TIME Foreign Policy

What to Know About the American Released By Cuba

Alan Gross was convicted of espionage in Cuba while working as a U.S. contractor

Alan Gross, the 65-year-old American whose release from a Cuban prison was announced Wednesday, was a contractor trying to bring Internet services to Cuba.

He’s reported to be in poor health after declining medical and dental care in protest of his detention. Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2011 and charged with espionage for bringing telecommunications devices into the country while working as a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development. Accused of plotting to foment an insurrection along the lines of the Arab Spring, Gross was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

An attorney who has visited him in the small room in a Cuban military hospital where he has been kept with two other prisoners for the past five years says he is almost toothless, blind in one eye and severely addled with arthritis, ABC reports. He had declined medical attention in protest of his detention and threatened a hunger strike until death if he was not released by year’s end.

Gross’ release is seen as a first step toward thawing long-icy relations between the United States and Cuba.

TIME White House

Obama Recalls Trouble Getting a Cab Before He Was President

Presiden Obama at the White House Dec. 12, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Presiden Obama at the White House Dec. 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

The First Couple opens up about racism

Before they lived behind the White House gates, Barack and Michelle Obama dealt with the day-to-day racism experienced by black families across America, the First Couple told People in an exclusive new interview.

“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” Michelle Obama said. “Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.”

“The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced,” President Obama said. “It’s one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It’s another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress.”

Read more at People

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. and Cuba Move to Thaw Relations After Prisoner Exchange

Alan Gross's release brings an immediate cooling of tensions

The U.S. will begin efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and will open an embassy on the island nation following the release of an American government subcontractor and a swap of intelligence assets, President Barack Obama said Wednesday. It marks the most significant change in the U.S.-Cuba relationship since the Cuban revolution.

“Neither the American nor Cuban people are served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,” Obama said in a televised address. “I believe we can do more to support the Cuban people and our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown the isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Following a year of secret back-channel talks in Canada and at the Vatican, and culminating with a historic nearly hour-long call between Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro on Tuesday, the Cuban government released 65-year-old Alan Gross on Wednesday on humanitarian grounds. His release clears the way for a broad relaxation of the 53-year U.S. embargo on Cuba.

In a prisoner swap, Cuba released an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset who has been imprisoned for 20 years, while the U.S. government released the final three members of the spy ring known as the Cuban Five remaining in federal prison.

A senior Administration official said the U.S. embassy would open “as soon as possible” in Havana.

Gross departed Cuba on Wednesday morning on a U.S. government plane, and arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C., shortly after 11 a.m., accompanied by members of Congress and his wife who had traveled to retrieve him aboard a U.S. Air Force plane. A Cuban court convicted Gross of espionage in 2011 and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for carrying communications devices into Cuba while working as as a subcontractor for U.S. Agency for International Development setting up Internet access in local communities. According to his attorney, Gross had been in deteriorating health while in prison.

Speaking at a news conference, Gross thanked Obama, said he supports the President’s policy shift and stressed he harbors no ill will toward the Cuban people.

“It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies,” Gross said. “Five and a half decades of history shows us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

“This is a game-changer which I fully support,” Gross added. “I truly hope we can get beyond these mutually belligerent policies.”

MORE: What to know about Alan Gross

The Obama Administration is maximizing the ability of Americans to travel to Cuba within the limits of the American travel ban, the President is “doing everything in his authority to facilitate travel within the limits of the law,” an official said, adding that Obama would support congressional efforts to lift the ban. Obama also announced that his Administration is easing economic and financial restrictions on Cuba, including increasing permitted American exports, as well as raising the cap on remittances. U.S. financial institutions will also be allowed to open accounts at Cuban banks to process permitted transactions, and U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use in Cuba for the first time. Obama is also directing Secretary of State John Kerry to launch an immediate review of the 1982 designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, in consultation with intelligence agencies.

“I do not expect the changes I’m announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight,” Obama said.

Obama cannot unilaterally lift the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

“I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo,” he said.

In an address that took place while Obama was speaking, Castro said he welcomes the cooling of relations between the two countries, but that differences remain that the countries need to learn to live with “in a civilized manner.”

Obama has twice previously relaxed restrictions on Cuba, in 2009 and 2011, opening the door for Americans to visit family members in Cuba and allowing travel for religious, educational and cultural endeavors. Authorized American travelers will now be able to import up to $400 in Cuban goods into the U.S., including $100 in tobacco and alcohol products. But senior Administration officials said there would be no immediate change to the ban on imports of Cuban cigars and other products for retail purposes.

Obama’s announcement was quickly criticized by Republicans and Democratic lawmakers who have long defended the embargo. Outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) blasted Obama’s decision as having “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

“This asymmetrical trade will invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people,” Menendez said.

American officials contend that the U.S. policy toward Cuba was antiquated and ineffective, failing to bring down the Castro regime after more than 50 years. Obama said he respects the “passion” of those who may disagree with his decision, but said he believes now is the time for a change. “I do not believe that we can do the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” he said.

In coordination with the American announcements, the Cuban government will announce that it will free 53 prisoners deemed by the U.S. to be political prisoners, American officials said. Additionally, the Cuban government has told the U.S. it intends to expand Internet connectivity for its citizens. But despite objections by the Cuban government, the U.S. will continue to fund so-called democracy programming in Cuba, meant to promote human rights and support the free flow of information into the communist country.

American officials praised the role of Canada and the Vatican, particularly Pope Francis, in helping bring about the agreement.

“Pope Francis personally issued an appeal in a letter that he sent to President Obama and to President Raúl Castro calling on them to resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States, and also encouraging the United States and Cuba to pursue a closer relationship,” an official said, calling the papal letter “very rare … The Vatican then hosted the U.S. and Cuban delegations where we were able to review the commitments that we are making today.”

In a statement earlier this month marking the five-year anniversary of Gross’s arrest, Obama said that if the Castro-led Cuban government released him it would set the stage for other reconciliation efforts.

“The Cuban Government’s release of Alan on humanitarian grounds would remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba,” Obama said.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 17

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

Terror Threat Nixes The Interview

Some cinema chains are pulling Sony’s film The Interview from their lineups after hackers threatened a 9/11-style attack against theaters who screen the upcoming movie. Sony said it is going forward with plans to release the film, but would support theaters’ decisions

Starbucks CEO Talks Racism

Howard Schultz outlined his concern about the effects of racism and increasing social polarization in America in a letter to all Starbucks employees

Putin’s Influence Wanes

Russia’s worst economic crash since 1998 may force the Russian President to rethink his adventures abroad

Jeb Bush Eyes Run for Presidency

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced Tuesday that he will “actively explore” running for president in 2016. “I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits,” he said, one day before announcing his formal intention to explore a campaign

U.S. Will Bid to Host the Summer Olympics in 2024

The United States Olympics Committee (USOC) unanimously approved on Tuesday a U.S. bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. One of Boston,

Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles will be picked for the bid in 2015

Pakistan Mourns After Peshawar School Massacre

Pakistanis mourned collectively and individually on Wednesday after a brutal attack on a school in Peshawar by Taliban militants that claimed more than 140 lives, including 132 children. But questions remain over the military’s relationship with extremist groups

Angelina Jolie Hires Experts to Protect Her Kids Online

Angelina Jolie and her husband Brad Pitt, who don’t use social media, have hired a cyber-security team to monitor their children’s Internet usage and exposure. “We wouldn’t even know what to look for,” she said

Australia’s PM Demands Answers After Sydney Siege

Tony Abbott has said that everything from the nation’s gun laws to its national security policies are up for serious review after a troubled Iranian migrant on bail was able to evade watch lists, buy a firearm and take over a Sydney café, leading to three deaths

Clifford the Big Red Dog Creator Norman Bridwell Dies at 86

Author and illustrator Norman Bridwell died on Friday, Dec. 12, in Martha’s Vineyard at age 86. His publisher, Scholastic, announced the news Tuesday, but did not give a cause of death. Bridwell was best known for creating the Clifford the Big Red Dog book series

Bill Cosby Won’t Be Charged Over L.A. Molestation Claim

Los Angeles prosecutors on Tuesday declined to file any charges against Bill Cosby after a woman recently claimed the comedian molested her around 1974. The rejection of a child sexual abuse charge by prosecutors came roughly 10 days after Judy Huth met city police

NHL Teams Postpone Seasonal Hospital Visits

Several NHL teams are postponing their annual holiday visits to hospitals, amid a mumps outbreak within the league. At least 15 NHL players have so far come down in the outbreak, including for the Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers

Poll: 57% of Americans Say Race Relations in U.S. Are Bad

A majority of Americans now say that race relations in the United States are bad, according to a new poll, which showed the most pessimistic assessment of racial issues in almost two decades

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A this Friday, December 19, at 1 p.m., with TIME managing editor Nancy Gibbs, who recently selected The Ebola Fighters as TIME’s choice for Person of the Year 2014.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. We depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

You will need to be a TIME subscriber to read the Q & A. ($30 a year or 8 cents a day for the magazine and all digital content.) Once you’re signed up, you can log in to the site with a username and password.

Get TIME’s The Brief e-mail every morning in your inbox

TIME White House

Obama: ‘No Black Male My Age’ Hasn’t Been Mistaken for a Valet

Presiden Obama at the White House Dec. 12, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Presiden Obama at the White House Dec. 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

The President and First Lady opened up in a recent interview about racial prejudices they've experienced

The Obamas opened up about their experiences with racial prejudice in an interview with People magazine.

“There’s no black male my age who’s a professional who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” President Barack Obama said in an excerpt released Wednesday.

He said that it had happened to him, too. First lady Michelle Obama said that another time her husband “was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”

The president said that the indignities that the first couple…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME 2014 elections

Secretive Nonprofits Spent Millions on State Election Ads

Nonprofits spent nearly $25 million on ads, but who was behind the money is hard to say

Sandra Kennedy expected a tough race this fall for a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission, but the Democrat didn’t expect to get socked with a $1.4 million onslaught of TV ads from a mysterious group that dredged up a past legal dispute.

The race for a seat on the commission to regulate utilities and other businesses rarely attracts campaign ads. Kennedy herself hadn’t purchased any. The group called Save Our Future Now, however, flooded the state’s airwaves with ads running nearly 1,400 times.

“Times are tough in Arizona, but Sandra Kennedy voted to hurt Arizona families. Kennedy voted for higher sales taxes, but she didn’t even pay her own bills,” one ad said. “Kennedy owned a restaurant chain and didn’t pay the rent.”

The ad referenced a royalty infringement suit involving Kennedy and restaurant chain Denny’s Inc. over a franchise that she and her husband owned. Both parties dismissed the case in 2010.

“It was devastating,” Kennedy said of the ads. “Unbelievable.”

State and federal law do not require the group to publicly disclose its funders because such politicking is not the group’s “primary purpose.” So it’s nearly impossible for Kennedy or other Arizonans to prove who funded the attack ads that helped lead to her loss in November. The group did not respond to the Center for Public Integrity for comment.

Save Our Future Now is just one of 40 nonprofit groups that together spent an estimated $25 million to buy TV ads about 2014 state-level elections while keeping their donors secret, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking service Kantar Media/CMAG.

That’s a small piece of the more than $850 million spent on TV ads in all state elections overall in the 2014 cycle. However, the number of ads from such groups — and the proportion they made up in political advertising for state contests — nearly doubled from levels in 2010, the last year in which a comparable number of state-level offices were in play.

Such groups often appeared to have outsized influence on races from governor down to state senator this cycle. Most of them were successful, far more so than independent political groups overall: these secretive nonprofits either backed a winning candidate or, in the majority of cases, bashed the loser in 62 percent of the races in which they sponsored TV ads tracked by Kantar Media/CMAG. By comparison, all independent groups, including those that disclose their donors, were successful just under 50 percent of the time.

And overall 51 percent of election advertisers, including candidates and political parties, on the state level were successful, according to the Center’s analysis.

Citizens United’s impact

In 24 states including Arizona — where nearly one out of every seven ads was sponsored by such entities — these mysterious groups were boosted by the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. The high court’s 5-4 decision freed corporations and unions to spend limitlessly to directly advocate for the victory or defeat of candidates.

The ruling unleashed a wave of “social welfare” nonprofit corporations, which are supposed to spend the majority of the donations they receive to promote “social welfare,” not politics.

Attempts by the Internal Revenue Service to regulate these tax-exempt groups called 501(c)(4)s — and allegations that the agency targeted conservative groups with its audits — resulted in the 2013 resignation of Lois Lerner, the director of that portion of the IRS.

To be sure, such “social welfare” nonprofits are not the only groups that sometimes can keep their donors secret. Lax disclosure rules in some states allow other types of groups to avoid registering with state election boards at all.

Or sometimes groups can hide their donors from voters with lags in filing deadlines. In Kansas, a state where a tight governor’s race attracted more ads from such mysterious groups than in any other state, a different kind of nonprofit called Alliance for a Free Society Inc., ran ads against Democratic nominee Paul Davis, who lost to incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

The group incorporated in Delaware only in July, so detailed information about its leadership, lobbying and political activity will not be released by the IRS until 2015 — months after Kansas voters saw the anti-Davis ads and cast ballots. Michael K. Morgan, a top government affairs consultant to Koch Industries who runs the group, declined to be interviewed by the Center on the record.

Some conservatives, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, have argued that keeping donors secret is constitutionally protected anonymous political speech.

These groups lend a “comfort level” to individual and corporate donors who want to influence state politics without giving up their identity, according to David Vance, a spokesman for the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter campaign finance regulation.

“The 501(c)(4)s and the 501(c)(6)s represent a way for anyone, but particularly corporations, to kind of fly under the radar and make an impact,” said Vance, referencing the sections of the Internal Revenue Code that regulate politically active nonprofits. “They can have a lot more impact at the state level than on the federal level.”

Cease and desist

In Wisconsin, where a competitive gubernatorial race helped attract more than $4 million dollars in ads from such politically active nonprofits, two groups spent more than $350,000 combined attacking Penny Bernard Schaber, a 61-year-old physical therapist and longtime Democratic assemblywoman running for state Senate.

The ads started early, just after Labor Day, and painted her as a tax-and-spend liberal. They claimed that she took a pay raise while raising taxes for others.

Bernard Schaber sent a cease-and-desist letter to local TV stations demanding that they stop airing the ads because they were “factually untrue.” A legislative committee had voted to raise legislators’ pay to $49,943 before she was elected; her pay never rose while she was in office.

But the groups countered that the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper first published the statements in an editorial, noting that some legislators had declined to accept the increase. The ads continued.

The two organizations that paid for the ads, which ran nearly 750 times, were theWisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce Issues Mobilization Council and the First Amendment Alliance Educational Fund.

Because the ads didn’t specifically advocate for Bernard Schaber’s defeat, the groups didn’t have to disclose what they had spent — or the source of their funding — to the state’s ethics board, which regulates campaign finance.

The Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce Issues Mobilization Council is a state-based group that is affiliated with the state chamber of commerce.

The First Amendment Alliance Educational Fund, though, is a Virginia-based group that ran ads within Wisconsin only on her race. It says on its website it is “dedicated to educating Americans on transparency, waste, fraud, hypocrisy and best practices at all levels of government.” Its donors, and its interest in Wisconsin state Senate District 19, are not transparent.

Representatives of both groups did not respond to the Center’s request for comment.

Bernard Schaber lost, largely she believes due to the campaigns by those groups. And those behind the attacks remain largely unknown.

“That’s what makes it hard for the general public. They don’t pay attention to who is saying it,” she said. “They pay attention to the message.”

Leaving no footprints

Groups can drop in from afar, and then essentially disappear as they did in some state supreme court races.

At least four mysterious groups targeted candidates for state judicial races — contests historically removed from political blood sport. Such secretive spending is especially concerning within the judicial community because donors could come before a judge whom their dollars helped elect.

In Arkansas, a group called the Law Enforcement Alliance of America spent more than $160,000 to air three ads aimed at influencing the nonpartisan race for state Supreme Court. Such third-party spending was unprecedented in an Arkansas Supreme Court election.

One ad claimed that candidate Tim Cullen had called child pornography a “victimless crime.”

Cullen wrote that phrase in a 2006 brief while representing a sex offender who was appealing his sentence. However, Cullen said he was referring to his client’s conviction for enticing a minor — not the child pornography charge mentioned in the ad — and that he characterized that crime as “victimless” because his client engaged in sexually explicit Internet chat-room conversations with undercover police officers pretending to be young girls.

Cullen has repeatedly said the ad’s claims were false, and at the time, his campaign countered with an ad that aimed to exonerate him. But by the time of the election in May, Cullen was outspent, and he blamed his 4-percentage-point loss to Robin Wynne on the LEAA’s ads.

The LEAA, a Virginia-based nonprofit, does not have to publicly reveal its donors, nor is it required to file campaign finance reports with the Arkansas secretary of state. In the past, the group has been backed by the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, though neither group has reported grants to the LEAA on recent years’ tax returns.

The LEAA has not made available its own tax returns from the past two years, keeping the public in the dark about the groups’ leadership and any of its recent donations to other organizations. Nor have representatives from the group responded to the Center’s repeated requests for comment.

Cullen said he was troubled by the attack and pointed to the conflicts of interest such secretive support could create for elected judges in state courts.

“We don’t know where the money came from, so we don’t know when to ask Justice Robin Wynne who his benefactors are,” he said.

Following the disclosure trail of crumbs

Though the groups don’t have to report their donors, sometimes clues can be gleaned from other public records.

Very often the donors to a nonprofit are other nonprofits, which are required to reveal their contributions. Or publicly traded corporations may voluntarily disclose donations in their corporate filings.

Ohio’s Supreme Court race attracted nearly $600,000 in TV ads from the ambiguously named Washington, D.C.-based American Freedom Builders. In one of the few positive ads aired by political nonprofits, the group supported Republican Justice Judi French’s successful re-election to Ohio’s high court.

Like the LEAA, little is known about who funds American Freedom Builders. However adocument released by Reynolds American earlier this year shows the tobacco giant donated $15,000 to the group in 2013, as the Center for Public Integrity has previouslyreported.

This debate has reached a fever pitch in Arizona, a breeding ground for some of the country’s most prolific political nonprofits. The secretary of state audited politically active nonprofits in July, including the group that attacked Kennedy in the corporation commission race, to make sure they met the state’s “social welfare” requirement as a nonprofit. Yet earlier this month, a federal judge threw out a provision in the state’s campaign finance law that required all other political committees to disclose their donors.

Kennedy believes the group that purchased the ads, Save Our Future Now, was financed by Arizona Public Service — the state’s largest electricity utility, which is regulated by the commission. She has advocated for solar energy tax incentives opposed by the utility.

The utility told the Center it supports candidates and causes that are “pro-business and supportive of a sustainable energy future for Arizona,” but the utility declined to disclose specific political contributions or answer questions about alleged ties to Save Our Future Now.

Kennedy, devastated by the Save Our Future Now attack ads, said she’s hesitant to run for office again. She’s stopped reading newspapers or watching television and said her consulting business has been hurt by the bad press. Politics has strained her family life, too. A classmate of Kennedy’s 16-year-old daughter bullied her about the group’s accusations, she said.

“I think it’s a deterrent for other good people who want to serve,” she said. “Why would I put myself and my family through it again?”

Rachel Baye, Kytja Weir and Ben Wieder contributed to this story.

TIME Congress

Congress Approves Sweeping Legislation to Help America’s Disabled

(WASHINGTON) — Congress gave final approval Tuesday to the most sweeping legislation to help the disabled in a quarter century, allowing Americans with disabilities to open tax-free bank accounts to pay for needs such as education, housing and health care.

The move paves the way for creation of the accounts beginning next year for as many as 54 million disabled people and their families.

“This is a monumental, landmark bill,” said Sara Hart Weir, interim president of the National Down Syndrome Society. “This bill will change the way that families can save for all their children and adults with Down syndrome and will ease the unnecessary burdens that are placed on families — all while allowing people with Down syndrome to work and save for the future.”

The Democratic-led Senate passed the measure on a 76-16 vote after it was attached to a bill extending dozens of tax breaks for individuals and businesses until the end of the year. Earlier this month, the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly approved the measure, having garnered 85 percent of Congress as co-sponsors.

The bill, called the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Modeled after tax-free college savings accounts, the ABLE bill would amend the federal tax code to allow states to establish the program.

To qualify, a person would have to be diagnosed by age 26 with a disability that results in “marked and severe functional limitations”; those who are already receiving Social Security disability benefits would also qualify. Families would be able to set up tax-free accounts at financial institutions, depositing up to $14,000 annually to pay for long-term needs such as education, transportation and health care.

The contributions would be in after-tax dollars but earnings would grow tax-free.

The ABLE accounts would be able to accrue up to $100,000 in savings without the person losing eligibility for government aid such as Social Security; currently, the asset limit is $2,000. Medicaid coverage would continue no matter how much money is deposited in the accounts.

It would be the first major legislation for the disabled since the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.

The measure was sponsored by Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Richard Burr, R-N.C.

Many lawmakers had insisted on cuts or revenue increases to offset the measure’s $2 billion price tag over 10 years; the bill’s sponsors found the savings in part by increasing the amount of levies on property for tax-delinquent Medicare providers and suppliers; cutting Medicare funding for “vacuum erection systems”; and making technical adjustments to cap worker’s compensation.

The conservative Heritage Foundation criticized the bill as potentially promoting fraud and abuse, especially when it came to hard-to-diagnose mental disabilities.

TIME National Security

A Contrivance of an Alliance

George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
U.S. Navy warplanes prepare to attack ISIS targets. Navy photo / Robert Burck

The U.S. is largely flying solo when it comes to attacking ISIS

The U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is complex. A coalition made up of the U.S. and seven allies began bombing ISIS targets in Iraq in August. A month later, the U.S. began bombing targets belonging to the militant group in Syria, along with four allies.

Should the civilized world care that none of the seven U.S. allies bombing ISIS targets in Iraq (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom) are bombing ISIS in Syria? And that, ipso facto, none of the four U.S. allies bombing targets in Syria (Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) are bombing ISIS targets in Iraq?

Does it matter that the U.S. stands alone when it comes to bombing both?

Perhaps more important is the lopsided nature of the air strikes: since Sept. 23, the allies have accounted for nearly 40% of close air support, interdiction and escort sorties, and 25% of total missions flown. “Many of those sorties that conduct dynamic targeting in support of ground forces require specialized capability, and frequently they do not result in a necessary strike on [ISIS] forces, equipment or facilities,” Gary Boucher, spokesman for the campaign, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, said Tuesday.

But the allies have accounted for only 14% of the air strikes. That’s less than one out of every seven. Think of it like a workweek: the U.S. military is working Monday through Saturday; and the allies work Sunday. It works out to an average of two non-U.S. daily air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, shared among seven nations, and less than one non-U.S. air strike per day among the four countries attacking ISIS targets in Syria.

“The real problem is how few sorties most other countries are flying,” says Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “A 62-country token alliance is only marginally better than the U.S. alone.”

As small as the allies’ contributions may be, there are back-home considerations driving which side of the porous Iraq-Syria border they’re bombing. Many of the nations bombing ISIS in Iraq fought alongside the U.S. there following the 2003 invasion, and don’t want their earlier sacrifices to be in vain. The states bombing inside Syria want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad gone.

The anemic response from the world community suggests the war against various forms of Islamic zealotry is going to get worse before it gets better. Following Monday’s jihadist-inspired bloodshed at an Australian chocolate shop, and Tuesday’s massacre of at least 141 people, nearly all of them schoolchildren, by Islamic militants at a military-run school in Pakistan, it’s past time to ask when the international community is going to come up with a plan to deal with this metastasizing horror.

The right response isn’t necessarily more bombing by more countries. The targets are often elusive and defy military action. But until there’s more buy-in from the rest of the world, Washington’s efforts, military and otherwise, are doomed.

TIME Immigration

Federal Judge Rules Against Obama’s Immigration Action

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about immigration reform during a visit to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about immigration reform during a visit to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nov. 21, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Ruling has no immediate impact

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is unconstitutional.

Judge Arthur Schwab of the Western District of Pennsylvania found the actions violated the constitution’s separation of powers, Reuters reports. The ruling has no immediate impact but will give fodder to Republican lawmakers, who have criticized Obama as overstepping his authority.

Schwab had been addressing a case regarding a Honduran immigrant, Elionardo Juarez-Escobar, who pleaded guilty to re-entry in the U.S. He said he ruled on Obama’s actions because he believed Juarez-Escobar was eligible for relief under the policy.

A Justice Department spokesperson said Tuesday that Schwab’s ruling was “unfounded” and incorrect.

“No party in the case challenged the constitutionality of the immigration-related executive actions and the department’s filing made it clear that the executive actions did not apply to the criminal matter before the court,” the spokesperson said. “Moreover, the court’s analysis of the legality of the executive actions is flatly wrong. We will respond to the court’s decision at the appropriate time.”

TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul is Already Running an Ad Against Jeb Bush

Sen. Rand Paul Speaks To The Detroit Economic Club
Sen. Rand Paul speaks with the news media after delivering a speech at the Detroit Economic Club on Dec. 6, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Bill Pugliano—Getty Images

That didn't take long

The 2016 Republican primary battle is up and running—at least on Google.

Hours after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced he would “actively explore” a run for the White House, the political action committee for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who appears certain to announce a bid for the Oval Office in the coming months, took out a Google search ad on his name, with a not-so-subtle dig at the more moderate Republican.

“Join a movement working to shrink government. Not grow it,” the ad states, with a link to RandPAC, Paul’s longstanding federal leadership committee, and a page asking supporters to give their email address and zip code to “Stand With Rand.” Bush announced Tuesday he would form a similar leadership committee in January. His Facebook announcement didn’t include any attempts to gather data on potential donors or supporters.

Paul’s PAC recently hired on Texas digital strategist Vincent Harris and his firm, Harris Media, in preparation for a 2016 run. Harris had also done work for another likely 2016 contender, Sen. Ted Cruz.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 4.25.47 PM

UPDATE: Later Tuesday, RandPAC added a second ad to its digital buy, implicitly attacking Bush’s strong defense of the Common Core education standards. “We need leaders who will stand against common core,” the search ad stated, with a link to Paul’s political action committee.unnamed

 

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