TIME Bernie Sanders

The Radical Education of Bernie Sanders

bernie-sanders-chicago-university-sit-in
Special Collections Research Center/University of Chicago Library Bernie Sanders (R), member of the steering committee, stands next to George Beadle, University of Chicago president, who is speaking at a Committee On Racial Equality meeting on housing sit-ins. 1962.

Bernie Sanders was a prominent local activist in college, and not much has changed

Bernie Sanders won the first election he ever lost.

It was the late 1950s, and Sanders was still a teenager, running to be class president at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York. His platform promised to raise scholarship money for kids in Korea orphaned during the recent war. “It was an unusual thing for a person so young to be involved in,” remembers Larry Sanders, Bernie’s older brother. When the votes were tallied, the future Senator from Vermont fell short, coming in third, but the outcome set a precedent he would love to repeat on the national stage. The winner adopted the Korean scholarship idea and made it happen.

Half a century later, the populist and self-proclaimed socialist is now 73 years old, and he’s running for president of the United States with a solid shot at second place in the Democratic nomination fight. Win or lose, he will force the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, to take a serious look at his progressive platform, which resonates with a big chunk of the party’s base. “Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly, enough is enough!” said Sanders on Tuesday evening at his official campaign kickoff in Vermont. “This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires.”

“Here is my promise to you for this campaign,” Sanders continued. “Not only will I fight to protect the working families of this country, but we’re going to build a movement of millions of Americans who are prepared to stand up and fight back.”

For Sanders, who maintains he is running to win, pushing Clinton to the left would be fitting capstone to a lifetime spent agitating from the sidelines of powerful American institutions. As a teenager, he read Karl Marx, and as a college student he organized sit-ins against segregation, worked for a union, protested police brutality and attended the 1963 March on Washington. Throughout that time, the central theme of his life has never wavered. “We were concerned obviously about economic injustice,” says Sanders of his college days. “And we were concerned with the question, ‘How do you make change?’”

Sanders’ education in socialism began at home, in a three-and-a-half room apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn. His father was a paint salesman from Poland and a high school dropout, and the family lived paycheck-to-paycheck. When Sanders’ father went with his wife to see the play The Death of a Salesman, his father so identified with the underemployed Willy Loman that he broke down in tears. “The lack of money caused stress in my family and fights between my mother and father,” Sanders explained to TIME in an interview this month. “That is a reality I have never forgotten: today, there are many millions of families who are living under the circumstances that we lived under.”

Bernie’s older brother, Larry, was a student at Brooklyn College who would come home and discuss Marx and Freud with the high school kid. They talked about democracy in ancient Greece, and Larry took the young Bernie to local Democratic Party meetings. Bernie followed his older brother to Brooklyn College, but when his mother died unexpectedly young, he left Brooklyn and transferred to the University of Chicago.

In Chicago, Sanders threw himself into activism—civil rights, economic justice, volunteering, organizing. “I received more of an education off campus than I did in the classroom,” Sanders says. By his 23rd birthday, Sanders had worked for a meatpackers union, marched for civil rights in Washington D.C., joined the university socialists and been arrested at a civil rights demonstration. He delivered jeremiads to young crowds. The police called him an outside agitator, Sanders said. He was a sloppy student, and the dean asked him to take a year off. He inspired his classmates. “He knows how to talk to people now,” said Robin Kaufman, a student who knew Sanders in 1960s Chicago, “and he knew how to do it then.” He was a radical before it was cool.

He also met regularly with the Young Peoples Socialist League in the student center, where students talked about nuclear disarmament, former Socialist Party Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, the lessons of the Russian revolution, and how to implement socialism, though his vision did not match up with the already faltering Soviet experiment. He talks today about expanding government programs like social security and Medicare, and tuition-free college. “Should the government be running the restaurant across the street?” says Sanders today. “Obviously not!”

The civil rights movement also became a home for him. He became leaders of an NAACP ally called the Congress of Racial Equality at a time when most civil rights activists were black. He was arrested while demonstrating for desegregated public schools in Chicago. (No big deal, says Sanders: “You can go outside and get arrested, too!” he jokes. “It’s not that hard if you put your mind to it.”) He once walked around Chicago putting up fliers protesting police brutality. After half an hour, he realized a police car was following him, taking down every paper he’d up, one by one. “Are these yours?” he remembers the officer telling him, holding up the stack of the fliers.

In his second year at college, Sanders made national news. On a frigid Tuesday afternoon in January, 1962 the 20-year-old from Brooklyn stood on the steps of University of Chicago administration building and railed in the wind against the college’s housing segregation policy. “We feel it is an intolerable situation, when Negro and white students of the university cannot live together in university owned apartments,” the young bespectacled student told the few-dozen classmates gathered there. Then he led them into the building in protest, and camped the night outside the president’s office. It was Chicago’s first civil rights sit-in.

Decades later, Sanders rarely raises his past activism in public. In fact, he generally hates talking about his own story. During a recent interview with TIME, the senator from Vermont sunk deep into a sofa in his office and resigned himself to doing just that. “Too much of media looks at politics as a soap opera,” Sanders said in a deep bass. “I have my views, Ted Cruz has his views, that’s fine: let’s lay them out and let the American people decide.”

That aversion to storytelling is part of what makes Sanders a long shot for the Democratic nomination. He polls at around 15% in the early primary states compared with Hillary Clinton’s 60%. And his longtime aversion to the Democratic Party, which he only just formally joined, will be a headwind, as will explaining his identification with “socialism,” a virtual epithet in American politics. “Don’t underestimate me,” Sanders likes to tell reporters.

People who know Bernie best say that beneath the disheveled grump from Brooklyn is a softy at heart. A few months after he arrived at the University of Chicago, Sanders went to an apartment in a rough Chicago neighborhood run by a Quaker service group, the American Friends Service Committee. He ventured out to local apartments, painting walls. Back at the house, the 19-year-old couldn’t stop fawning over the 2-month-old daughter of the home’s caretakers. His friends say he brings that sprit to politics. “His feeling for people is something he had back then, and it’s something he still has,” says Jim Rader, a friend of Sanders’ who ran the Quaker house in Chicago. “He always had a sympathy for the underdog.”

Sanders has lost six major elections since his race for high school class president. But persistence has brought him to his current post, and he’s seeking to be the oldest candidate ever to go to the White House. His goal, at the very least, is to foist his ideas in the Democratic primary. Now, as before, victory can be seen broadly: He can win the nomination himself, or embed his ideas with the person who does.

TIME Immigration

White House Hits Back at Appeals Court After Immigration Ruling

"Today, two judges of the Fifth Circuit chose to misinterpret the facts and the law"

The Obama Administration said it is weighing its options in the wake of an appeals court ruling that kept a block on the president’s executive action on immigration.

On Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift an injunction of the president’s action to grant millions of undocumented immigrants temporary reprieve from deportation.

Texas and twenty-five other states are suing the Obama administration over the president’s immigration plan, and a federal judge in Texas blocked the action temporarily in February.

The appeals court on Tuesday rejected the federal government’s argument that the temporary hold is a threat to national security, but the White House accused judges of choosing to incorrectly apply the law. “Today, two judges of the Fifth Circuit chose to misinterpret the facts and the law in denying the government’s request for a stay,” spokesperson Brandi Hoffine said.

“The President’s actions were designed to bring greater accountability to our broken immigration system, grow the economy, and keep our communities safe. They are squarely within the bounds of his authority and they are the right thing to do for the country.”

The lone dissenter on the three-judge panel, Judge Higgison, defended the president’s action, saying that deportation deferrals have existed “for half a century” and that it wasn’t the judicial branch’s place to intervene.

The Department of Justice is evaluating the ruling and considering the appropriate next steps. It’s not immediately clear whether it will appeal. Though the appeals court decided not to remove the temporary block on the immigration plan, the Fifth Circuit Court has yet to rule on whether or not 26 states were right in their initial suit against the President’s order.

The order, it said in a statement, “is consistent with laws passed by Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court, as well as five decades of precedent by presidents of both parties who have used their authority to set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws.”

 

TIME Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina Says the Chinese ‘Don’t Innovate’

Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina speaks at TechCrunchÕs Disrupt conference on May 5, 2015 in New York City.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina speaks at TechCrunchÕs Disrupt conference on May 5, 2015 in New York City.

The presidential hopeful explained 'that is why they are stealing our intellectual property'.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and current Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina apparently doesn’t think very highly of the Common Core education policy or of China’s ability to innovate.

How are those two things related? Well, Fiorina has criticized proponents of Common Core who think the policy will help U.S. students compete with Chinese students in subjects like math and science. The 2016 presidential hopeful told Iowa political video blog Caffeinated Thoughts earlier this year that the U.S. education system should not be modeled after China’s. Chinese students may test well, she said, but they fall short when it comes to innovation.

BuzzFeed pulled this quote from Fiorina’s video interview, in which she cited her years of business experience in China:

‘I have been doing business in China for decades, and I will tell you that yeah, the Chinese can take a test, but what they can’t do is innovate,’ she said. ‘They are not terribly imaginative. They’re not entrepreneurial, they don’t innovate, that is why they are stealing our intellectual property.’

Fiorina has broached this subject before, arguing in her book, Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey, that China’s educational model is “too homogenized and controlled to encourage imagination and risk taking.”

The former HP [fortune-stock symbol=”HPQ”] chief executive’s political experience is limited to her failed 2010 U.S. Senate bid. Fiorina’s tenure as HP CEO ended in 2005, when the company’s board forced her to resign following years of stagnant profits and a massive, ill-advised merger with Compaq.

TIME Scott Walker

Scott Walker Suggests He May Sit Out Florida Primary

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a meeting with area Republicans on April 19, 2015, in Derry, N.H.
Jim Cole—AP Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a meeting with area Republicans on April 19, 2015, in Derry, N.H.

The not-yet-declared candidate may take a state off the map.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t even officially declared his presidential candidacy but he’s already considering sitting out at least one state.

In an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham Tuesday, Walker said he may allow Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush duke it out for support in their home state.

“If we chose to get in, I don’t think there’s a state out there we wouldn’t play in, other than maybe Florida, where Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are,” Walker said, suggesting that the expensive contest could equalize the money gap between himself and the better-funded Bush.

“Some of the polls essentially tied and they’re going to eat up a good amount of that financial advantage that Gov. Bush is going to have,” he added, noting that incumbent Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign spent about $100 million in 2014. “A good chunk of that will be going up to the Florida primary.”

Walker is scheduled to attend a cattle-call hosted by Scott next week in Orlando.

In 2012, Florida’s primary was fourth in the calendar, held on Jan. 31, and proved to a pivotal moment in the campaign for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, cementing him as the far-and-away front-runner for the nomination. In 2016, the state’s primary will be held much later in the cycle, on March 15, the first day under Republican National Committee rules that a state can award its delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

Just months ago Walker was referring to himself as the race’s front-runner. Asked about being signaled out by President Obama in a recent speech, Walker said, “Well, it suggests maybe we’re the frontrunner.”

TIME National Security

Obama Calls on Senate to Act on Patriot Act During Recess

Barack Obama,
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media during his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Tuesday, May 26, 2015, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

“I strongly urge the Senate to work through this recess and make sure that they identify a way to get this done,” Obama said Tuesday

President Obama called on the Senate Tuesday to work through their early summer vacation in order to keep the Patriot Act from expiring in a week.

“I strongly urge the Senate to work through this recess and make sure that they identify a way to get this done,” Obama said, following a meeting with the NATO Secretary General in the Oval Office.

The Senate left town ahead of Memorial Day without passing a bill to either reauthorize or reform the Patriot Act, including portions that have given the National Security Agency leeway to collect massive amounts of data on American’s telephone calls. The House of Representatives came to an agreement and reformed the controversial program, which was revealed in leaks by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The Senate, however, failed to pass the USA Freedom Act before leaving Washington.

The President said Tuesday that the USA Freedom Act “strikes an appropriate balance” between the intelligence community and American’s privacy, but said failing to affirm remaining Patriot Act authorities puts the nation’s security at risk.

“You have a whole range of authorities that are also embodied in the Patriot Act that are non-controversial, that everybody agrees are necessary to keep us safe and secure,” Obama said. “Those also are at risk of lapsing. So this needs to get done.”

Leaders of both the House and the Senate have been in conversations about a compromise bill that would allow the retention of phone records to continue, with the information remaining stored at the phone companies for a set number of years, where it could be searched by government officials with a court order. Currently, the information is retained by the government, a fact that led Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, to seize the floor of the Senate late last week for 11 hours, helping to prevent a resolution of the issue before the recess.

The Patriot Act expires on June 1.

TIME Hillary Clinton

Here’s What You Can Buy at Hillary Clinton’s Online Store

The Clinton campaign aims for hip in its new online store

Cheeky, chic, youth-oriented, red pantsuit t-shirt. These are words that describe the items in Hillary Clinton’s brand-new presidential campaign store—and the tone that Clinton wants to set in the race.

The frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination launched her online store Tuesday morning. The store—which offer clothes, bumper stickers, and signs—will allow Clinton both to sell goods to bankroll her campaign, and more important, to build out her email list for heavy-duty fundraising down the road.

The overall look of the store items will also help define Clinton’s image among voters.

Visitors to the store can find a $30 “pantsuit tee” with the Hillary logo, or a t-shirt with the words “women’s rights are human rights are women’s rights,” which echoes Clinton’s 1995 speech in Beijing. A $55-stitched pillow in the store says “A woman’s place is in the White House,” and a coffee mug has the words “Red, white and brew.”

Many of the items in Clinton’s store point to the young, hipper audience that the campaign hopes to attract. There’s a pint glass with the words “made from 100% shattered glass ceiling,” a hoodie, a “canvass canvas” bag and an I <3 Hillary tumbler.

All the products in the store are American made, according to a Clinton campaign official. The models in the photos are Clinton campaign staffers.

On Monday night, the campaign offered a preview of the store.

Campaign stores can be an important fundraising tool for candidates, particularly as the contest gets more competitive and more customers have given their contact information and candidates mine customer lists to raise donations. Rand Paul, a Republican candidate, has a campaign store already, as does fellow Republican Ted Cruz.

TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 26

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

As you may have heard from a gleeful Rand Paul, many of the NSA’s spying programs—including the collection of virtually all American phone records—will expire next week if lawmakers fail to pass new legislation to keep them running. Let’s all hope they can avoid the four-word typo many lawmakers blame for putting Obamacare on the Supreme Court chopping block. Meanwhile, the U.S. blames recent Islamic State advances on Iraqi troops unwillingness to fight, which is the same reason the U.S. gave for the Islamic State advances more than a year ago. And avowed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is actually running, with plans for a bucolic lakeside launch rally later today. Here are your must reads:

Must Reads

Bernie Sanders Rallies a Progressive Campaign With a Realist’s Eye
TIME’s Sam Frizell reports on the Democratic contender’s strategy

Four Words That Imperil Health Care Law Were All a Mistake, Writers Now Say
Oops… [New York Times]

Suspicion of US government reaches a new level in Texas
A divided nation as seen through a military exercise [Boston Globe]

The South China Sea’s Ticking Time Bomb
Beijing is bulldozing sand into the eyes of the world, TIME’s Mark Thompson writes

Carly Fiorina Talks, Iowa Swoons, and Polls Shrug
The former HP CEO is earning rave reviews—from the few who know who she is [New York Times]

Republican Presidential Debate Caps Upend 2016 Race
Move over Iowa Straw Poll, making the debate stage is the new viability test. [Wall Street Journal]

Sound Off

“Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law as well as enforce it.” —Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Fox News Sunday warning of the role of American judges.

“What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight…They were not outnumbered, but in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. And yet they failed to fight.” —Defense Secretary Ash Carter on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday on the fall of Ramadi.

Bits and Bites

Senate NSA vote underscores rift in 2016 field [Washington Post]

Marco Rubio the hawk turned dovish on Syria in 2013 [Politico]

Gen. Dempsey’s first fight in Iraq shapes his approach to Islamic State [Washington Post]

Breakdown of GOP campaign strategies [Des Moines Register]

Republicans grope for Obamacare replacement [Politico]

TIME Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Rallies a Progressive Campaign With a Realist’s Eye

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Speaks On Legislation To Eliminate Undergraduate Tuition At Public Schools
Mark Wilson—Getty Images Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks about college tuitions during a news conference on Capitol Hill May 19, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The Vermont socialist is also a canny politician

Bernie Sanders will hold the first major rally of his presidential candidacy Tuesday in a Burlington, Vt., waterfront park that he helped create as the city’s mayor. Attendees will eat free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and a homegrown Vermont band will bring on the senator. When Sanders speaks in the late afternoon sun, he’ll be framed Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. The setting will be as wholesome and uncompromised as Sanders’ progressive platform.

But nothing is as unblemished as it seems in politics, and Sanders long ago proved himself a far cannier politician than his idealistic trappings might suggest. Tuesday’s speech, for instance, probably would never have happened had the cantankerous Vermont senator not opposed a tax increase during his 1981 mayoral race. The five-term incumbent Burlington mayor, Gordon Paquette, supported raising residential taxes in the city; Sanders, the self-professed socialist, argued it was unnecessary and would hurt middle class residents. It was also a savvy political move: he won the mayoral race by 10 votes, and went on to serve in the House and Senate.

There, he negotiated a major deal with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain on veterans care last year. An avowed opponent of larger defense spending, he nonetheless endorsed the decision to bring F-35 aircraft bases to Vermont, and has a somewhat hawkish record on guns rights, voting against the Brady Act in 1993, which required background checks for gun purchasers, and supporting a bill to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits. Military bases and gun freedoms may satisfy his base in Vermont, but are negative notches for many progressives who demand ideological purity.

Sanders has also made a major concession in his preparation to run for president. After years of refusing to join the Democratic Party, his decision to run as a Democrat rather than an Independent gives him a shot at challenging Hillary Clinton in a debate. But it disqualifies him among some voters who want to see him shake up the two-party system. “The main reason I would not vote for Bernie is that he’s running as a Democrat,” says Scott Tucker, a progressive activist in California. “That’s a deal-breaker for me in a much bigger way that goes to the roots of democracy.”

In an interview with TIME in his office earlier this month, Sanders explained his willingness to compromise. “The way things evolve is you find yourself where you are and how you apply your values and what you believe in in the strongest way possible within the context you are functioning,” said Sanders. “But there is a political reality—there is a legal reality of what you can do.”

Sanders likes to tell reporters not to underestimate him. He is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in earnest. He’s got around 15% in the polls in early primary states to Clinton’s 60% or so, but his career has a long list of unlikely victories. In 2012, he won reelection in Vermont to the Senate with over 70% of the vote.

There’s good reason the son of a Brooklyn paint salesman has acquired a reputation over many years as an uncompromising populist, and as the Senate’s eccentric progressive. Sanders’ commitment to getting unaccountable money out of politics and addressing income inequality is unwavering. He wants to spend over $1 trillion on America’s infrastructure and he is a staunch advocate of raising the minimum wage. He embraces the moniker of “socialist,” a term more often used as coup de grace insult on Fox News than a proud label.

“In America today, objectively, if you add it all up, we are the wealthiest country in the history of the world. But the problem is that a very large amount of that wealth rests in the hands of a very few people. And huge numbers of people have virtually nothing,” Sanders tells TIME. “And that’s what propels me.”

He has his quirks: on a recent visit to his office in the stately Dirksen building, a TIME reporter encountered a life-size paper cutout of a Holstein cow, udders bright pink beneath folded blue window drapes, and a portrait of socialist hero Eugene V. Debs. In the 1980s, Sanders recorded a folk album in which he delivers a speech over a choir singing “We Shall Overcome”—the evidence of Sanders’ musical dalliance is easily available on YouTube.

But if Sanders’ first ideology is liberal socialism, his second is a more helpful one in American politics: realism. It’s realism that will bring him to Tuesday’s edenic rally on Burlington’s waterfront, rallying Vermont supporters for his presidential candidacy. And his realism may make him a stronger Democratic candidate than a socialist might appear. Still, Sanders’ chances of beating Clinton in the primary are about as slim as the likelihood of rain Tuesday on Lake Champlain. The weather forecast promises a brilliant, sunny, unspoiled afternoon.

TIME South China Sea

The South China Sea’s Ticking Time Bomb

Still image from United States Navy video shows a U.S. Navy crewman aboard a surveillance aircraft viewing a computer screen purportedly showing Chinese construction on the reclaimed land of Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands
Reuters from U.S. Navy A sailor aboard a P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane points out claimed Chinese construction on Fiery Island Reef during a flight last week.

Beijing is bulldozing sand into the eyes of the world

When it comes to international relations, there are many ways to change the situation on the ground. But the Chinese are trying a new one far off their coast: they are creating new ground.

It’s part of Beijing’s plan to extend its claim to 90% of the South China Sea, and now the Chinese government is ordering the U.S. and other nations to steer clear, or at least to seek permission before visiting the neighborhood.

Sure, it’s not a whole lot of land. China has dredged about 2,000 acres of once-submerged sand to enlarge five islets in the Spratly Islands between Vietnam and the Philippines. That’s a 0.00009% increase in the country’s total land mass of 2.3 billion acres or roughly three times the size of New York City’s Central Park.

But if China continues on its present course—and the international community doesn’t back down—military confrontation seems likely. Luckily, China must reinforce its military claims to the disputed islands before such a showdown, which gives each side time for negotiation.

China said Monday that it had formally complained to Washington about its “provocative behavior” following the flight of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane over the region last week. The Chinese had warned the a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance plane eight times to leave Chinese airspace as it flew near Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys. The Navy plane refused.

“We urge the U.S. to correct its error, remain rational and stop all irresponsible words and deeds,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday. “Freedom of navigation and overflight by no means mean that foreign countries’ warships and military aircraft can ignore the legitimate rights of other countries as well as the safety of aviation and navigation.”

China’s claim of extended sovereignty is upsetting its neighbors, including the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, as well as Washington. But their denunciations will be little match for the changes coming to the South China Sea sandscape. Unlike U.S. and allied rhetoric about international law, the Chinese are literally making concrete claims in the Spratlys.

“They have manufactured land there at a staggering pace just in the last months,” U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris, who becomes commander of U.S. Pacific Command on Wednesday, tells Time. “They’re still going,” he adds. “They’ve also made massive construction projects on artificial islands for what are clearly, in my point of view, military purposes, including large airstrips and ports.”

So far, beyond words of warning to those getting too close to what China contends is its territory, it has only dredging gear, bulldozers and graders to enforce its claim. So the U.S. is ignoring it. But that, Pentagon officials believe, is all but certain to change. And as it changes, the stakes, and resulting tensions, will grow.

The U.S. Navy is weighing dispatching additional warships to the region to buttress its claim that these are international waters. Washington insists that contested sovereignty claims must be resolved through diplomacy and not dredging.

The Chinese digging is happening atop “submerged features that do not generate territorial claims,” David Shear, the Pentagon’s top Pacific civilian, told a Senate panel May 13. “So, it is difficult to see how Chinese behavior in particular comports with international law.”

Such legal niceties are not deterring Beijing. China is building a long airstrip and has deployed an early-warning radar on the Spratly’s Fiery Cross Reef. That will give the Chinese improved detection of what it claims are intruders into its national airspace.

U.S. Government

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pushed China’s claim of sovereignty further out into the South China Sea, where it conflicts with claims of local U.S. allies like the Philippines. The U.S. says it can fly within 12 miles of a nation’s coast, while China says its permission is needed for any flights coming within 200 miles.

The early-warning radar, U.S. officials believe, is only the first step in China’s quest to control one of the world’s most vital waterways. More than $5 trillion in goods passes through the South China Sea every year. It contains rich fishing grounds, and potentially great reserves of oil and other natural resources.

The sea is speckled with more than 30,000 islands, making conflicting territorial claims common. The Spratlys consist of some 750 islets and atolls. While spread across 164,000 square miles—the size of California—they total only 1.5 square miles.

The Chinese are likely to bolster their early-warning radar on Fiery Cross Reef with air-defense radars, U.S. Navy officials believe. Once early-warning radars detect incoming aircraft, they will hand off that information to the air-defense radars, which would allow the Chinese to track—and target—any incoming aircraft.

But air-defense radars and the blips they reveal on China’s radar screens are worthless without anything to back them up. So the air-defense radars, U.S. officials believe, ultimately will be tied into a network of air-defense missiles. They’ll be capable of shooting down any interlopers.

Once an air-defense network is in place, China will probably reinforce its claim to what it views as its growing archipelago by basing fighter aircraft there.

Shear, the Pentagon official, noted that China’s land grab is different than Russia’s now underway in Ukraine. “China is not physically seizing territory possessed by or controlled by another country,” he said. “They’re not evicting people from contested land features. They’re not nationalizing territory.”

But they are building an aircraft carrier some 1,000 miles from the Chinese mainland. No one knows better than the U.S. Navy the value of an airfield in the middle of an ocean.

Sure, it won’t be moveable. But it also won’t be sinkable.

TIME White House

Obama Honors Fallen Soldiers on Memorial Day

Marks first Memorial Day since 9/11 without ground troops in combat

President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day to honor the men and women who have died serving in the U.S. military. Their sacrifice, he said, is “a debt we will never repay.”

Speaking in front of more than 5,000 attendees, Obama marked the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a major ground war, though a smaller American military presence remains in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This hallowed ground is more than a final resting place of heroes” Obama said. “It is a reflection of America itself. It is a reflection of our history.”

He specifically mentioned Spec. Wyatt Martin and Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Morris, who were the last two U.S. soldiers to die during combat missions in Afghanistan.

“These two men, these two heroes, if you passed them on the street you wouldn’t know that they were brothers,” Obama said. “They were bonded together to secure our liberty and keep us safe.”

More than 6,500 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in military operations that began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Additional reporting by Maya Rhodan

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