TIME

Rock the Vote Recruits Stars for ‘Turn Out for What’ PSA

Lena Dunham, Whoopi Goldberg, and Fred Armisen help Lil Jon push out the vote

Rock the Vote isn’t making it any easier to get DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s platinum single “Turn Down for What” out of your head. The youth voting group released a music video featuring a re-recording of the song in hopes of driving young voters to the polls this November.

The “Turn Out for What” PSA for the nonpartisan group stars Lil Jon and features Lena Dunham, Whoopi Goldberg, Fred Armisen, Darren Criss, and Sophia Bush, among others, listing the reasons they are turning out to vote in the midterm elections.

Dunham, who famously appeared in a controversial ad for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, said she is “turning out for reproductive rights.” Jon says he is “turning out for the legalization of marijuana.”

In a statement released by the group, the rapper said “the work that Rock the Vote does is incredible. It’s cool for me to collab with such an iconic organization.”

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: October 7

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

Nurse Contracts Ebola in Spain

A nurse in Spain who treated two Ebola victims has tested positive for the deadly virus, becoming the first known person to have contracted the disease outside of Africa, the Spanish Health Minister said on Monday. Two tests confirmed the Ebola diagnosis

Gay Marriage Could Boost GOP

Some strategists hope Monday’s legal decision, which cleared the way for same-sex marriages in five states, helps push the issue off the political agenda

ISIS Enters Key Border Town

Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria entered the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani after intense street fighting with Kurdish forces

2 Japanese, 1 American Win Nobel Prize in Physics

Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and U.S. scientist Shuji Nakamura won for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes, an efficient, environment-friendly light source that triggered a transformation of lighting technology scientists had struggled with for decades

People Are Complaining the iPhone 6 Rips Out Their Hair

Some users of Apple’s newest phones are complaining their hair has gotten caught on the devices whenever they make calls. Specifically, they vented that pieces were getting stuck in the seam between the phone’s glass screen and its aluminum back

Meet the Lawyers Fighting for Religious Freedom

Arguing for a Muslim prisoner’s right to grow a beard is just the latest effort for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the small, non-profit public interest law firm that won the Hobby Lobby case, and whose lawyers are shaking up Washington for a simple reason: they win

Enterovirus Killed 4-Year-Old Boy, Says Medical Examiner

The illness that has sickened more than 500 people across the U.S. is responsible for the death of a 4-year-old boy, a state medical examiner determined. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that four people infected with the virus had died

Hong Kong Student Leaders, Government Agree to Talks

The leadership of Hong Kong’s democracy movement agreed to engage in formal dialogue with the government on Monday night, after the ninth day of protests began with protesters visibly flagging from their prolonged occupation of three key areas of the city

Facebook Completes Its Massive Purchase of WhatsApp

The popular instant-messaging app has been operating independently since agreeing to an acquisition by the social-media giant back in February, but the finalizing of the deal is undoubtedly a step toward greater support, and control, from Facebook

Coffee-Bean Prices Hit Highest Level in 2 1/2 Years

Arabica-coffee prices reached their highest level in two and a half years on Monday, after projections for continued dry weather in Brazil sowed worries about lackluster future harvests. The country’s recent harvest was the smallest in three years

Seattle Changes Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The Seattle City Council followed in Minneapolis’ footsteps on Monday and unanimously approved the redesignation, which acknowledges that Native Americans were living in North America well before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492

Shatner Cameo Rumored for Star Trek 3

William Shatner is rumored to be reprising his role as Captain James T. Kirk for a cameo in Roberto Orci’s Star Trek 3. However, the star himself has anything but confirmed the gossip, tweeting: “Right now it’s just rhetoric to cause hype”

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TIME Supreme Court

Meet the Lawyers Fighting for Religious Freedom Today Before the Supreme Court

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Courtesy Becket Fund Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty outside of the Supreme Court in Washington.

Arguing for a Muslim prisoner's right to grow a beard is just the latest effort for the firm that won the Hobby Lobby case

Gregory Houston Holt wants to grow a half-inch beard but he can’t, and that’s a problem. Holt is Muslim and he believes that wearing a beard is a requirement of his Salafi faith. But he’s serving a life sentence for attempted murder in Arkansas, where the Department of Corrections has banned beards as a potential security threat. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Holt’s case, and just as interesting as the outcome of his claim is who will argue it for him. Holt, who now goes by the name Abdul Maalik Muhammad, has put his faith not in a big name first amendment litigator nor in the secularist American Civil Liberties Union, but in the lawyers of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Holt’s faith in the Becket Fund is well founded. A small, non-profit public interest law firm, with just eleven litigating attorneys and a $5 million annual budget, the Fund is a rising star in Washington. Everyone from unknowns like Holt to corporate giants like Hobby Lobby, which this year won expanded religious exemptions from Obamacare, turns to Becket for high profile cases at the high court. Its lawyers are most famous for arguing the often politically incorrect view that the constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion has been eclipsed in recent years by government deference to other parts of the constitution. That’s no easy task, since arguments over religious liberty can be some of the thorniest, and most heated, in America.

But the Becket lawyers are shaking up Washington for a simple reason: they win. Over 20 years, Becket has won 85% of its cases–from 1920-2000, the ACLU averaged a little over 65% in religion cases at the Supreme Court, according to the website procon.org. The Supreme Court repeatedly cites the Fund’s briefs in decisions, and Becket’s first case at the Court in 2012 was a 9-0 slam dunk, ruling that the government cannot interfere with a religious group’s choice of whom to hire, even when the employees claim they were discriminated against because of their physical disabilities. Becket is mastering a pattern, supporters say: identify religious litigants with strong claims, present compelling constitutional arguments, and recruit top free exercise litigators. The result is a resurgent ascendancy of religious freedom relative to other rights. “They have outsized success in these cases coming to the court and winning them at the court,” says Viet Dinh, former U.S. Assistant Attorney General and professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “In many ways I think of them as God’s ACLU.”

Every generation has its own fight over religious freedom—it’s a debate that has driven the American story from the day the pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower. The influx of Catholic immigrants after the Civil War prompted the rise of the Blaine amendments to stop public funding of religious education. Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to salute the flag sparked national debates during World War II. Public school prayer, nativity displays, and the pledge of allegiance prompted the fights of the later 20th century.

It was in the midst of those debates, in 1994, that Kevin “Seamus” Hasson founded the Becket Fund. Hasson, a Catholic lawyer specializing in religious liberty law at Williams and Connolly, felt that the conversation about religion in America was becoming one great non sequitur—one side was arguing that religion was not a societal good while the other insisted that America was a Christian country. Hasson believed that religious liberty comes not from the government or from faith itself, but rather from human dignity. “What we require freedom for is to seek the true, the good, and the beautiful, embrace whatever it is we believe we have found, and express it according the full measure of humanity,” Hasson, who retired in 2011 due to Parkinson’s, says.

Though many of its recent and more prominent clients have been Christian, the Becket Fund has made a point of not pegging itself just to Christian interests, taking on Muslim and Jewish clients, and even more obscure religious causes, like those of a Santeria priest in Texas. Unlike commercial for-profit firms, Becket relies on donors to underwrite its free representation of clients. Some 70% of its donations come from individuals, usually in $25,000 to $100,000 chunks, says Becket Fund president Bill Mumma. The firm’s lawyers are first amendment religious liberty specialists, but the Fund requires they also all be faithful—employees include Mormons, Catholics, evangelicals, Muslims and others.

Becket broke onto the national scene thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Its clients Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school, and Catholic organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Eternal Word Television Network, are among the 319 plaintiffs claiming the law’s requirement to provide female employees with insurance plans that include payment for various contraceptives violates religious freedom. But Becket also focuses on low-profile, high-impact cases. The Fund defended Amish men in upstate New York who said local building regulations infringed on their traditional construction methods. It backed a Sikh woman who wanted to wear a kirpan, a small, religiously-symbolic knife, at her job in a government building. Becket has also mastered plain English press releases and media-savvy optics. When the Supreme Court ruled with Becket that Hobby Lobby should have a religious exemption from the contraception mandate, Becket’s female lawyers, not its male ones, were front and center on TV.

Ultimately, though, Becket’s success comes from higher courts’ openness to new interpretations of the First Amendment’s religious protections. For the last half of the 20th century, the Supreme Court read the amendment’s ban on state-established religion and its guarantee of free religious exercise largely as protecting minorities including smaller sects, women and others. Under recent, more conservative courts, Becket has found sympathy for the idea that majority Christian religions get those protections, too, especially when they face off against local, state and federal governments. That casts religious freedom in a similarly broad jurisprudential light as the First Amendment’s subsequent guarantee protecting free speech. “The overall trend is the court coming to a good place for the proper accommodation of religious views,” says Georgetown’s Viet Dinh, and “that is largely due to the work of the Becket Fund.”

The next big question for Becket is how broad that approach can go—and which other government-protected rights the Supreme Court believes should rank below religious freedom. America’s rapidly shifting views on sexuality, and the government’s willingness to protect same-sex relationships, will soon conflict with groups that believe their religious freedom includes the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Mumma suggests his firm will remain on the front line of that fight. “Anytime the government moves strongly closer to or farther away from those big issues that religion occupies, you are going to get religious liberty cases,” he says. “I think we are not yet done with that sort of big round of religious liberty cases.”

For now, Becket’s small team of lawyers is already working on some 40 cases. Firm leaders say it has no plans to expand, instead maintaining its focus on finding and litigating high-impact cases. “When the music stops and we go into court, it really matters whether our lawyers have written a good brief, made a good argument, are able to present a case that’s compelling to judges of all political flavors,” says Mumma. “If we can’t do that it doesn’t matter how much public attention we get.” So far, that strategy is working.

TIME Republican Party

GOP Candidates May Benefit From Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision

Supreme Court Gay Marriage
Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images Demonstrators in support of same sex marriage stand during the second annual "March for Marriage" in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington on June 19, 2014.

Some strategists hope the legal decision helps push the issue of gay marriage off the political agenda

The Supreme Court’s decision Monday clearing the way for same-sex marriages in five states may benefit an unlikely group: Republican lawmakers who can’t wait to stop talking about gay marriage, an issue that is increasingly becoming a drag for the party.

Advisors to multiple likely 2016 candidates told TIME after the news broke that they are hopeful that swift action by the Supreme Court will provide them cover. “We don’t have to agree with the decision, but as long as we’re not against it we should be okay,” said one aide to a 2016 contender who declined to be named to speak candidly on the sensitive topic. “The base, meanwhile, will focus its anger on the Court, and not on us.”

The initial comments of politicians also hinted at a desire to turn the page. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 contender locked in a tough re-election fight this fall, told the Associated Press that the fight to prevent same-sex marriage would end. “It’s over in Wisconsin,” he said.

“The federal courts have ruled that this decision by this court of appeals decision is the law of the land and we will be upholding it,” Walker added, echoing the statement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who called the issue “settled” in his state over the summer, despite his personal opposition to such unions. Christie declined to address the decision when asked about it Monday.

At a forum in Washington, D.C., Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also considering a run for the White House, said the issue was moving out of the political sphere. “The law is certainly in the Court’s court,” Jindal said. Neither man said the court ruling had dented their own opposition to same sex marriage, but their statements indicated they hope to set the issue aside as they eye bids for the White House.

Wary of this possibility, evangelical leaders vowed election year fights. “For candidates running in 2014 and those who run for president in 2016, there will be no avoiding this issue,” said the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed in a statement after the Supreme Court ruling. Yet many in the party are preparing to do just that.

“The GOP is a culturally conservative party and should remain so,” said Alex Castellanos, one of the dozens of GOP political operatives to sign on to an amicus curiae brief against the Defense of Marriage Act last year. “Increasingly, there is less room in the GOP for ‘big-government’ social conservatives, i.e., social conservatives who believe in using the power of the state to tell people whom they can love or marry. Instead, there is growing agreement, in an ever younger and increasingly libertarian Republican party, that the role of the state in prohibiting relationships should be minimized.”

In the decision Monday, the high court declined to hear challenges to appellate court rulings that five state same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, effectively approving the rulings and erecting a legal barrier to states seeking to prevent the practice from taking hold. The decision is the latest step in a whirlwind legal push in support of same-sex marriages that has the backing of the majority of the national electorate, but has polarized the GOP.

Fifty-five percent of all Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, including 30% of self-identified Republicans and 31% of self-identified conservatives. But the issue is far more pronounced among younger voters, for whom it is more likely to be a threshold issue: 78% support same-sex marriage according to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year.

Over the summer the Republican National Committee took control of the primary debate process with the expressed goal of reducing their focus on social issues, in hopes of keeping the eventual nominee from emerging from the primary process as unelectable to the national public.

Evangelical conservative leaders are likely to call upon Republican candidates to support a federal “marriage amendment” to prohibit same-sex coupling. Such an effort has the backing of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is preparing to mount another campaign for the White House, and has been backed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. An aide to Jindal said Monday he remains supportive of efforts to pass a federal marriage amendment. But few, if any, of its proponents, believe it can be passed in practice, given Constitutional requirement that two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states’ legislatures.

Sen. Ted Cruz announced Monday he would introduce a Constitutional amendment preventing the Supreme Court from striking down marriage laws. “The Supreme Court’s decision to let rulings by lower court judges stand that redefine marriage is both tragic and indefensible,” he said in a statement, declaring the Court’s decision not to hear arguments on the gay marriage cases “judicial activism at its worst.”

Keith Appell, a Republican political consultant working with many social conservative groups, predicted that Republicans will turn the debate to focus on the judicial appointments likely to open up under the next president. “Filling those vacancies will shape the court for the next generation and it’ll be a huge issue in both the primaries and the general election,” he said. “Do we want activist judges who literally make the law up from the bench and impose it on the people, as is happening with these appellate rulings? Or do we want judges that fairly apply the law and leave the lawmaking to Congress, state and local legislatures?”

TIME Senate

Ted Cruz: We Must Amend U.S. Constitution to Defend Marriage

Conservatives Gather For Voter Values Summit
Mark Wilson—Getty Images Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at the 2014 Values Voter Summit, Sept. 26, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The Texas senator called the Supreme Court's rejection of appeals to uphold same-sex marriage bans in five states "judicial activism at its worst"

Senator Ted Cruz (R—Tex.) announced Monday that he will introduce a constitutional amendment barring the federal government and the courts from overturning state marriage laws.

The announcement follows the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to reject the appeals requests of five states seeking to outlaw same-sex marriages, permitting gay unions to go ahead in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

“By refusing to rule if the States can define marriage, the Supreme Court is abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution,” Cruz said in a statement. “The fact that the Supreme Court Justices, without providing any explanation whatsoever, have permitted lower courts to strike down so many state marriage laws is astonishing.”

Cruz described the court’s denial of appeals, which paves the away for an expansion of legalized same-sex marriage to as many as 30 states, as “judicial activism at its worst” and “a broad interpretation of the 14th Amendment” guaranteeing equal protection under the law, with “far-reaching consequences.”

The Texas Republican isn’t the first to propose amending the constitution over same-sex marriage. In 2013, following the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R.-Kan.) introduced legislation for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (formerly R-Va.) proposed a similar amendment back in 2006.

TIME National Security

Secret Service Watchdogs Raise Questions About DHS Oversight

Updated at 10:26 a.m. on October 7, 2014

A week after Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned amid multiple reports of breaches in White House security, congressional watchdogs are asking whether the Secret Service agency needs more than just mild reform. Among the more drastic proposals are shrinking its mandate to just protecting the president and removing it from within the Department of Homeland Security.

The latter move could brighten the spirits of the agency’s 6,500 employees by removing it from a department that has struggled from its inception after 9/11. But they’re likely to be less enthusiastic about splitting the Secret Service’s dual mission of combating counterfeiting and protecting current and former presidents, vice presidents and visiting heads of state.

“Long-term, the 60,000 foot view, there are some who are very critical of the switch that the Secret Service went through after 9/11,” says Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a top member of the House Oversight Committee. “That seems to have changed the dynamic and made it much more political as opposed to security-driven. And I think long-term that’s something we might explore is the structure of having it within Homeland Security.”

Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, another member of the House Oversight Committee, agrees that moving the Secret Service from DHS is a debate worth having. Connolly believes there is a morale problem at the Secret Service, citing the Partnership for Public Service’s 2013 study on the best places to work in the federal government. In the report, the Secret Service ranked 226 out of 300 agency subcomponents. The Department of Homeland Security ranked last—19th—of large agencies.

“I think the counterfeiting role really probably belongs in Treasury,” says Connolly. “The protection and investigation role I think might make sense in DHS but I do think we have to have a thorough review about the missions and whether they continue to make sense. Are they compatible? Do they detract from one another?”

Some Congressmen and former Secret Service agents believe that other, relatively minor reforms—like increasing funding to boost personnel levels—would help solve the cultural problems plaguing the turnover-ridden agency. Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has pushed back on the idea of spinning off the Secret Service to another agency, and has established internal and external investigations to examine potential reforms. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul believes that the Secret Service will “regain the trust” of the country by implementing the new independent commission’s recommendations.

“The first step to correcting the deficiencies at the Secret Service is to conduct a comprehensive, top-to-bottom independent review—before we start discussing other options,” says McCaul. “The Secret Service is a law enforcement and protection service organization, with missions concerning everything from protecting the first family to cybersecurity. Because of this, its missions complement the missions of DHS.”

Some former Secret Service agents agree that there are less drastic, but still effective alternatives to finding the Secret Service agency a new home.

“I don’t know if moving it out of DHS [would work],” says Mickey Nelson, a 28 year-veteran of the Secret Service who retired in 2012. “Then where would you move it, logically speaking? But I think that should be part of the review.”

“I do think the Service could use some additional funding and resources and I think that will be the central focus of the committee and the review,” he adds. “Look at the current training. Look at the way they’re aligned. I think the Secret Service will quite frankly welcome that.”

“I think the agency needs to look at manpower, staffing, cultural issues, try to restore or insure consistency between the agency’s mission and its day to day practices,” says Sam Shaus, a former Secret Service special agent who now sits on the St. Louis University Criminal Justice and Security Management Industry Advisory Board. “I think all of those things need to be looked at before any dramatic change that might involve removing the agency from the Department of Homeland Security or redefining its mission.”

“I think one of the dangers could be to try to initiate too many moving parts as a solution initially,” he adds.

TIME ebola

Obama: U.S. Will Beef Up Airport Screenings for Ebola

Barack Obama
Jacquelyn Martin—AP President Barack Obama meets with members of his national security team and senior staff to receive an update on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Oct. 6, 2014, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

But reassures Americans that odds of an outbreak here are "extraordinarily low"

President Barack Obama said Monday that the U.S. is working on additional passenger screenings for airline passengers flying from Ebola-stricken West Africa, two weeks after a Liberian man infected with the disease entered the country.

Officials are “going to be working on protocols to do additional passenger screenings both at the source and here in the United States,” Obama said, addressing reporters following a briefing on his administration’s response to the epidemic in Africa and efforts to keep the disease from spreading to the U.S. “All of these things make me confident that here in the United States at least the chances of an outbreak, of an epidemic here are extraordinarily low.”

The president did not give specifics on the new screening measures, and Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declined to elaborate further in an interview with CNN after the meeting.

Obama also said other countries need to “step up” to address the spread of the disease, which has already killed thousands. “Although we have seen great interest on the part of the international community, we have not seen other countries step up as aggressively as they need to,” he said. “So I’m going to be putting a lot of pressure on my fellow heads of state and government around the world to make sure that they are doing everything that they can to join us in this effort.”

The U.S. has deployed more than 100 medical professionals and is readying to send as many as 4,000 troops to help contain the outbreak in West Africa, while border agents and flight attendants are receiving training materials on how to spot potential travelers infected with Ebola.

But the disease’s long incubation period means that infected travelers may not show signs of illness for as long as 21 days after they’ve been exposed, a gap that allowed Thomas Eric Duncan to enter the U.S. last month from Liberia via Brussels.

Duncan is in “critical, but stable” condition in a Dallas-area hospital after being admitted last Sunday, and is being treated with an experimental drug called brinciodofovir. Ebola is only contagious once the infected individual shows symptoms, meaning fellow travelers were not in danger.

U.S. officials have said that it is possible that others infected with Ebola may enter the United States, but have expressed confidence that they will be quickly isolated once they show symptoms. A sick passenger on a flight from Brussels to Newark, N.J. was greeted by medical crews including officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Procedures are now in place to rapidly evaluate anybody who might be showing symptoms,” Obama said. “We saw that with the response of the airplane in Newark and how several hospitals across the United States have been testing for possible cases. In recent months we’ve had thousands of travelers arriving here from West Africa, and so far only one case of Ebola’s been diagnosed in the United States, and that’s the patient in Dallas.”

In an interview with CNN after the meeting, Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, declined to elaborate on the potential new screening measures.

TIME financial regulation

The Real Silver Lining of the Absurd AIG Lawsuit

Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Jonathan Ernst—Reuters Former Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke.

It's ludicrous that shareholders are suing the government over their losses, but at least it's a reminder that Wall Street financiers did take losses.

Have I mentioned how outrageous it is that AIG shareholders are suing the government over the AIG bailout that prevented them from total wipeout? Have I compared them to homeowners suing the fire department for getting their furniture wet while saving their home? Have I mocked the bailout critics who admit this lawsuit is “asinine” and “mostly insane” but still claim it’s performing a public service?

Oh, I have? Just last week?

Well, this week, the critics will get their wish, as the architects of the Wall Street bailouts—Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke—are scheduled to testify in this frivolous lawsuit. So this is a good time to concede there actually is a silver lining to this cloud of absurd litigiousness. But it definitely isn’t what the critics think it is. It’s that the AIG lawsuit, while breaking new ground in chutzpah, might help remind Americans that even though government rescued some Wall Street firms, the financial crisis still cost a lot of Wall Street investors a lot of money. The financial sector emerged way better than it would have without government help, and it’s certainly thriving today, but financiers didn’t all emerge unscathed.

The critics have applauded the lawsuit for a very different reason. They expect this week’s testimony to reveal The Truth about AIG, which will surely involve Geithner and Goldman Sachs conspiring with Colonel Mustard to destroy Main Street while bwahahaha-ing all the way to the bank. In fact, the truth about the AIG bailout is already out there. It was infuriating, because bailouts are always infuriating, but it was necessary and ultimately successful. After insuring toxic mortgage assets for every major global financial institution, AIG was dead in the water in September 2008, and its failure in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse could have shredded the global financial system. Not only did the $182 billion AIG bailout save the firm, it saved the system. And U.S. taxpayers eventually recouped their entire investment in AIG, plus a cool $22.7 billion in profit.

The bailout helped AIG shareholders, too. Their equity was worth something instead of nothing. Former AIG chief executive Hank Greenberg, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, unloaded $278 million worth of company stock in 2010; it presumably would have been worth nothing if the government had let the firm declare bankruptcy and the global economy implode. Greenberg’s complaint that the government unconstitutionally seized his property—and that AIG was entitled to the same bailout terms as much less troubled banks that posed much less of a threat to global financial stability—should have been laughed out of court.

That said, it’s important to recognize that while AIG’s shareholders didn’t lose everything, they lost an unimaginable amount of money. AIG stock plummeted from a high above $150 a share to less than $5 the day of the bailout. The government then took over 79.9 percent of the company, further diluting the value of each share. And when AIG needed more help, there was even more dilution. In his memoir, Stress Test, Geithner recalls how at a time when the country wanted his head for being too gentle with AIG, Greenberg visited him to complain that the Fed had been overly harsh by taking so much equity in AIG. “I told him we hadn’t done the deal to make money, and we’d be happy to sell him back some of the equity if he’d be willing to take some of the risk,” Geithner recalled. Greenberg wasn’t willing, so taxpayers rather than shareholders enjoyed most of the upside of AIG’s recovery.

I helped Geithner with Stress Test, so I’m biased, but I think Greenberg’s pique is silly; there wouldn’t have been any upside for anyone if the government hadn’t stabilized AIG and the rest of the system. At the same time, I think the terms of the AIG bailout were legitimately tough on investors who made bad bets on a reckless firm. They were certainly tougher than the terms of the broader Wall Street bailout known as TARP—and some bankers complained bitterly about TARP’s terms, which were intended to be (and were) tough enough to encourage banks to pay them back as quickly as possible. All of the bailouts were designed to balance the need to quell the panic in the markets and pave the way for economic recovery with the need to protect taxpayers. They ultimately did both.

The larger point, so often missed in the post-crisis too-big-to-fail debate, is that the lavish Wall Street bailouts did not shield all of Wall Street from pain. Critics of the bailouts often say they sent a message that you could invest in Wall Street behemoths without risk, that government would cover all your losses when markets turned sour. It’s amazing this even needs to be said, six years after a financial shock five times as large as the shock that preceded the Great Depression, but that’s simply wrong. Some of the jerks in suits took baths. Main Street bore the brunt of the pain, and that’s not fair, but there was plenty of pain on Wall Street, too.

Lehman Brothers disappeared; its shareholders were wiped out, and its executives all lost their jobs. Investors in Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Countrywide, Washington Mutual, Wachovia, Citigroup, Bank of America, GMAC, and other firms that got sucked into the crisis took baths, too. Very few of the big Wall Street CEO’s kept their jobs after the bubble burst, although some were fortunate enough to cash out their stock before the house of cards toppled completely. Some savvy investors have taken advantage of the misfortunes of others; David Tepper, a hedge fund manager, made billions by buying bank stocks after the market hit bottom in March 2009, essentially betting on the success of the government rescue plans. But markets always have winners and losers; the bailouts did help some of the losers limit their losses, but they didn’t change that essential capitalist truth.

The even larger point, which should also be clear but most definitely isn’t, is that the Wall Street bailouts were not designed to enrich Wall Street. They were designed to protect Main Street from a Wall Street cataclysm. The goal was to prevent enough financial failure to stem the panic and lay the groundwork for recovery. The goal was achieved. Main Street was losing 800,000 jobs a month during the panic; now it’s gaining more than 200,000 jobs a month. Yes, Wall Street has enjoyed an even healthier recovery. But punishing Wall Street during the panic would not have made things better for Main Street now; it would have accelerated the panic, which would have been devastating for Main Street.

So we should mock the gall of the litigants who are suing the fire department that saved their homes. Still, we can recognize that some of their furniture got wet.

 

 

 

TIME Joe Klein road trip

A Glimmer of Arkansas’ Future

Rison, Arkansas

There was one African-American who attended Tom Cotton’s early afternoon rally in a pleasant little grove of trees on Rison’s dusty Main Street. Her name was Patricia Mays and she was running for state representative–as a Republican, against a Democratic incumbent. Mays is young and attractive, and very straight ahead: She has a PhD in industrial engineering from Texas A&M, and she has four issues. They are: abortion, education reform, health care and jobs. We spoke about all of them and she had some interesting ideas, especially in health care where she supports a system of local clinics where the doctors are paid directly by the patients, eliminating the insurance companies. “Then you could offer a major medical plan on top of that,” she said. (We didn’t talk about how this would be funded, but she said, correctly, that it would be a lot cheaper with the insurance companies out of the picture.)

I asked her why she was running as a Republican. “Because of my personal values,” she said. And what did her African-American friends think of it? “People tend to vote the party without thinking about it too much. They don’t know the details. But when I tell the people in my church, for example,” she said, that the Democrats may have been for civil rights but, “they’re in favor of abortion and the homosexual agenda, people say, ‘I didn’t know that.'”

This is somewhat hard to believe, given the never-ending wonderwall of negative television ads–although, significantly, I haven’t seen any ads that vamped on the “homosexual agenda.” But it’s not hard to believe that bright conservative African-American (and Latino) candidates like Mays are going to have a piece of the American future.

The Republicans have given Democrats the gift of intolerance in a rapidly-changing country. A Republican officeholder in Tennessee told me privately, “If we could get immigration solved, a lot of conservative, church-going, business-owning Hispanics would be a natural fit for our party.” This is not a new thought: it was at the heart of Karl Rove’s party-building mantra. As time passes, though, I sense that many more Republican office-holders are seeing the wisdom and efficacy, and also the justice, of this path. I’d be surprised in a Republican Congress didn’t come up with some immigration plan in the next term. The problem is that nativism is as compelling as ever down among the grass roots.

The Democrats, meanwhile, seem smug and bereft of any significant ideas for reforming a government that everyone I’ve met on this road trip–everyone–assumes is too big, broken and inept. Granted, it’s the South…but the news in the world is grim and scary. “Given what’s happened this week,” says Tom Cotton, noting the Secret Service and Ebola breaches, “it’s not easy to argue that the government is doing its job very well.”

And you can bet that Leon Panetta’s bombshell portrayal of President Obama as easily disappointed and unwilling to fight will find its way to the public–those sorts of characterizations always do–and have an impact, especially on disappointed Democrats in the coming election.

As I proceed on these road trips, year after year, the levels of disgust and cynicism just seem to compound. I’ll have more to say about that in my print column this week.

TIME 2014 Election

Here Are 5 of The Most Dishonest Political Ads of 2014

We are deep in the heart of ‘gotcha’ season, with campaigns drudging up petty scandals to fire in attack ads rather than focusing on substantive issues. But some of those ads take it too far. From allegations of funding terrorists to accusations of being soft on sex offenders, here are five of the sleaziest political ads this fall.

David Perdue – “Secure Our Border”

In this clip from the Georgia Senate race, David Perdue (R) slams his opponent Michelle Nunn (D), saying that “her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists.” (Nunn was CEO of George H. W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation and has been granted a leave of absence for the campaign.) Perdue bases this claim on the fact that Points of Light gave money to Islamic Relief USA, which falls under that umbrella organization Islamic Relief Worldwide. The National Review reported that Islamic Relief Worldwide has ties to Hamas. Islamic Relief Worldwide has denied these claims. Whether or not the allegations are true, there are still two issues with tying Hamas to Points of Light. First, the donations were for the U.S. affiliate of Islamic Relief Worldwide, which is a separate legal entity from the larger organization, according to Factcheck.org. Second, the donations did not come directly from Points of Light; they came from individual eBay sellers who, through Points of Light’s MissionFish unit, could choose to donate proceeds to any of over 20,000 approved charities, including Islamic Relief USA.

Mark Begich – “Crime Scene”

This ad from Alaska, in which Sen. Mark Begich (D) accuses his opponent, former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan (R), of letting sex offenders off with light sentences, was so controversial that it was taken off the air. The ad focuses on one case in particular, in which a man was accused of murdering a couple and raping their infant granddaughter in 2013. The ad blurs the truth, however, by placing all the blame for the man’s “light” sentence on Sullivan, when in reality the Department of Law, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety all had roles in sentencing, and Sullivan himself was not personally involved in the plea agreement, according to Factcheck.org.

Nick Rahall- “Jackie”

In this West Virginia ad, Rep. Nick Rahall (D) has a coal miner saying he heard that Evan Jenkins (R) would deny black lung benefits to miners. The ad makes this claim because Jenkins is on the record in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which, thanks to the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) contained provisions making it easier for miners to qualify for black lung benefits, according to the Washington Post. Yet accusing Jenkins of being anti-black lung benefits because he is against the whole Affordable Care Act is tenuous at best, and on his website Jenkins says he would oppose any cuts to black lung benefits.

Mark Pryor – “Emergency Response”

Arkansas has had some of the nastiest campaign ads this season, and here Sen. Mark Pryor (D) continues the trend by using Ebola fear-mongering. He claims that his challenger Rep. Tom Cotton (R) “voted against preparing America for pandemics like Ebola.” While it’s true that Cotton voted against an early version of the 2013 pandemic and emergency preparedness bill, this ad conveniently glosses over the fact that Cotton voted for the final version of the bill, which Pryor also supported.

National Rifle Association (NRA) – “Defend Freedom, Defeat Mary Landrieu”

This ad, sponsored by the NRA and run in Louisiana against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), goes for shock value by depicting a home invasion against a defenseless woman alone with her newborn. It says Landrieu “voted to take away your gun rights.” In reality, Landrieu supported a measure that would have expanded background checks for gun shows and Internet sales. That measure would not have affected private gun sales, where background checks are already required. So even if the law had passed, the woman in this video, who presumably lacks a severe mental illness that has been flagged by a court or a certain criminal convictions, could still have purchased a gun.

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