I feel like I could devote my life to figuring out what to play with my kids." I think anyone who's recently been a parent can sympathize with this mother. 


Well, here's some sobering facts about parenting. Most studies of parenting on which this advice is based are useless. They're useless because they don't control for heritability. They measure some correlation between what the parents do, how the children turn out and assume a causal relation: that the parenting shaped the child. Parents who talk a lot to their kids have kids who grow up to be articulate, parents who spank their kids have kids who grow up to be violent and so on. And very few of them control for the possibility that parents pass on genes for -- that increase the chances a child will be articulate or violent and so on. Until the studies are redone with adoptive children, who provide an environment but not genes to their kids, we have no way of knowing whether these conclusions are valid.


The genetically controlled studies have some sobering results. Remember the Mallifert twins: separated at birth, then they meet in the patent office -- remarkably similar. Well, what would have happened if the Mallifert twins had grown up together? You might think, well, then they'd be even more similar, because not only would they share their genes, but they would also share their environment. That would make them super-similar, right? Wrong. Identical twins, or any siblings, who are separated at birth are no less similar than if they had grown up together. Everything that happens to you in a given home over all of those years appears to leave no permanent stamp on your personality or intellect. A complementary finding, from a completely different methodology, is that adopted siblings reared together -- the mirror image of identical twins reared apart, they share their parents, their home, their neighborhood, don't share their genes -- end up not similar at all. OK -- two different bodies of research with a similar finding.


  What it suggests is that children are shaped not by their parents over the long run, but in part -- only in part -- by their genes, in part by their culture -- the culture of the country at large and the children's own culture, namely their peer group -- as we heard from Jill Sobule earlier today, that's what kids care about -- and, to a very large extent, larger than most people are prepared to acknowledge, by chance: chance events in the wiring of the brain in utero; chance events as you live your life.


  So let me conclude with just a remark to bring it back to the theme of choices. I think that the sciences of human nature -- behavioral genetics, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science -- are going to, increasingly in the years to come, upset various dogmas, careers and deeply-held political belief systems. And that presents us with a choice. The choice is whether certain facts about humans, or topics, are to be considered taboos, forbidden knowledge, where we shouldn't go there because no good can come from it, or whether we should explore them honestly. I have my own answer to that question, which comes from a great artist of the 19th century, Anton Chekhov, who said, "Man will become better when you show him what he is like." And I think that the argument can't be put any more eloquently than that. Thank you very much. (Applause)