TIME Viewpoint

How To Get Paid for Planning Your Death

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PhotoAlto/Ale Ventura—Getty Images/Brand X

An Oklahoma senator wants to pass a bill that would pay you to write your end of life directive ahead of time

A couple of days before my mother jetted off on a three-week trip abroad, she sent me her usual email that detailed flight info and where she would be staying, “just in case.” But this time, she also included her preferences in case of an emergency—like what she wanted to happen to her if she couldn’t make her own medical decisions. She told me she was an organ donor and didn’t want anything too fancy when it comes to a funeral. If it’s just my sister and I, that would be just fine.

At first, I was dumbstruck. My mother is healthy, she isn’t particularly morbid and she was traveling to the stable country of France. But the more I thought about it I realized that getting answers to those difficult, devastating questions while she’s well (as opposed to in a hospital bed) was far better for both of us. It turns out my mom is in the minority. Only about 30% of Americans have so-called “advance directives”—legal documents that lay out exactly what they want when it comes to resuscitation, power of attorney, and overall preferences for treatment, like whether a person prefers to die at home. That’s something Republican Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is hoping to change. His strategy? Pay people $75 to write one.

He recently introduced the Medicare Choices Empowerment and Protection Act, which would give seniors cash for putting in writing what they want to happen if they can’t speak for themselves in a medical situation. The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and the Act would allow people on Medicare to get a payment of $75 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for completing an online directive, and $50 for manually creating one, Reuters reports. Dying is expensive, and planning ahead may be one way to cut costs since end of life spending is in the billions of dollars in the United States. According to The Medicare NewsGroup, in 2011, Medicare spending reached about $554 billion, and of that $554 billion, Medicare spent about $170 billion on patients’ last six months of life.

A 2011 study of 3302 Medicare beneficiaries found that advance directives were associated with less Medicare spending, a lower risk of dying in a hospital, and higher use of hospice care in areas of the U.S. characterized by higher spending in end of life care. Advance directives also make it easier for doctors and family members to make decisions with confidence, and are meant to protect—and carry out—patients’ choices.

“Many people want to complete advance directives, but procrastinate doing so because it requires the unpleasant task of thinking about your own mortality. As a result, new approaches to helping people overcome their inertia might improve the proportions of patients who receive the type of care that they want,” says Dr. Scott Halpern, director of the Fostering Improvement in End-of-Life Decision Science (FIELDS) program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Some cities and states have made advance directives a priority. For instance, 96% of people who die in La Crosse, Wisconsin, have some kind of document about their end-of-life health care wishes, NPR reports. And La Crosse spends less on patients at the end of life than any other place in the country, according to the Dartmouth Health Atlas. Nurses and health professionals in La Crosse have been trained to start talking to patients about advance directives earlier, so that discussions are easier and there’s less confusion.

Some critics of the proposal say that the sheer volume of paperwork that would be required presents a logistical nightmare. Others contend that people won’t take the time to think about their decisions as they click through boxes, and not having thoughtful conversations with family members. Some remember back to 2009, when Sen. Johnny Isakson sponsored an end of life planning bill that would require Medicare to cover voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions between doctors and their patients. Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin called them “death panels,” and the unfortunate nickname stuck—the bill died.

But advocates say that since advance directives are a hassle to figure out, incentivizing them to be done in advance is helpful. “Generally the hospice community is in favor of anything that incentivizes the conversation,” says Angie Truesdale, vice president of public policy National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “[The proposal] takes a very patient-centered approach. The only way it could be stronger is if they would incentize patients to revisit it every year.” Although that would be more expensive, Truesdale says patients should have conversations with their family and doctors and update it according to their health and wishes.

Coburn told Reuters he wrote his own advance directive 20 years ago. He will be stepping down from his post in January, due to health issues. The bill has been referred to the Finance Committee which will decide whether to send the bill to the Senate.

Next time I visit my parents, my mom says she plans to sit us all down to complete, or at least consider completing, our own documents. “It will be good for you to have them done,” she sent me in a text message. And my mother is always right.

You won’t get paid for it—yet—but you can start making your own big decisions here.

TIME 2016 elections

Democrats’ 2014 Message In One Paragraph

President Obama laid out his party's top talking points for the midterm elections on Wednesday, explaining in a quick 175 words that universal pre-K and pay equity will take precedence, in a move designed to reach out to traditional constituencies

Before a crowd of Hollywood big-shots Wednesday night in Los Angeles, President Barack Obama laid out his party’s midterm messaging in a single paragraph.

Speaking at a joint fundraiser at the home of Disney chairman Alan Horn for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Obama presented the contrast between Democrats and Republicans going into this fall’s campaign.

We believe in pay equity; they say, no. We believe in a higher minimum wage; they say, no. We believe in making sure that we’re investing in our infrastructure and putting people back to work, and investing in innovation and basic research that can unlock cures for things like Alzheimer’s; their budget takes us in the opposite direction. We believe in early childhood education to make sure that opportunity for all actually means something, that it’s not just a slogan; they say, no. We think climate change is real. Some of them say it’s a hoax, that we’re fabricating it. And the biggest challenge we have is not just that there’s a fundamental difference in vision and where we want to take the country, not just the fact that they continue to subscribe to a top-down approach to economic growth and opportunity and we believe that the economy works better when it works for everybody and that real growth happens from the bottom up and the middle out.

In those 175 words, Obama touched on the basic talking points for Democrats this fall as they try to move beyond the still-unpopular Affordable Care Act to issues like pay and income inequality and universal pre-K. The poll-tested message, which was the centerpiece of the President’s State of the Union Address under the tagline “Opportunity for All,” is designed to reach out to traditional Democratic constituencies that may be slow to head to the polls in November.

With an audience of Democratic faithful like Barbra Streisand, James Brolin and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Obama tried to rally the troops to the midterm cause, even as much of the party has been distracted by a potential Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016.

“So my main message to all of you is feel a sense of urgency about this election,” Obama said. “This is my last campaign, and I’m going to put everything I’ve got into it, but I need you to feel that this is just as important—because we can’t afford to wait until 2016.”

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: May 8

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

In the News: Pro-Russia separatists defy Putin; Rep. Trey Gowdy on Benghazi; Climate report won't make Americans care; and what's prettier in print

  • Inside Putin’s East European spy campaign [TIME]
  • “The main pro-Russian separatist groups in eastern Ukraine decided on Thursday to go ahead with a referendum on secession set for Sunday,defying an appeal from Russian President Vladimir Putin a day earlier to postpone the vote to facilitate dialogue with the government in Kiev.” [WSJ]
  • Rep. Trey Gowdy: Benghazi needs deeper scrutiny [USA Today]
  • Keystone, Inc: “Funded by multibillion-dollar oil companies, labor unions and ultrarich environmentalists, the fight has filtered into every crack and crevice of the nation’s capital — all for a project some advocates on both sides privately concede wouldn’t be an environmental or economic game-changer.” [Politico]
  • Climate change is already here, but that won’t make Americans care [TIME]
  • Florida finds itself in the eye of the storm on climate change [NYT]
  • Janet Yellen: Economy improving, but housing a concern [Christian Science Monitor]
  • The troubled search for Nigeria’s stolen girls [New Yorker]
  • Black mobility belies U.S. civil rights hopes as milestone nears [Bloomberg]
  • This former cocaine kingpin is lobbying Congress to let him keep his cheetahs (and liger ) [Mother Jones]
  • Your broadband company may be holding your internet access hostage [TIME]

Prettier in print:

 

 

TIME Environment

Climate Change Is Here — But That Won’t Make Americans Care

Climate Change Report
Floodwaters from the Souris River surround homes near Minot State University in Minot, N.D. in this June 27, 2011 file photo. Charles Rex Arbogast—AP

If climate action has to wait until we all feel climate pain, we're doomed

The National Climate Assessment released Tuesday did not break much new scientific ground, but it debuted a new scientific message. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report concluded. President Obama parroted that message while flacking the report: “This is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now.” The media also focused on the here-and-now. “U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds,” declared the New York Times. “U.S. Climate Report Says Global Warming Impact Already Severe,” said the Washington Post.

It’s true, of course. We’re already seeing hotter weather, nastier droughts, rising seas, and more damaging floods. I live at Ground Zero for climate change, so I’m keenly aware that it’s not just a someday phenomenon. But I’m also a bit skeptical that the new here-and-now message will get Americans to care about an issue that’s never really grabbed them in the past. Because while climate change really is our most daunting problem, it’s not our most imminent problem. It isn’t severely hurting most Americans who aren’t drought-ravaged farmers. It’s annoying that Biscayne Bay now floods the Whole Foods parking lot near my house once a month, but it’s not the end of the world.

Climate change, on the other hand, really could create the end of the world, or at least the end of the world as we know it. The scientific warnings about climate refugees, underwater cities, extreme storms, and agricultural depressions are unbelievably scary. The National Climate Assessment documented some of those potentially horrific scenarios for the U.S., like the baking of the Southwest, the melting of Alaska, and the drowning of Florida, but it emphasized the bad stuff that’s already happening.

This is partly because environmental activists are known for being Debbie Downers and Chicken Littles, for always accentuating the apocalyptic. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, two longtime critics of the green movement, made a splash last month with a Times op-ed arguing that “images of melting glaciers, raging wildfires and rampaging floods” only increase skepticism about global warming. “More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization,” they wrote.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger love nuclear power and natural gas, and the conclusion of their op-ed—that the public will start caring about global warming when enviros start embracing nuclear power and natural gas—smacked a bit of motivated reasoning. But their contention that Americans don’t like being hectored about looming disasters sounded plausible enough. (Joe Romm at Climate Progress disputed it; Nordhaus and Shellenberger responded here. I don’t know enough to adjudicate that particular fight.

Honestly, I don’t know what will get the public to start caring about global warming. The BP oil spill didn’t. The warmest decade in recorded history didn’t. Neither did Superstorm Sandy, despite Bloomberg Businessweek’s memorable “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” cover.

The epic drought in California doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, either. Part of the problem is a soft economy that makes environmental concerns seem like unaffordable luxuries. Part of the problem is the Republican Party’s rejection of climate science in the Obama era. And part of the problem is the invisibility of carbon pollution. It doesn’t make the air hard to breathe. It’s a huge threat to wildlife, but it doesn’t instantaneously wipe out species of charismatic megafauna. The recent coal ash spill in the Dan River in North Carolina and oil tanker explosion on the James River in Virgina were brought to you by fossil fuels, but it’s hard to connect those kind of accidents to the larger climate issue.

I’ve always thought that the “green jobs” argument for abandoning fossil fuels was pretty compelling; the wind and solar industries now employ more Americans than the coal industry. Maybe the spurious Republican assaults on Solyndra ruined that line of reasoning. Again, I don’t know. I’m not a marketing expert.

What I do know is that global warming is going to get a lot worse than it is now, and that it doesn’t feel that bad right now. I could see how the immediate effects of climate change would be a top-tier political issue in Kiribati, but for the U.S., the overwhelming majority of the pain lies decades in the future. I get that the new strategy is to use the impact that people are already feeling to get them to understand that the impact is only going to grow, but most people aren’t feeling any dramatic impact yet—even those of us at Ground Zero.

Maybe freaking people out about the future is as off-putting as the critics say. Unfortunately, the future on a warmer planet would be as frightening as the scientists say. The truth is unpleasant, but it’s the truth. If climate activists want to put a happy face on it, they can also point out that a warmer planet is not inevitable, that wind and solar and energy efficiency are getting cheaper while dirty energy is getting more expensive, that clean energy can be a vibrant source of economic growth. That’s the truth, too.

But if climate action depends on getting people outraged about what’s happening outside their window, we’re all doomed. We need action because of the pain that’s coming for our kids and grandkids, not because of the pain that’s already here. If we only act once the pain becomes unbearable, we’ll be way too late.

TIME politics

The GOP’s Monica Lewinsky Boondoggle

Monica Lewinsky attends the Timothy Greenfield-Sanders portr
Monica Lewinsky attends the Timothy Greenfield-Sanders portrait photo exhibit at Mary Boone Gallery. New York Daily News Archive—NY Daily News via Getty Images

There was a time where dredging up Lewinsky reminded Americans of Hillary’s shortcomings, but it certainly doesn’t anymore.

Did you know that “Monica Lewinsky” is how Republicans pronounced “Benghazi” in the 1990s? Because regardless of whatever Ms. Lewinsky’s motives are for releasing her story now, the only reason conservatives are foaming at the mouth to revisit the scandal is to try and tarnish the unimpeachably popular Hillary Clinton. It won’t work.

After all, it didn’t work before. We already knew Hillary’s husband cheated on her when she almost won the Democratic primaries in 2008, and even today she has the highest polling advantage for 2016 of any non-incumbent potential presidential candidate in history. Maybe there was a time where dredging up Lewinsky perversely (and stupidly and sexist-ly) reminded Americans of Hillary’s shortcomings. But certainly it doesn’t now. If anything, Hillary’s tough-and-admired leader image is further burnished by the reminder of all the mud she has climbed through, and that she has still managed to thrive.

Still, Republicans have nothing else. After 13 hearings, 25,000 pages of documents, 50 briefings and millions of dollars in taxpayer money spent to “investigate” Benghazi, Republicans still haven’t turned up anything more than slander in an attempt to pin culpability on Hillary for what was plainly a tragic mistake, not a scandal. And so here comes Monica, dropped in Republican’s lap — and they’re sadly going to try and re-exploit her they way they did in the 1990s. Of course, the person who’s going to actually be hurt by this isn’t Hillary but Monica, who will endure yet again the ugly attacks, insults and shaming that Matt Drudge and other conservatives piled on back in the 1990s and which Lewinsky says she’s hoping to escape. The real scandal here isn’t the Clintons, but conservatives’ impulse to perpetually whip up scandals to distract from their own unpopularity and lack of substance.

I’m not going to defend how Hillary and the Clinton Machine attacked Lewinsky when news of the affair first broke. I’m no great fan of Clinton centrism to begin with. And although Hillary is in general a great defender of women, I suppose when you find out your husband has been having an affair with an intern, this is not a moment to expect feminist solidarity with the other woman. Still, it has always struck me as sad that a woman who withstood so much sexism in the media could be complicit in sexist slut-shaming attacks against a girl almost the same age as her own daughter—and even in one instance, albeit private, calling Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony toon.” Not cool, Hillary. Not cool at all.

Perhaps one of the best things that could come out of Lewinsky sharing her story now is not only to get the inevitable revisiting of salacious details out of the way before the 2016 elections, but to also give Hillary a chance to repent for the tone she and her surrogates took in skewering Lewinsky. I’m not sure that will happen, but it would be nice. And it would be a fine thing for feminists, who arguably let the Clintons off the hook back then, to push for now.

But beyond all the political optics and opportunism, to think that the Lewinsky story has anything to do with Hillary is absurd. After all, it wasn’t Hillary who had an affair with Lewinsky in the Oval Office, right? The whole incident has nothing to do with Hillary’s leadership nor qualifications to be president. I only wish that some day the shameful practice of using the ideas and actions of one’s husband to try and smear women in public life will be as much a thing of the past as the Lewinsky affair.

Sally Kohn is a CNN contributor and columnist for The Daily Beast.

TIME 2014 Election

2014 Midterm Elections Projected to Bring 25% Fewer Latino Voters to Polls

A key group projects 7.8 million Latino voters will cast ballots in 2014, a number that is about 25% lower than the 2012 Presidential election.

About 25 percent fewer Latino voters will turn out to vote in the 2014 midterm elections than did in the 2012 presidential race, according to new projections released by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)

The projections reflect the nation’s general disinterest in midterm elections, which is typically more dramatic among young, minority, and single-women voters. But the total Latino vote is still projected to be higher than it was in the last midterm election in 2010, not because a greater share of Latino voters will be voting, but rather because the total Latino population has grown in the last four years.

About 7.8 million Latino voters are projected to cast ballots in 2014, according to NALEO, representing about 8% of the nation’s total electorate. That would be 18.8% higher than the turnout during the 2010 midterm election, when about 6.64 million Latinos voted. But the numbers are a far cry from the 11.2 million Latino American adults who cast ballots in 2012. In both 2010 and 2014, the association predicts that about 30% of eligible voters will show up at the polls, down from 48% of eligible Latino voters who turned out in the 2012 presidential contest.

Arturo Vargas, the executive director of NALEO says he hopes the stalling on immigration reform incites the Latino community into action. “It’s my hope that there would be a sense of anger among Latinos that leads them to take action and to vote,” said Vargas during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday.

NALEO estimates about 50,000 Latinos turn 18 every month and by November there will be 28.8 million eligible Latino voters in the U.S. on Election Day in 2014. Yet many, Vargas said, don’t feel engaged with the democratic process, and lack faith in the system. Many others simply don’t know where or how to register to vote. “There’s a crisis in American democracy when you have 25 million U.S. citizens not voting,” Vargas said at an event Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

But Vargas said the problem is only made worse by protections for existing voters being in jeopardy, with the bill to amend the Voting Rights Act stalled in Congress. On Tuesday, NALEO issued a report on the importance of the Voting Rights Act Amendment to Latino voters.

Vargas and NALEO are calling on Congress to restore the voting protections offered under the Voting Rights Act, given that about 7 million Latinos that are eligible to vote live in places that were previously covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. “We lost the most powerful voter protection tool,” Vargas said Tuesday.

 

TIME technology

Your Broadband Company May Be Holding Your Internet Access Hostage

One of the biggest Internet backbone companies in the world, Level 3, claimed this week that five of the major American consumer broadband providers have been abusing their near-monopoly access to American homes and offices to pad their profits, raise consumer costs and delay enhancements to the high speed lines.

The charge comes just as Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are considering a merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable that would make the new company the largest broadband provider in the country.

The big broadband providers “are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers,” writes Mark Taylor, Level 3′s VP of Content and Media, in a blog post on Monday, who argued that their near-monopoly in local markets was the main factor allowing them to get away with it. “They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content.”

While Taylor did not name the Internet Service Providers at issue in his post, he dropped some hints. “Five of those congested peers are in the United States and one is in Europe,” he writes. “There are none in any other part of the world. All six are large Broadband consumer networks with a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market. In countries or markets where consumers have multiple Broadband choices (like the UK) there are no congested peers.”

All five of the U.S. ISPs in question also “happen to rank dead last in customer satisfaction across all industries in the U.S,” Taylor writes, citing the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The 2013 ACSI report lists those companies with the worst customer satisfaction, in descending order, as AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast.

Comcast senior vice president of corporate and digital communications Jennifer Khoury said in a statement that “there’s no congestion between Comcast and Level 3 connections,” and that the two companies are “working collaboratively.” “Given these facts, we have no reason to believe that Comcast is on [Level 3's] list,” she wrote.

At issue is a high-stakes debate over the type of financial model that should be used to build the next generation of Internet connections, which, thanks to increased use and high speed video, demand ever higher levels of data to move through America’s broadband wires.

In recent months, Taylor says that the big American commercial broadband providers have refused to share the cost of widening the important choke points that connect them to the global internet network. Those so-called peering connections have become congested as more and more people use the Internet for things like streaming HD video.

In the past, ISPs have been willing to share the cost of expanding the capacity of these connections, Taylor writes, but now they say they shouldn’t have to pay. Instead, they want the companies that are producing all that content, like Netflix, Amazon, and Google, to pony up. Broadband companies have compared this kind of arrangement to a postage stamp, where costs are assessed based on what is sent through the system.

But that argument is “unreasonable on its face,” writes another Level 3 executive, Michael Mooney, in a blog post in March, and “entirely inconsistent” with the fact those broadband providers already make a lot of money from consumers who pay them to deliver content at certain speeds. The ISPs’ refusal to help maintain the peering connections that they rely on is simply creating a global game of chicken, he writes. Who blinks first is less the point than who is suffering is mean time: everyday internet users, whose YouTube video won’t stop “buffering,” whose NBA playoff games won’t stream, and whose web pages, at a peak hours, sometimes simply won’t load.

Here’s Level 3′s basic argument: Level 3 and other so-called “transit” or “Tier 1” companies, like Cogent, XO, and GTT spend lots of money maintaining large, sprawling networks of fiber and cables stretched across the world in trenches and sea beds. Consumer-facing ISPs, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, who pay to maintain their own regional fiber and cable networks then “hook up” to those global transit companies to allow their customers to access the whole internet. Broadband customers, who never interact with middlemen like Level 3, pay our regional broadband providers to deliver the internet to us at acceptable speeds.

A company like Level Three, which has 51 “peering connections” in 45 cities, has traditionally paid to maintain its global network, but split the cost of maintaining its connections with whomever it’s connecting to—its “peers”–depending on how much traffic is passing between the two, and in which direction. Almost all the transit companies have two types of peers: other transit companies—Level 3 connects with Cogent, for example—and consumer-facing ISPs, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

While all the major consumer-facing ISPs have always negotiated hard with transit companies over who pays for what–Verizon’s battle with Cogent made headlines last year–Taylor says that the power dynamic has changed recently.

In the past, consumer-facing ISPs have been willing to share the cost of maintaining those peering connections in order to keep their customers satisfied. If the Internet started streaming more slowly, customers would complain or simply find a new broadband provider. But in recent years, as ISPs have consolidated, more and more of them have begun to enjoy “a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market.” As a result, keeping customers satisfied no longer matters as much, Taylor writes. And that, he says, is the crux of the problem.

Check out the stats: Level 3 currently has 51 peers. It has congested connections with 12 of them. It’s sharing the cost of fixing six of those. Of the remaining six congested connections where the peer is refusing to share the cost of maintenance, five of them are in the U.S. and one is in Europe, and all of them operate as near- or total local monopolies.

As Mooney wrote in March, this problem isn’t new. This game of chicken between five large U.S. ISPs and Level 3 has been happening for more than a year. Level 3’s choice to go public with lengthy, albeit diplomatic, blog posts is an indication that they’re done with the back room standoff. As Washington begins to debate further consolidation in the industry, this issue is now squarely on the table.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Calls Kidnapping of Nigerian Girls ‘Abominable’

Hillary Clinton Nigeria Girls
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks during the National Council for Behavioral Health's Annual Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. on May 6, 2014. Patrick Smith—Getty Images

Adding her voice to the growing outrage over the kidnapping of more than 250 Nigerian school girls, Clinton said it's "criminal, an act of terrorism and really merits the fullest response possible first and foremost from the government of Nigeria"

Hillary Clinton decried the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria as “abominable” on Wednesday, adding her high-profile voice to a growing chorus of outrage at a situation that has drawn global headlines.

Speaking at an event in New York, the former Secretary of State and possible 2016 presidential candidate said the kidnapping of more than 250 girls by the Boko Haram militant group is “abominable, criminal, an act of terrorism and really merits the fullest response possible first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.”

Clinton was in town to speak at Philanthropy New York’s annual meeting—sponsored by the Ford Foundation—during which she addressed a range of issues facing women and girls.

When discussion moderator Robin Roberts of ABC asked Clinton about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to free the schoolgirls, about which Clinton has been tweeting, Clinton said the Nigerian government has been “derelict” in its responsibility for boys and girls for years.

She agreed with President Barack Obama that in order to find and save the girls, other nations need to become involved. “That I believe requires assistance from others including the United States,” Clinton said.

Obama Administration officials announced Tuesday that they were planning to send a team to Nigeria to help aid in the search for the girls, who were kidnapped in April. Obama called the situation “heartbreaking.”

A Boko Haram leader boasted in a video that emerged this week that “I abducted your girls” and “will sell them in the market.”

TIME intelligence

Inside Putin’s East European Spy Campaign

Vladimir Putin Spy
President Vladimir Putin of Russia seen after a Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Minsk, Belarus on April 29, 2014. Mikhail Metzel—Itar-Tass/Landov

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s well-organized espionage operations from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus are described as "soft power with a hard edge," but his efforts across the region have been more systematic than the unrest in Ukraine suggests

On Sept. 8, 2012, the Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky participated in the opening of a Russian nationalist organization called the Izborsky Club in the monastery town of Pskov, just across the border from Estonia. His speech itself was not particularly memorable, but the Russian official’s presence at the affair was not lost on the Estonian Internal Security Service, which believes the club’s imperialist message and outreach to ethnic Russians across the border are part of an anti-Estonian influence operation run by Moscow.

The head of the club, Aleksandr Prokhanov, seemed to confirm the Estonian suspicions later that month when he declared, “Our club is a laboratory, where the ideology of the Russian state is being developed. It is an institute where the concept of a breakthrough is created; it is a military workshop, where an ideological weapon is being forged that will be sent straight into battle.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has many such weapons in his irredentist arsenal. The rapid collapse of the pro-Moscow government of Victor Yanukovich in Ukraine brought some of them, like paramilitary force, to the attention of the western public. But Putin’s efforts across the region have been far more systematic and carefully thought out than the recent chaos in Ukraine suggests. Over the last decade, Putin has established a well-organized, well-funded and often subtle overt and covert operation in the vast swath of neighboring countries, from Estonia on the Baltic Sea to Azerbaijan in the Caucuses, say western and regional government officials. “He’s implementing a plan that he’s had all along,” says Clifford Gaddy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of a biography of Putin.

The operation has been described by local intelligence officials as “soft power with a hard edge” and includes a range of Cold War espionage tools. His Baltic neighbors say, for example, that he has deployed agents provocateurs to stir up their minority ethnic Russian groups which make up 25% of the population in Estonia and as much as 40% of the population in Latvia. They say he has established government-controlled humanitarian front organizations in their capitals, infiltrated their security services and energy industry companies, instigated nationalist riots and launched cyber attacks. The goal, says the Estonian Ambassador to the U.S., Marina Kaljurand, is “to restore in one form or another the power of the Russian Federation on the lands where Russian people live.”

The operation has the secondary, larger goal of undermining and rolling back western power, say U.S. and European officials. And while the greatest threat is to his immediate neighbors, his activities also challenge Europe and the U.S. All NATO countries have committed to each other’s mutual defense, which means the U.S. is treaty-bound to come to Russia’s NATO neighbors, like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, if Putin were to attack.

For now, Putin seems unlikely to risk a direct conflict with NATO. But his espionage efforts in relatively weak NATO countries can be as effective as military action. “If you look at the complex sort of strategy that Moscow has employed in Crimea and in Ukraine it becomes much less clear what constitutes an invasion or measures to destabilize,” neighboring countries, says Sharyl Cross, director of the Kozmetsky Center at St. Edward’s University. That uncertainty about what kind of invasion the Baltics might face could make a strong NATO response impossible.

That in turn, says former CIA chief John McLaughlin, could be even more damaging to the U.S. and Western Europe by fatally undermining one of the most successful peacetime alliances in history. “If he were to challenge NATO in some way that paralyzed us over an Article Five issue, that would be a dagger to the heart of the alliance,” McLaughlin says.

The espionage confrontation between Russia and its Western neighbors started with their independence back in the early 1990s, but it escalated in 2007. In one particularly bad incident, the Estonian government removed a statue of a Russian soldier from central Tallinn in April that year, sparking riots by ethnic Russians. In the wake of the riots, Amb. Kaljurand, who was then the Estonian ambassador to Moscow, was attacked in her car by a mob on her way to a press conference. Days later a massive Distributed Denial Of Service cyber attack was launched against the computer systems of the Estonian government and major Estonian industries. In private meetings with the U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, top Estonian officials said Russia was behind the organization and implementation of all the attacks, according to confidential cables sent to Washington by the U.S. embassy and published by Wikileaks.

The war in Georgia in August 2008, sharpened NATO’s focus on Putin’s threat. Russia declared it was protecting ethnic Russians from a hostile Georgian government, an assertion that was taken as a direct warning by other countries in the region with Russian minorities, including the Baltic States and Ukraine. Around the world, intelligence agencies noticed a shift in Russian behavior, according to other Wikileaks cables. In a meeting between a State Department intelligence officer and his counterpart from the Australian government in Canberra in mid-November 2008, for example, the Australian warned the U.S. that Russia was launching a regional program to destabilize its neighbors and advance its interests. In a secret cable back to Washington, the State official said his Australian counterpart “described the Baltic states and Ukraine as ‘countries that are in Russia’s sights,’ with the dangerous similarities in Moscow’s view of the ethnically Russian population and strategic geography of Crimea to those which motivated its recent actions against Georgia.”

In response to the war in Georgia, the U.S. agreed for the first time that NATO should draw up contingency plans to respond to a Russian attack against the Baltic states. The alliance set about expanding plans known as Operation Eagle Guardian, which were developed to defend Poland, to include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Russia for its part also stepped up its game. Putin encouraged the Russian parliament to pass a law authorizing him to intervene in other countries to protect ethnic Russians. More subtly, in 2008, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a national agency dedicated to advancing Russian interests especially in the former Soviet Union, now known as the Commonwealth of Independent States, and to engaging with and organizing what Moscow calls “compatriots living abroad.” Called Rossotrudnichestvo, the agency performs a variety of traditional cultural roles at embassies around the world. It also helps organize local ethnic Russian groups abroad in ways that unsettle host governments.

According to a report by the Estonian security services, membership in one local ethnic Russian group in Estonia, “Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots” is approved by the Russian Embassy and its activities are guided by the embassy. The purpose of the group “is to organize and coordinate the Russian diaspora living in foreign countries to support the objectives and interests of Russian foreign policy under the direction of Russian departments,” according to the most recent report of the Estonian Internal Security Service. “The compatriot policy aims to influence decisions taken in the host countries, by guiding the Russian-speaking population, and by using influence operations inherited from the KGB,” the report says.

Last October, Mother Jones magazine said the FBI had interviewed Americans who had accepted travel stipends from the office of Russotrudnichestvo in Washington as part of an investigation into potential spying by the Russian agency. The head of the Rossotrudnichestvo office denied the charges and called on the U.S. government to distance itself from the allegations. The FBI and other U.S. agencies declined to comment on the report.

Russia also targets regional businesses and businessmen to establish influence over key sectors, especially energy. Recently, Latvian intelligence identified a top businessman in the energy sector holding clandestine meetings with a Russian intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover out of the Russian embassy, according to an official familiar with NATO and Latvian intelligence. When Latvian security services reached out to the businessman in an attempt to work with him, his meetings with the Russian official stopped, but his trips to Russia increased. The Latvian intelligence services concluded he was meeting with his Russian handler out of their view, the official says.

Putin has also used his intelligence advantage in neighboring countries to go after NATO itself. After Estonia arrested the former head of its National Security Authority, Herman Simm, in 2009 on charges of spying for Moscow, the Atlantic alliance uncovered and expelled two alleged Russian co-conspirators working at its headquarters in Brussels.

Most recently during the crisis in Ukraine, Putin has stepped up the traditional use of media propaganda, especially on television. The propaganda peaked with outlandish and false accusations of attacks against Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine. Russia’s neighbors have taken a variety of approaches to countering the propaganda, from outright censorship to counter-programming. On Mar. 21, Lithuania banned broadcasts of Gazprom-owned NTV Mir station after it showed a movie that the government said “spread lies about” Lithuania’s move to declare independence from the Soviet Union in early 1991. On Apr. 3, Latvia’s National Electronic Mass Media Council suspended the broadcast rights of Rossiya RTR for three weeks, claiming the station was peddling “war propaganda.”

Estonia, for its part, considered banning Russian broadcasts but opted to leave Russian channels on and instead to compete with a barrage of “counter-programming” through Russian language TV, radio and print media. “If you ban things it creates more interest,” says Amb. Kaljurand, “The better way is to give better facts and the point of view of the West.”

The U.S. and its allies are hardly innocents in the international spy game. The U.S. government uses overt and covert means to influence and organize pro-Western groups in many of the same countries Putin is targeting. It works through cultural and diplomatic channels to recruit intelligence sources around the world and in eastern Europe, and the Ukraine crisis has only heightened that work. Says CIA spokesman Dean Boyd, “The Agency’s strong partnerships throughout the region enable cooperation on a variety of intelligence issues. When a foreign crisis erupts, it’s normal for the CIA to shift into overdrive to ensure that our officers have access to the best available information to support the policy community.”

It is also true that Russia’s western neighbors include some with anti-Russian and anti-Semitic views that are occasionally reflected in political debate. Lithuania and Latvia in particular are noted in repeated U.S. diplomatic cables from the region to Washington for the presence of “strident” anti-Russian and anti-Semitic voices in politics, some of them belonging to powerful figures.

In late April the U.S. deployed 600 troops to the Baltics and Poland, and U.S. and other NATO countries increased air patrols in the Baltics. The largely symbolic deployment was intended to reassure all four countries that the U.S. takes its Article 5 obligations seriously, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at the time. Likewise, Kirby said, “If there is a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe.”

Even the most nervous Russian neighbors believe Putin’s use of force is likely to stop in Ukraine, but his espionage program is likely to continue. “[He] is using the soft power tools and other forms of indirect coercion and influence against the Baltics states,” says the official familiar with NATO and Latvian intelligence, “He will use all of these tactics.”

That is a particular concern for Moscow’s neighbors as Russians everywhere prepare to celebrate on May 9 Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. “If we have a little bit of rioting that will make people become scared and they’ll say maybe we need to find an accommodation with the Russians,” the official says.

TIME Environment

Obama to Arkansas Tornado Survivors: Your Country Is Here For You

Barack Obama Vilonia, Arkansas Tornado
President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas and talks with Daniel Smith and his sons Garrison Dority and Gabriel Dority in Vilonia, Ark. on May 7, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

President Barack Obama toured areas in Arkansas on Wednesday that were destroyed by forceful tornadoes in late April, promising support to residents: "Your country is going to be here for you"

President Obama told residents of an Arkansas town blasted by tornadoes in late April that the federal government will have their backs throughout the rebuilding process.

“Your country is going to be here for you,” Obama said during a press conference Wednesday. The President spent Wednesday touring areas destroyed by severe weather including Vilonia, Ark. just outside of Little Rock. The April 27 storms killed 15 and left hundreds of homes ruined.

On Wednesday, Obama praised the people of Arkansas for their strength in his promises to provide support. “Folks here are tough,” Obama said. “They look out for one another … that’s been especially true this past week.”

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