TIME 2014 Election

Court Blocks Parts of North Carolina Voting Law

North Carolina's law has been fiercely criticized by voting rights advocates

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked parts of a sweeping North Carolina voting law from taking hold ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision to allow provisions of the law that eliminate same-day-registration and the casting of out-of-precinct ballots. The appeals court on Wednesday still allowed other portions of the law to stand, including the cut of seven early voting days. But in a 69-page opinion Wednesday, the appeals court said an August decision by the lower district court to allow the full law was flawed.

The decision comes just weeks before the early voting period is set to begin in the Tar Heel State on Oct. 23. “The right to vote is fundamental,” Judge James Wynn wrote in the majority opinion. “And a tight timeframe before an election does not diminish that right.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether or not the state will appeal. North Carolina’s law has been one of the most criticized by voting rights advocates since the Supreme Court ruled that parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act are unconstitutional, which opened the door for states to enact more voting restrictions.

TIME Congress

Pelosi Says Secret Service Director Should Resign

Secret Service Congressional Hearing
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson is sworn in before testifying during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on "White House Perimeter Breach: New Concerns about the Secret Service" on Sept. 30, 2014. Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call

After White House fence-jumper incident

Updated at 2:38 p.m.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Secret Service Director Julia Pierson should resign, a sharp rebuke from one of the top Democrats in Congress after a White House fence jumper made it inside the President’s home last month.

“If Mr. Cummings thinks that she should go, I subscribe to his recommendation,” Pelosi said, referring to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on a House committee investigating the security breach. “I am subscribing to his superior judgment and knowledge on the subject. But I’m also further saying that this is more than one person because there were problems before she went there.”

“Her leaving doesn’t end the need for us to know a lot more about what is happening,” Pelosi added. “There has to be an independent investigation.”

Pelosi’s office later clarified that she stopped short of calling outright for Pierson’s resignation.

Following a brutal congressional hearing on Tuesday, Pierson held a closed-door session with members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to discuss the Sept. 19 incident, in which officials say Iraq war veteran Omar Gonzalez made it all the way to the East Room before his arrest. The confidential meeting did little to assuage Cummings’ doubts in Pierson’s leadership abilities, however, and he told radio and television broadcasters on Wednesday morning that Pierson should go.

“I have come to the conclusion that my confidence and my trust in this director, Ms. Pierson, has eroded and I do not feel comfortable with her in that position,” Cummings said on MSNBC.

“I think this lady has to go,” he reportedly said during a radio interview on NewsOneNow. “The president is not well-served.”

A Cummings aide later added to those comments, saying that the Congressman believes Pierson should go if she can’t “restore the public’s trust” and address the cultural issues within the Secret Service agency. Pelosi’s office said the Minority Leader agrees with that sentiment.

Pierson said Tuesday that she takes full responsibility for the White House breach and that it won’t happen again. She also pledged a “complete and thorough” internal investigation and policy review.

TIME Military

Pentagon Dispatches 101st Airborne to Africa to Tackle Ebola

Ebola
Transmission electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion Getty Images

Headquarters unit from the storied division to coordinate U.S. efforts to tackle the disease

While the U.S. military has dispatched some 1,600 troops to Iraq in recent weeks to deal with the threats posed by Islamic militants there, it apparently was saving its big guns for a more insidious threat: the Ebola virus.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced it will soon have about 1,600 troops in western Africa dealing with the spreading scourge—and that nearly half of them will come from the Army’s storied 101st Airborne Division.

“It’s not an armed threat,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said of the Ebola virus Tuesday. But “just like any other threat, we take it very, very seriously.” While U.S. troops will not be tending to those infected with the disease, he said, they will be “trained on personal protective equipment and on the disease itself…we’ll make sure that they’ve got the protection that they need.”

Like the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the battle against Ebola is open-ended, Kirby said. He announced that a 700-strong headquarters unit from the 101st would head to Liberia by the month’s end to help coordinate the response to the epidemic. The virus has so far killed over 1,800 in Liberia, the country worst affected by the outbreak.

A second group of 700 engineering troops are headed there to build treatment units to treat the infected, he said. Nearly 200 U.S. troops are already in West Africa dealing with the threat.

“These deployments are part of a whole-of-government response to the Ebola outbreak,” Kirby said. “The U.S. military is not in the lead, but we are fully prepared to contribute our unique capabilities.”

Last week, 15 Navy Seabees—the service’s construction arm—arrived in the Liberian capital of Monrovia to begin help building treatment and training centers. “We’re establishing command and control nodes, logistics hubs, training for health care workers, and providing engineering support,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “The protection of our men and women is my priority as we seek to help those in Africa and work together to stem the tide of this crisis.”

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the number of Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had topped 6,500, with nearly half of them dying from the disease.

It was only two weeks ago that President Obama declared the U.S. would dispatch 3,000 troops to battle Ebola. “If the outbreak is not stopped now,” he warned, “we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.”

On Tuesday, in another echo of the fight against ISIS, Kirby said that might not prove sufficient. “They’ll come in waves,” he said of U.S. troops deployments. “It could go higher than 3,000 troops eventually.”

TIME 2014 Election

How 2014 Became the ‘Gotcha’ Election

US Government Capitol Surveillance
Surveillance cameras are visible near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 26, 2013. Jose Luis Magana—AP

"Fowl play" could decide the fate of the Senate

The story starts with chickens.

Last spring, four hens wandered from an adjacent property onto the lawn of Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley’s lakeside vacation home. Irked by the smell, the Braleys brought the issue to the local homeowners’ association, whose lawyer got involved. No lawsuit was filed, and the neighborly squabble might have ended there—were it not for an enterprising Republican researcher who caught wind of the dispute.

To the GOP, the chickens were a gift. Republicans were looking for ways to attack the character of Braley, the early front-runner in the fight for the Iowa Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin. In short order, the GOP had built a website chronicling the Great Chicken Affair. Operatives handed out giveaway rubber-chicken stress balls to visitors at the Iowa State Fair. The conservative Super PAC American Crossroads cut a Web ad tweaking Braley’s brusqueness. “A true Iowan would have just talked to his neighbors, but not trial lawyer Bruce Braley,” the ad crowed.

The episode cemented a storyline Republicans had been pushing for months: that Braley might be something of a litigious jerk. The suggestion was sparked by an earlier opposition-research score—a video, captured by a conservative tracker, in which Braley questioned whether the state’s Republican Senator, Charles Grassley, would be a suitable Senate Judiciary Chairman given his lack of a law degree. Knocked off kilter, the Democrat’s campaign hasn’t fully recovered: Braley, once a strong favorite, has fallen behind GOP challenger Joni Ernst in recent polls.

Fowl play can make the difference in a close election, and in 2014, it might even determine who controls the Senate. Like Iowa, many of the country’s most important races have been dominated by an emphasis on petty issues and an absence of substantive policy debates. In an election about nothing, one of the dark arts of campaign combat—opposition research, or “oppo” in political parlance—has taken center stage.

Opposition research has become “a lot more important,” says Jeff Patch, the freelance researcher who broke the story of the stray chickens, and who has since become the communications director of the Iowa GOP. “It’s increasingly the way that tech and media play a role in campaigns.”

Growing armies of opposition researchers, employed by campaigns, the two parties and their allies, have exploited a diminished media’s appetite for dishy stories by feeding reporters tips that reshape close contests. It can be hard to determine which hits are the result of journalistic spadework and which are uncovered by outside mercenaries. But many of the most consequential revelations this year have oppo written all over them.

Montana Democratic Sen. John Walsh dropped his re-election bid after the New York Times revealed he had plagiarized sections of a paper he wrote at the U.S. Army War College. Plagiarism allegations have also rocked the campaign of Mary Burke, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin. And they dinged GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby, who also had to fend off a story that surfaced—with the help of a Democratic researcher—alleging she had “stalked” an ex-boyfriend. (No charges were filed in that incident.)

In Illinois, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner has wrestled with the revelation that he belongs to an exclusive wine club which costs up to $150,000 to join. In Georgia, Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn was the victim of a leaked memo laying out the campaign’s political calculations in all their clinic ugliness.

In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was the subject of a Washington Post investigation that noted she didn’t own a residence in the state and crashes with her parents on trips home. Similarly, the New York Times revealed that Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts lives in Virginia and shacks up with a donor when he visits. Roberts managed to escape his primary with the help of an oppo hit that noted challenger Milton Wolf, a radiologist, had posted dead patients’ X-rays on Facebook.

Opposition research has been a “growing force” in national politics for some time, says political expert Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “My guess is it seems more visible now because we have so many high-stakes, high-profile Senate races out there,” Ornstein says. “And because you have no shortage of incumbents who do bonehead things.”

Credit also goes to rival partisan research shops that were formed to fight in the trenches of oppo warfare. On the left, the dominant player is American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC founded in 2010 by the liberal activist David Brock. In the 2014 cycle, American Bridge has an $18 million budget, which pays for 44 trackers in 41 states, plus more than 20 researchers in the group’s Washington office. It has caught Rauner on video opposing the minimum wage, captured Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter extolling the billionaire Koch brothers, and documented Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land arguing that women are “more interested in flexibility in a job than pay.”

“American Bridge has been at the forefront of using research and tracking to define Republican candidates,” says spokesman Jesse Lehrich. “As we have demonstrated time and time again, our extensive archive of video footage and army of researchers are here to ensure that Republicans from Terri Lynn Land to Bruce Rauner to Rand Paul are no longer able to hide.”

On the right, the top practitioner is a for-profit research firm called America Rising, which was created after the 2012 election by three top Republican operatives, including Mitt Romney’s campaign manager. Modeled partly after American Bridge, its goal was to close the oppo edge Democrats enjoyed in 2012 while amassing a research archive that could inform the party’s advertising campaigns.

The group has more than 30 researchers in its northern Virginia headquarters and nearly as many trackers roaming the country. Among its oppo hits this cycle are the original Iowa “lawyer” clip that created the Braley narrative and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s off-color remarks about Asians. But its larger project, says America Rising PAC’s executive director Tim Miller, has been to build an opposition-research database that campaigns and super PACs can harness in ads and on the stump.

“You can hit gold on some of these opposition research hits, like we did with Braley, and have it be very impactful in the races,” Miller says, but “there’s a whole ‘nother level of work we’re spending a lot of time on, which is trying to make the paid media more dynamic.”

It’s no coincidence that the role of opposition research has increased as media outlets scale back their resources, and amid the constant churn of a 24-hour news cycle that covets juicy controversy over dry policy debates. With fewer reporters able to comb through transcripts or attend obscure events, outside mercenaries dig through through public records and feed scraps to eager journalists. American Bridge, for example, has filed more than 1,100 records requests this cycle.

This was the void that Patch, a freelance reporter turned party flack, was filling when he filed the chicken scoop. He got a tip, hopped in his car and drove to the Braleys’ vacation house on Holiday Lake in Brooklyn, Iowa. It took parts of three days on the ground for Patch to talk to canvass neighborhood residents, obtain relevant documents, and post his story on the website of The Iowa Republican. In many ways, it was basic journalism—and it offers a glimmer of hope that journalists can steer the political conversation back to more substantive matters.

But don’t count your chickens.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: October 1

Ebola Comes to America

Doctors in Dallas, Tex. have confirmed the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the U.S. Until now, the only cases of Ebola in the country have been in Americans who were infected abroad and came back for treatment. Here’s everything you need to know

HK Protests Cloud National Day

Chaotic scenes stole the show from Chinese National Day celebrations in Hong Kong on Wednesday, as thousands of pro-democracy activists set up camp

Calif. Enacts Gun-Safety Law

California residents can now petition a judge to temporarily remove a close relative’s firearms if they fear their family member will commit gun violence

Twilight to Get Facebook Release

Lionsgate and Twilight author Stephenie Meyer will rekindle the vampire-themed saga with a series of films posted on Facebook. The short films are to be made by aspiring female film directors selected by a group of female panelists, including actress Kristen Stewart

Ex-Con Rode Elevator With President Obama

An armed security contractor with three prior criminal convictions was allowed to ride with Obama, a violation of Secret Service protocol. Reports add another line to the program’s growing list of blunders, the focus of congressional scrutiny

Taliban Suicide Bombers Kill 7 in Kabul, Wound 21

Taliban suicide bombers struck two buses carrying Afghan soldiers in Kabul early on Wednesday, killing seven people and wounding 21, just a day after the signing of a key U.S.-Afghan security pact. The deal allows U.S. forces to remain in the country past 2014

AMC Theaters Will Boycott New Netflix Film

AMC joined two other major theater chains, Regal and Cinemark, that are refusing to show Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend, which Netflix produced with Weinstein Co. Together, the three chains operate 247 of the 400 IMAX theaters in North America

California Mayor Shot to Death by Wife, Investigators Say

The mayor of the Los Angeles–area city of Bell Gardens, Calif., was shot and killed on Tuesday during what authorities said was a domestic dispute with his wife and son. Daniel Crespo Sr. was mayor of the town of about 42,000 people

Panama Opens Frank Gehry–Designed Museum

Panama has opened a biodiversity museum designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. It’s his first project in Latin America and a long time coming, construction having started in 1999. The Biomuseo presents a tour of the Central American nation’s diverse ecosystems

Tens of Thousands of Walruses Gather in Alaska

Nearly 35,000 walruses were discovered this month on a northwest Alaskan shore as result of being unable to find sea ice to rest upon, a problem aggravated by climate change, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

TIME Foreign Policy

Washington Issues Statement Backing Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protesters

Student protesters gesture outside the Golden Bauhinia Square, venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong
Student protesters gesture outside the Golden Bauhinia Square, venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong Oct. 1, 2014. Tyrone Siu—Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to discuss the ongoing protests with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday

The White House issued a statement of support for “the aspirations of the Hong Kong people” on Tuesday, in response to a petition urging the U.S. government to put pressure on the Chinese government.

The Obama Administration’s comments reflect a gradual toughening of its response to Beijing, as the Chinese Communist Party refuses to heed Hong Kong protesters’ loudening call for free and fair elections amid swelling demonstrations in the financial powerhouse.

“The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law,” the statement said. It continued that Hong Kong residents should have “a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters’ will.”

U.S. officials also said Tuesday that Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss the protests racking Hong Kong with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, the U.K. also solidified its position on the side of the protesters; Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg summoned the Chinese ambassador in order to convey the British government’s alarm at Beijing’s hardened dismissal of universal suffrage in Hong Kong. The territory was a British colony until 1997.

“It is essential that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice of chief executive in 2017, through universal suffrage,” Clegg said, according to Sky News. Clegg also said he would “reiterate our position and seek reassurances from the Chinese government.”

Tens of thousands of people have flooded several of Hong Kong’s busiest districts, pledging to continue bringing traffic and commerce to a standstill until the Hong Kong and central governments meet two demands: Hong Kong’s top leader resigns, and Beijing grants the Special Administrative Region the right to freely elect a new one in 2017, as opposed to choosing from a list of candidates handpicked by a pro-Beijing committee.

The Chinese government has repeatedly accused the U.S. and British governments of meddling in its affairs and stirring up the protests; both countries’ officials have denied any involvement.

The original petition had asked the White House “to support Hong Kong democracy and prevent a second Tiananmen Square [massacre] in Hong Kong.” If a petition on the White House website collects more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days, it necessitates a response from the U.S. government. The petition boasted 196,942 signatures before it closed.

“We believe that an open society, with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law, is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” read the response.

The statement also reiterated White House comments made on Monday, urging “Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint, and for protesters to express their views peacefully.”

Since police lobbed 87 tear-gas canisters at protesters bearing nothing but umbrellas on Sunday evening, the number of officers on the streets has been drastically scaled back, while the number of protesters, galvanized by the disproportionate response, has burgeoned.

At demonstrations outside a flag-raising ceremony on Wednesday to celebrate China’s National Day, protesters said they were intent on remaining peaceful, while also staying put until their demands are met.

“We will not stop them from celebrating,” said T. Wong, 35, a protester standing under a swarm of umbrellas near the ceremony. “But as they celebrate, we want them to listen to our voices.”

TIME Infectious Disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

WhiteHouse.Gov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Military

Air Force Keeps Pilots Alive with iPlane Upgrade

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

New software roboflies F-16s out of trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME

The Real Truth About the Wall Street Bailouts

It happens to be the one we already know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME technology

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

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

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

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

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

Read Holder’s remarks here.

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