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Fight Prison Gangs by Breaking Up Big Prisons

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These are today's best ideas

1. America’s biggest prisons are factories exporting prison gangs. Break them up.

By David Skarbek and Courtney Michaluk in Politico

2. Find out why demographics and a charismatic leader still aren’t enough to make a majority party.

By Suzy Khimm in the New Republic

3. Denied a seat at the table of global power, the BRICS nations are building their own table.

By Shashi Tharoor in Project Syndicate

4. With an implanted treatment that blocks a narcotic high, one doctor wants to end addiction.

By Sujata Gupta in Mosaic Science

5. Your next insurance inspector could be a drone.

By Cameron Graham in Technology Advice

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME global trade

Democrats Borrow From the Republican Playbook

The Senate leader faced a wall of press on the second floor of the Capitol, just outside the chamber, his face a mask of outrage: “They were going to try to stop the Senate in its tracks from passing bipartisan legislation until they got what they wanted…” he fumed.

Until January, this could have been virtually any Democrat, railing against Republicans taking the debt ceiling, the budget or any number of bills held hostage to extract budget cuts. But, the last five words Texas Republican John Cornyn uttered last Tuesday showed the complete turnaround: “…when it comes to spending.”

Now in the minority, Democrats have taken a page from the Republican playbook.

In their eight years in the minority, Republicans under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, developed a strategy of routine filibustering—requiring a supermajority of 60 votes—until they extracted concessions. This tactic was most evident in the debt ceiling negotiations, where Republicans in recent years demanded cuts equal to the amount the ceiling was raised. Now, Republicans are getting a taste of how frustrating such maneuvers can be for the party in power: Democrats are holding legislation hostage. Only they aren’t seeking to extract more cuts; they’re looking for more money.

Take the trade bill that cleared a major procedural vote 60-37 in the Senate Tuesday morning. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tried last week to hold portions of this bill hostage to extract a more favorable highway trust fund deal, which is also pending before Congress. While that gambit failed, her Senate counterparts succeeded in using the trade measure, sought by many Republicans, to leverage concessions on steel protections and quick passage of a bill designed to help poor African countries gain better access to U.S. markets.

And trade is only the beginning. The bill Cornyn was referring to with such apoplexy last week was the National Defense Authorization Act, which organizes and oversees the Pentagon annually. Republicans inserted into that bill a clause that would enable them to restore military cuts from the sequester, painful across the board spending cuts that are a legacy of one of the GOP’s hostage episodes in 2011. Democrats last week allowed the NDAA to pass, but they are holding hostage the funding in all 13 of the annual appropriations bills until Republicans agree to either leave the Pentagon cuts in place or allow equal increases in entitlement spending as was originally envisioned in the 2011 deal. If Republicans don’t find a way to satisfy Democratic demands, the government will shut down again come the end of September.

And then in October, we have an oldie but goodie: the debt ceiling. Though Senate Democratic leadership has said they want a clean extension, some Democrats are already dreaming up what they’d like to see funded in order to allow that one through. Some candidates: the highway trust fund, if that can gets kicked down the road again, and No Child Left Behind reauthorization.

As Bishop Robert Sanderson once told British King Charles I in the 1630’s, “Whosoever thou art that dost another wrong, do but turn the tables: imagine thy neighbour were now playing a game, and thou his.” A young Sir Isaac Newton studied Sanderson at Cambridge; Washington could only hope that some logic may yet emerge from the bitter experience of turning the Senate’s chess table.

TIME Criminal Justice

Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Sets Its Agenda

Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.

But specifics are a casualty of the search for consensus

A bipartisan coalition leading a landmark push for criminal-justice reform has set its agenda, but many of the details remain to be filled in.

The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes some of the most influential policy groups on the right and left, announced a new campaign Monday to reform sentencing laws and reintegrate offenders back into society.

“We see these ideas as the baseline for how we can reduce the existing prison population,” said Christine Leonard, the group’s executive director, “as well as support individuals coming home.”

The announcement was a sign of how far the movement has come, but also a sign of how much work remains to be done to begin enacting its goals.

The group includes liberal outfits like the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as conservative organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and Right on Crime. The multi-million dollar initiative is underwritten by donors as disparate as Koch Industries and the Ford Foundation. For these fractious factions, the ability to coalesce around a set of policy objectives is no small task. But a casualty of the search for consensus has been specifics.

Read More: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

In a conference call Monday with reporters, the group said it would launch a national education campaign to mobilize public support for some of its priorities with the broadest support, including reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, curtailing sentences of life without parole, promoting alternatives to incarceration and removing obstacles that impede transitions back to the workforce for the one-in-three Americans with a criminal record.

But after months of meetings, the recommendations were modest in scope and light on detail. “These reforms are only the beginning of what lawmakers can do,” said Jason Pye, director of messaging and justice reform at the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks.

Nor is it clear that the recommendations will do much to sway them. Despite growing consensus around the need to reform a system that critics call bloated and broken, there has been little little legislative movement. A raft of bipartisan proposals have languished in a divided Congress.

“Some of the other issues are blocked by partisan stalemate. This is one where we actually could move things forward,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. “We’re just going to have to defeat the forces of the status quo.”

Organizers acknowledged that threading bills through Congress remains a challenge. The Coalition hopes to make progress by the August congressional recess, when the presidential race will kick into a higher gear and lawmaking will slow even further.

“We’re in a long term marathon here, in terms of where we need to shift the country after two decades of polices that took us in the wrong direction,” Leonard told TIME in an interview. “There is a strong sense of urgency among these partnering organizations to see that we’re making an impact, both in the daily conversations that are happening around dinner tables but also among policy makers.”

But in Washington the forces of inertia increase in accordance with the number of actors. There are are seven organizations involved with the coalition, and it took months of meetings to lay out a general blueprint. There are 535 lawmakers in Congress. Even the most powerful interest groups know that translating public support into tangible reform remains an uphill battle.

“This is not necessarily a road map for a legislative proposal, but it does demonstrate the pathbreaking level of agreement and consensus around a set of issues,” Leonard says. “What we’re anxious about is, why isn’t there more happening?”

TIME global trade

Liberals Vow to Punish Democrats for Trade Vote

Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a protest march on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015.
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a protest march on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015.

Democrats who voted Thursday afternoon in favor of a controversial trade bill, known as “fast track,” will feel the wrath of some liberal groups.

The bill, known as the Trade Promotion Authority, passed 218-208, with 28 Democrats siding with President Obama and a strong, if unlikely, majority of Republicans. But liberal groups warned they would face a backlash from Democratic voters.

Democrats who allowed the passage of [the fast track] … should know that we will not lift a finger or raise a penny to protect you when you’re attacked in 2016, we will encourage our progressive allies to join us in leaving you to rot,” said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America, “and we will actively search for opportunities to primary you with a real Democrat,”

“Those primaries could happen next year or they could happen in election cycles to come, but, make no mistake, we will make certain that your vote to fast track the destruction of American jobs will be remembered and will haunt you for years to come,” he added. Democracy for America oversees a grassroots membership of 10.1 million.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, a national environmental organization, said that he was “profoundly disappointed” with the Democratic leadership. “Sadly, we have come to expect Republicans to sell out the environment for the pursuit of corporate profits,” he said. “But we expect more regard for environmental protection and respect for working families from President Obama and the Democrats who supported this bill.”

The Trade Promotion Authority gives Obama the legal power to negotiate, and then pass to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote, all future free trade deals. That includes the controversial and imminent Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would knit together 12 Pacific Rim nations and 40% of the world’s GDP. Liberals, labor activists and environmentalists have furiously lobbied Democratic politicians in recent months to vote against the fast track on the grounds that it “greases the skids” for the TPP, which they argue will lead to job losses in the U.S., and a degradation of workers’ rights and environmental protections abroad.

But many major liberal heavyweights, including the labor unions, have been unwilling to make Democratic votes on the fast track bill a litmus test. AFL-CIO, for example, said this week that its 2016 endorsements will “not hinge” on how candidates voted on trade.

Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee, stopped short of making an ultimatum Thursday, asking instead that Democratic leaders lobby the Senate to vote no on the bill. “Voters need to see that Democratic Party leaders, including Hillary Clinton, are willing to strongly fight corporate interests that seek to hurt workers and everyday families,” she said Thursday. “All presidential candidates should urge the Senate to vote no on fast track.”

Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has yet to weigh in on whether she supports either fast track or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In comments last weekend, she urged the White House to work with Congressional Democrats to strengthen support for American workers—a comment that broke from a strongly pro-trade position in the past.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that the bill will pass the Senate.

TIME global trade

White House Argues Trade Deal Just Hit ‘Snafu’

President Barack Obama President Obama departs from a meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images President Barack Obama President Obama departs from a meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The White House cast an embarrassing setback on a trade deal as little more than a “procedural snafu” Friday afternoon.

After a last-minute revolt by House Democrats, a carefully planned set of votes to give President Obama the authority to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership and help any American workers harmed by it failed to play out as the White House had hoped.

That left the trade deal in an uncomfortable limbo. The measure to give Obama trade authority narrowly passed with the support of Republicans, but it cannot go to the White House since Democrats withheld their support on the separate measure.

“Another procedural snafu has emerged,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters after the votes Friday afternoon.

He argued that the votes showed a “bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives” that backs Obama on the trade effort, noting that 28 Democrats voted for the trade powers.

And he said that Obama would not stop aggressively courting Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to support the deal. The House will meet again on Monday and could make another attempt to approve both parts of the trade deal early next week.

“The President is determined, as was evident in visit to to Capitol Hill this morning, to build a bipartisan majority to make sure that we’re living up to our commitment as Democrats to fight for the middle class,” Earnest said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed with the White House’s assessment, telling reporters on Friday afternoon that the House could vote again and salvage the deal.

“We’re not done with this yet,” he said.

In a statement Friday afternoon, President Obama framed the day’s votes in a positive way, thanking a “bipartisan group of Representatives” for coming together “on behalf of America’s workers, our businesses, and our economy.”

Obama also urged the Republican-led House to pass the measure that would provide aid to American workers that Democrats scuttled in an effort to derail the entire deal. Inaction on trade adjustment authority, Obama said, would be felt by “about 100,000 workers and their communities annually if those Members of Congress don’t reconsider.”

“I urge the House of Representatives to pass TAA as soon as possible, so I can sign them both, and give our workers and businesses even more wind at their backs to do what they do best: imagine, invent, build, and sell goods Made in America to the rest of the world,” Obama said.

TIME global trade

Obama Takes the Case for Trade Deal to Capitol Hill

President Barack Obama waves at the crowd during the 2015 Congressional Baseball Game at the National Parks Stadium, on June 11, 2015 in Washington D.C.
Pool—Getty Images President Barack Obama waves at the crowd during the 2015 Congressional Baseball Game at the National Parks Stadium, on June 11, 2015 in Washington D.C.

President Obama met with House Democrats behind closed doors on Capitol Hill Friday as part of a last-minute push for support on a major trade deal.

The House is scheduled to vote on a measure that would strengthen Obama’s authority to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest free trade deal of all time and a major second-term priority for the Administration.

The bill has already passed the Senate, which means the House votes Friday are the final hurdle for Obama. Republicans in both chambers are generally supportive of the trade deal, setting up an unusual alliance with Obama in his second term.

Read More: Obama Moves Closer to Inking Pacific Trade Deal

But some House Democrats are threatening to vote against the bill, causing a last-minute headache for the White House and setting up a rare nail-biter of a vote in which neither side knows what will happen.

During Friday’s meeting, Obama told Democrats to “play it straight” on the pending trade votes. For nearly an hour, he argued that Democrats should stick to their guns on the fast-track bill and not let last-ditch opposition by some progressives derail it. Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who was in the room, said there was a feeling that Obama had waited until the last minute to try to sway votes. “I wish there would have been much better outreach by them,” he said.

Afterward, Obama wouldn’t tell press waiting outside the meeting room whether or not Friday’s trade votes were set.

“I don’t think you ever nail anything down around here,” he said. “It’s always moving.”

As part of his intense lobbying effort, Obama made a surprise visit to the Congressional Baseball Game Thursday evening, ironically arriving as the game was at a tense 2-2 standoff.

As he walked across the grounds at Nationals Park, the Democratic side of the stadium chanted “four more years,” while the Republican side chanted “TPA! TPA!”—a reference to the Trade Promotion Authority the bill would give Obama.

With Aisha Bhoori and Maya Rhodan/Capitol Hill

TIME Congress

See the One Pastime That Unites Republicans and Democrats

The first Congressional baseball game was played in 1909 and the annual tradition continues today — pitting Democrats and Republicans against each other in a more jovial dispute

TIME Pope Francis

Liberal Clergy Lobby Vatican Ahead of Pope’s U.S. Visit

Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for an audience with President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on June 7, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for an audience with President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on June 7, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.

A group of liberal clergy and union leaders headed to the Vatican this week to lobby for Pope Francis to address race relations, income inequality and immigration reform, among other issues, in his upcoming trip to the United States.

During the four-day trip, the group of 14 met with representatives from a host of Catholic organizations, including two key cardinals who work on social justice issues.

Organized by the U.S. faith-based grassroots group PICO and the Service Employees International Union, the trip’s main goal was to get Pope Francis to highlight some liberal causes during his September visit.

“God cares about poor, low-wage workers. God cares about immigrants. God cares deeply about racial justice,” Bishop Dwayne Royster of the Living Water United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, one of Francis’ three major stops, told TIME. “So it’s very important that the faith community continue to lift up a moral voice and also a mirror to those in power.”

Read More: Pope Francis’ Poverty Agenda Draws President Obama

An advocate of the “Fight for 15” movement, Royster hoped to get the Pope’s attention on labor relations in his home city. When Francis arrives, Royster noted, “he will come into an airport where we support poverty wages and people are working in an oppressive environment.”

Participants on the trip also took to social media, tweeting images from the Vatican with captions such as “#TellthePope,” “BlackLivesMatter,” and “IBelieveWeWillWin.”

Overall, the people on the trip said their goal was to advocate for the marginalized.

A former undocumented immigrant from California, Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz went on the trip to push for Pope Francis to back President Obama’s recent executive actions allowing undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

“The Pope and his advisors should listen to the real stories that we have picked up from people who are struggling in this society of exclusion,” he said. “People who have been here for many years, 25 or 30 years, and are now facing deportation because they don’t have documentation—they suffer in the shadows. And that’s not human.”

Read Next: Pope Francis’ Latest Mission: Stopping Nuclear Weapons

For PICO, the trip was also part of an ongoing “Year of Encounter” campaign to tie together various liberal causes, such as universal health care, a path to citizenship and police brutality, into a broader mission.

It succeeded in one respect, with Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace inviting PICO to send a delegation in July to the Bolivian Assembly, where Pope Francis will speak during a Latin American tour.

For clergy members on the trip, the issues are both political and moral.

“The Gospel is political,” said Nieto-Ruiz. “We cannot distinguish and say, ‘Okay, the Gospel must explain theocracy,’ and then let the politicians run our lives with no principles whatsoever. Pope Francis is really incarnating for us the meaning of the Gospel. He’s inviting us to get involved in politics, even when politics is dirty.”

TIME White House

Will New Overtime Rule Create—or Cost—Jobs?

U.S. President Barack Obama signs a presidential memorandum for overtime protections for workers during an event in the East Room at the White House, on March 13, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama signs a presidential memorandum for overtime protections for workers during an event in the East Room at the White House, on March 13, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Debate plays out along familiar lines

The Obama Administration hasn’t released the details of its proposed changes to overtime pay, but the public reaction is playing out along familiar lines: Union leaders are full of praise, while corporate groups are raising red flags.

Under the current law, salaries workers making more than $23,660 are not eligible for overtime. Under the proposed change, the Department of Labor could raise the maximum eligible salary to more than $50,000—giving millions of workers a boost in pay.

The change would be a major overhaul of the rules, which last received a slight update in 2004 but have otherwise not been touched since the 1970s. It came about after Obama ordered the agency to revamp the rule in 2014 as part of a second-term effort to boost middle-class workers without going to Congress.

The National Retail Federation, which represents retailers across the globe, warns that the rule could have unforeseen consequences. In a recent report, it argued that retailers would likely avoid paying overtime by simply hiring more lower-paying part-time workers. They argued that would reduce the money for other jobs, like low-level supervisors, operations managers, clerks and chefs.

“If the stated goal of the administration is the pathway to the middle class it makes no sense to have regulation that would eliminate managerial positions and supervisory positions and replace them with part time and hourly,” says David French, the group’s senior vice president of government relations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also issued a dire warning earlier this year, saying in a letter to the Department of Labor that the pending rule could have a “significantly disruptive effect on millions of workplaces.” On Wednesday, a lawyer speaking on behalf of the Chamber before a House subcommittee on Education and the Workforce said that the the entire Fair Labor Standards Act should be updated instead.

Some economists say the change is overdue, however.

Ross Eisenbrey, the vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, says when the rule was adjusted in 1975 more than 60% of salaried employees were eligible for overtime. According to his most recent calculation, he says, less than 10% of workers are currently eligible. The institute previously found only about 11% of workers were eligible in 2013.

“Today, about 50% of children are raised in a family where both parents are working,” Eisenbrey says. “Having them work overtime is a particular strain on children and families with children. We need this rule more than ever.”

Daniel Hamermesh, labor economist and professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin, argues that while the total amount of hours worked per employee will go down, the number of workers will go up. “It’s a job creator,” he says.

“Americans now work more than any other country,” he adds. “Anything that diminishes that a little bit, I think is good.”

In Congress, the debate is playing out along party lines. Democrats have urged the President to take a bold step on the rule—in January, 26 Democratic Senators sent a letter urging the president to raise the threshold for overtime pay to $56,680—double the current level. Republicans, on the other hand, recently reintroduced a bill that would give workers the option of using hours they accrue working overtime to take time off for family or medical leave instead of getting paid time and a half.

But Congress will likely be a sideshow to this debate. Even if Republicans passed a bill to block the change, Obama would likely veto it.

TIME Crime

Dennis Hastert to Break Two Week Silence in Court

The former House Speaker will make his first public appearance since prosecutors charged him with lying about hush fund payments

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is scheduled to appear in federal court on Tuesday, where he will face charges of lying to FBI investigators about hush money payments to an unidentified associate in order to silence allegations of sexual misconduct.

Hastert has not appeared in public since he was indicted by a federal grand jury two weeks early, USA Today reports. He will appear in court on Tuesday for a brief arraignment proceeding, where he is scheduled to enter a plea before he is expected to be released.

Hastert has hired Thomas Green, a lawyer from the Austin-based firm, Sidley Austin, which at one point employed president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, NBC News reports.

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