TIME Infectious Disease

White House Urges Calm After First Confirmed U.S. Ebola Case

Tourists visit the south side of the White House on Sept. 30, 2014 in Washington.
Tourists visit the south side of the White House on Sept. 30, 2014 in Washington. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

"You can't get Ebola through air. You can't get Ebola through water. You can't get Ebola through food in the U.S."

Within minutes of confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the first confirmed case of Ebola on U.S. soil, the White House communications operation sprang into overdrive. Their message: don’t panic.

Seeking to combat the inevitable national concern over the deadly infectious disease which has ravage West Africa for more than six months,the Obama administration took to social media to raise awareness that while the virus is potent, it is relatively hard to contract.

“You can’t get Ebola through air. You can’t get Ebola through water. You can’t get Ebola through food in the U.S.,” the administration said in a rapid-response graphic shared on the White House website and Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. “America has the best doctors and public health infrastructure in the world, and we are prepared to respond.”

WhiteHouse.Gov

President Barack Obama was informed minutes before a scheduled meeting of the National Security Council on the efforts to combat the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an official said.

Lisa Monaco, the President’s Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor, has been coordinating the administration’s homeland preparedness response to Ebola, and White House chief information officer Steven VanRoekel has returned to the U.S. Agency for International Development to work on the response, but Obama has not appointed a point-person to oversee the government-wide effort to combat Ebola.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden briefed Obama by phone Tuesday afternoon on the diagnosis, as well as the “stringent isolation protocols under which the patient is being treated as well as ongoing efforts to trace the patient’s contacts to mitigate the risk of additional cases,” the White House said.

Earlier in September, Obama traveled to CDC headquarters in Atlanta for a briefing on the disease, announcing the deployment of hundreds of U.S. medical personnel and 3,000 American troops to assist in the response in Africa, while various federal agencies have worked to raise awareness at U.S. ports of entry and medical facilities.

In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in early September, Obama said Americans shouldn’t consider the virus a “short term” threat, but warned that unchecked it could be a greater issue.

“Americans shouldn’t be concerned about the prospects of contagion here in the United States short term, because it’s not an airborne disease,” Obama said on Meet the Press. But he warned that the U.S. must make the disease a “national-security priority.” “If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates,” he said. “It becomes more easily transmittable. And then it could be a serious danger to the United States.”

Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer was appearing on CNN’s The Situation Room in a pre-arranged interview Tuesday evening, but urged calm. “America has the best doctors and public health infrastructure in the world, so we’re ready to deal with it,” he said, adding that the U.S. has “been prepared for this possibility for a long time.”

TIME Military

Air Force Keeps Pilots Alive with iPlane Upgrade

AFG-121116-001
This graphic shows how the Air Force's new Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System is supposed to work. Jet Fabara / Air Force

New software roboflies F-16s out of trouble

You may have downloaded the newest iOS 8 operating system to your iPhone recently, giving you lots of additional options. The Air Force is doing the same to its F-16 fighters. In fact, its new M6.2+ Operational Flight Program gives those fighter pilots an especially nifty new feature: it keeps them from flying into the ground and killing themselves.

The Air Force has long expressed concern over the fact that the leading cause of fighter-pilot deaths is when perfectly-operating aircraft simply fly into the ground because of poor weather, pilot distraction, or unconsciousness due to extreme maneuvers that can drain the blood from a pilot’s brain. This tendency even has its own grim acronym: CFIT (pronounced see-fit), for “controlled flight into terrain.”

Too often, Air Force accident-investigation boards have ended like this one (“MP” refers to the “mishap pilot”) last year in Afghanistan:

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 2.10.22 PMThe Air Force estimates that CFIT has killed 75% of the 123 F-16s pilots—92—lost since the first fatal F-16 crash in 1981. But the software upgrade should sharply reduce such accidents. “This is a significant development and will save lives,” says retired Air Force lieutenant general David Deptula, a fighter pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours, including 400 in combat. The system is likely to be added to the service’s F-22 and F-35 warplanes.

The Air Force began grappling with the problem 25 years ago, but crashes persisted. “By the early 1990s, several F-16 mishap boards had made strong recommendations that such systems be installed,” says Alan Diehl, a longtime Air Force safety expert, now retired. “But these recommendations were always rejected by senior Air Force leaders.”

The push to do something finally kicked into high gear in 2003, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld challenged the military to cut its accident rate in half. “World-class organizations,” he told the Air Force and the other services, “do not tolerate preventable accidents.”

But more training could only accomplish so much. “Reductions in the [CFIT] rates have long been stagnant and no large improvements from training are envisioned for the future,” an Air Force report said in 2006. “The human being is now the limiting factor because he or she cannot always recognize a warning or respond appropriately to prevent a mishap.”

 

For years, the service has used posters like this to impress upon pilots the dangers posed by “Controlled Flight into Terrain,” or “CFIT.” Air Force

That’s when the Air Force, with help from NASA and F-16-builder Lockheed Martin, got to work on the robo-pilot now being installed on F-16s (109 already have them, and all 631 are slated to by next summer, according to Air Force spokesman Daryl Mayer. The fix is not planned for the 338 F-16s built before 1989 that lack digital flight-control systems).

Here’s how it works: when an F-16’s sensors and digital map detect that the plane is getting too close to the ground, an alarm sounds. It is triggered by a complex formula involving speed, trajectory—and what might be just ahead. The alarm goes off when the plane is in a place where a 5 G escape maneuver would be needed to avoiding crashing into the ground (the F-16 can maneuver at up to 9 Gs, or nine times the force of gravity. That can make a 20-pound head feel like 180 pounds, and makes for a very stiff neck for passengers flying in the back seat of a two-seat F-16 trainer).

Shortly after the alarm sounds—the duration depends on the flight’s specifics—the plane’s “Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System” takes over. It quickly rolls the plane upright and pulls it upward, away from the ground. The pilot can reassert control of the plane at any time; the software is designed not to interfere with low-level bombing or strafing runs.

In the past, such alarms would sound—but it was up to the pilot to respond to the warning. At high speeds close to the ground, a delayed response can be deadly, as apparently was the case in that 2013 crash in Afghanistan. “Prior to impact, the mishap aircraft provided low-altitude warnings,” the probe said. “However the mishap pilot did not take timely corrective action.”

Too often, the pilot’s attention has been “channelized”—so focused on completing a demanding maneuver—that while the alarm may be heard, it is unlistened-to. Combined with frequent false alarms, the alarm-only setup hasn’t made a major dent in CFIT accidents.

The Air Force believes the new software will reduce the number of perfectly-fine F-16s flying into the ground by 90%. The service has estimated that could save 14 jets, 10 pilots, and more than a half-billion dollars in hardware.

But it’s also going to save something impossible to calculate. “From the human standpoint, nothing destroys morale like losing a squadron mate and friend,” Lieut. Colonel Robert Ungerman said two years ago, during development of the software upgrade at California’s Edwards Air Force Base. “The prevention of CFIT mishaps will avoid that anguish for dozens of spouses, parents, and children of lost pilots.”

TIME

The Real Truth About the Wall Street Bailouts

It happens to be the one we already know

It was probably inevitable, which doesn’t make it any less absurd. And it is certainly a reflection of their remarkable success, which doesn’t make it any less unfair. But six years after the spectacularly unpopular Wall Street bailouts, the government rescuers are under fire again—this time, not for their alleged generosity to financial firms, but for their alleged stinginess.

On Monday, a trial began in a lawsuit filed by AIG shareholders who claim the government somehow violated their rights when it rescued the busted insurer and salvaged their worthless investments. But even commentators who have admitted the lawsuit is “asinine” (in the New York Times) and “mostly insane” (in The New Republic) have suggested it’s nonetheless performing a public service, because it’s going to reveal the truth about the Wall Street bailouts. And on Tuesday, the Times ran a blockbuster story quoting unnamed sources who claim the government also could have bailed out Lehman Brothers, the venerable investment bank whose implosion nearly cratered the global economy. Again, the implication is that the official story is askew.

In fact, the lawsuit over the $182 billion AIG bailout is precisely as asinine and insane as it sounds. The government officials who stabilized the world’s most dangerous financial firm were the ones who performed a public service. And they absolutely would have rescued Lehman as well if they could have. Unfortunately, Lehman was hopelessly insolvent, and the government had no legal or practical way to save it without a private buyer willing to take on at least some of its risks. As for the truth about the Wall Street bailouts, well, the truth is already out there.

I have a bias here; I helped former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who helped rescue AIG and tried to rescue Lehman when he was president of the New York Fed, with his memoir, Stress Test. I was even peripherally involved in the AIG case, when Greenberg’s lawyers sought access to transcripts of my conversations with Geithner.

But I wrote a pretty high-octane defense of the AIG bailout back in January 2010, before I ever met Geithner. And it stands up pretty well, except for the part where I said taxpayers would take a hit; in fact, taxpayers ended up earning a $22.7 billion profit on their investment in AIG.

Overall, taxpayers have made more than $100 billion on the bailouts. More importantly, the aggressive U.S. financial response—along with similarly aggressive monetary and (initially) fiscal policies—helped rescue a free-falling economy that was crashing at an 8 percent annual rate. We’ve recovered better than the rest of the developed world—Europe still has 11 percent unemployment—and much better than nations that endured much less damaging financial crises in the past. It’s kind of amazing that we’re still arguing about an emergency response that turned out so much better than anyone, even the emergency responders, expected at the time.

But here we are. Critics still doubt the official story that Lehman could not be saved. They also insist the Fed could have forced AIG’s senior creditors to accept less than 100 cents on the dollar; they’re excited about the lawsuit because they expect it to expose shocking evidence about why the government didn’t insist on haircuts. In fact, these questions have been asked and answered. Geithner tells the story of Lehman and AIG at length in Stress Test. You can find a quick explanation of why Lehman couldn’t be rescued in on pages 206-208 and a quick summary of why AIG’s counterparties didn’t absorb haircuts on pages 246-248. Again, I’m biased, but if you’re interested in this stuff, you should read the whole thing.

Here’s a shorter version. The old conventional wisdom that Geithner and his colleagues were desperate to prevent big Wall Street firms from collapsing during the crisis was basically correct, although I’d say they were right to be desperate. The firms were all dangerously interconnected with the rest of the global financial system at a time when markets had lost confidence in their housing-related assets, and it was clear that any one of them defaulting on its obligations could further depress confidence and spark runs on the others. That’s why when Bear Stearns was failing in March 2008, the Fed helped engineer a deal for JP Morgan Chase to acquire it and stand behind its obligations, providing an emergency loan backed by some of Bear’s sketchiest mortgage securities. And when Lehman was failing that September, Geithner and his colleagues worked feverishly to recruit a buyer for a similar deal, holding a series of emergency meetings documented in crisis books like Too Big to Fail and In Fed We Trust.

So what happened? The only bank willing to buy Lehman and its toxic assets that chaotic weekend was the British firm Barclays—and British regulators balked before a deal could be finalized. That left the Fed without options. It’s only allowed to lend against plausibly solid collateral, and Lehman looked hopelessly insolvent. At the time, then-Fed chair Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson suggested publicly that they had chosen to let Lehman fail, because they didn’t want to accelerate the panic by making the government appear powerless. But really, they had been powerless. They knew the consequences of failure would be disastrous. They would have been thrilled to find a way to save Lehman.

In its carefully hedged, anonymously sourced story, the Times is now suggesting some New York Fed officials were “leaning toward the opposite conclusion—that Lehman was narrowly solvent and therefore might qualify for a bailout.” Put it this way: Their bosses did not agree, and neither did the market; as the Times noted, Bank of America had estimated Lehman’s net worth at about negative $66 billion that weekend. In fact, a subsequent study by economists William R. Cline and Joseph E. Gagnon—a study not mentioned by the Times—found that Lehman was at least $100 billion and perhaps $200 billion in the hole at the time.

“Our overall judgment on Lehman is that it was deeply insolvent,” Cline and Gagnon concluded.

One more point about Lehman: Even if the Fed had broken the law to lend into a run on an insolvent firm, and had somehow managed to stabilize Lehman rather than kiss its cash goodbye, it wouldn’t have defused the larger crisis. The government still lacked the authority to inject massive amounts of capital into the financial system—and a Congress that initially refused to grant that authority through the notorious TARP even after Lehman’s failure certainly wouldn’t have granted it before a failure of similar magnitude. Whatever. I guess some people find it comforting to believe the government could have snapped its fingers and ended the crisis early. It’s not a reality-based belief.

The perennial question is how, if the Fed lacked authority to rescue Lehman, it somehow found the authority to rescue AIG the next day. The short answer is that AIG, despite the awful misjudgments of a subsidiary that insured trillions of dollars worth of mortgage securities, had valuable revenue-generating businesses and a plausible claim to solvency. While Lehman was really nothing more than the sum of its toxic assets and shattered reputation as a venerable brokerage, AIG had solid collateral that the Fed could lend against with a decent expectation of repayment.

Ultimately, AIG would receive an astonishing $182 billion in government financing, and it would pay back every dime with interest. Its shareholders, who would have received nothing if the government had let the firm collapse, are now complaining in court that they should have gotten more. In his Times op-ed, Noam Scheiber aptly compared them to “a formerly starving man insisting he deserved filet mignon rather than a rib-eye.” Yet Scheiber argued that their filet mignon demand “may end up serving a constructive purpose.” He thinks the trial underway in Washington will reveal the real reason AIG’s creditors didn’t face haircuts; he doesn’t think the official explanation—that voluntary haircuts were impossible, and involuntary haircuts would have accelerated the panic—makes any sense. Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson not only called the lawsuit a “public service,” she actually portrayed AIG as an innocent victim in the financial crisis, “the patsy at the poker table.”

Uh…no. AIG was as rapacious and reckless as any bank. The government did push for modest haircuts for its creditors that might have saved taxpayers as much as $1 billion, but seven of the eight top creditors flatly refused. Unfortunately, the Fed could not force them to change their minds; several of them weren’t even U.S. firms. And the Fed could not impose the haircuts without forcing AIG into default; the creditors logically concluded a government that was spending $182 billion to avoid a default wasn’t going to create a default on purpose to save $1 billion.

This is the key: In a financial crisis, default is the enemy. The fear that secured debts won’t be repaid in full is the fear that drives panics. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation learned this the hard way a week later when it foolishly haircut Washington Mutual’s creditors, instantly triggering a run on the next-weakest bank, Wachovia; its ten-year bonds lost two thirds of their value the day after the haircuts. The whole point of the bailouts was to avoid defaults. This is not “counterintuitive” (Scheiber’s word) to anyone who has endured a financial crisis.

But the critics—who were wrong when they predicted the bailouts would cost trillions, and when they warned that the banking system could not be saved without mass nationalization, and in so many other ways—think the frivolous AIG lawsuit will reveal some dirty backroom deal where Geithner and Lord Voldemort conspired to rip off widows and orphans on behalf of Goldman Sachs. “Traumatic historical episodes often require a high-profile public reckoning before the country can move on,” Scheiber wrote. OK, he then admitted, the financial crisis inspired a litany of those, “but none fully exposed the weakness of Mr. Geithner’s logic.”

Hmm. Maybe it’s someone else’s logic that’s weak. And maybe it’s already time for the country to move on.

TIME technology

Holder Says Apple’s iPhone Encryption Will Thwart Child Abuse Investigations

"It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy"

Attorney General Eric Holder ripped technology companies Tuesday that he said are “thwarting” the federal government’s ability to stop child abuse, just days after Apple and Google announced new security measures that would prevent the companies from giving authorities data on users.

“We would hope that technology companies would be willing to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability, with court-authorization, to lawfully obtain information in the course of an investigation, such as catching kidnappers and sexual predators,” Holder said at a Washington conference of the Global Alliance Conference Against Child Abuse Online. “It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy. When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children. It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so.”

Apple has recently drawn the ire of some law enforcement figures, including FBI Director James Comey, for making it harder for the federal government to access users’ personal information—including emails, photos and contacts—on its new iOS 8 mobile operating system. Apple says it’s “not technically feasible” for the company to respond to government warrants, as it now can’t bypass users’ passcode to access data (though experts say the NSA can still get around this). Earlier this month, Google announced that its next generation Android operating system will have encryption on by default for the first time.

Read Holder’s remarks here.

TIME 2016 Election

Bobby Jindal to Appear With Hobby Lobby Family

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, waves after speaking during the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., on Thursday, March 6, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Louisiana governor will stand alongside the Green family at an event, as he prepares the way for likely presidential bid

Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will appear with the billionaire family behind the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain Wednesday, as the Republican lawmaker continues to lay the groundwork for a likely presidential bid in 2016.

According to an aide, Jindal will appear at an event at the Hobby Lobby campus in Oklahoma City Wednesday evening with the Green family in support of the Museum of the Bible, a museum backed by the family planned for Washington, D.C.

The Greens’ retail chain became a nationwide household name earlier this year when the Supreme Court ruled that it could not be required to pay for contraceptive coverage as part of employees’ health insurance plans because it would violate their Christian beliefs.

Jindal was among the most vocal Republicans in support of Hobby Lobby before the Supreme Court and one of the loudest celebrants after the decision was handed down. In a commencement address at Liberty University in May, Jindal highlighted the Green family’s fight against the Obama administration, calling the company “nothing less than an all-American success story.”

The event will provide Jindal an opportunity to highlight one of his signature issues, religious freedom, while placing him next to a potential deep-pocketed donor for his likely presidential campaign. In a February address at the Reagan Library in California, Jindal held up the Hobby Lobby as an example of what he terms the Obama administration’s “silent war against religious liberty.”

The conservative GOP lawmaker also supports the efforts by some in the Republican Party to advocate for greater availability of birth control over the counter at pharmacies, instead of the requirement for a doctor’s prescription.

TIME 2014 Election

Meet the Woman Who Could Keep Control of the Senate Up for Grabs

Amanda Swafford Libertarian Georgia Senate
Courtesy Swafford for US Senate

Libertarian Amanda Swafford considers forcing a Jan. 6 run-off in the Peach State’s Senate race a victory for third party candidates everywhere

There is a nightmare scenario that keeps most politicos working on both sides of the aisle up at night: after the midterm elections, and even through the anticipated Dec. 6 run off in Louisiana, control of the Senate likely won’t be decided until Jan. 6, the date a run-off in Georgia will take place, if any one candidate fails to muster 50% of the vote. It is this scenario that Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford, who regularly pulls 5% in most polls, relishes.

“In that situation, if we did force a runoff,” Swafford tells TIME, “I’d say that’s a clear mandate from people of Georgia for a small government and less involvement in people’s lives.”

Small government has hardly been a theme in the race between Republican businessman David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn, who are competing to fill retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss’s seat. The two have spent millions firing at one another: Perdue accused Nunn of funding terrorists through her work with the Bush Family Foundation and Nunn said Perdue lost jobs and discriminated against female workers as CEO of Dollar General.

“If that nastiness continues in a run-off, the folks responsible for the run-off will probably just stay home,” Swafford says of her supporters. “And they will have to find new voters in order to win and they will be exceptionally hard.”

Perdue now leads Nunn by 3.4 points, according to an average of Georgia polls by Real Clear Politics. But Perdue has only broken the 50% threshold in one out five of the most recent polls, and he’ll need at least 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off. Swafford’s “mere presence on the ballot creates the potential for a run-off,” says Jennifer Duffy, who follows Senate races at the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “Overall, Libertarians tend to draw more from Republicans, so she is a bigger problem for Perdue than Nunn.”

But Swafford says that may not be the case with her voters, who she maintains are open to whomever makes the best case. Swafford isn’t even sure she’d caucus with the Republicans if, by some miracle, she were to be elected.

And so an unlikely figure could impact national politics. As of the end of June, Swafford had raised $7,683 for her senatorial bid. The single 37-year-old has kept her day job as a paralegal as she has mounted her campaign. “It makes for a lot of late nights and early mornings,” she says, “but I believe electing someone to the Senate like me, who knows what it’s like to work a job, have a boss, and make ends meet on a regular budget, would bring a valuable perspective to the Senate.”

Swafford is pro-choice and for the legalization of marijuana. And, like most Libertarians, she’s deeply suspicious of President Obama’s engagement abroad, particularly in Syria and Iraq. “Last year, the President wanted to bomb Syria for their chemical weapons, now he’s asking for their help to defeat another enemy,” she says. (Obama hasn’t actually asked Syrian strongman Bashar Assad for help in defeating ISIS.)

Swafford benefits from Georgia’s strong Libertarian history. It is home to 2008 Libertarian Presidential candidate Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman. And that same year, John Monds made history by becoming the first Libertarian candidate to draw more than a million votes—statewide or nationally—though he still lost his attempt to become Georgia Public Service Commissioner. Four years later, Libertarian David Staples made another bid for the same office and again broke the one million-vote threshold, though again fell short. But, unlike Swafford, both of those men faced only one rival from a major party, not two.

Swafford says she had no choice but to run statewide: Georgia’s ballot access laws for third party candidates for state races are some of the most restrictive in the country. “So, it’s either run for city council, or statewide,” says Swafford, who was elected to her hometown city council in Fiery Branch in 2010. If they lose this Senate seat, Georgia Republicans who control the state legislature might consider rethinking those restrictive third party laws. Because if politicians like Swafford can’t clinch state office, spoiling a statewide race is the second best—and clearly effective—option to get their ideas out. It turns out, some politics might be better off local.

TIME White House

White House Touts Growth of Initiative to Aid Young Minorities

The new call to action brings local leaders into the Obama Administration's effort to reach young men and boys of color

More than 100 cities have accepted the White House’s latest call to action for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and have pledged to adopt strategies to ensure minority boys and young men have access to greater economic opportunity, officials said Tuesday.

The call, known as the “Community Challenge” was first announced by President Barack Obama on Saturday during a speech before the Congressional Black Caucus, where he said communities and outside groups are continuing their efforts to “bring folks together to examine how can we ensure that our young men have the tools they need to achieve their full potential.”

Since the initiative’s launch last February, the Obama Administration has announced several efforts to close achievement and opportunity gaps between young men of color and their white peers. Most recently, the Justice Department launched a partnership with local law enforcement agencies to improve relationships between officers and members of the community. The announcement came just weeks after protests broke out in Ferguson, Mo., in response to the police’s handling of the shooting death of an unarmed black teen by an white police officer.

As a part of the community challenge—which Ferguson has accepted—communities will work to keep young people safe from crime, get all children reading at grade level by third grade and improve opportunities for employment and education after high school.

“We’re taking MBK local,” Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro said Tuesday on a call with reporters. “We’re putting important local leaders right at the helm of this effort.”

TIME U.K.

U.K. Edges Toward Departure from European Union

Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Mayor of London and Parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference on Sept. 29, 2014 in Birmingham, England.
Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Mayor of London and Parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference on Sept. 29, 2014 in Birmingham, England. Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

As Britain's Conservative Party holds its last party conference ahead of May's general elections, the Euroskeptic message looks like a winning one

It’s hard to imagine anything more insular than a British party political conference—except, perhaps, for an island.

The ruling Conservative Party is currently meeting in the U.K.’s second largest city, Birmingham, but delegates tightly ringed by security and focused on the narrow issue of how to win the next election may as well be on a coral atoll for all the connection they have with the wider world.

Events in Hong Kong go unremarked. U.K. participation in the military campaign against ISIS barely merits a mention. A lone protestor standing beyond the crowd barriers bellowed rage against Britain’s fresh involvement in Iraq for hours Monday, but his words whispered in the convention center like distant waves. Even so, events on this artificial island may yet carry global significance. Britain is getting ever closer to the brink of leaving the European Union.

That is the probable outcome if the Conservatives win the U.K. general election next May, as they have pledged to allow Britain’s increasingly Euroskeptic population a referendum on whether to stay or go. Polls suggest a sizeable majority would vote to leave the E.U. under the current terms of membership.

Admittedly a Conservative victory is far from a sure thing in 2015. The Labour Party enjoys a lead of several points in most opinion polls and the Conservatives, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010, should expect to be punished by voters for implementing painful austerity policies that have reduced the budget deficit (but not by as much as they promised). But even though Labour may look like the likelier winner, it doesn’t act like it. Neither party members nor the wider public have faith in the current Labour leader Ed Miliband, who capped a lackluster conference last week by forgetting key chunks of the speech that should have energized his troops and instead demoralized them.

In truth all three mainstream parties are suffering from a loss of connection with the public — voters feel they’re untrustworthy, and incapable of championing Britain, whatever form that might take. This disenchantment is fostering the rise across Britain of populist parties that promise a new, more honest mode of politics and more localism. In Scotland this means the Scottish National Party strengthening largely at the expense of Labour, which will struggle to retain its 41 Westminster seats there at the coming election.

But in England, it is the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) that has been attracting support on the back of its strident views, which it calls “unashamedly patriotic”. The party’s manifesto not only calls for departure from the European Union, but also restrictions on the numbers of immigrants entering the country, less foreign aid, and priority in the allocation of social housing given to “people whose parents and grandparents were born locally”.

It’s a message that appeals to many who might otherwise be inclined to vote for the Conservative party. The eastwards expansion of the E.U. was enthusiastically supported by past Conservative governments, because they thought a larger union might be less inclined to move towards federalism and consequent impingements on British sovereignty. But enlargement has increased the pool of E.U. citizens entitled to work in the U.K, and fostered resentment among conservative voters, as the British economy struggles to recover from the economic slump. UKIP has capitalized on that resentment; two Conservative MPs have recently defected to UKIP and more are rumored to be considering jumping ship.

“The biggest issue on the doorstep is immigration,” says Phillip Lee, the Conservative MP for Bracknell, west of London, “but this is also related to Europe.” His constituents would like to see an Australian-style points system applied to jobseekers from abroad, he says. That’s a policy UKIP already proposes for all immigrants, whether they come from the E.U. or further afield.

Even so, the Conservatives are better positioned than Labour—which opposes giving Britons a vote on E.U. membership—to fight UKIP on its own turf. Prime Minister David Cameron’s post-Scottish referendum promise of “English Votes for English Laws” plays to demands for more local control, while his party is ramming the message home at every opportunity during its conference that only a Conservative government will deliver an in-out referendum on the E.U. It will doubtless be a pivotal passage in Cameron’s keynote address to delegates tomorrow.

Cameron first made the offer partly in an effort to hold together a fractious party that has a long history of falling out over Europe. But his official position—that he wants Britain to remain in the E.U., but on renegotiated better terms—also happens to be his real preference, not least because many British businesses worry that an E.U. exit will load costs and obstacles on to their European operations. His ideal is to retain the advantages of E.U. membership while shielding Britain against moves to closer E.U. integration precipitated by the euro zone crisis. But in a BBC interview this morning, Cameron made clear that he wouldn’t be too upset if Britain left the E.U. entirely. The sales pitch being rolled out in Birmingham is clear: vote UKIP, get Labour, lose the chance of a referendum.

Despite what the polls say, many Conservatives believe this is a winning formula, and they could well be right. But the same urges the Conservatives would be tapping to win election victory would inevitably still be in play if and when Britons voted on their relationship with Europe. An exit would mean a period of extended turbulence for Britain and for the E.U., used to British intransigence but also used to Britain as a counterbalance to German muscle and French protectionism. The rest of the E.U. hopes Britain stays put, and so does Washington, which still often looks to the U.K. as a bridge to Europe.

British politicians hear these voices but their message, like the shouts of the man outside the Conservative Party conference, are muffled. This island nation with its parochial politics could well be headed for greater insularity.

TIME 2014 Election

The Top 3 Campaign Fundraising Fibs

Check out some of the worst offenders

Tuesday marks the end of the final full quarter of political fundraising before November’s midterm elections, and both campaigns and outside groups aren’t just cramming inboxes with solicitations: They’re resorting to bold-faced lies.

On both sides of the fight, political groups are fast at work driving fear into the hearts of their supporters with terrifying ALL-CAPS subject lines and pleas of poverty. But aside from those messaging gimmicks, they are resorting to even less savory tactics to drive up their end-of-quarter fundraising totals, including invented “memberships” and matched donations.

Political email lists are generally self-selecting groups of supporters inclined to make donations and unfazed by the constant pleas for cash, and these tactics have proven remarkably effective. But the latest fundraising innovations may be furthering the erosion of what little trust remains in the political system, and potentially in the very same groups looking to fundraise.

“Over the long term it’s important for candidates and parties to have the trust and goodwill of their supporters, which these kinds of tactics can chip away at,” one Democratic digital consultant warned. “Over the short term, obviously, they can drive a lot of donations. So that’s a balance each campaign and committee has to figure out how to strike. But you don’t want to wind up in a position where, when you have an actual crisis to communicate around or a message that legitimately needs to be delivered, no one is paying any attention. Nor, on a human level, do you really want to irritate everyone.”

Here are some of the worst offenders:

The “Triple-Match”

A favorite of both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, among others, the gimmick suggests that donations will be triple-matched by another donor. This is a practice that’s common in non-profit fundraising, but is fraught with issues in political fundraising. High-dollar donations, for instance, legally cannot be triple-matched by a donor without running afoul of Federal Election Commission contribution limits. Experts say it’s an outright lie—a practice that would draw increased scrutiny in the private sector, but not in politics. Neither the DCCC nor the NRCC would comment on the practice.

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Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 11.16.33 AM“Membership”

While top-tier donors are often afforded special privileges, many political groups advertise “membership” for average online donors—a meaningless designation. House Majority PAC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are recent offenders on this front.

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Fake subject lines

It’s not uncommon for political groups to fake subject lines, but they are increasingly designed to appear as though sent by friends or acquaintances. House Majority PAC has taken to suggesting that emails are being sent from staffers’ “(personal)” accounts or even their iPads. That’s not the case.
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TIME White House

Secret Service Chief Pledges ‘Complete’ Probe After White House Fence Jumper

"What happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again"

The head of the Secret Service promised lawmakers a “complete and thorough” investigation and policy review Tuesday, on the heels of a new report that revealed the man who jumped the White House fence on Sept. 19 got further into the President’s home than previously thought.

“I take full responsibility; what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again,” Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said in prepared remarks to a House oversight panel. “It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly.”

The Washington Post reported Monday that Omar Gonzalez made it further into the White House than previously disclosed, getting all the way to the East Room before being subdued.

“There is no such thing as ‘business as usual’ in our line of work; we have to be successful 100 percent of the time, and we are constantly making changes and doing everything possible to ensure that we are,” Pierson said, noting that the Secret Service has apprehended 16 White House fence jumpers over the past five years, including six in 2014.

“I intend over the coming months to redouble my efforts, not only in response to this incident, but in general to bring the Secret Service to a level of performance that lives up to the vital mission we perform, the important individuals we protect, and the American people we serve.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who called Tuesday’s hearing while Congress is in recess, said the most recent security lapse called for greater scrutiny on the agency. Calling an internal Secret Service investigation “not sufficient,” Issa requested that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson conduct a “far greater and more independent” probe of the agency.

“Whether deficient procedures, insufficient training, personnel shortages, or low morale contributed to the incident, this can never happen again,” he said in his opening statement. “We simply cannot allow it.”

Issa said Pierson, who was appointed in 2013, had some “tough questions to answer” following the Gonzalez incident, including why the front door was left unlocked and why neither security dogs nor guards could stop the man from hurling himself over the fence, running 70 yards and into the White House.

The White House invasion is the latest in a string of high-profile embarrassments for the agency —including the 2009 state dinner crashers, the 2011 White House shooting and the 2012 Cartagena prostitution incident—but the first to occur on Pierson’s watch.

“The appointment of Director Pierson brought the hope that the agency would reclaim its noble image—but recent events show the troubles facing the agency are far from over,” Issa said. “The United States Secret Service was an elite law enforcement agency.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the incident “unfortunately causes many people to ask whether there is a much broader problem with the Secret Service.”

“I think my major concern goes to the culture,” Cummings said. “It is very disturbing to know that Secret Service agents in the most elite protective agency in the world feel more comfortable apparently—from what I’m hearing—coming to members of this committee and telling things than coming to you and members in the agency. That I’m telling you, when I boil all of this down, that to me is dangerous.”

Cummings added that the “jury is still out” on whether or not Pierson can “correct this situation.”

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