TIME

Join Joe Klein’s 2014 Road Trip

TIME's political columnist plans Southern swing ahead of midterm elections

I’m heading south this year, starting on September 19th–in search of fun, insight and American stuff. As always, if you’d like to meet with me and talk politics, let me know… Also, I’d love to hear about any debates, barbecues, picnics, festivals or rituals coming up in your states. We start 9/19 in North Carolina…9/22 in Georgia, 9/24 in Alabama, 9/26-28 in Tennessee, 9/29-30 Mississippi, 10/1-3 Louisiana, 10/4-5 in Arkansas, 10/6-7 in Kentucky.

The schedule is subject to change, depending on political events…and you. If you’d like to get together, please contact me at Joe_Klein@timemagazine.com…or trip wrangler Tessa.Berenson@Timeinc.com.

I’m looking forward to several weeks of politics from the ground up, good music and great food.

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 8

1. To calculate the value of vaccines, we must imagine the economic cost of a world without them.

By Michael White in Pacific Standard

2. Apple may change everything again, this time by finally killing the credit card.

By Marcus Wohlsen in Wired

3. Local government – often heralded as the best kind of government – is actually America’s most broken and oppressive.

By Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine

4. “Instagram for doctors” can help solve medical mysteries.

By Sarah Kliff in Vox

5. A policy of realism, tempered with humanity, is good for people and nations.

By Walter Isaacson in Time

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

TIME Government

Even Ralph Nader and Grover Norquist Agree D.C. Needs More Compromise

“There’s nothing else to do in this town,” Norquist said

Grover Norquist and Ralph Nader spoke at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington on Thursday in a bid to promote cross-aisle government cooperation.

Nader, a left-wing consumer advocate and five-time presidential candidate, is a champion of regulation and Norquist, who founded the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, famously wants government to be small enough to “drown it in the bathtub.” But the odd couple argued there is a broader area of agreement between liberals and conservatives than people are led to believe.

“This is not something that might happen. This is not an interesting theory. This has already happened,” Norquist said. Areas where both sides can — and have — worked together, he said, include lowering mandatory sentencing minimums, defending civil liberties and strengthening national defense while reducing cost.

Nader produced a similar list. “You don’t engage in wars of aggression. You don’t interfere with international law and constitutional law and federal law and go all over the world building up empires. You don’t allow the Pentagon to automatically get huge budgets through Congress,” he said, also mentioning cooperation on prison reform. “That’s a very important area. And that’s where there’s a very, very solid basis here.”

Both men recognized the difficulties of reaching across the aisle in the current political climate and promoted establishing civic groups whose sole purpose would be “left-right alliance advocacy,” Nader said. “We need this kind of singular focus.”

Norquist, who once referred to bipartisanship as “date rape,” was quick to distance this cooperation from political negotiation. “Right-left coalitions are areas of principled agreement on perhaps procedure, or even goals,” he said, “not a compromise where someone walks in and gives up part of his soul in order to get something.”

So why do these two men — at opposite ideological poles, one a stalwart believer in government and the other a perennial skeptic — want to promote their similarities rather than differences?

“There’s nothing else to do in this town,” Norquist said. “As long as Obama is president and there’s a Republican House… on the mega issues… nothing moves. It’s like two sumo wrestlers for the next two years that are absolutely equally matched,” he added. “Nobody is getting knocked out of the ring… for the next two years, the next 20 years, [left-right coalitions are] an area where we can make real progress.”

“We can win on things we agree on,” Nader admitted. “It’s very simple.” But he did acknowledge an obstacle to this rosy future of cooperation: Personal distaste, which he called the “yuck factor.”

And money, that is. “I’m looking for some very rich person to start funding a number of these nonprofit civic advocacy groups,” Nader said.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 28

1. New Orleans is at the heart of a new HIV epidemic, and only massive health system reform can remedy the situation.

By Jessica Wapner in Aeon

2. From dismantling Syria’s chemical arsenal to hunting down Joseph Kony, America’s military missions abroad far outlast the public’s attention span.

By Kate Brannen in Foreign Policy

3. To look beyond stereotypes and understand the programs and interventions that improve life for young men of color, the U.S. Department of Education invited them to a “Data Jam.”

By Charley Locke in EdSurge

4. Taking a page from silicon valley, incubators for restaurateurs can help get new ideas on the plate.

By Allison Aubrey at National Public Radio

5. So the homeless can work, worship, and transition to normal life, cities should offer safe, flexible storage options.

By Kriston Capps in Citylab

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

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 25

1. Slavery’s long shadow is inextricably linked to modern income inequality in the south.

By Stephen Mihm in the Boston Globe

2. Superdistricts in the House of Representatives could end the tyranny of incumbency in Congress.

By Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post

3. Yelp the Police: Georgia teens build an app to rate law enforcement interactions.

By Rebecca Borison in Business Insider

4. The new Egyptian government’s policies of repression and exclusion could push citizens into the arms of extremist groups.

By Michele Dunn and Scott Williamson at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

5. Transforming oil and gas rigs into artificial reefs could save the delicate ecosystems formed around the structures.

By Amber Jackson in Huffington Post

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

TIME Money

Bank of America Reported Close To Record DOJ Settlement

Paying up for their role in the housing crisis

Bank of America may pay $16 billion to $17 billion to the Department of Justice as a settlement for their role in the housing crisis, according to media reports.

That would be the highest payment to the DOJ for mortgage securities fraud to date, exceeding the $13 billion settlement that J.P. Morgan Chase negotiated in November.

Bank of America issued the most mortgage securities of any large bank on Wall Street in the years leading up to the financial crisis. According to the Wall Street Journal, of the $965 billion in mortgage securities that the bank issued between 2004 and 2008, $245 billion in securities have defaulted or become delinquent.

 

TIME China

China ‘Effectively Bans’ Hillary Clinton’s Memoir

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives to sign copies of her book "Hard Choices" at a Barnes & Noble book store in Los Angeles
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives to sign copies of her book "Hard Choices" at a Barnes & Noble book store in Los Angeles, California on June 19, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

Chinese publishers have declined to distribute Hillary Clinton’s new book, which includes anecdotes that are critical of Asian superpower

Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, which focuses on her tenure as U.S. secretary of state, will not be sold in mainland China, according to her publisher in an interview with BuzzFeed.

Simon & Schuster said they were not able to secure translation rights with Chinese publishers and that one of the nation’s leading import agencies, Shanghai Book Traders, has refused to distribute the English-language version.

Jonathan Karp, president of Simon & Schuster, said that China’s reaction to the book is an “effective ban.”

Clinton’s memoir is seen as critical of the People’s Republic. She wrote how the country is “full of contradictions” and the “epicenter of the antidemocratic movement in Asia.”

Ironically, she also wrote of her address to the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing, where she “felt the heavy hand of Chinese censorship when the government blocked the broadcast of my speech.”

[BuzzFeed]

TIME Military

What You Need to Know About the Top Federal Contractors In 3 Graphs

The business is big, but with the wars winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan it could become smaller soon.

In his farewell address to the nation, President Eisenhower warned against the economic and political influence of the rising military industrial complex: the relationship between government entities and private government contractors.

Yet almost 60 years later, with the government contracting industry so large that many call it a fourth branch of government, Eisenhower’s warning appears unheeded.

Proponents of the industry say that contractors keep the nation safe, doing work the government does not have the capability to do. Its critics, on the other hand, assert that contractors have an incentive to perpetuate war—the more weaponry contractors produce, the more profits they make.

To find out which companies are at the head of this debate (the ones that are making billions every year), research engine FindTheBest compiled data from USASpending.gov, ranking the top ten contractors by U.S. government dollars obligated (the dollar amount paid to the contractor) from 2000-2013.

Together, the top ten contractors made $1.5 trillion—or 15% of the total $9.7 trillion obligated from 2000-2013—with Lockheed Martin in the lead at $410 billion, followed by The Boeing Company’s $259 billion.

So what do these companies do to make so much money?

In short, defense. These contractors produce aircrafts, ships, vehicles, weaponry, and electric systems, and provide logistics, technical, training, and telecommunication support.

Lockheed Martin provides an especially telling example, a contractor who won a $574.5 million contract to build a weapons system for the U.S. Navy last year. Also in 2013, General Dynamics was awarded $122 million to buy materials for three Virginia-class “fast attack” submarines, and Raytheon received $350 million to increase its acquisition of SM-3 missiles designed to destroy foreign missile threats by colliding with them in space.

Although these companies are making billions now, contractor revenue may not be as steady as it seems.

If American defense and security needs diminish, so will their profits. To find out just how much the contractors would lose, FindTheBest compared government dollars obligated in 2013, to the companies’ overall 2013 revenue.

The company that relies the most heavily on contracting work is Lockheed Martin, with 67% of its revenue coming from the government in 2013. It’s followed by Raytheon and Saic Inc., with each owing 49% and 46% of their revenue to contracts, respectively.

If the government stopped needing top contractors for security purposes, their revenue wouldn’t be the only thing to take a hit—their employees would too. Together, the companies below employ about 950,000 people.

TIME

The Dishonest Diplomat: How a Critical Profession Got a Bad Rap

I work in a profession devoted to compromise and incremental change — and we diplomats have acquired an unfortunate reputation for dishonesty

“An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

—Sir Henry Wotton, 1604

“Diplomacy, n. The patriotic art of lying for one’s country.”

—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1906

There are few more odious figures in popular culture than the diplomat. Ben Kingsley’s ambassador to Yemen in the movie Rules of Engagement is first a coward, hiding under his desk from an angry mob, waiting to be rescued by U.S. Marines, and then later a snake, lying smoothly under oath to help convict the very Marine officer who saved him from the mob. In Costa-Gavras’ classic Missing, the American diplomats are alternately dissembling and disinterested. And it would be hard to top The Omen, in which an American diplomat, played by Gregory Peck, lies to his wife, played by Lee Remick, and tricks her into raising the Antichrist. That, needless to say, does not work out well.

Spies and soldiers can draw on the goodwill generated by thousands of popular books and movies that, on balance, present a broadly positive image. Tom Clancy’s CIA officers, for instance, are good-looking, hardworking, honorable patriots. The general public has every reason to feel that it understands what soldiers and spies do for a living and how they contribute to American security. Diplomats, on the other hand, are something else. Only a relatively small number of people have a good grasp of what it is that diplomats actually do. We are part of the national-security establishment. We collect information, formulate policy and seek to influence foreign governments in support of that policy. And as instruments of state power, we are considerably cheaper than spy satellites or cruise missiles.

To the extent the public thinks about it at all, however, there is something vaguely slippery about diplomacy as a profession. Part of the reason is that, at its core, diplomacy is fundamentally about compromise. It is the art of the possible. Victories are rarely clear-cut, and they are typically more of the incremental variety than of the transformational. Even more important, however, is the reputation diplomacy has acquired for dishonesty. Diplomats, it is widely assumed, are professional liars with expense accounts and nice suits. If not immoral, they are at best amoral.

The reality is that diplomacy — good diplomacy, at least — places a premium on honesty, defined here as credibility and trustworthiness. Do you mean what you say? Do you deliver on what you promise? If not, why would anyone give you the time of day?

I have devoted more than 20 years to the diplomatic service of the U.S., and I have never once been asked to lie for my country. I have said things — often with complete confidence and utter conviction — that later turned out to be wrong. And I have engaged in my fair share of lies of a social nature — “We’re friends, aren’t we?” “Of course we are” — but I have never, to the best of my recollection, deliberately lied to a contact.

I have said things I do not believe — lots of things. But that’s a very different issue. When I speak professionally on behalf of the U.S., whether in public or private, I represent U.S. policy and U.S. views to the best of my abilities. Like royalty, diplomats do a great deal of talking in the first-person plural (“We believe . . .”) or the third-person inanimate (“My government feels . . .”). My contacts — interlocutors, in diplomatese — don’t care what I think. Or at least they shouldn’t. They care a great deal, however, about what the U.S. thinks. So my job is to persuade others to see things our way but not necessarily my way.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the board game Diplomacy for my 12-year-old son, drawing on my fond memories of late-night sessions in junior high school. The other day, I brought the game to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, where I am currently assigned. What could be more fun than playing Diplomacy with a bunch of diplomats?

We were terrible at it.

On one level, of course, Diplomacy the board game bears as much resemblance to diplomacy the profession as the board game Operation does to surgery. Diplomacy is the exercise of national power in its multidimensional complexity. The game version involves pushing little cardboard pieces across a map of long-defunct European empires. It also involves lying — lots of lying. You make promises to other players about how you are going to support them in achieving their ambitions, and then you don’t follow through. You deceive and cheat your way to Continental domination.

There was a demonstrable reluctance on the part of the diplomats playing Diplomacy to promise X and do Y, even in a game. In real diplomacy, if it ever becomes apparent that your word is no good, you are, for all intents and purposes, finished. A diplomat who can’t be trusted is little short of worthless.

This doesn’t mean that being a diplomat is being an open book. Far from it. We cherry-pick our facts, omit the inconvenient from our narratives and manipulate language without mercy to make our point. All of this is fair game. But just don’t lie. It’s not only unethical, it’s bad business.

The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State.

Matthew Palmer is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, currently serving as political counselor at the American embassy in Belgrade. While on the Secretary of State’s policy-planning staff, Palmer helped design and implement the Kimberley Process for certifying African diamonds as “conflict free.” His experience in Africa serves as the foundation for his debut novel, THE AMERICAN MISSION, out June 26.

MONEY Social Security

As Social Security Cuts Take Effect, The Most Vulnerable Are Left to Cope

Cuts to Social Security have closed offices in some of the areas where they're needed most.

Until earlier this year, there was a Social Security field office in Gadsden County, Florida, in the state’s panhandle. It’s the kind of place where seniors need to get in-person help with their benefits rather than pick up a phone or go online.

“Our poverty rate is nearly double the state average, and we trail the state averages in education,” said Brenda Holt, a county commissioner. “Most of the people here don’t have computers, let alone reliable Internet access.”

Holt testified Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, which is investigating the impact of budget cutting at the Social Security Administration over the past five years. Sixty-four field offices and more than 500 temporary mobile offices, known as contact stations, have been closed. And the SSA is reducing or eliminating a variety of in-person services that it once provided in its offices.

The SSA also has been developing a long-range strategy for delivering services. A draft document states that it will rely on the Internet and “self-service delivery”—and provide in-person services in “very limited circumstances, such as for complex transactions and to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.”

Gadsden County meets any criteria you could pick for vulnerability. But the field office in Quincy, the county seat, was closed with just a few weeks’ notice in March, Holt said. The nearest office is 30 miles away in Tallahassee—reachable only by car or a crowded shuttle bus that runs once a day in each direction.

The Senate committee’s investigation found SSA’s process for office consolidation wanting for clear criteria, transparency and community feedback. Only after persistent objections by local officials did the SSA offer to set up a videoconferencing station in a local library that connects seniors to representatives in its Tallahassee office.

“It’s deeply frustrated and angered our community,” said Holt. “Many of our residents live in a financial environment where they make choices between medications and food to feed their families. Problems with Social Security benefits can have a catastrophic effect on families.”

The SSA’s workload is rising as baby boomers retire; the number of claims in fiscal 2013 was 27 percent higher than in 2007. Yet the agency has 11,000 fewer workers than it did three years ago, and hiring freezes have led to uneven staffing in offices.

The SSA has received less than its budget request in 14 of the last 16 years. In fiscal 2012, it operated with 88% of the amount requested ($11.4 billion). The budget was restored somewhat in fiscal 2014 to $11.7 billion. And President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget request is $12 billion.

But service still suffers. The National Council of Social Security Management Associations reports that field office wait time is 30% longer than in 2012, and wait times and busy rates on the agency’s toll-free 800 number have doubled.

The SSA’s plan to save $70 million a year by replacing annual paper benefit statements with electronic access also has been a misstep, at least in the short run. Paper statements were suspended in 2011, but just 6 percent of all workers have signed up for online access, in some cases because of a lack of computer access or literacy but also because of sign-up difficulties related to the website’s complex anti-fraud systems.

In April the agency backtracked, announcing it will resume mailings of paper statements this September at five-year intervals to workers who have not signed up to view their statements online. (You can create an online account here.)

Wednesday’s hearing shed much-needed light on the customer service squeeze at SSA, though it would have been good to hear legislators acknowledge that Congress had no business cutting the SSA budget in the first place. The agency is funded by the same dedicated stream (payroll taxes) that funds benefits, and its administrative costs are low, 1.4% of all outlays. The SSA is funded by Americans’ tax dollars and exists to provide customer service to all Americans.

Nancy Berryhill, the SSA’s deputy commissioner for operations, did her best at the hearing to defend the agency’s efforts to cope. “It’s my job to balance service across nation—these are difficult times.”

Still, she conceded that there’s room for improvement. “We need to get more input from the community,” she said, speaking about the events in Gadsden County. “Adding the video service made a difference after the fact, but we need to be more thoughtful in the future.”

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