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Barack Obama's State Of The Union, Morning-After Crunched



WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama's fourth State of the Union address -- the first of his second term -- is history. Politics aside, Obama was generally commended for his delivery of the hour-long discourse Tuesday night, which was described as both more "loose" than previous editions of the State of the Union, and ever-more "presidential."

Of course, the speech to both houses of Congress is all about politics, and Politico characterized both Obama's plan and posture as "aggressive." Though Republicans, led by Florida Senator and top 2016 presidential contender Marco Rubio, attacked the substance of Obama's remarks, the President is perhaps better positioned than in any of his previous State of the Union to lay out his agenda.

Five Presidential Priorities:

1. GUNS - Obama chose to end the speech with the topic all had been waiting for from the start: gun control. After December's school shooting in Connecticut and Colorado, and with some of the victims' families in the audience, it was the most powerful moment of the evening. “The families of Newtown deserve a vote," Obama said. "The families of Aurora deserve a vote.”

2. CLIMATE CHANGE - A topic many progressive critics say got short shrift in the first term is the environment. Obama is showing more and more signs that it is on the front burner, especially in the wake of this summer's death and destruction from the storm Sandy. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late."

3. IMMIGRATION - Obama is already working with Congressional leaders on addressing immigration reform, especially what to do with the some 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. Here's how he laid it out before the nation on Tuesday: “Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship — a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally."

4. ECONOMY - In what was seen as a slight turn to the left, the president pivoted from deficit reduction to increasing demand with a surprising call for a higher minimum wage: "In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on."

5. AFGHANISTAN - The drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over,” Obama said. About one-half of American forces (34,000 troops) still in Afghanistan will come home from the country over the next year, putting the United States on pace to have all its combat forces out by the end of 2014, as planned.

Tweet peaks - Below graphic shows what moments triggered upticks in reactions on Twitter.

And for those who like their presidential discourses "crunch-free," here's the video of the entire speech:

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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