TIME

Congressman Mistakes U.S. Officials For Indian Ones

"I am familiar with your country, I love your country," Florida Congressmember Curt Clawson told high-ranking U.S. officials Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar

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Rep. Curt Clawson, a freshman Republican congressman from Florida, mistook two senior U.S. officials for representatives of the Indian government during a House hearing on Friday.

“I am familiar with your country, I love your country,” Clawson said to Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, addressing fellow U.S. citizens who hold high-ranking positions in the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively.

“Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcome there,” he told Biswal and Kumar. “I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?”

After a lingering silence, Clawson smiles slowly. Kumar appears to grin, while Biswal echoes Clawson’s sentiment, informing him it should probably be directed to the Indian government. It’s unclear whether Clawson realized his error.

Nisha Biswal serves as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, while Arun Kumar is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the US and Foreign Commercial Service. Both were introduced was U.S. officials before testifying before the House Asia and Pacific subcommittee, according to Foreign Policy.

TIME Immigration

Obama: Migrant Children Without Humanitarian Claims Will Be Sent Back

U.S. President Obama speaks to the media while he hosts a meeting with El Salvador's President Sanchez Ceren, Guatemala's President Perez Molina and Honduras' President Orlando Hernandez in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington
President Obama speaks to the media while hosting a meeting with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss the flow of undocumented migrants from their countries, at the White House in Washington on Friday, July 25, 2014. Larry Downing—Reuters

An estimated 90,000 migrant children could cross into the U.S. before September. The President met with leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss ways to slow the influx

President Barack Obama took a tough line on the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have crossed the nation’s southern border in recent months, saying those without humanitarian claims will be subject to return to their home countries eventually.

Meeting with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Obama continued his efforts to dissuade parents from sending their children on the often dangerous journey to the United States. “Children who do not have proper claims,” Obama said, “will at some point be subject to repatriation to their home countries.”

But Obama did preview what the administration is calling a “pilot program” that he is considering in Honduras to allow those with refugee claims to make them from that country without physically making the journey to the United States.

“Typically refugee status is not granted just on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty,” Obama said. “It’s typically defined fairly narrowly.”

“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for,” he added. “If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it’s important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”

Obama said such a system would keep smugglers from profiting off families seeking better lives for their children, and “makes this underground migration system less necessary.”

Earlier this month Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson estimated that up to 90,000 migrant children will attempt to cross into the U.S. during the fiscal year ending this September.

TIME policy

Unlocking Your Cellphone Is About to Be Legal Again

Internet Addiction
Artur Debat—Moment Editorial/Getty Images

A 2012 Copyright Office decision effectively outlawed the practice, which allows consumers to switch carriers without buying a new device, without carriers' approval

President Barack Obama is set to sign into law a bill that will make it easier for you to switch mobile carriers without buying a new phone.

The bill, dubbed the “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act,” makes it legal for Americans to unlock their cellphones without carriers’ permission. Unlocking a phone frees it for use with a wireless carrier other than the one on which it was initially sold. For example, if you bought your cellphone from AT&T, unlocking it could make it usable on T-Mobile.

“The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget,” said Obama in a Friday statement. “I commend Chairmen Leahy and Goodlatte, and Ranking Members Grassley and Conyers for their leadership on this important consumer issue and look forward to signing this bill into law.”

Congress’ final bill was first passed by the Senate earlier this month. After deliberation over some controversial language, the House agreed to pass the Senate’s version of the bill on Friday.

The unlocking bill came about after a 2012 decision by the U.S. Copyright Office effectively outlawed unlocking without carriers’ permission. That move sparked outrage among consumer watchdog groups, who argued the move reduced consumer choice. More than 114,000 people also signed an online White House petition against the move.

“It took 19 months of activism and advocacy, but we’re finally very close to consumers regaining the right to unlock the phones they’ve legally bought,” said Sina Khanifar, who wrote the original White House petition on the issue, in a Friday statement. “I’m looking forward to seeing this bill finally become law – it’s been a long road against powerful, entrenched interests – but it’s great to see citizen advocacy work.”

TIME

Herbalife Hires Biden’s Former Chief of Staff

Herbalife Ltd. signage is displayed outside of Herbalife Plaza in Torrance, Calif. on Feb. 3, 2014.
Herbalife Ltd. signage is displayed outside of Herbalife Plaza in Torrance, Calif. on Feb. 3, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Alan Hoffman will oversee the company's vast lobbying effort in Washington, DC. as it fights allegations that its business model is a predatory pyramid scheme

In yet another chapter in what has become a real-life, Wall Street-D.C. soap opera, the nutritional supplements company Herbalife announced today that it has hired Vice President Joe Biden’s former chief of staff, Alan Hoffman.

Hoffman, who left Biden’s side in 2012 to join Pepsi Co., will start in August as Herbalife’s new executive vice president in charge of everything from “public policy” to “government affairs”—a title that translates, in layman’s terms, to the person who will oversee the company’s vast lobbying effort in Washington, DC.

It’s a big job. Herbalife is reportedly under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and at least two state attorney generals over allegations that the company’s business model is a predatory pyramid scheme.

Herbalife’s arch nemesis, the billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, gave a three-hour presentation on Tuesday this week outlining his case against the company, which he describes as a “criminal operation” that fleeces poor people by promising, but not delivering, lucrative rewards for selling Herbalife’s nutritional supplements.

But Herbalife’s all-star team of backers, which includes former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the activist investor Carl Icahn, and soccer celeb David Beckham, have dismissed Ackman’s allegations out of hand as “completely false and fabricated.”

Ackman has led a lonely crusade against the company for the last 18 months, spending $50 million of his investors’ money hiring a battalion of investigators to prove that the company is misleading distributors, misrepresenting sales figures and selling its products at inflated prices. Ackman became tearful Tuesday describing the company’s practices, which he compared to those used by the Mafia, the Nazis, and Enron.

Ackman’s hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management LP, has also bet against Herbalife in the market and stands to gain $1 billion if the company’s stock collapses.

Herbalife’s stock has soared and plummeted, roller coaster-like, since December 2012, when Ackman first vowed to take the company down. Since January 2013, Herbalife has thrown itself into the battle, dumping roughly $2 million on official lobbying efforts in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That kind of spending marks a major increase for the company, which shelled out about the same amount on lobbying over the course of a decade between 1998 and 2008.

This week, the company suggested that it may sue Ackman for defamation — something public companies seldom do, in part because the legal barriers are very high and in part because such an action could give Ackman the power to demand access to some of Herbalife’s non-public records. (Ackman responded Tuesday to a question about the possible lawsuit: “Bring it on.”)

Hoffman, who has worked for all three branches of government, has close ties with officials within the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, Congress, and the Obama administration. “I look forward to ensuring that the public more clearly understands the critical role the company plays in advancing good nutrition,” Hoffman said in a statement today. “I also look forward to promoting the economic opportunities that this global nutrition company provides for hard-working people in communities everywhere.”

During Ackman’s presentation this week, which he promised would be a “death blow” for the company, Herbalife’s stock actually rose, ending the trading day 25% higher than where it had started. Ackman alleged that the company had bought its own stock to make its price rise.

Herbalife’s retail strategy depends on hiring salespeople who do not draw an independent income, but instead share in revenues generated by the salespeople they recruit, and those of their recruits’ recruits. Herbalife does not dispute that model.

But Ackman alleges that many of Herbalife’s “customers” are purchasing the company’s products in an effort to qualify to open a branded “nutrition club,” which the company bills as a lucrative business opportunity. Ackman says his investigators’ analysis of a sample of Herbalife’s “nutrition clubs” lost an average of at least $12,000 a year, and that fewer than 2% of its salespeople made more than $5,000 last year. Herbalife says those numbers misrepresent its model, where many customers sign up as “salespeople” to get discounts on the products for themselves, their friends and family.

“I’m an extremely, extremely persistent person. Extremely,” Ackman said Tuesday. “And when I believe I am right, and it is important, I will go to the end of the earth.” Whether he’s right or wrong, he’s up against a formidable team in Washington, DC.

TIME Immigration

Migrant Girls Share Haunting Stories About Why They Fled

Central American Female Immigrants
Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

A recent UN report gives haunting accounts from some of the girls who fled

The number of young girls captured at the US-Mexico border has increased by 77 percent this year, according to Pew Research Center analysis released Friday.

The number of girls under the age of 18 apprehended at the border this fiscal year was 13,008 compared to last year’s 7,339, according to Pew. The number of boys under 18 apprehended is still much higher at 33,924, but that represents only an 8% increase from 2013.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a report earlier this year that included haunting accounts from some of the young girls apprehended, in an analysis of 404 children from Mexico and Central America who had been detained at the border.

“The head of the gang that controlled her neighborhood wanted Josefina to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap her or to kill one of her family members if she didn’t comply,” the report writes, of one 16-year-old from El Salvador. “Josefina knew another girl from her community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members.”

Two-thirds of the children from El Salvador, both male and female, reported threats of violence from organized crime as one reason for fleeing. “One of [the gang members] ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm,” said 15-year-old Maritza. “In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”

Other girls reported domestic violence as a reason for leaving. Lucia, a 16-year-old from Guatemala, escaped her abusive grandmother’s home only to move in with an abusive boyfriend. “He beat me almost every day,” Lucia said. “I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left that same day.”

The increasing numbers of children from Mexico and Central America seeking refuge in the United States has prompted a legislative battle in Washington. It remains unresolved.

TIME

Andrew Cuomo Meddled With His First ‘Independent’ Commission, Too

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during an economic development news conference at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, N.Y. on July 15, 2014. Mike Groll—AP

The New York Governor pressured members of a utility commission to vote for privatization of the Long Island Power Authority, sources say

Before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set up a supposedly independent commission to investigate political corruption in Albany—a commission he later shut down after it began poking around his own operations, a commission that is now causing him serious political headaches that could become legal headaches—he set up a supposedly independent commission to investigate the state’s electric utilities.

Mark Green, Cuomo’s fellow Democrat and onetime political opponent, says he was surprised when Cuomo tapped him to serve on the utility commission in November 2012. He says he was less surprised when Cuomo’s aides quickly began pushing the commission to propose privatizing the dysfunctional Long Island Power Authority, which was still struggling to get the lights back on after Superstorm Sandy. Several sources confirm the governor’s office pressured the commission to issue a report recommending privatization less than two months after its creation, and that Green threatened to resign when a Cuomo press release incorrectly suggested the recommendation had been unanimous.

“Independent?” Green said. “They tried to ram privatization down our throats. I told them I wasn’t going to be a fig leaf for Andrew.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo declined to comment.

Green, who lost to Cuomo in a Democratic primary for attorney general in 2006, was the commission’s most strident opponent of gubernatorial interference. But sources say members with no axe to grind—notably Peter Bradford, who had led the state Public Service Commission under Cuomo’s father Mario, and former attorney general Robert Abrams, a co-chair of the commission—objected as well.

“Several of us felt we needed to get further into our investigation before settling on one particular recommendation,” Bradford said. “There was definitely back-and-forth with the governor’s office about that. They had a viewpoint, and they wanted us to endorse it so quickly, we risked being perceived as a rubber stamp.”

Still, Bradford believes that Cuomo’s first Moreland Commission—the name comes from the state’s century-old Moreland Act—did good work without too much meddling. “It’s fair to say the governor didn’t have a truly independent process in mind,” Bradford said. “But nobody stopped us from issuing subpoenas. Nobody shut us down. The interference wasn’t as heavy-handed as it seems to have been later.”

Bradford was referring to Cuomo’s second Moreland Commission, the one that was supposed to root out corruption in state politics, the one that Cuomo disbanded in April. The New York Times reported this week that Cuomo’s aides forced it to withdraw a subpoena issued to the governor’s media-buying firm, and “objected whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo.” Federal prosecutors are now investigating what happened with the commission.

The response from Cuomo’s office, laid out in this 13-page letter to the Times, has been rather novel: The commission was never intended to be truly independent, because it was a creature of the executive branch. “You know that’s f-cking ridiculous, right?” Jon Stewart asked on The Daily Show.

In fact, Cuomo, who’s running for reelection, aired a campaign ad bragging about the “Independent Commission” he established to fight corruption, but apparently, independence is a matter of degree. The letter to the Times argued that a commission created by the governor that reported to the governor and had the power to investigate the governor “would not pass the laugh test.” In fact, Cuomo said last August that the commission would investigate “anything they want to look at—me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general,” and so on.

It’s an awkward position for Cuomo, but he’s still an overwhelming favorite to beat his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, who recently lashed out at Republican Governors Association chairman Chris Christie for suggesting the race was a lost cause, as well as a liberal Democratic challenger, Zephyr Teachout. Cuomo has governed from the center on economic issues, working with Republicans to cut spending and cap property taxes, while tacking left on social issues, passing gay marriage and gun control laws. He lacks his father’s flair for rhetoric, but he’s seen as a more effective political operator, transactional rather than inspirational, pursuing the possible rather than the ideal. Albany has seemed a bit less dysfunctional during his tenure; politicians are still getting hauled off to jail but they’re at least finally passing budgets on time. Cuomo is often talked about as a potential presidential candidate—presumably not unless Hillary Clinton passes on the race in 2016, but quite possibly in 2020 or beyond.

The corruption commission could put a serious dent in that talk. It plays into the dark side of Cuomo’s reputation, persistent since he served as his father’s top aide, as a control freak and a bully. Several sources who declined to talk on the record cited fear of retribution. “I don’t want to poke that bear,” one official said.

On the other hand, Cuomo’s defenders say his aggressive approach has helped him break through the usual chaos of Albany to get things done—including, incidentally, the privatization of LIPA. Bradford said he was uncomfortable with the idea at first, and with Cuomo’s efforts to claim phantom unanimity. But by the time the commission finished its work, Bradford no longer felt uncomfortable.

“In the end, privatization seemed like the best way to shake things up,” he said. “Things worked out.”

TIME

Pictures of the Week: July 18 – July 25

From rising death toll on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the return of MH17 victims to the Netherlands, to wildfires in Washington and the fight to protect flamingos, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

TIME republicans

Top Obama Aide: Rand Paul Is ‘Most Intriguing’ Republican

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at the 2014 National Urban League Conference July 25, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at the 2014 National Urban League Conference July 25, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jay LaPrete—Getty Images

"He's the only Republican I think who has articulated a message that is potentially appealing to younger Americans"

A senior aide to President Barack Obama suggested Friday that Sen. Rand Paul would be the greatest threat to Democrats’ hopes to retain the White House in 2016.

Speaking to reporters, counselor to the president Dan Pfeiffer said the Kentucky Republican is “one of the most intriguing candidates” in the field because of his appeal to younger voters of both parties.

“He’s the only Republican I think who has articulated a message that is potentially appealing to younger Americans,” Pfeiffer said at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor. “Every other Republican running is basically just Romney-lite when it comes to younger Americans.” Rand has made reaching out to non-traditional voters a signature component of his political agenda, most recently delivering a speech Friday to the National Urban League.

As for the senator’s presidential hopes, Pfeiffer questioned whether Paul has the organization to be a real threat and acknowledged that he would have to first make it through a tough primary where some of his positions are problematic to voters. But, he added, “there’s a germ of something there.”

Among Paul’s potential rivals, Pfeiffer suggested that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would be one of the weakest candidates Republicans could field. “I think that Sen. Cruz would be a really interesting candidate for Democrats,” he said. “He is deeply out of step with the country on a wide array of issues.”

Asked whether he would prefer to run a candidate against Cruz or Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Pfeiffer laughed, “That’s like, would you rather have ice cream or cake.”

One of the longest-serving Obama aides, Pfeiffer brushed away the suggestion that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic presidential nominee, has tried to distance herself from Obama in recent weeks as she travels the country on her book tour.

“I don’t think that we should presume that Secretary Clinton or anyone else must agree 100% with the president on every single decision that was ever made, either before or since,” Pfeiffer said. “But she has been incredibly loyal to this president.”

“On the long list of concerns that I have in my life, political and otherwise, this is pretty low on the list,” he added. “I don’t think that she’s trying to distance herself.”

TIME Barack Obama

Top Obama Aide: I ‘Would Not Discount’ Impeachment

U.S. President Obama greets U.S. Vice President Biden before signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama before signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act at the White House in Washington on July 22, 2014. Joshua Roberts—Reuters

House Speaker John Boehner's lawsuit against the president has "opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some in the future," says Dan Pfeiffer

A senior aide to President Barack Obama said Friday he “would not discount” the possibility of Republicans trying to impeach the president in the coming months.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Dan Pfeiffer, a counselor to the president, said House Republican efforts to sue Obama could lead them down the road toward impeachment proceedings.

“I think a lot of people in this town laugh that off,” Pfeiffer said at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor. “I would not discount that possibility. I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some in the future.”

Pfeiffer’s comments came as a new poll from CNN/ORC was released showing that around one third of Americans, and a majority of Republicans, said that Obama should face impeachment.

Asked whether impeachment would be a net positive for the president, Pfeiffer said he didn’t think so. “I think that impeachment is a very serious thing that has been bandied about by the recent Republican vice-presidential nominee [Sarah Palin] and others in a very non-serious way, and no one has even made any allegation of anything that would be within six universes of what is generally considered in that space. But no, we take it very seriously and I don’t think it would be a good thing.”

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel accused Pfeiffer of playing “political games” with the suggestion of impeachment. “We have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and the White House is making matters worse with inattention and mixed signals. It is telling, and sad, that a senior White House official is focused on political games, rather than helping these kids and securing the border.”

The prospect of impeachment could be a political boon for Democrats this fall, driving up the base’s interest in the midterm elections this year. The House only needs a simple majority to report out articles of impeachment, but the Senate must convict on a two-thirds vote, a potential messaging point for Democrats as they seek to hold onto the majority in the Senate.

Pfeiffer said the Republican efforts to sue Obama “in some way validates” the executive actions that the president has pursued, which have come under fire from Democratic critics for being too limited in scope.

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