TIME republicans

Governor Rick Scott Shows What a Real Scandal Looks Like

Rick Scott, Will Weayherford
Gov. Rick Scott, left, and house speaker Will Weatherford speak at a news conference after session on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Steve Cannon—AP

The Florida governor has been questioned about his investment in a natural gas company and his aide's involvement in a rail project.

A few months ago, I wrote about an epidemic of fake Republican scandals that Democrats were hyping for 2014, starting with a nothingburger of a whatever-gate involving Florida Governor Rick Scott. My point was that political scandals rarely get traction, and shouldn’t get traction, without a semi-plausible link to significant public policies. Let me put it a different way: Damaging scandals look more like the two latest messes involving Governor Scott.

The first involves Scott’s support for a controversial Miami-to-Orlando rail project known as All Aboard Florida, when the company pushing it had financial ties to his chief of staff. The second involves Scott’s support for a controversial natural gas pipeline to North Florida, when he owned a stake in the company building it. You probably haven’t heard about these messes, because they’re pretty obscure. They’re also mini-messes, especially for Scott, who was once CEO of a hospital chain that paid a record $1.7 billion fine for fraud committed on his watch.

What could turn these messes into scandals is their potential link to public policies—in particular, to lame and unpopular policies that could look even worse if Scott’s probable opponent, Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, can frame them as corrupt policies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with government support for a train linking Miami and Orlando—though my pal Carl Hiaasen is not an All Aboard Florida fan—but it looks pretty sketchy after Governor Scott (at the urging of his conflicted chief of staff) rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail project that would have eventually linked Miami, Orlando and Tampa. Similarly, there’s a case to be made for a natural gas pipeline to Florida, but it’s hard to square with Scott’s support for utilities waging an outrageous war to prevent homeowners from going solar in the Sunshine State.

Asking questions about an opponent’s record can be good politics, but answering them can be even better politics. It’s one thing to ask why Scott rejected federal money for a shovel-ready high-speed train that promised 27,000 jobs and enjoyed strong support from Florida’s business community; it’s another thing to suggest that Scott was clearing the way for his crony’s speculative slow-speed train. It’s one thing to ask why the Sunshine State is intentionally skipping a nationwide solar revolution that is reducing carbon emissions while saving ratepayers money; it’s another thing to suggest that Scott has a personal interest in pushing gas instead.

Scott will have a dramatic financial advantage in the fall, and it’s not clear whether voters will accept Crist’s latest political change of clothes, especially in what’s shaping up as a Republican year. But Scott is unpopular—he’s still best known as the Medicare fraud guy—and so are his policies. The challenge for Democrats is to link the personal to the political. Real scandals can do that.

 

TIME Congress

Congress Probably Won’t Address the Border Crisis Until After Summer Recess

Border Crisis
Undocumented immigrants await transport to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center after being detained on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Congress won’t address the border crisis until sometime after its upcoming August recess. The gulf between the House and Senate border crisis proposals is too great and the timeline too short, members and congressional aides indicated this week.

“I think that if you are focusing on the House, they’re going very bad over there because the Republicans can’t agree what they want,” said Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, a top Democrat, in a press conference Tuesday. “The Democrats aren’t going to support some of their crazy ideas, and the Republicans can’t agree which crazy idea they want to put forward.”

Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, also said progress on the crisis is unlikely.

“Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on a track to do absolutely nothing, which to me is the definition of political malpractice,” said Cornryn.

The major disagreement holding up the proposals has been whether to keep legal protections granted in 2008 to unaccompanied minors from non-continuous states, mainly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The Obama Administration, House Republicans and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who has authored a border bill with Cornyn, argue minors from those countries should be treated the same as Mexican minors, who are screened and deported more quickly by the Border Patrol. The House GOP border working group recommended to its conference Wednesday to craft a bill that would deploy the National Guard and amend the 2008 law to treat all children the same way. The Senate’s bill, which will be introduced Wednesday, doesn’t do either.

The Senate will likely vote on its bill next week, a Senate Democratic leadership aide tells TIME, mere days before the summer recess. Another Senate aide tells TIME that expectations of getting a bill signed before August are “slim to none” and that senators are already looking at options to take up the legislation in September. On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner said the House has not made a decision on when it will introduce its bill.

If Congress does nothing, the Administration will be hard-pressed to handle the surge of unaccompanied minors—more than 57,000 have been apprehended since October, according to administration officials—and may take it upon itself to act. Two departments in charge of arresting and removing immigrants who are in the country illegally—Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection—will go broke by mid-September, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which temporarily houses such children, is overwhelmed. If Obama is going to act on his own, he will have to move quickly amid flak from both sides of the aisle.

While Republicans may agree with the Administration on changing the 2008 law, they roundly criticize President Obama’s $3.7 billion request to handle the crisis as too high. Boehner called it a “blank check” Wednesday, saying that the House will tie a $1.5 billion proposal with the policy changes.

“Without trying to fix the problem, I don’t know how we actually are in a position to give the President any more money,” Boehner said.

The Senate’s version of the bill, meanwhile, includes $2.73 billion to address the border crisis, still $1 billion below the President’s request. It also includes funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and fighting wildfires raging in the American west.

Republicans have continued to hammer the White House for not reacting to the border crisis warning signals sparked two years ago nor the dramatic surge of migrants in March. They have also latched onto a report by the Congressional Budget Office that says the Administration’s plan would only allocate $25 million through September, with the majority of the funds coming next fiscal year.

But Obama faces pressure on his left as well, and he has seen the border crisis lead to an unusually high level of intra-party friction. Last week, in a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus near the White House, Obama shot down a request to grant asylum as refugees to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children at the southwestern border.

“I can’t go there,” said Obama, according to Cuellar, who was in the room, citing border security concerns. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), the Chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, told TIME that the meeting’s main focus was to oppose the 2008 law and to express “its collective unity in ensuring that these children receive due process under the law.” The White House did not return a request for comment for this article.

Democratic leaders have in turn slammed the proposal changing the way the U.S. treats non-contiguous minors. On the Senate floor Monday, Reid called the policy inhuman. “You wouldn’t send an animal back to this, let alone a little boy or girl,” he said. On Saturday, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said that the way the U.S. treats Mexican children is “abusive” and “deplorable.”

“Just so you know he’s a Texan before he’s a Democrat,” Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) joked last week of Cuellar, who has come under friendly fire for co-sponsoring a bill with Cornyn that would change the 2008 law. In an interview with TIME, Cuellar shot back at Pelosi for flip-flopping on how to try the Central American children. Pelosi’s office has maintained that she has never supported any changes that would negatively impact the children’s due process.

“She changed her position,” said Cuellar, noting that Pelosi had said that altering the 2008 law would “not [be] a deal breaker.” “It’s not only going against my position, but she is going against the Administration’s position, Secretary Johnson’s position and going against 18,500 Border Patrol agents that are on the ground that work on this day after day.”

Cuellar added that he and Pelosi have a “strong” working relationship, despite their current disagreement. “After we address this issue, the sun will rise, it will be a new day, we don’t burn any bridges, and we’re going to continue working on other issues together,” said Cuellar.

With reporting by Zeke Miller/Washington

TIME White House

Michelle Obama’s Pro-Water (Soda Silent) Campaign Makes Waves

Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama, a longtime supporter of healthier eating and physical fitness, is surrounded by children as she expands her push for America to drink more water, at a "Drink Up" event at the White House. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

“I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water."

First Lady Michelle Obama devoted Tuesday afternoon to telling Americans to drink less sugary soda, without actually saying anything bad about sugary soda.

It’s been nearly a year since the First Lady launched the “Drink Up” campaign, a subset of the signature effort to promote healthy choices for kids that focuses on water. But instead of attacking the sugary, carbonated drinks and juices that contribute to the widening waistlines of our nation’s kids, “Drink Up” attempted to flood the market with positive, pro-water messaging.

At an event in the White House State Dining Room, the first lady said those who have been involved in promoting “Drink Up”—from the American Beverage Association to the Obama’s Portuguese water dog Sunny —have succeeded in making water “cool.” “I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water,” Obama said.

Their efforts have been proof that when you market and promote healthy choices as fervently as junk food, “then kids actually get excited about these products, and families actually buy them and consume them,” Mrs. Obama added. Seven organizations, including Brita, Nalgene, Haws Corporation, and S’well bottle, recently joined the campaign to promote the consumption and accessibility of water. And so far, according to a Nielsen study on the impact of the “Drink Up” campaign, online ads have helped fuel a 3% lift in sales of bottled water, worth about $1 million.

It’s good news for a campaign that came out the gate to criticism from nearly all sides. Some argued Mrs. Obama’s messaging about the benefits of water, which she called a natural “energy drink,” was inflated. Others said she should be promoting drinking tap water over bottled for the sake of the environment. While many were critical of the fact that instead of vilifying soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi she partnered with them, which seemed contradictory given the direct link from sugary drinks to obesity.

“It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive,” Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, said at the time of the campaign’s launch. “Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “

A year later, however, tensions have cooled. “It’s terrific that the First Lady is working to make water more available, more cool,” said Margot Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Increasing the appeal is one part of what needs to be done to reduce the consumption of other beverages.”

And meanwhile, First Lady Obama has gotten tougher on her efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Though Tuesday was about fun and positivity—a group of local YMCA kids on the South Lawn even “surprised” the First Lady with a 60-by-40 foot water drop made out of 2,000 “Drink Up” branded reusable bottles—the anti-junk undertones didn’t go unnoticed. She even took time to mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s healthy school lunch standards she championed in 2010 and has been fighting since May to protect.

On Tuesday, the general message was, “don’t give up on our kids.”

“We need to keep working together within industries and across industries to help our kids lead healthier lives,” the First Lady said. ” And if we do all that, then I am confident — I continue to be confident that we can give our kids the bright, healthy futures they deserve.”

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 23

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Jerusalem to focus on securing a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas; the 'specific missile' that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17; courts issue rulings on Obamacare subsidies; Honduras' president told to expect U.S. deportations on "massive scale"; David Perdue wins Senate GOP runoff primary; ethics concerns in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

  • “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday there have been ‘steps forward’ in the diplomacy aimed at ending the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as he arrived in Jerusalem for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli officials.” [WSJ]
    • “The Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, challenged critics of his country’s military operation in Gaza Tuesday morning, saying they don’t understand the legal definition of ‘proportionality’ in wartime.” [TIME]
    • How to Break Hamas’ Stranglehold on Gaza [WashPost/David Ignatius]
  • “U.S. intelligence resources tracked the ‘specific missile’ that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a senior Administration official said Tuesday, saying intelligence adds up to a picture that ‘implicates Russia’ in helping to bring down the plane.” [TIME]
  • “On Tuesday, two federal courts issued rulings on President Obama’s health care law. Here’s what you need to know about how the rulings affect you…” [TIME]
  • “Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been warned by U.S. officials to expect a enormous wave of deportations from the United States, he told TIME in an interview at the presidential palace in the Honduran capital on July 17. ‘They have said they want to send them on a massive scale,’ he said.” [TIME]
  • Businessman David Perdue won Georgia’s Senate GOP runoff primary against Rep. Jack Kingston with less than 51% of the vote on Tuesday. Perdue now faces Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, in the fall. [TIME]
    • Battleground Georgia: Democrats See 2014 Flip [Politico]
  • What if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Loses? [Politico]
  • Cuomo’s Office Hobbled State Ethic Inquiries [NYT]
TIME republicans

Businessman David Perdue Wins the GOP Senate Primary in Georgia

David Perdue
David Perdue waves to supporters after declaring victory in the Republican primary runoff for nomination to the U.S. Senate from Georgia, at his election-night party in Atlanta on July 22, 2014 John Bazemore—AP

The Republican businessman will take on Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, at the polls in November

Georgia Republicans picked themselves a Republican nominee for Senate Tuesday. For the first time in many a pecan season, the choice was less about the quality of the GOP candidates than about who was best to beat the Democratic candidate, Michelle Nunn.

Nunn, the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, is the most formidable Democratic candidate to crop up statewide in Georgia in years. She will face off with David Perdue, a businessman and cousin of former Governor Sonny Perdue, who won the primary runoff with less than 51% of the vote against Representative Jack Kingston. (Ideologically speaking, both Kingston and Perdue are very similar and capable of giving Nunn a tough race.)

Nunn enters the general elections with a money and momentum advantage over Perdue, who topped a May primary of seven candidates but faced a runoff with the other top vote getter, Kingston, after failing to secure more than 50% of the vote. Nunn had at least $3.7 million on hand at the end of the last quarter in April and her campaign recently announced she raised another $3.5 million in the second quarter, though they’ve yet to disclose how much cash on hand remains. Perdue, a millionaire who has already given his primary campaign $1.25 million in personal funds, had $784,000 cash on hand as of July 2, but his primary with Kingston was bruising and required a lot of paid media in the final weeks.

Neither Nunn, the former CEO of Points of Light — a national volunteer program run with the Bush Family Foundation — nor Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General, have ever been elected to public office before. They are running to fill the seat of retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican. Georgia is one of the Democrats’ top two pick of seats in the Senate and a stopgap measure as they stand of the edge of losing the Senate majority.

Kingston’s defeat was a defeat for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which poured $2.3 million into the race on his behalf, effectively making Perdue the CEO candidate without business backing. Kingston had a long record of probusiness votes, while Perdue is more of a blank slate.

“There is a clear contrast in this race between Michelle Nunn, a leader who has spent the last 25 years leading volunteer organizations and lifting communities up, and David Perdue, someone who has spent his career enriching himself while often times tearing companies and communities apart,” said Democratic Party of Georgia chair DuBose Porter. “Georgians want leaders who will fix the mess in Washington, not someone who puts personal profit ahead of regular people.”

TIME Newsmaker Interview

President of Honduras Expects Mass Deportations of Minors From U.S.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 17, 2014. Ross McDonnell for TIME

The problem of violence driving Central American migration has its roots in U.S. drug consumption, President Juan Orlando Hernández says in an exclusive interview with TIME

(TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras) — Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been warned by U.S. officials to expect a enormous wave of deportations from the United States, he told TIME in an interview at the presidential palace in the Honduran capital on July 17. “They have said they want to send them on a massive scale,” he said.

Before another planned visit to the United States beginning Thursday, Hernández said his country is preparing to receive the returnees but the United States needs to support him in building security in this Central American nation. He took power in January to confront what may be the biggest migration crisis in his country’s history, with tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children captured on the border in the United States.

Honduras has suffered with the world’s worst murder rate in any country outside a war zone, as street gangs known as maras have become increasingly linked to drug traffickers moving cocaine from the Andes region to the Unites States. Hernández said his government has worked hard to reduce this murder rate in his first months in office, but said violence is still a major problem driving the youth migration.

To combat the criminals, Hernández calls for a security plan with U.S. support, akin to Plan Colombia in which U.S. aid helped the South American nation battle drug traffickers and cocaine-funded guerrillas. The United States has a responsibility to help Honduras, Hernández says, because U.S. drug consumption is driving the violence.

The following exchange has been edited for brevity.

The wave of migration has generated a strong debate in the United States. How do explain this rapid rise in child migrants?

I believe there is a combination of factors. One is the lack of opportunities in Central America and we have to build opportunities here more quickly. Two is the issue of violence, because if you look, you will see that in the case of Honduras, the highest level of migration is in the places with the most conflict, particularly in the neighborhoods where the street gangs have become the armed wing of drug traffickers and kill each other for territorial control. . . . But the other factor, that we shouldn’t forget, is the lack of clarity of U.S. immigration policy. When the immigration debate goes on, disgracefully, the coyotes [the human smugglers] come and say, “Now is when you can bring your child from Central America.” . . . So my call to the United States is that it defines these rules with clarity.

The violence in Honduras is complex. What drives it more, drug cartels or street gangs?

What is happening in Honduras is that drug traffickers partnered with the street gangs so that the gangs did the violent work of extortion and kidnapping. What happened? When the huge packages of drugs arrived at the coast or landed in a plane, the drug traffickers said to Hondurans, “Move these drugs to Guatemala or Mexico, but I am going to pay you with drugs and you finance the operation.” So the street gangs carried out extortion and sold the drugs, contaminating society.

For this reason, I call for the principle of shared responsibility between those who produce [drugs] and those who consume them in the North. In the United States, many officials see the drug problem as basically one of health, as how much it costs to treat an addict and stop them getting involved. But for us it is life and death. That is the difference. . . .

I want to remind the North American people what happened before Mayor Giuliani in New York, how drugs, among other factors, combined to make a very difficult security situation. This happened in Los Angeles when the street gangs also moved drugs; it happened in Miami. But the fight against it was successful. [Americans] have suffered violence in their territory from drug trafficking. Well, now it is happening to us, but in much higher rates. Never in Central America, particularly in the northern triangle and in Honduras has there been so much loss of life as in this decade. Never. Never in history. And look, disgracefully, this is a not an issue that originates in Honduras.

If in the United States, there is a move to change the law to deport a minor without a court hearing would you oppose it?

I would like to ask congressmen and senators and those who make political decisions in the United States that they think first in the interest of the child, because the child as well being a human being, is more vulnerable than the adult. But also they [children] go with the very human, very natural desire to be with their parents. . . .

On the other side, if there is a child without a family member in the United States, and the law says they have to return, we are working with this. Like never before in Honduras, we are investing resources to warmly receive our countrymen, with psychologists, doctors, giving them different options that we have for job opportunities, or farming financing. We are also guiding them spiritually, because they are families that are destroyed inside. They sold everything before leaving, and they arrive frustrated. We have to reintegrate them. We are making this effort.

What has the U.S. government said to you about the issue of migration? Have they told you they are going to deport many more people?

Yes, they have said they want to send them on a massive scale. We told them that number one, we have to respect the principle of giving priority to the child. Two, in the case that a family has children that don’t have relatives in the United States, that they don’t deport them along with adults that have committed crimes there. We don’t want them to be mixed. They [U.S. officials] have understood that part, and we, knowing there are large quantities, more than usual, have had to prepare ourselves to receive our countrymen.

Are you optimistic this is the start of something better, or will it be a long, dark difficult time ahead?

It is a difficult situation. It is a humanitarian crisis that the world needs to see. How long will it last? Will it get more complicated? This depends on support from countries such as the United States and Mexico. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras we are working hard.

If they help us, because this is a problem they generate, I repeat, because of the connection between the drugs they consume in enormous quantities in the United States that are produced in the south and pass through Central America, generating violence, generating this migratory flow—if they help us I am sure we will be on the route to resolves this in a short time.

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Officials Say They Tracked ‘Specific’ Missile That Downed Malaysian Plane

298 Crew And Passengers Perish On Flight MH17 After Suspected Missile Attack In Ukraine
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 lies in a field in Grabovo, Ukraine, on July 22, 2014 Rob Stothard—Getty Images

The Obama Administration says it tracked the missile that struck Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

U.S. intelligence resources tracked the “specific missile” that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a senior Administration official said Tuesday, saying intelligence adds up to a picture that “implicates Russia” in helping to bring down the plane.

“We did pick up a launch, and so we were able to have the ability to track this specific launch,” the official told reporters Tuesday afternoon. The missile shot up nearly vertically from a location in eastern Ukraine determined to be in control of Russian-backed separatists, the official added, before striking the plane at an altitude of 33,000 ft., killing the plane’s 298 passengers and crew.

The comments come as the U.S. government is intensifying pressure on the Russian government for arming and training separatist forces. President Barack Obama Monday threatened additional economic and diplomatic “costs” on Russia.

But the American intelligence case against Russia remains largely circumstantial, even as Russia has called on the U.S. government to prove its case. “Everything points at the same scenario,” the official said. “It’s not like there are countertheories that make any sense to us.”

“We don’t know who literally was operating the system that day,” the official added. “But more generally what we have is a picture of evidence that says the Russians have been providing these arms, these types of systems and Russians have been providing training. That adds up to a picture that implicates Russia.”

The official did not say whether U.S. intelligence was capable of tracking the missile’s flight-path in real time, or only once the plane had been brought down.

The admittedly circumstantial American case comes as Russia has remained adamant that it bears no responsibility for the incident. The official said while the U.S. government does not know with precision how and when the SA-11 got to Ukraine, it did not belong to the Ukrainian government, rather appears to have entered the country from Russia. “What we had been tracking is a lot of heavy weaponry moving into Ukraine, including antiaircraft systems,” the official added.

TIME Terrorism

MH17 Ukrainian Crash: Dusting for Fingerprints

The U.S. embassy in Ukraine posted this graphic Tuesday, suggesting how pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. U.S. government

Both sides believe a missile downed the jet, but determining whose missile will be tougher

Missiles don’t shoot down airliners. People do. But determining whose finger pushed the button that sent a guided rocket into MH17 is a lot tougher than determining that it was a missile that brought the Boeing 777 down, killing all 298 aboard.

While the smoke has cleared from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and its victims begun their long journey home, much smoke—and some mirrors—remain for those seeking to determine culpability. U.S. officials said Tuesday that their latest intelligence suggests that pro-Russian separatists acted alone, without Moscow’s help.

But that’s a distinction without a difference. The Russian government has fanned and fueled pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine for months. There’s little chance the rebels would have been able to shoot down the jet—if indeed that is what happened—without Moscow’s support. Implicit in that latest assessment is Washington’s eagerness to avoid pushing Russian President Vladimir Putin into a corner. Washington is trying to entice him into abandoning his support for the separatists.

Amid the ferocious propaganda battle, powered by dueling briefings and instant analysis on social media, it’s important to remember both sides have been caught fudging before.

Moscow took nearly a week before finally acknowledging it shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983, killing all 269 on board. The U.S. denied early Soviet reports that Moscow had shot down a U-2 spy plane in 1960—until it produced Francis Gary Powers a week after his plane was shot down (and the weapons of mass destruction used to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq—weapons that remain MIA—are often cited when questioning the trustworthiness of U.S. intelligence claims).

It has been nearly a week since the plane crashed. The pair of black boxes, at last in the hands of Malaysian authorities, are unlikely to offer many clues. The crew aboard the plane likely had no knowledge they were under attack, so there’s probably no conversation on the cockpit voice recorder detailing what happened. It’s also likely that the flight data recorder will show everything aboard the plane was normal—until it shut down as the plane disintegrated.

There is growing evidence that some kind of missile warhead peppered the plane with shrapnel. An anti-aircraft missile’s warhead generally shatters as it comes within 100 yards or so of its target, flinging hundreds of high-velocity shards of shrapnel into it. They cripple the plane’s flaps and engines, severe fuel lines and can lead to its near-instantaneous destruction.

The shrapnel plays into both competing narratives. The Russians have suggested, without offering proof, that a Ukrainian Su-25 may have fired the missile that brought the plane down. The U.S., showing how much remains unknown, didn’t dismiss the Russian claim. “I haven’t seen any information that indicates a Ukrainian jet,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday. “We’re still looking into it, obviously. The president of Ukraine has said there was not, but again, we like to independently verify things.”

Russian officials also indicated that their own intelligence shows that Ukrainian missile systems were in the area and could have downed MH17. Moscow has argued that photographs of purported Russian missile systems inside Ukraine, and taped phone calls implicating Ukrainian rebels and their Russian allies in the shootdown, have been doctored, or are from different times and different places than the shootdown and its aftermath July 17.

The rest of the world—the U.S., Europe and Ukraine—believes that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile—fired either by pro-Russian separatists or Russian troops themselves, from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine—is responsible. Chemical testing of any explosive residue left on the remnants of the plane—or the missile—might pinpoint the kind of missile involved.

Smarting under increasing global pressure, Russian generals went on the offensive at a briefing Monday where they claimed a Ukrainian fighter jet flew within two miles of MH17 despite Kiev’s contention that no other aircraft were close by. And if an SA-11 Buk missile downed the jet, Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov said, it didn’t come from Russia. Moscow hasn’t given pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists missiles, he added, “or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware” (that claim set off howls of laughter from inside U.S. intelligence and military circles).

“According to the U.S. declarations, they have satellite images that confirm the missile was launched by the rebels. But nobody has seen these images,” Kartopolov said. “If the American side has pictures from this satellite, then they should show the international community.”

If Monday’s Russian briefing—complete with radar images flashing across giant screens—was state of the art, Tuesday’s U.S. posting of a graphic designed to show how the shootdown happened was crude. The American embassy in Ukraine posted the sketch, which quickly turned up on cable television. But it listed no sources for what it supposedly showed, and was widely ridiculed online for its lack of provenance and authority.

“It’s commercial imagery that’s available commercially,” the State Department’s Harf said Tuesday. “Flight paths are obviously publicly available information.” But it’s the alleged trajectory of the missile that’s key. Who added that? “I don’t think anyone here did,” Harf said. “I think this is just something we’ve been using internally inside the broader USG [U.S. government] who’s been talking about this.”

Ukraine and Russia were involved in a similar case more than a decade ago. In 2001, Kiev belatedly acknowledged that its military mistakenly shot down a Siberia Airlines plane over the Black Sea, killing all 78 aboard.

Coming less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, Russians initially suspected Chechen rebels for the shootdown. Back when Moscow and Kiev had warmer relations, the Russians declared that U.S. intelligence suggesting a wayward Ukrainian missile was to blame was “unworthy of attention.”

Putin, no less, denied that the plane could have been downed by a Ukrainian missile. “The weapons used in those exercises had such characteristics that make it impossible for them to reach the air corridor through which the plane was moving,” he said shortly after the shootdown, while in his first of three terms as Russian president. So were terrorists responsible? “The final judgment of that and the cause of the tragedy,” he said, “can only be made by the experts after very careful study.”

Ultimately, such study concluded that a Russian-built Ukrainian S-200 flew past its target drone after a second missile destroyed it. But instead of self-destructing, the S-200 locked on to the civilian airliner 150 miles away and blew it out of the sky.

TIME

Israeli Ambassador: Here’s What “Proportionality” In War Really Means

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks to reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor on July 22, 2014. Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

Israel's man in Washington makes the case that his country's military strikes in Gaza have been proportional to the threat

The Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, challenged critics of his country’s military operation in Gaza Tuesday morning, saying they don’t understand the legal definition of “proportionality” in wartime.

Speaking to reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Dermer, a former top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, argued that many are unfamiliar with the “rules of war” when they charge that his country has been disproportionate in its attacks on Gaza.

“We have to understand first of all what the rules of war are, because people don’t know them,” he said. “They throw around words like disproportionate without any understanding of what that actually means. A disproportionate response, from what I can gather in the interviews that I go to and the questions that I’m asked, disproportionate is believed to be what is the body count on both sides. So therefore if there’s 600 and something Palestinians who were killed and 25 Israelis, or a few days ago when there were 200 Palestinians and one Israeli, that is deemed to be a disproportionate response. That’s how most people deal with it.”

But Dermer said those assumptions were wrong. Dermer laid out the calculus that the Israeli government makes to justifying actions that may injure or kill civilians. He continued:

It’s important to understand what proportionality is in terms of the rules of war. There’s two basic principles that you have to remember. The first is distinction, you make a distinction between combatants and noncombatants. That’s the most important principle of the rules of war, that you have to make that distinction. And here Israel always makes that distinction. You have have Hamas that is deliberately targeting our civilians hoping to kill as many as possible. And you have Israel that does not deliberately target a single Palestinian civilian. We don’t deliberately target their civilians. For us, when a civilian is killed it’s an operational failure. And the more civilians who are killed, the greater the operational failure. And obviously a tragedy even of itself. And for Hamas, they celebrate—the greater the number of civilian casualties, for them, the greater the success of their operation.

And then you have the issue of proportionality.

Let’s say there’s a legitimate target because when a schoolhouse, hospital, mosque is turned into a military command center or a weapons depot, or a place where you fire rockets, it becomes by the rules of war a legitimate target. You cannot turn a hospital into a military command center. You cannot do that according to the rules of law. It’s a war crime for Hamas to do that. You cannot turn an UNRWA school into a weapons depot, that’s a war crime. You cannot use a Mosque as a missile manufacturing facility. It becomes a legitimate target. Then the question is okay, but can you target it in this specific instance.

There you get into the question of proportionality. Meaning, just because it’s a legitimate target doesn’t necessarily give you the right to hit it. Because for that, for you to be able to do that, you have to show that the gain you will get from the military action you take is worth the potential loss of lives that you might even foresee ahead of time. So I don’t want to get into theoretical examples but if you had you know 1 rocket that was sitting in a school somewhere and there are 50 kids in a classroom, then you cannot actually target to get to that rocket and kill those kids. That would be disproportionate because the gain that you have by hitting that one rocket would not justify killing 50 kids in the school. By the same token if you had 200 rockets in place and you had one civilian, by the rules of war, you could target that place even if you knew ahead of time that the civilian would be hurt.

Now there are all sorts of judgment calls that happen in between. Can you target that same target tomorrow or in an hour or in three hours? And Israel is always making these calculations.

To date, more than 500 people have died from the fighting, according to a count by the Washington Post Tuesday morning. That includes 25 Israeli soldiers, 2 Israeli civilians, 86 armed Palestinian militants and 406 Palestinian civilians. Of those Palestinian civilians, 129 were children.

TIME Health Care

What the New Obamacare Court Decisions Mean for You

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks before signing the H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. during an event in the Eisonhower Executive Building, July 22, 2014 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks before signing the H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. during an event in the Eisonhower Executive Building, July 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Two federal courts, two conflicted rulings. What does it all mean?

On Tuesday, two federal courts issued rulings on President Obama’s healthcare law. Here’s what you need to know about how the rulings affect you:

What did the courts say?

A panel in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not allow the federal government to distribute insurance subsidies through a federal exchange being used in 36 states. Many states declined to set up their own insurance exchanges, forcing the federal government to set up its own central exchange where subsidized plans are sold. The D.C. court said that only people living in those states with their own exchanges are eligible for federal subsidies, due to ambiguities in the language of the ACA.

But in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, judges reached the opposite conclusion. That panel ruled that the federal government does have the authority to hand out insurance subsidies through the federal exchange, and always intended subsidies to be available to any eligible individual in the U.S., regardless of who is running the exchange.

What happens next?

The federal government will appeal the D.C. court ruling and plaintiffs in the identical case in the Fourth Circuit will also likely appeal. The issue is likely to remain unsettled for many months.

What does this mean for Americans currently getting insurance through the ACA?

Nothing yet. With conflicting rulings on the same day and appeals certain, the status quo will remain in place — for now.

But if the D.C. ruling ends up being upheld and the Fourth Circuit overturned, the consequences would be immense. By 2016, more than 7 million people are set to receive ACA insurance subsidies through the federal exchange at the center of each of Tuesday’s rulings. These subsidies are now under threat, and could disappear in those 36 states if the D.C. ruling is upheld on appeal.

Without subsidies, millions in those states could see their insurance premiums go up dramatically. The ACA requires most Americans to have health insurance but only if they can afford it. Without subsidies, coverage for millions would become unaffordable. Removing these people from the health insurance pool could destabilize premiums for everyone else.

What would that mean for Obamacare?

It would be a hammer blow, if the D.C. ruling stands. The government would no longer be able to distribute insurance subsidies in those 36 states, unless those states opted to set up their own exchanges. That would be unlikely, since many of the states that declined to set up exchanges did so in protest at the ACA. The subsidy system is a central feature of Obamacare and Democrats’ plan to expand insurance coverage to low- and middle-income Americans.

Opponents of the law have sued over the ACA before. What makes this case different?

A ruling that threatens to strip insurance subsidies from millions of Americans is the most significant threat to Obamacare since it overcame the challenge to its constitutionality in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 — though that same ruling made its Medicaid expansion optional and not mandatory, blocking millions of low-income Americans from coverage. Legal arguments made against Obamacare since have not struck at the heart of the law’s goal of expanding coverage. The recent Hobby Lobby lawsuit, for example, only affected contraception coverage for some employer health plans.

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