TIME world affairs

Don’t Blame Germany for Greece’s Debt Crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference after meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana on July 8, 2015.
Gent Shkullaku—AFP/Getty Images German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference after meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana on July 8, 2015.

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

No country has done more to democratize and raise Europe's living standards

Germany knows a thing or two about being punished for bad deeds, but in recent weeks the country has been the poster child for the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

There is no other way to describe the reputational black eye Germans received as a result of the drawn-out Greek bailout negotiations that culminated last week in the approval of a deal struck with other eurozone countries.

No country has done more than Germany in recent times to raise living standards and democratic norms across Europe, which is one reason the country that once bedeviled the continent emerged as the world’s most admired nation in a 2013 BBC poll conducted in 25 countries. But over this summer, it’s been stunning to see how easily we can be lured back into embracing darker stereotypes of those bullying, inflexible Germans.

The prevailing narrative of the Greek crisis in U.S. media, and on social media, was that the poor Greek people and their idealistic young Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras were being driven to the brink by heartless creditors, led by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The Germans, and their “troika” of servants – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund – had saddled too much debt on the Greeks, imposed counterproductive austerity policies on its government and demanded humiliating reforms that violated Greek sovereignty.

It’s hard not to empathize with the people of Greece; The country’s GDP shrank by a staggering 25 percent in just five years. But the prevailing narrative of a morally tidy showdown between stingy, stubborn Germanic creditors and their victimized Greek debtors overlooked a number of inconvenient truths.

For starters, the Greek debt crisis was triggered in no small part by the 2009 revelation that the Greek government had falsified its economic data to make the country appear a member in good standing of the eurozone. A second fact often overlooked: This is actually the third bailout in the last five years, and in 2012, the Greeks did benefit from a $117 billion write-off of debt owed to private banks. Third, much of the roughly $380 billion in remaining debt is owed to sovereign nations, meaning that the true creditors in the story are German, Dutch, French, and other European taxpayers, not greedy banks or faceless international bureaucracies. Fourth, while Greece did adopt painful fiscal austerity in recent years, it has been slow to carry out many of the needed structural reforms (such as privatizing state-owned enterprises) it agreed to under the previous bailouts. This would be akin to a U.S. company gaining protection from creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding, without engaging in a difficult reorganization to make it a more viable enterprise going forward. The bloated and inefficient Greek state accounted for a stunning 59 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2013.

Furthermore, the issue of whether to provide more aid to Greece this summer was never solely a bilateral German-Greek issue. The countries most adamant about being tough on the Greek were not the Germans, but poorer eastern European Union member nations. But the only “real people” in too much of the coverage of the drama were Greeks, at the expense of people elsewhere in Europe who are understandably frustrated at bailing out a nation where many express their European solidarity by not paying their own taxes.

Among pundits eager to portray Berlin as the villain of the saga, a favorite charge (pushed by Thomas Piketty, among others) has been that the Germans are ungrateful hypocrites. Their own national debt, after all, was substantially reduced by international creditors in 1953. The extent to which this analogy has been repeated without any curiosity as to the underlying facts, or context, is a distressing case study in uncritical groupthink. A good portion of the debt at issue in 1953 dated back to the vanquished Nazi regime and its predecessors; after World War II, the Federal Republic had assumed responsibility for it (at old exchange rates favorable to creditors) as an act of good faith, as part of Germans’ larger sense of atonement. Germany literally lay in ruins, and was divided, and there was no doubt about whether the German people were doing their part to dig out of the rubble and make amends. That debt hadn’t been accumulated in just a few years while the country was simultaneously violating the terms of its obligations, as in the case of Greece.

It’s especially galling to hear Americans chide the Germans for their supposed lack of generosity, when you consider how differently Germany and the U.S. have reacted to the distress of less fortunate regional economic partners. German taxpayers invested for decades in the development of peripheral European Union members, spent trillions to develop Eastern Germany, and will now pay a good chunk of a third Greek bailout that will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion.

In contrast, the United States has refused to incorporate into the North American Free Trade Agreement the type of regional development funding that Europeans deemed essential to a functioning common market. And when Mexico faced an existential debt crisis in the 1980s that was far more severe than the one Greece is experiencing, Mexicans could only have wished that Washington had reacted to their plight as Berlin has reacted to the plight of Greeks.

After walking up to the cliff and contemplating a break-up of their currency union, the leaders of Greece and their European counterparts in Berlin, Paris, and Brussels all blinked, and worked out a deal to keep Greece in the eurozone, at a painful cost to both sides (more money coming out of the pockets of other European citizens, more painful austerity for Greeks). This was a case of political and historical imperatives trumping economics, at least for now.

The European Union is a monument to Germany’s atonement for its past sins. From its very inception in the 1950s, when it was born as a coal- and steel-producing union, what eventually came to be known as the European Union was considered by its French architects as a means to subvert German nationalism, and to make its repentant people pay more than their fair share for a common project largely directed by the French.

When Germany suddenly had the opportunity to end its postwar partition a quarter century ago with the fall of the Soviet Union, French and other European leaders pressed the Germans to abandon their cherished currency and symbol of hard-won stability, the deutsche mark, in favor of a shared European currency. The more intensely Germany was bound to a broader European Union, the theory went, the less likely a reawakening of a troublesome German nationalism. And so, Germany agreed to the euro once Europeans went along with German reunification.

I remember visiting Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in 2000, in the immediate aftermath of this transition. I asked Fischer if Germany could ever become a normal country again, fully off probation, fully atoned, fully entitled to wave its own flag, at least alongside that of the EU. Not really, he said, and then he talked passionately about Germany’s need to always act within the Atlantic and European communities.

But the ensuing years have proven bullish ones for German nationalism. Berlin surprisingly refused to go along with the United States in its showdown with Saddam Hussein. World Cup successes (as a host and contender) emboldened Germans to pull out their flags and cheer on their country as if it were no longer on probation.

But maybe the most shocking development has been the degree to which the European Union has come to be perceived as a project inspired by Germany, as opposed to one imposed on it. Henry Kissinger once said that Germany was to be pitied because it was too big for Europe but too small for the world. So it was perhaps inevitable that the EU would come to be seen as a projection of German influence. The euro, which initially Germans were so reluctant to adopt, proved a competitive boon to German exports, by raising costs in the rest of Europe.

This monetary straightjacket of 19 very different economies sharing the same currency has had its economic pluses and minuses, but the initial impetus to take this plunge into the economic unknown in the 1990s was all political – the goal of reinforcing a broader European identity across the continent. And whatever its economic merits, the political endeavor is backfiring: The shared currency has only strengthened nationalist sentiments. Try sharing a credit card, and thus your credit rating, with a very diverse group of friends, and sooner or later you’ll also find that it’s not easy to cheerily embrace the “we’re all in this together” plan.

Europe’s integration over time, and Germany’s role in it, is a nuanced, complicated tale, and Americans have a vested interest in its success. Lazy caricatures of Germany that harken back to World War stereotypes may make a dry economic tale more entertaining, and seduce us into thinking we’re rooting for the supposed underdog. But it is a disservice to the truth and our national interest. The Germany of Angela Markel, not a socialist Greece, is our indispensable ally, the democracy that shares our values and can still teach us a thing or two about improving the lives of people beyond its borders.

Andrés Martinez is the editorial director of Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column, and a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME health

Vaccinations Have Always Been Controversial in America

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

While creating the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk had to deal with critics like Walter Winchell, who warned, "It may be a killer"

In 1952, Americans suffered the worst polio epidemic in our nation’s history. As in prior outbreaks, the disease spread during the summer, mainly attacking children who had been exposed to contaminated water at public pools or contaminated objects in other communal places. The poliovirus entered the body through the mouth and multiplied in the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms started innocently enough—a sore throat, a runny nose. As the virus moved throughout its victims’ bloodstreams, the pains soon began—electric shocks darting through the neck to legs, muscle spasms. Within a day or two, paralysis set in. If the virus made it to the nervous system in the base of the brain, death came quickly. By the time the outbreak’s end, 58,000 people had been stricken. More than a third were paralyzed, many of whom spent the rest of their lives in a wheelchair or bed.

Most Americans today have no concept of the terror generated by polio throughout the first half of the 20th century. During epidemics, newspapers and magazines displayed adorable children struggling to walk in braces or entombed in iron lungs, but the disease mostly fell off the national radar after it was eliminated from the country in 1979. In the past few years, however, polio has begun creeping back into headlines, for two opposite reasons. On the one hand, thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the world is closer than ever to wiping out the virus completely; widespread vaccination efforts reduced the number of cases to 414 in 2014, mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. On the other hand, because of recent anti-vaccination trends, it’s not unreasonable to worry that a resurgence of polio might afflict Americans again.

The person responsible for easing our minds over the past half century was Jonas Salk, a physician-scientist who was born in a New York tenement and driven by a passion to aid mankind. During the 1952 outbreak, with funds from the March of Dimes, he rushed to develop the earliest vaccine for polio that used a killed, or “inactivated,” form of the virus. In that, he met resistance from more-senior scientists who believed that only a vaccine made from a live virus could provide lifelong protection.

The public was desperate for a vaccine, yet Salk was afraid these scientists would try to derail his efforts. Objections from one even prompted the famed newscaster Walter Winchell to warn his radio audience not to take the vaccine, because “it may be a killer.” So Salk initially made and tested his vaccine in secret. Thankfully, his promising preliminary results led to the March of Dimes launching the biggest clinical trial in the history of medicine. Beginning on April 26, 1954, with a six-year-old named Randy Kerr from McLean, Virginia, the trial eventually involved 1.5 million children, and had remarkable results: Salk’s vaccine was 80 to 90 percent effective in preventing paralytic polio. It was mass-produced and distributed around the country, and by the end of the decade, it had reduced the incidence of paralytic polio in the United States by 90 percent.

When the success of the vaccine trial was first announced, the public crowned Jonas Salk a national hero. He experienced a celebrity accorded few scientists in the history of medicine. Yet his rebuke by the scientific community had only just begun. As heads of states around the world rushed to honor him, scientists—the one group whose adulation he craved—remained ominously silent. Basil O’Connor, director of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis/March of Dimes, said they acted as if Salk had committed a felony. They accused Salk of failing to give proper credit to other researchers whose work had laid the foundation for his own. Salk in fact had tried to give them credit. But the media had made him the icon for polio, ignoring other scientists’ contributions. This set the stage for difficulties throughout Salk’s career wherein politics in and beyond the scientific community seemed to override good science.

In 1961, a public health decision was made to replace Salk’s vaccine with one developed by a virologist who constantly tried to discredit him, Albert Sabin. Sabin’s oral vaccine, made with a live virus, was cheaper and more convenient, but also much riskier; it actually caused polio in some cases. Salk worked throughout the rest of his life trying to reverse the decision—a sole warrior in a fight against what he considered entirely a politically-driven change. (In 1999, four years after his death, the Sabin vaccine was replaced with a new version of Salk’s vaccine, which is still used today.)

Salk also campaigned vigorously for mandatory vaccination, putting the health of the public foremost. He went as far as calling the immunization of all the world’s children a “moral commitment.” Thanks to his efforts—along with those of other researchers—we’re able to enjoy our summers without the fear of a crippling disease.

America now has been polio free for more than 35 years, and children are supposed to be vaccinated when they are babies. We’ve reached the point, however, where it seems many people can’t believe an epidemic could really occur. Some parents refuse vaccination, arguing that a healthy lifestyle is enough to protect their children from potentially lethal infections. But studies have shown that the introduction of sanitation actually enhances the circulation of poliovirus, because babies are no longer exposed to the virus in the very small amounts that used to produce lifelong immunity. Poliovirus can spread relentlessly once it gets a foothold in an unvaccinated community.

Such was the case shortly after Salk’s vaccine was released in 1955. Massachusetts closed its vaccination program because a manufacturing error led to some contaminated shots. Even though the mishap was quickly corrected, the state did not reopen its program. That summer, Massachusetts suffered one of its largest epidemics. Four thousand people contracted polio, and 1,700 were paralyzed—mostly children.

Does the public want to repeat history? I think Jonas Salk would plead with them to learn lessons from our past. Californians did with the recent measles outbreak, which affected more than 130 people, the majority of whom were unvaccinated. This helped spur the state to join Mississippi and West Virginia by mandating childhood vaccination, despite an outcry from several groups. Now if only 47 other states would follow suit.

Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs is a professor emerita at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the author of Jonas Salk: A Life. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME health

We Can’t All Go to Fancy Yoga Classes

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Economic and cultural disparities have stacked the deck against healthy choices in America—it doesn't have to be that way

Americans have more ways to be healthy than ever before. Organic vegetables line grocery store shelves. Yoga studios crowd city streets. Fitbits remind us to skip the elevator and Rocky Balboa it up the stairs.

But just because all these waist-thinning options exist doesn’t mean everyone has access to them. Fresh produce, fancy gyms, and habit-tracking technology are expensive, and cost is one of many prohibitive factors that keeps millions of people from taking good care of themselves.

The obesity rates in America are staggering; more than a third of adults deal with the disorder, with demographics that reflect a complicated web of cultural and socio-economic influences. So how do we even the playing field? In advance of the Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event “Is Healthy Living Only for the Rich?” we asked medical experts and others invested the public’s well-being: Given the structure and demands of everyday life in America, what can be done to make healthy living more accessible across classes?

Partner up to change people’s environments — Leonard Jack, Jr.

The burden of chronic disease in the United States is substantial. Chronic diseases—such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and cancer—are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems. More than half of all adults in the U.S. have at least one of them.

Improving the overall health of Americans will involve reducing risk factors such as physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and limited or no access to quality healthcare. In addition to these factors, environment (for example, communities, schools, workplaces, restaurants, parks, etc.) plays a large role in helping Americans achieve optimal health. The importance of creating safe places to exercise, increasing access to healthier foods and beverages, and reducing exposure to secondhand smoke in public places cannot be overlooked or minimized.

Bettering people’s environments requires strong partnerships and a commitment to making healthy choices easier. The best successes are where schools, local parks, businesses, faith-based organizations, clinical settings, and restaurants work together through a combination of approaches. These approaches include establishing policies in schools that make available salad bars and healthy-foods vending machines; adopting joint-use agreements with facilities such as schools, churches, and businesses to increase access to safe places to exercise; working closely with corner grocery stores in communities to increase access to fruits and vegetables; and changing prices of healthier foods and beverages relative to the cost of less-healthy foods.

Leonard Jack, Jr. is the director of the division of community health within the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

First, address a community’s fundamental needs — Paul Simon

There is unfortunately no single, easy answer. We certainly need to encourage healthy eating and regular physical activity, and discourage tobacco use and unhealthful patterns of drug and alcohol use. However, these efforts are unlikely to make a dent in the glaring health inequities we see across socioeconomic and racial and ethnic groups unless we also create environments that promote healthy living.

Sadly, in most communities, and particularly in low-income communities, the deck is stacked against healthy choices. We need to shift the balance in favor of healthy options where landscapes are largely dominated by junk food, unhealthy food and beverage marketing, tobacco shops, and liquor stores, and few if any options for recreation. Even these measures, though, are unlikely to achieve the desired results unless we address even more fundamental needs, including safe and affordable housing, high-quality education, and meaningful employment opportunities that offer a living wage.

Though these issues may seem far removed from healthy living, they are in fact among the most important factors that influence health across the lifespan. In addition, chronic stress associated with living in communities that are rife with violence, disinvestment, and degradation exact an enormous toll on one’s health. We need to work with and support communities to build resilience, strengthen social networks, and create opportunity. Anything less is like putting a Band-Aid on a festering wound.

Paul Simon is the director of the division of chronic disease and injury prevention at Los Angeles County of Public Health. He is also a pediatrician, and teaches at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Think macro — Cherise Charleswell

Healthy living is truly a privilege in the United States, because many families are focused on survival. I will forever remember the words of a mother who spoke up at a grassroots community-organizing event I attended: She said even though she knows it’s not nutritional, she still gives her sons honey buns in the morning, because it’s quick, cheap, and at least they will have something to eat.

Simply stating that this woman—and others like her who don’t have access to healthy living—need more health education classes is not enough. There is arrogance in that notion. Surely, this marginalized population knows that they should be eating better, getting more exercise, and having more routine physicals. However, there are barriers in the way that seem to be growing—barriers that are among the key reasons why protestors took to the streets during the Occupy campaigns. When we speak of classes, the United States is simply becoming the “have” and the “have-nots,” and public health is suffering because of this, as healthy living options become unattainable.

The problem involves macroeconomics, and should be approached from this macro-level with urgently needed social policies and legislation that will make healthy living accessible. Speaking about the poor is taboo in American politics; politicians prefer to talk about the “shrinking middle class,” without providing any context as to where they are shrinking away to. For that reason, we need to begin to speak about privilege and inequity, and consider diverse public health interventions, such as creating and maintaining community gardens, imposing higher taxes on sugar-laden foods, and extending physical education requirements in schools.

Cherise Charleswell holds a dual position as diversity officer and clinical researcher at Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Pasadena, California. She is the president of the Southern California Public Health Association.

Take care of the easy stuff — Jonathan M. Samet

This is a critical question with an easy answer: Much can be done, and the imperative to do a lot is strong.

In the United States, there are tremendous gradients in health and longevity by indicators of socioeconomic status. Underlying these gradients are patterns of harmful substance use (tobacco, excessive alcohol, and illegal drugs), availability and affordability of healthy food, psychosocial stress, and access to high-quality preventive and medical care.

What can be done on the short-term?

  • Continue to drive down rates of tobacco use, while taking on the new challenge of various electronic nicotine delivery systems. In California, for instance, cigarettes are too cheap, so there’s an opportunity to reduce smoking through a tax increase.
  • Invest in research to find better interventions for alcoholism, as the problem of excess alcohol consumption remains deeply rooted.
  • Assess, address, and monitor the availability and consumption of healthy foods. We have the tools to do so, and already know the solutions: local growing and selling, and pushing for healthier options from the food industry.
  • Promote physical activity by identifying and addressing barriers to it (for instance, lack of walkable routes, lack of education on the risks of a sedentary lifestyle)
  • Teach communities to advance their own health. Strategies could include engaging community leaders, providing model initiatives, and offering funding to foster innovation.’

For some of the most critical factors, solutions are for the long-term and outside the domain of local communities—healthcare access and quality, and a strong base of jobs—but they should not be forgotten.

Jonathan M. Samet is the chair of the department of preventive medicine at University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. He is also the director of USC’s Institute for Global Health.

Get people exercising — Siddhartha Angadi

Socioeconomic status is adversely associated with obesity and lifestyle diseases. However, it’s often incorrectly assumed that access to recreational facilities is critical to maintaining a good workout routine.

Exercise is potent and virtually “free” medicine that delivers health benefits independent of education level, financial status, or body size. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and exercise is extremely efficacious cardiovascular medicine. Current American Heart Association guidelines recommend that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week.

While these goals may sound unattainable to a time-crunched person or busy family, it is important to note that accumulating 30 minutes of exercise in short bouts is just as effective at lowering cardiovascular risk. Short exercise sessions—as little as 10 minutes at a time—have been shown to be just as effective at reducing blood pressure as a single, longer session. A short walk or bike ride to work, the park, or a store can enhance heart health without the cost of a gym membership.

The salutary effects of exercise occur independently of body weight or body fat. In a series of studies carried out at the Cooper Clinic in Texas, researchers examined the effects of fitness on the risk of death from all causes and cardiovascular mortality. The key finding was that obese and fit individuals had the same risk of adverse outcomes as normal-weight and fit individuals, and half the risk as normal-weight or obese, unfit individuals.

In short, good heart health is possible at any size with a cheap pill called exercise.

Siddhartha Angadi is an assistant professor at Arizona State University. His research focuses on the effects of exercise and diet on cardiac and arterial function in patients with serious cardiovascular conditions. His doctoral student Jennifer Herbold assisted him in writing this response.

This article is supported by a grant from the The California Wellness Foundation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Katy Perry Isn’t the Only One Who Wants to Live in a Convent

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary property in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Singer Katy Perry sought to purchase the property.
Nick Ut—AP The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary property in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Singer Katy Perry sought to purchase the property.

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Repurposing religious buildings should be done with sensitivity and purpose

I moved into a convent 10 years ago this summer.

My roommates were not Catholic sisters, but other recent college graduates, who sometimes acted a little too much as if we were still living in a college dorm. But most of our time was dedicated to service of our community—teaching, leading afterschool programs, counseling pregnant teens and gang members, working with the elderly—just as the sisters who preceded us in the convent had once done.

The news that pop star Katy Perry wants to buy a former convent in Los Feliz has me thinking about my days at Amate House, a full-time Catholic volunteer program in Chicago. The Los Angeles Times broke the story that two nuns are blocking the archdiocese from selling the estate to Perry, who wants to live there. Early coverage of the story centered on the sister’s disapproval of the “I Kissed A Girl” singer.

My fond memories of convent living, though, make me wonder if the question of whether Perry is a suitable successor to the sisters misses the point. As our society become less connected to religious institutions, it may be more important than ever for communities to think creatively and sensitively about how to make use of formerly religious spaces.

I had never imagined that I would live in a convent. Amate House operates three houses, two of which were convents, with both male and female volunteers, and it is part of the Chicago archdiocese. But I approached it more like Peace Corps or Teach for America: an opportunity to do something special, learn about life in the inner city and give back—not to live out my faith. I identified myself as a “practicing-but-not-believing Catholic.” I had volunteered with my high school youth group through college, but I was more interested in Buddhism than Christianity.

Though I defied typical categories—neither fully Catholic nor a religious “none”— my experience reflects the trend of young Americans disaffiliating from institutional religion and forming their own religious identities and understandings.

My grandmother, in contrast, grew up wanting to be a Catholic sister. Unfortunately for her (but thankfully for me), she lacked the education to join a religious congregation. Instead, she got married and raised my father and his four brothers.

Seeking to understand my recently deceased grandmother’s devotion—why would a woman voluntarily commit her life to a patriarchal church?—I wrote about Catholic sisters for a class in college. The nun in her nineties that I profiled couldn’t explain her vocation other than as a call from God.

Her order had once occupied a huge motherhouse in my hometown and sent teachers to schools throughout the Midwest. In northwest Iowa, she had taught art to a budding cartoonist who would go on to work for Disney and draw the genie in Aladdin. But by the time I visited, they had moved to a smaller house, essentially a nursing home for sisters.

Their grand old motherhouse became Loyola University Chicago’s education school. The sisters were happy that a Catholic institution was continuing their legacy, but then Loyola moved to sell the property to a developer that planned to raze the convent and put in single-family homes.

The city intervened, and the building still stands as senior housing. But the sale of convents and churches to developers is not unusual. Around the same time, my parents moved into a development in a neighboring suburb that had been built on the grounds of a former convent. And when I lived in a convent, my window looked out on a Protestant church that had been converted to condos.

Such examples will become more common as people move away from institutional religion. Places that once brought together a community become individual units, our architecture seeming to reflect our spiritual trends.

Yet, many still long for a sense of togetherness, even if in untraditional ways. My convent roommates and I were not all regular churchgoers, despite living above a chapel where daily mass was held. Our “church” came in the form of meals, reflection nights, and service to the broader community.

But buildings can’t be preserved just for community. In exchange for our service, our work sites paid Amate House small fees to cover our living expenses, including our convent housing. Another solution is to make churches into community arts centers, renting space out to nonprofits during the week. Both situations provide a win-win for religious institutions and nonprofit organizations.

A year or so ago, I met with two sisters in Chicago who were in the process of opening a migrant shelter in an old convent, supported by an interfaith organization. They told me what Pope Francis had recently said at Centro Astalli, a refugee center in Rome: “Empty convents are not for the church to transform into hotels and make money from them. Empty convents are not ours, they are for the flesh of Christ: refugees.”

Intrigued by this tension between money and mission, I applied to and received an International Reporting Project fellowship to find out if Pope Francis had affected Italy’s welcome of migrants. Visiting Centro Astalli and other refugee centers around Rome, I met many migrants living on the street or in abandoned buildings, unable to find work or housing in their new country. Two men showed me how they survived while homeless in Rome, sleeping at Termini train station, passing their days in a park behind the Colosseum and seeking services at churches and convents.

For my last few days in Rome, I checked into a convent hotel along their daily path, a few blocks from Termini. Once again, I found myself in a spartan single.

My convent hotel was clean and comfortable, European beds being what they are. And for not much more than the price of a hostel, I had a private, quiet space.

Four sisters lived on the top floor, and one of them told me that they make themselves available to travelers for either logistical or spiritual concerns. Many orders consider hospitality to pilgrims as part of their mission. In addition to tourists, they host student groups and families of patients from a nearby hospital. And the hotel helps fund their work in the missions.

Yet, when I saw the generous breakfast spread for what seemed like a handful of guests, I couldn’t help but think of the homeless migrants I had met on the streets of Rome. If the government, churches, or nonprofits paid for even a few migrants’ room at this convent, I wondered, how would the tourists staying there react?

Some argue that the pope’s statement against convent hotels reflects the male hierarchy’s desire to control the hard-earned assets of women in religious orders. In Los Angeles, the Katy Perry story is more about who manages the proceeds of the sale— the nuns or the archbishop—than whether Perry or someone else is the next owner of the convent.

I, for one, would trust a group of sisters more than the archdiocese to put the millions earned from the sale to good use. Yet the sisters’ buyer, a driver of gentrification who is also currently refurbishing the former Pilgrim Church into a hotel and restaurant, is no more likely than Perry to transform the convent into a homeless shelter.

As religious institutions decline, not all religious buildings will survive. But as someone who enjoyed living in a convent—temporarily—I would hope that some could be transformed into shelters, art centers, homes for nonprofit or volunteer organizations or other projects that benefit the whole community.

With a little creativity, Catholic sisters’ spirit can live on in a very concrete way.

Megan Sweas is the editor at the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture, and a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. She is author of Putting Education to Work: How Cristo Rey High Schools are Transforming Urban Education. Reporting for this story was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

Atticus Finch Confronted What the South Couldn’t

In 'To Kill a Mockingbird', Harper Lee recognized the way white southerners face harsh truths—In 'Go Set a Watchman', she did not

While there are many noble characters in the pantheon of Southern fiction, few have the iconic standing of Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch. Since the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird more than 50 years ago, this fictional character has become profoundly real to many Southerners, and not just because of the way Gregory Peck brought him to life on film. For former United Nations ambassador and Georgia native Andrew Young, Atticus Finch represented “a generation of intelligent white lawyers who eventually, in the ’50s and ’60s, became the federal judges who changed the South.” Tennessee native and journalist Jon Meacham once said, “We all like to think Atticus Finch was our father or grandfather.”

Now Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, which is set some 20 years after Mockingbird, presents a less than noble Atticus, one you may not want to think of as your father or grandfather. The man who performed the valiant job of defending a black man falsely accused of rape in Mockingbird is now, in the pages of Watchman, attending Ku Klux Klan meetings, joining the White Citizen’s Council, and advocating eugenics. This new depiction of Atticus will certainly change the legacy of a seminal figure in Southern literature.

The South came to idolize Atticus Finch because he confronted the issue of race in a way that white Southerner liberals and moderates in the ’60s wish they could have had they lived back in ’30s. At the same time, Atticus gave them permission to stand up against the gross inequities of Jim Crow laws, which were still in effect when the book was first published.

To Kill A Mockingbird is not a book I read in school, but was one I read on my own. I am a child of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, but few public schools in Mississippi’s post-1970s court-ordered integration era were willing to take on Lee’s novel. Race was not discussed at school, even though the issue hovered throughout everyone’s life in the small town where I grew up. Consequently, Mockingbird was a book I discussed outside of class with like-minded classmates, both black and white. As my children grew up, Mockingbird had become required reading in seventh grade at their Washington, DC, public school and they were able to have discussion on race in the classroom I could never have.

A few years ago, when I was invited to read at the Alabama Literary Festival, I witnessed first-hand how Lee’s hometown of Monroeville—and indeed all Southerners—had come to embrace the novel. After watching a re-enactment of Mockingbird’s courtroom scene from the “colored” balcony at the town’s courthouse and gathering by the monument to Atticus with a group of fellow writers, I noticed how we all spoke of him as if he were someone we knew, not someone we read about in the pages of a novel.

The reason the Atticus of Mockingbird is iconic and the one in Watchman feels alien is because as Lee reworked Watchman into Mockingbird, she tapped into a key component of Southern culture: the need for folk heroes and mythic figures. It is through the folklore of the South that the region places a mirror up to its virtues and failures. Robert Penn Warren created Willie Stark in All the King’s Men as a means of looking at stories surrounding Southern politicians like the populist (or demagogic, depending on your view) Louisiana governor and U.S. Senator Huey P. Long—who is said be the basis for Stark. William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner drew on both narrative accounts of a slave uprising and the folklore surrounding the leader of the rebellion, Nat Turner. It was in this tradition that Lee created Atticus Finch.

Without a doubt, Harper Lee recognized that folklore and myth stand as pillars of the way Southerners both face harsh truths and—as we have seen recently in the debate over the Confederate flag—cover them up. Southerners, particularly white Southerners, needed a figure that represented the tradition of the progressive in the history of the region, protagonists like turn-of-the-century New South advocate Henry Grady, whose speeches Atticus advises his son Jem to read in Mockingbird. Atticus Finch became that figure. Segregation painted even progressive Southern whites in a corner that became violent and ugly, and Atticus Finch revealed to them a way out. As Southern historian C. Vann Woodward has noted, irony and the South have never been strangers.

If there is one mythic theme that has the strongest hold on the mind of the South, it is equality and its connection to the past and present. The very idea that a separate social system under Jim Crow could be considered equal is an example of this myth’s primacy. What Lee sought to do in Mockingbird was to reveal holes in the myth of equality in the South, but in a way that both Southerners and Northerners could understand. Atticus was the convener of this discussion: Like any Southern liberal of his generation, Atticus does not challenge the foundation of Jim Crow privilege, even though he is actively defending a black client and trying to show his fellow white citizens to learn how to walk in another man’s shoes. He knows that he cannot convince a jury to treat Tom Robinson as an equal. So, Atticus Finch was a man of his time rather than a man before his time.

It is difficult to see how the Atticus of 1935 in Mockingbird would have evolved into the intolerant old man depicted more than 20 years later in Watchman. The older, more infirm Atticus lacks the moral center that drove him in Mockingbird. The book itself does not indulge in that bigotry—the adult Scout is physically repulsed by her father’s attitude. But this doesn’t work as well as it should because the adult Scout—now called Jean Louise—is preachy and self-righteous. And now, there’s no one to cheer for. It is clear why Lee’s editor Tay Hohoff asked her to rework the narrative.

Lee’s original creation may have lacked the complexity of the way William Faulkner wrestled with race in his fiction, but the simplicity of the storytelling allowed Atticus’s message of racial justice to reach a broader audience. Unfortunately Watchman does not embrace that complexity either and also lacks power in its storytelling.

Lee has created two separate but unequal fictional universes. Yes, they are part of a continuum—and they also represent some kind of corruption of Atticus that we can’t forgive because he devolves rather than evolves. In Watchman, Atticus becomes part of the forces in the South that Lee wrote Mockingbird to counteract.

I am with the group that feels Go Set a Watchman should have been left in that safe deposit box in Monroeville, to be discovered and studied by scholars as an artifact after Lee’s death rather than published for millions to read. It is more compelling to see how a writer’s work evolves rather than to publish an earlier draft, no matter how well written it is. And we all know it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Ralph Eubanks is the author of Ever is a Long Time and The House at the End of the Road. A native Mississippian, he now lives in Washington. He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square

TIME sexuality

Transitioning Genders Isn’t About Glamour

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Coming out in Vanity Fair is one thing, but learning to be open with your family and friends is another

Four years ago, when I first started presenting to the world as a woman, I met my friend Jamie for lunch in West L.A. As soon as we sat down, some children sitting at the table next to ours said they spotted two men who were “dressed weird.”

I knew they didn’t mean any harm, but my heart sank, since I was a newly out transgender woman who was trying her best to blend into society. Jamie noticed my discomfort and saw how I tightened up. She knew that I was wondering what else I could do to look better. “What had I done wrong?” I thought to myself. “Did I not wear enough makeup? Was my voice the tell? What did they pick up that gave me away?”

“Don’t worry, Natalie, so many transgender women get read in front of children,” she said. “They just have the knack to read us out and spot us. It must be their purity or innocence or something.” She was trying to console me.

There was a huge flurry of discussion and applause when Caitlyn Jenner announced her new name and the start of a new life with a glamorous spread on the cover of Vanity Fair. But not all of us get a spread in Vanity Fair and a prize-winning journalist to explain who we are. For most of us, it is hard to explain ourselves. The daily awkward moments are difficult to deal with, if only because they keep coming even after the “big reveal.” The most important change a transgender woman can make is to drop the protective armor she has been carrying around her whole life.

The first thing we are taught about gender is what we can’t be. Often, while I was growing up, I heard, “No, boys don’t wear dresses. No, boys can’t wear makeup. No, boys play with different toys than girls.” I knew my heart was feminine at the age of four, but society repeatedly told me that I couldn’t show the world the person I felt myself to be. If I did, I was going to get beat up—even though I was growing up in liberal Southern California. But after 30 years of modulating myself for those around me, I needed to start the transition to the person I’d always felt was inside, or walk through the rest of my life feeling dead.

To be transgender is to know deeply that the traditional gender roles assigned by the body parts you’re born with don’t fit, and that you have to move beyond what society typically thinks of as a “man” or a “woman.” To transition to the gender that we feel is inside of us, many transgender people choose to get surgery or take hormones, but many others do not. It’s more about living in the world as a particular gender. Medical history is irrelevant—and a private matter, as it is for all Americans.

For me, transitioning meant I had to peel off the years of socialization as a man, no longer hiding in transgender and gay bars, and inviting all 30 family members from both sides over for a meeting, where my parents went through the trouble of translating what I said into Chinese for those family members that didn’t comprehend English.

It meant walking into the living room for everyone to see me, and answering questions for four hours from people who were genuinely concerned about me and the struggles I had faced in solitude for three decades. It meant feeling like my old skin was ripped off as I walked in the world raw and tender, even though I had ample support from those who loved me the most. It meant accepting that, at any given moment, people could express disdain towards me—the very same disdain that I had feared so much when I was younger and prompted me to hide my trans nature for so long. It made changing wardrobes and applying makeup seem so easy.

Shortly after I began transitioning, a transgender friend and I were trying on outfits—she a cute halter-top, and I a strapless dress with a floral print—in the fitting room of Forever 21. We overheard an employee say, “Oh my God! Did you see those two? What are they trying to be? Did you see how ridiculous they looked?” He was giggling hysterically with another coworker.

For the majority of transgender women I know, no matter how attractive and passable she is, her trans-identity will reveal itself at some point. But it’s not even having our history out there that is the scariest thing. I recognize that some people, no matter what, are going to want to make me feel uncomfortable because I’m different from them. But the scary parts for me are the moments I am labeled merely as a “man in a dress,” treated as less than human, or erased as a freak.

Two years after that unpleasant rendezvous with Jamie, I was ecstatic to start my first job while presenting as a woman. Everyone at work—I’m an engineer—would meet the me that I had hidden for over three decades.

But accompanying my excitement came the fear that I would be read out as a transgender woman. So I did what most inexperienced transgender women do in their first few years of transition: I stiffened my spine and kept a heavy curtain up to conceal my past. I wanted desperately to box up my history and leave it in the dumpster.

So even though I identified as more of a “girl next door” and felt most comfortable wearing jeans and a simple top, I constantly tried to keep myself polished and camera-ready with Marciano dresses and Michael Kors heels. Not only was I exhausted by trying to hold up this 50-ton shield of defensive armor, I was also distant.

I quickly realized my armor came with a huge cost. My friendships lacked emotional weight. To hide that I was a transgender woman, I felt I had to edit out snippets of my life, such as the fact that my ex-fiancé was a beautiful Russian woman, or my last boyfriend was an aspiring professional dancer turned electrical engineer. I couldn’t go into details about my high school days or describe the queer activist rally I had attended over the weekend. And when asked by a coworker about the name of my former rock band in San Francisco, I lied because I was fearful he would discover through Google that it was a transgender band.

I had spent so much energy to come out as Natalie—only to find myself choosing to convince everyone that I was born female at birth with the childhood of a girl rather than owning my transgender identity. So I asked myself, “What is more important, a seamless concealment of my past, or more depth in my relationships with those women whom I see as friends? Did I really make this transition to merely walk into another closet?”

Then came an opportunity to change all that. I went shopping one Friday with one of the gals with whom I was closest to at work. After terrorizing our bank accounts for over four hours and swapping fashion tips, we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. It was there that I told her about my transgender history and my journey into embracing my womanhood. When I finished, I was so nervous, I couldn’t look at her.

Then I felt my hands being taken into hers. As I turned my head upwards to make eye contact, she thanked me for telling her, and told me she was grateful for the opportunity to deepen our friendship.

It’s now been four years since I transitioned and I am so much more comfortable with my transgender history that I can approach it as a “So what?” when I’m interacting with other people in public. It is the prose of my everyday life—not the poetry—that has made the difference.

All the work I put in to drop my defensiveness was affirmed recently. During a friendly gathering for lunch between two families, a 3-year-old named Stella observed me with curiosity as I played with my 4-year-old niece, Sasha. When Sasha felt shy about being around new people, she buried her head into my dress.

Stella blurted out, “Are you Sasha’s mom?” All the adults laughed at Stella’s innocent inquiry, but I felt as if Natalie had finally arrived. It wasn’t about putting on an outfit and makeup or getting my genitals reconfigured, but about the work I put in to stop being self-conscious and play with these kids in the way that let my feminine heart shine.

Natalie Yeh lives in the L.A. area. You can read more of her writings on her blog and the site Feminine Collective

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

L.A., You Stink at Parking

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Many Angelenos leave their cars in the worst places, so I started an Instagram campaign to make them think twice about being jerks

I moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles six years ago to pursue a career as a make-up artist. I had two suitcases, and a couple thousand dollars in my pocket. I had heard horror stories about Los Angeles traffic — but I never imagined how awful the parking would be.

One night eight months ago, I drove home to my East Hollywood neighborhood after working a 12-hour day on a set. I just wanted to lug my 50-pound make-up kit inside, eat dinner, and go to sleep. I live in an apartment bulding with only street parking.

Most homes in my crowded neighborhood have multiple cars. Some are clunkers, and people often park their work trucks on the street.

On that night, I ended up driving around for three hours and still didn’t find a spot. I sat in my car and cried. I finally parked in a strip mall parking lot, hoping I wouldn’t get a ticket. Even though I went down to move my car the next morning at 6 a.m., I got a ticket anyway.

I was dumbfounded by the lack of parking, and how inconsiderate people could be. I remembered all the “pet shaming” photos I saw on the Internet—of dogs or cats after they had done something naughty, with handwritten signs like: “I eat the trash.” I wanted to raise awareness about bad parking, maybe embarrass a few people too. I launched an Instagram account, ParkingSpotShaming.

The first photo I posted was from the parking lot at my gym. When I went to leave, I realized I was blocked in because the black Prius that parked perpendicular to me didn’t pull far enough into its spot.

Those early pictures featured a repeat nemesis: a blue pick-up truck that rarely moves from in front of my apartment, only from one side of the street to the other when it’s a designated street cleaning day. It always leaves awkward amounts of space in front and behind it.

Four weeks after the launch of ParkingSpotShaming, blogs began to post about it. Now, I receive up to 50 submissions a day by email and direct message on Instagram. More come through tags on Twitter or posts on Facebook.

You will see a photo of a black sedan whose driver scraped against the side of a silver SUV, making it impossible for the passenger side doors to open.

And a photo of a Smart Car parked crooked, and spilling over onto a sidewalk. “How is this even possible?!” one commenter wrote. “It’s the #SmallestCarEver!

I’ve received pictures of Bentleys and Honda Civics. I’ve found bad parkers in the Hollywood Hills and in Westchester. And there’s a range of bad parking: creeping too close to the lines, going well over them, parking in illegal zones, and sitting in handicapped spots without permits.

I tend to get submissions from shopping centers, airports, and malls. Some Angelenos seem to have a real sense of entitlement. That may be the same reason I see so many SUVs parking in spots marked “compact.”

I don’t want someone to target a car or vandalize it, so I put emojis over the license plates. I’m particularly proud of the Range Rover with the bullseye over its plate.

ParkingSpotShaming has given me and others an outlet to share our gripes, absurdities, and wisecracks. The craziest parking I’ve seen was submitted to me, and it was a white Bentley that parked sideways taking up spots 132 and 133 at Burbank Airport.

The site is anonymous, and I often wish that I knew how to get in touch with the owner of a badly parked car right away—so I could make them move it. But since I can’t do that, I’m hoping that ParkingSpotShaming will make that person who parks his Hummer in two spots, think twice. We will find you and make fun of you. As one post on my account says, “Your parking is bad. And you should feel bad.”

Andria Farrell is a make-up artist from Connecticut living and working in Los Angeles. Her personal Instagram is @driafarr. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zócalo Public Square

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Science

Why Pluto Still Deserves Our Love

Pluto is a reminder that there are many worlds out there beyond our own

One of my first memories as a child in the in the 1950s was a discussion I had with my brother in our tiny bedroom in the family house in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We had heard in school about a planet called Pluto.

Pluto was the farthest, coldest, and darkest thing a child could imagine. We guessed how long it would take to die if we stood on the surface of such a frozen place wearing only the clothes we had on. We tried to figure out how much colder Pluto was than Antarctica, or than the coldest day we had ever experienced in Pennsylvania. Did the surface of Pluto have mountains, frozen ponds like the ones we loved to skate on, or acres of snow to play in and build snowmen?

Pluto—which famously was demoted from a “major planet” to a “dwarf planet” in 2006—captured our imagination in a way that even Mars (a possible abode of life) and glorious, ringed Saturn couldn’t. It was a mystery that could complete our picture of what it was like at the most remote corners of our solar system.

Pluto’s underdog discovery story is part of what makes it so compelling. Clyde Tombaugh was a Kansas farm boy who built telescopes out of spare auto parts, old farm equipment, and self-ground lenses. In 1928, he sent drawings of Jupiter and Mars to Lowell Observatory, a premier observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, to ask for a job as an assistant. At first, the observatory rejected his request, but Clyde showed persistence, and eventually got a job.

The observatory’s founder, the astronomer Percival Lowell, believed there existed a planet beyond the orbit of Neptune, so Tombaugh’s task was to search among millions of stars for a moving point of light. He used a device called a blink comparator, which compared two photographs of the sky taken at different times, so that a moving target, such as a planet, could be seen flitting back and forth against a background of fixed stars.

On February 18, 1930, Tombaugh found Pluto. It was the first planet discovered by an American, and represented a moment of light in the midst of the Great Depression’s dark encroachment. The planet’s name, referencing the Greek god of the underworld, was suggested by an 11-year old British girl. (The cartoon dog was named later.)

For decades, Pluto thrived in its role as the ninth major planet of our solar system, even though it was tiny compared to the others (just one-fifth the diameter of Earth) and so far away (on average, about 3.6 billion miles from the sun and 1 billion miles from Neptune, its closest planetary “neighbor”).

But then, in 1992, two astronomers discovered another planet-like object beyond the orbit of Neptune. Six months later, they discovered a third object. It looked like Pluto might actually be a member of a sort of asteroid belt, similar to but way beyond one we’ve known about for a long time between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

At this point, the scientific community began to wonder whether the tiniest planet was going to keep its rarefied title. Would it suffer the same fate as Ceres, the first and largest asteroid discovered in 1801, which reigned as a planet for decades before it was demoted? Despite this concern, a core group of scientists and engineers, me included, was working on convincing NASA to send a probe to our solar system’s last unexplored planet.

By the turn of the millennium, dozens more objects beyond Neptune like Pluto had been discovered, including one that might even be larger than Pluto. So, in August 2006, the International Astronomical Union elected to demote the planet. It now shares its dwarf planet designation with Ceres and three other of the 1,200 bodies that have been located beyond Neptune, collectively known as “Kuiper Belt Objects.”

This demotion came just seven months after we’d successfully launched the NASA New Horizons spacecraft. When I heard this sad announcement, I felt as if I’d lost an old childhood friend.

But Pluto’s scientific interest to those of us on the New Horizons team didn’t diminish. The Kuiper Belt is still an interesting place: It’s populated by icy bodies that are remnants of the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago. These are the building blocks of planets, and they are still around for us to examine.

The few clues scientists have been able to gather about Pluto so far are tantalizing. We know its surface contains ices composed of methane, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and other compounds familiar to us. It has some very dark regions, but it also seems to have a bright polar cap, like on Earth. Its atmosphere is very thin, but it’s composed largely of nitrogen, like our own. And we believe Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, was formed the same way as our moon, by coalescing from the debris left over from a massive impact by a rogue body.

So, all of us scientists are hoping that the close-up looks we are finally getting now of this dwarf planet can tell us how the chaos that reigned at the beginning of the solar system could have created objects so similar and yet so foreign as Earth and Pluto.

It’s taken nine years of travel, but we’ll finally get within 7,800 miles of Pluto Tuesday. Our spacecraft will enable us to see features as small as a football field. I’ve been painstakingly observing Pluto through a large telescope for over 15 years, seeing what I think is frost moving around on its surface with the seasons. I hope to see it more clearly as the data come in.

As we bear down on Pluto, all of us scientists are just as curious as I was in my childhood bedroom, wondering what Pluto is like. Is its surface old and cratered, or does it have shifting polar caps like the Earth’s that indicate recent activity? Does it have volcanoes like Jupiter’s moon Io, plumes like Neptune’s moon Triton, or water geysers like Saturn’s moon Enceladus? Will it just be like the objects around it, or will it have some unique quality that earns back the special place it once had in everyone’s hearts?

Pluto is much more than something that is not a planet. It’s an underdog we’re still cheering for. It’s a reminder that there are many worlds out there beyond our own—that the sky isn’t the limit at all. We don’t know what kinds of fantastic variations on a theme nature is capable of making until we get out there to look.

Bonnie Buratti is a principal scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a member of the New Horizons science team. She divides her time between New Horizons and Cassini, a mission currently in orbit around Saturn.

TIME world affairs

Greece Doesn’t Need a Bailout—It Needs Investors

The global financial system needs to look beyond loans if it wants to avoid future train wrecks when financing growing nations

Greek negotiators and their European counterparts have blinked, having tiptoed up to the cliff of European disunion, looked down, and decided not to take the plunge. Global markets have collectively exhaled in relief as a result of a deal arrived at over the weekend that buys Greece more time to turn things around and pay its debts.

What’s depressing is that we will likely see this drama play itself out again, as we have before, whether or not the actors on stage are Greece and the European Union, or some other over-indebted nation and its creditors. There may be elements to this story that are particular to the dynamics of the Eurozone, to be sure, but there is a more fundamental, less discussed, problem that needs resolving: the excessive reliance of nations on debt as a means of financing their development.

The Greek debt crisis is so similar to other debt crises of the past it’s haunting. Developing countries load up on loans from over-eager banks and other creditors based on rosy growth projections that do not materialize. Unable to meet their repayment obligations, they default or seek debt forgiveness. If the crisis is big and systemic, other governments and multilateral financial institutions (in this case, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) bail out banks trying to prevent a financial crisis that may cause large economic disruption. Pundits on both sides make loud noises. There is a usually a “moral hazard” camp arguing against any bailouts, opposed by an “extraordinary times require extraordinary measures” faction eager to do what it takes to avoid ruinous financial contagion. Rewind, pause, repeat. The pattern is all too familiar and a bit too frequent.

The fundamental problem is an excessive reliance on debt as the method to finance public spending. Such inflexible IOU’s shouldn’t be the only means available for sovereign nations to raise capital to invest in their growth and development. Like enterprises in the private sector, sovereign states should also be able to raise equity funding, which involves selling a stake in their future to investors eager to participate in, and benefit from, their success. This would give these states more room to maneuver when times get tough, and give their creditors a better return when things go well.

Consider the differences between Greece and Uber. If Uber wants to raise money to finance its expansion, it can go to a bank to seek a loan, or it can sell that equity stake to investors willing to share both the upside and downside risk, aligning their interests with those of the company. Short of selling shares in individual state-owned enterprises, there are surprisingly few avenues for sovereign nations and investors to partner up, and there is no good reason for Uber and other start-ups to have more financing options than an emerging sovereign nation does.

A traditional loan requires a fixed repayment, regardless of circumstances. Sure, different borrowers, including governments, pay different interest rates depending on their track record and prospects, but essentially once a debt is contracted, they do not repay more if outcomes exceed expectations, and their liabilities aren’t diminished if things sour. Lenders have generally looked to government debt as a relatively safe, conservative investment, which is why so many pension funds and individual investors in this country choose to invest in municipal bonds and Treasury bills.

That’s the theory, of course, but as the Greek case shows, the international financial system has gone too far in privileging debt over other financing options, with utterly predictable results. Once again, creditors and borrowers — not to mention the people of Greece and elsewhere in Europe who weren’t in on the decision to enter into these agreements — are entangled in a messy, time-consuming, and destabilizing drama emanating from a supposedly unimaginable default. Equity-like deals, where investors fully become invested in a country’s fate, are often made only after a costly default process, when some investors acquire “bad debt,” after a default. The value of the bad debt can rise and fall dramatically, depending on a nation’s performance. For instance, after defaults by Latin American countries, such as Argentina, in the 1980s, these countries’ old debt obligations were swapped for what were called “Brady Bonds,” which allowed investors to trade the debt for other financial instruments at deep discounts from their contractual values. The market values of Brady Bonds rose and fell with the economic performance of these countries, which means investors and sovereign debtors’ interests became somewhat aligned.

It would be far better to design an equity-like, risk-sharing arrangement between sovereign states and creditors from the outset, in which the required repayment were automatically lowered in bad times and scaled up in good times. For example, the repayments could be linked GDP growth, or to market prices of commodities that a country exports.

Finding new ways to package and sell risk-sharing equity stakes in a nation’s future would better align the interests of sovereign borrowers and its foreign or domestic creditors. The concern that countries receiving equity capital might be tempted to minimize their resources or performance to lighten their obligations, is likely not relevant for small, growing countries. The consequences for reporting bad outcomes frequently would cause investors to lower their expectations of countries’ potential for growth and thus lower the valuation of their assets when any future financing is being negotiated. The hit that a country’s reputation would take for inaccurate reporting would simply be too high.

We should think of small, growing countries such as Greece (whose performance was healthy prior to the financial crisis, recession, and austerity of recent years) the way we think of promising, but volatile, tech start-ups. They should be financed with less debt, and more equity, perhaps even with riskier options — like stock-call options that are worth zero when performance is poor, but deliver outsized returns when things go well. This more diversified approach to sovereign financing would provide growing nations with natural shock absorbers. Their creditors would profit handsomely in good years, but countries like Greece would conversely benefit from some relief in bad years, as opposed to forcing a crash of the international financial system on account of a debt straightjacket they have forced themselves into.

In the meantime, regardless of what happens in Greece, a continued overreliance on debt to finance the expansion of developing economies will only mean that the next time—and there will be a next time—will be no different.

Bhagwan Chowdhry is a professor of finance at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and co-founder of the Financial Access at Birth initiative. His website is http://bit.ly/bhagwan

TIME Culture

Give Corporations More Political Power—Seriously

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Multinational companies, in particular, have found that oppression of minorities is just bad for business

Maybe we would all benefit if corporations wielded more political power, not less.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, it’s been fashionable to deplore (with full-on How dare they? indignation) the power of big business in our political process. But judging from recent events, I’m more inclined to regret that corporations don’t have a greater say in our civic life.

Seriously. Think about the recent rash of exhilarating triumphs for once-marginalized minorities: the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage across the land; South Carolina hastening to lower the Confederate flag of sedition and racism; a Republican presidential candidate being ostracized for bashing Latino immigrants. One of the threads connecting each of these stories is the presence of corporate America flexing its muscles, taking a stand against the bullying and discrimination of minorities.

In the landmark marriage case, a Who’s Who list of blue-chip companies from Procter & Gamble to Goldman Sachs signed onto legal briefs urging the justices to strike down all bans on gay marriage. They argued that such bans conflict with their own anti-discrimination and diversity policies, and that you can’t have a country (and cohesive marketplace) where fundamental rights – like the right to marry — vary from state to state.

Even more impressively, big business mobilized in a number of states over the past two years to defeat or roll back proposed “religious freedom” laws seen as disingenuous efforts to legitimize the discrimination of gays. No single company has been more identified with the effort to stand up to such laws than Walmart, which was credited with singlehandedly defeating a proposed measure in its home state of Arkansas. The retailer also joined other prominent businesses in attacking another such law passed in Indiana, which was subsequently altered.

Business interests were also instrumental in turning the tide against the Confederacy. The New York Times story on South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s decision to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds in the aftermath of the racially-motivated massacre at the Emanuel Church credited “intensifying pressure from South Carolina business leaders to remove a controversial vestige of the state’s past” as one factor leading to the governor’s reversal of her previous position.

Arizona is another state where businesses leaders fought against, and defeated, a religious freedom law that would have otherwise prevailed. In addition, establishment Republicans and corporate leaders in the Grand Canyon State have been in full damage-control mode since the state legislature passed SB 1070, a controversial anti-immigration measure which proved disastrous to the state’s brand as a tourism and investment destination. Subsequently, the business community mobilized to defeat a number of other, ever more radical, anti-immigrant proposed laws in the state, and to take on the Tea Party Republicans responsible for them.

At the national level, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have led the charge for sensible immigration reform – though this effort can’t yet be checked off as a victory. If only the business lobby had as much power as we often assume it does! In the meantime, it was gratifying for Latino activists aligned with business on immigration to watch Donald Trump be fired by corporate partners like Macy’s, Comcast, Univision, and Disney over his hateful comments about Mexicans. Turns out, vicious speech denigrating immigrants may be acceptable speech in certain political circles, but not in the corporate realm.

Some politicians eager to cater to local prejudices, and capitalize on them, are clearly chafing at the activism of corporations on behalf of a healthier business climate. This spring, while pushing for his own religious freedom law, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal practically whined in a New York Times op-ed: “As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.”

It’s an interesting line, not only because he ascribed “breath” to companies, doubling down on the much-mocked pronouncement of then-candidate Mitt Romney that companies are essentially people, too. Jindal’s choice of the verb “bullying” is deliciously hypocritical, because in this case (as in the others described above), it was business rising up to oppose the bullying of people by small-minded politicians.

And this is the key issue on which I differ from many of my friends and colleagues in journalism and academia who hold to a reflexively anti-corporate worldview. They see large, distant corporations as the source of much bullying. I tend to see the worst forms of bullying arising closer to home: at the hands of local or state governments, or dominant business interests rooted in one place.

No, there isn’t anything inherently virtuous about business leaders. As cynics are quick to note, the political fights I’ve described here are all about business wanting what’s best for business. Companies need to avoid offending existing or potential customers and they need to be seen as being inclusive and diverse employers to the best and brightest potential hires out there. I’ll still take those selfish impulses: If only more governments were similarly motivated, instead of being willing to marginalize minorities.

Most business lobbying is admittedly not focused on civic or “business climate” issues like the ones I am raising, but rather on narrower, self-interested agendas of particular companies or industries – say, to influence the drafting or application of regulations, or tax laws. Critics resent the billions spent by corporations and their trade associations in trying to influence the political process, especially since the amounts they spend dwarf the lobbying expenditures of everyone else. But lost in the depiction of a monolithic corporate America pitted against the rest of us, getting its way behind closed doors, is the fact that a significant portion of those business lobbying efforts and dollars are essentially engaged in an intramural corporate contest. It’s about one industry or company seeking to gain advantage (or a level playing field, they might say) against a competitor. Those dollars often cancel each other out. But when the business community does come together to speak with one voice, on broader issues affecting us all, it tends to play a powerful and positive role.

Big business tends to be more enlightened than smaller business interests rooted in only one place, because the broader your perspective, the bigger your market, the less tolerant you can afford to be of idiosyncratic regional prejudices. A company with customers and employees across the country or around the world won’t be comfortable choosing as its home a state that embraces symbols associated with the cause of slavery, or one that passes laws that treat gay couples as second-class citizens or one perceived to be harassing foreigners. It’s no accident that commerce across state lines has always been one of the great motors of progress in this country, and not just economic progress.

That is also why trade agreements that seek to harmonize norms across borders are as beneficial to individuals as they are to big multinationals. The prospect of joining the European Union (and attracting investment by large foreign companies) forced governments across Eastern Europe to protect the rights of long-oppressed minorities. As much as Elizabeth Warren and her protectionist allies have attacked President Obama’s proposed trade deal with Asia as a sop to big business, the agreement will help strengthen civil society and individual rights in these countries for precisely the reasons these critics attack it – by standardizing norms of behavior across jurisdictions.

Bigotry, and the disregard of people’s rights and dignity that comes with it, don’t travel well. And they’re bad for business.

Andrés Martinez writes the Trade Winds column for Zócalo Public Square, where he is editorial director. He is also professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

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