TIME Iraq

Report: U.S. Kept Mum After Finding Old Chemical Weapons in Iraq

US Army soldiers wearing their full chemical protection suits walk inside the courtyard of an industrial complex they secured which they thought was a possible site for weapons of mass destruction in the central Iraqi town of Baquba in May 2003.
US Army soldiers wearing their full chemical protection suits walk inside the courtyard of an industrial complex they secured which they thought was a possible site for weapons of mass destruction in the central Iraqi town of Baquba in May 2003. Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

Based on 17 U.S. service members and seven Iraqi police officers who claimed they were exposed to mustard or nerve agents after 2003

American and Iraqi troops came across and, in some cases, were wounded by aged or abandoned chemical weapons between 2004 and 2011, according to a New York Times investigation published late Tuesday.

The report, which is based on redacted intelligence records and dozens of interviews with American and Iraqi officials — and, notably, 17 U.S. service members and seven Iraqi police officers who claimed they were exposed to mustard or nerve agents — analyzes how the U.S. apparently suppressed information about the discoveries and barred the injured from receiving proper recognition and medical care.

The investigation also notes that militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria over the past year, controls a former production site that Iraq told the United Nations over the summer still held about 2,500 corroded munitions.

[New York Times]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 14

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

1. Fix the system, don’t fight individual diseases: Why Ebola may change how aid dollars are spent on healthcare in Africa.

By Lesley Wroughton at Reuters

2. Plan for a global body to regulate the great promise of genetics — balancing unfettered innovation with sensible rules to prevent abuse.

By Jamie F. Metzl in Foreign Affairs

3. Because it increases disease and exacerbates resource scarcity, the Pentagon sees climate change as a threat multiplier.

By Laura Barron-Lopez in the Hill

4. The U.S. should call out Egypt’s rising authoritarian leadership and the plight of repressed people there.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

5. Successful community collaborations build civic confidence for increasingly audacious projects that can improve lives.

By Monique Miles in the Collective Impact Forum blog

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 Government

Report: Federal Budget Deficit Falls to $486B

(WASHINGTON) — The federal government’s budget deficit has fallen to $486 billion, the smallest pool of red ink of President Barack Obama’s six-year span in office, a new report said Wednesday.

The Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimate shows better results than earlier projections by both CBO and the White House budget office.

It comes as Congress has mostly paused in its wrangling over the deficit in the run-up to the midterm elections next month.

Obama inherited a trillion-dollar-plus deficit after the 2008 financial crisis but that red-ink figure has improved in recent years as the economy has recovered. Last year’s deficit registered at $680 billion.

The government registered deficits exceeding $1 trillion during Obama’s first term, but the recovering economy has boosted revenues while Republican-imposed curbs on agency operating budgets have combined to shrink the deficit.

The Treasury Department and the White House budget office will issue an official report on the budget in the next week or so, but their findings are likely to mirror CBO’s data, which is based on the daily cash flow that Treasury reports.

The good news may be temporary. CBO and budget hawks warn that the retirement of the Baby Boom generation will balloon deficits in coming years unless Washington can bridge its divides and curb the growth of expensive programs like Medicare.

The deficit hit a record $1.4 trillion in 2009 but fell to $680 billion last year. The government’s budget year ended Sept. 30.

While the numbers are large, economists agree that the truest measure of the deficit is to compare it to the size of the economy. By that measure, the 2014 deficit was less than 3 percent of gross domestic product, which economists say is sustainable.

But CBO and other budget officials warn that long-term projections are unsustainable as more and more people claim Social Security and Medicare benefits. The growth in health care spending, however, is down and long-term estimates have proven unreliable.

Obama and his GOP rivals combined to curb agency budgets in 2011 and the president won a tax increase on upper-rate taxpayers last year, but any future action on the government’s budget woes will likely have to wait until after this year’s mid-term elections or beyond.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 6

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

1. Diversity in recruitment – not residency restrictions – is the best way to build a police force that reflects the community where it works.

By Batya Ungar-Sargon and Andrew Flowers in FiveThirtyEight

2. To save Libya, western powers need to abandon the ‘war on terror’ framework and convince factions there to negotiate.

By Mattia Toaldo in the European Council on Foreign Relations

3. Cricket protein requires 20% fewer resources than beef protein. Are bugs the next big thing?

By Katie Van Syckle in Bloomberg Businessweek

4. China’s fluid definition of terrorism – often changing at the convenience of the country’s leaders – keeps the nation from being an effective partner against ISIS.

By Richard Bernstein, Ely Ratner, Jeffrey Payne, James Palmer, and Fu Hualing in ChinaFile

5. Modern pro sports commissioners are CEOs, not stewards of a public good. Split the commissioner job in two.

By Will Leitch in New York Magazine

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 ebola

Why the Government Has Legal Authority to Quarantine

Ebola
Getty Images

It's in the Constitution.

Texas officials placed at least four people under quarantine Wednesday night after they had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Texas hospital patient with Ebola. About 100 others are being monitored for the disease. Reports Thursday morning also say a man is being held in isolation in Hawaii for a potential case of Ebola.

But where does the government get its legal authority to restrict the liberty of citizens by quarantining them, restricting their movement and supervising their contact?

The answer, when it comes to the federal government: the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Under section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code § 264), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized to take measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases into the United States and between states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which holds the authority for carrying out these functions.

Measures may include isolation, which divides people with communicable diseases from those who are healthy, or quarantine, which segregates people who may have been exposed to a communicable disease to see if they become ill. The most infamous example of isolation is Typhoid Mary, a cook in New York in the early 1900s who was exiled for life against her will for carrying a pathogen associated with typhoid fever.

Isolation and quarantine can be imposed by states under their police power functions, which give them the right to protect the health and safety of people within their borders. The four people currently quarantined in Texas are Duncan’s close family members. They received orders Wednesday from Texas and Dallas County officials “not to leave the apartment or to receive visitors without approval” until October 19, TIME’s Alex Altman reports.

But if states’ powers are not enough to stem the spread of a disease, the federal government can also institute isolation and quarantine. The last time this was used on a large scale was during the “Spanish Flu” pandemic in 1918-1919, according to the CDC.

TIME Hong Kong

What’s at Stake in Hong Kong

Voting restrictions and an ever-tightening Chinese policies are causing unrest amongst Hong Kongers

(HONG KONG) — Hong Kong’s leader refused to meet with pro-democracy demonstrators by their midnight deadline Tuesday, despite their threats to expand the protests that have clogged the streets with tens of thousands of people in the stiffest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.

Protesters counted down to midnight and cheered as the deadline passed, but took no immediate action.

Britain’s deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he had summoned the Chinese ambassador to discuss the dispute, saying it was essential that Hong Kong’s people have a genuine right to choose their top leader.

“I am extremely concerned about the recent events in Hong Kong. Britain and China have solemn obligations to the people of Hong Kong to preserve their rights and freedoms,” Clegg said in a statement.

China took control of Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” arrangement that guaranteed the 7 million residents of the city semi-autonomy, Western-style civil liberties and eventual democratic freedoms that are denied to Chinese living on the communist-ruled mainland.

The protesters want a reversal of a decision by China’s government to screen all candidates in the territory’s first direct elections, scheduled for 2017 — a move they view as reneging on a promise that the chief executive will be chosen through “universal suffrage.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s rejection of the student demands dashed hopes for a quick resolution of the five-day standoff that has blocked city streets and forced some schools and offices to close.

It was unclear what action the demonstrators would take next. There were no immediate speeches or official statements from the protesters, who chanted “Jiayou! Jiayou!” — or “Keep it up!” — while waving their cellphones with the LED flashlights sparkling in the dark.

Earlier Tuesday, Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the organizer of the university class boycotts that led to the street protests, said the students were considering various options if their demands were not met, including widening the protests, pushing for a labor strike and occupying a government building.

As concern mounted over how the standoff might eventually end, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against any perceived threat to the Communist Party’s hold on power, vowed in a National Day speech to “steadfastly safeguard” Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.

China’s government has condemned the student-led protests as illegal, though so far it has not overtly intervened, leaving Hong Kong authorities to handle the crisis.

Despite the hardening rhetoric from both sides, the mood Tuesday night was festive. Few police were evident, and those who were present appeared relaxed. The crowds were expected to grow, with most people off work both Wednesday and Thursday for public holidays.

Both sides appeared to be waiting out the standoff, as police continued the light-handed approach to the protests they adopted after their use of tear gas and pepper spray over the weekend failed to drive out tens of thousands of people occupying streets near the government headquarters. The sit-ins instead spread to the financial district and other areas.

“We are not afraid of riot police, we are not afraid of tear gas, we are not afraid of pepper spray. We will not leave until Leung Chun-ying resigns. We will not give up! We will persevere until the end!” Lester Shum, another student leader, shouted to a crowd at Admiralty, near Hong Kong’s waterfront.

Leung’s blunt rejection of the demands from the students was not surprising. China’s Communist leadership is wary of any conciliatory moves that might embolden dissidents and separatists on the mainland.

Occupy Central, a wider civil disobedience movement, said in a tweet that the pro-democracy protesters were demanding genuine democracy and Leung’s resignation. It said it would “announce new civil disobedience plans” on Wednesday.

Hong Kong’s free press and social media give the protesters exposure that may help prevent China from cracking down in the same way it has on restive minorities and dissidents living in the mainland, where public dissent is often harshly punished.

The protests have been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” by some because the crowds have used umbrellas to block the sun and to deflect police pepper spray.

“We are really basically just calling for the government to speak with us but they’ve been mute,” Peter Chin, a 22-year-old student at Hong Kong University. “We’ll keep staying here until they’re ready to consult with us.”

TIME society

America Is More of a Club Than a Family

American Flag and Neighborhood
Ryan Lane—Getty Images

Claude S. Fischer is professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character, and a regular columnist for the Boston Review

We're used to choosing to join together for a goal—or not—whenever we want to

Over the course of the last 15 years or so, there’s been an explosion in the number of charter schools around the country. According to the latest figures (from 2012), some 2.1 million students are enrolled in schools run by private groups awarded public money. The schools bear optimistic names like “YES Prep North Central” (in Houston) and “Animo Leadership High” (in Inglewood, California). Beyond the specific concerns about education, the charter school movement is powered by a particularly American world-view, one rooted in the ethos of the dissident Protestant churches that were the foundation of early American culture: Citizens opting out of a hierarchical system to pursue personal goals by joining together in a local, voluntary society.

This ideological impulse – which I and others call “voluntarism” – is a cultural trait that helps explain why the United States remains different from comparable wealthy, western nations. Broadly speaking, voluntarism is not another term for American individualism, although it entails individualism. Voluntarism is the way Americans reconcile individualism and community. And we can feel the weight of American voluntarism in our approaches to public issues, not only in charter schools, but in debates about issues like Obamacare and gay marriage as well.

Other western nations, by contrast, consider health care a civil right of citizens and a moral obligation of government. American tradition, however, treats health care as an individual’s personal responsibility, or at least as a personal responsibility exercised through voluntary association, as in workplace health insurance. When the debate around gay marriage shifted from a discussion of God, gender, sex, and propriety to a debate over individual rights, tolerance, and the personal freedom of Americans to choose their partners, the struggle for marriage equality became easier.

American voluntarism makes it hard for social-democratic reformers to persuade their fellow citizens to accept the types of ambitious state-run initiatives common in most western democracies, such as universal healthcare, free pre-schools and guaranteed labor rights. Conversely, the spirit of American voluntarism makes it harder for non-Americans to understand our public policies, which are often caricatured as being nakedly Darwinian.

That American society was notably different — exceptional was the term — from other western societies was a staple for much of twentieth-century social science. Researchers have offered up lists of hows and whys, trying to distill the difference. I joined the enterprise when I started researching my 2010 book, Made in America, and the evidence spoke to the centrality of voluntarism in understanding American culture and its so-called exceptionalism.

Observers have for generations described Americans as deeply individualistic. But, as I argued in Made in America, individualism is too simple a description. Certainly, deeply instilled in American culture is the assumption that we are each a “sovereign” individual–the belief that each person is, deep down, a unique character, distinct and separate from everyone else, that ultimately each person determines his or his own fate, and that individuals ought to be self-reliant.

From the perspective of world history, this notion of the sovereign individual is odd. Most cultures most times treated individuals as organic parts of their family, lineage, and tribe. That is why, for example, collective punishment – you took our goat, so my family will take your cousin’s sheep – is widely accepted around the globe, even today, after centuries of westernization. An example I like to use in teaching is marriage: In most places, in most times, marriage has been in principle primarily about connecting families and lineages. Parents sensibly married off youths to appropriate partners. My students, many of them only a generation or two from that Old World, instead take it for granted that marriage is about two young, not fully-mature individuals freely choosing one another based on their individual emotions – a weird notion, indeed. Individual sovereignty is a broadly western assumption, and Americans are the most western of westerners.

Individualism, however, is a severely incomplete description of the American character, ignoring America’s strong communal dimension. Just as Alexis de Toqueville and other observers wrote in the 19th century of Americans’ individualism, they also described intensive community activity – neighborly assistance like barn raising; joint endeavors like militias and tending of commons; and clubs from sewing circles to lecture societies. In contrast to churches that were outposts of a central ecclesiastical authority such as Roman Catholicism and the established Protestant denominations (for examples, the Church of England and the Lutheran Church of Norway), the dominant American form was a grass-roots Protestant church. This was a voluntary association of individuals who found others with common religious yearnings, pooled their resources, and hired a minister.

The many secular versions of this communalism in America – Rotary clubs, blood drives, online Kickstarter-type philanthropy projects, walks against diseases, beach clean-up weekends, you name it – belie the caricature of Americans as selfish individualists. Critically, such associations are ones individuals have voluntarily chosen; they are not tribes, castes, clans, manors, or ethnicities into which people are born and in which they die. Nor are these distinctively American types of associations sponsored or organized by the state.

American voluntarism is the merging of our individualistic and communal strains, the world-view that individuals forge their distinct fates with like-minded people in groups that they have individually, freely chosen to join and are individually free to leave. People attain their personal ends through community, but through voluntary community. And thus they are both sovereign individuals and community citizens.

My favorite expression of this view is a statement from 1905 by Alma A. Rogers, a local writer in Portland, Oregon, who celebrated simultaneously women’s individuation and women’s community activity: “Woman has at last made the fateful discovery that she is an individual, not an adjunct. Therefore, she thrills to the pulse of organization; and lo! The woman’s club is born.” Another revealing expression is the 1960s-era slogan, “America: Love it or Leave It.” It captured the idea that people are not forced to be American, but as long as they choose to be, they are expected to be committed to the voluntary association that is America. The key to the American community, in other words, are the acts of opting in and every day choosing to stay in. That is why collective action through the state is anathema to so many Americans – it seems to usurp individual agency and responsibility, alone or in community.

Over the years, of course, Americans often compromised this voluntarism for practical reasons. Social Security is a paternalistic government mandate that people accepted during a great crisis, although it was cloaked in the language of “insurance” rather than welfare. But for the most part, such policies remain tough sells. Many observers on the left hoped that the Great Recession would trigger social-democratic breakthroughs. But Obamacare is, in historical perspective, a small step in that direction, a complex and limited extension of government subsidies for private health insurance rather than a full-on establishment of a universal entitlement. Some research suggests that Americans have actually moved against government initiatives in the wake of the financial crisis.

Americans will continue to argue about the proper boundary between our individual spheres and the sphere of our government. But, even in these disagreements, there is a common mind-set, shared by right and left, that Americans should get to choose the nature of their participation in the nation. Thirty years ago this month, New York Governor Mario Cuomo delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention that tried to replace or moderate that voluntaristic motif with another kind of imagery,

the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another’s pain, sharing one another’s blessings . . . . We believe we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another . . . .

It was a rhetorically powerful moment, but a losing political strategy. Today, perhaps more than ever, Americans don’t tend to think of the nation as a “family” to which we are “bound,” but rather as a club which we have joined.

Claude S. Fischer originally wrote this piece for What It Means to Be American, a project of the Smithsonian Institution and Zocalo Public Square.

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 22

1. A global transformation from a carbon-based economy to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future will create jobs and add wealth.

By Christiana Figueres and Guy Ryder in Project Syndicate

2. Antibiotic resistance causes 23,000 deaths and two million illnesses every year. Concerted government action is necessary to fight the crisis.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

3. China can improve its global standing and U.S. relations by joining the fight against Islamic State.

By Dingding Chen in the Diplomat

4. The economic future of manufacturing is to be an incubator of innovation: “where new ideas become new products.”

By Nanette Byrnes in MIT Technology Review

5. In the future, a book could be a living thing.

By Wendy Smith in Publisher’s Weekly

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

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 17

1. Islamic State’s sexual violence is a war crime and U.S. leaders should call it out, seek ways to track it, and hold the terrorists to account. Instead, policymakers are ignoring it.

By Aki Peritz and Tara Maller in Foreign Policy

2. When the rich get richer, states get poorer. Income inequality is eating away at state tax revenue.

By Gabriel J. Petek at Standard and Poor’s Ratings Service

3. Does big philanthropy have too much power over policy?

By Gara LaMarche in Democracy

4. An innovative program is connecting high-performing low-income students with scholarship dollars and guiding them through the daunting financial aid process.

By David Leonhardt in the Upshot

5. Can a major redesign transform Union Station into the commercial and cultural heart of Washington?

By Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post

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

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 16

1. America can offset China’s rising power and Russia’s influence in Asia by strengthening its relationship with India.

By Paul J. Leaf in the National Interest

2. MIT moms challenge engineers and students to pitch ways to improve breast pumps in a ‘hackathon.’

By Katie Levingston in Boston.com

3. College is disproportionately off limits to poor and minority students. Here are some critical steps to close that gap.

By Antoinette Flores at the Center for American Progress

4. State governments should stop paying off businesses to ‘create jobs.’ The tax incentives and other giveaways are a waste.

By Richard Florida in the Los Angeles Times

5. One way the NFL can address the mishandling of domestic violence by its players: paying to rebuild our nation’s depleted support system for survivors of abuse.

By Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic

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

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