TIME Innovation

How Privatizing Marriage Would Be Disastrous

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

These are today's best ideas

1. Why privatizing marriage would be a disaster.

By Shikha Dalmia in the Week

2. Is the United States working on a new nuclear weapon?

By Oliver Lazarus in the Takeaway

3. Why America’s workforce is shrinking and Europe’s isn’t.

By Tami Luhby in CNN Money

4. The Pentagon is courting Silicon Valley and leaving traditional defense contractors behind.

By Leigh Munsil and Philip Ewing in Politico

5. New drugs for Alzheimer’s could treat Parkinson’s and other brain diseases.

By Jon Hamilton at NPR

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 Military

Pentagon to Lift Transgender Ban in the Military

Vietnam War Commemoration at Congress
Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks to veterans during the Vietnam War Commemoration ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, DC on July 8, 2015.

One study estimated that 15,500 transgender people currently serve.

The Pentagon announced Monday that it will stop barring transgender people from serving in the military.

In a statement, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that the existing regulations against transgender service members were “outdated” and “causing uncertainty” that distracts troop commanders.

“We have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines — real, patriotic Americans — who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit,” he said.

Carter said the Pentagon will create a working group over the next six months to study “the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly,” to be led by Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Brad Carson.

The language of the statement suggests that the working group has not been convened to determine whether transgender people will be able to serve openly, but simply to determine how the policy should be carried out. “At my direction, the working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified,” Carter said.

In the meantime, according to the statement, any soldiers suggested for discharge on the basis of their transgender identity will be referred to the top of the chain and reviewed by Under Secretary Carson. In an earlier story about the details, the Associated Press reported that transgender persons would be able to serve during the six month study period by the working group.

Transgender advocates and experts on military policy say that such a review is necessary to work out the details of how best to incorporate transgender service, which will involve decisions about things like uniforms and medical best practices that were not at issue in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Some transgender soldiers decide to take hormones and get surgeries during transition.

“With [DADT], all you needed to do was snap your fingers to lift the ban. It was clear how repeal would work. In this case it makes sense to review administrative policies to guide commanders in inclusive policy,” said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a think tank that promotes the study of LGBT people in the armed forces. “Every administrative policy needs to be discussed from grooming styles to uniforms. You don’t need to do a lot, but you do need to sit down and take a look,” he said. In August, the Palm Center issued a report offering a road map to the kinds of new policies that may need to be written to provide a smooth path to transgender military service.

Other advocates cheered the lifting of the ban. “This change is happening because Secretary Carter and other senior civilian and uniform leaders in the Pentagon have gotten to know transgender service members and they’ve seen how this ban hurts them and their families, and how it hurts units and military readiness,” said Allyson Robinson, the director of policy at SPARTA, a group of LGBT people who have served in the military. “They are not satisfied to have a military says stand for inclusion and quality and doesn’t live up to those values when it comes to transgender Americans.”

President Obama has previously hinted at his support for such a measure, and Secretary Carter said at a Pentagon Pride event last month that the military must get to “a place where no one serves in silence, and where we treat all our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with the dignity, and the respect, that they deserve,” according to NBC News. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that 15,500 transgender people currently serve in the armed forces.

TIME Innovation

How to Beat HIV

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

These are today's best ideas

1. How to beat HIV.

By Erika Check Hayden in Nature

2. The Pentagon wants to remake our military to be more like the Special Forces. It shouldn’t.

By Stephen Okin in Small Wars Journal

3. Can computers replace lawyers?

By Sudhin Thanawala in the Christian Science Monitor

4. See a crime? Livestream it!

By Umesh Yadav in Economic Times

5. Two teens invented a bathroom door handle that kills bacteria.

By Ellie Kincaid in Business Insider

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 Infectious Disease

Pentagon Accidentally Sends Live Anthrax to Multiple Labs

128627951
Getty Images Anthrax bacteria. Light micrograph of a section through tissue infected with anthrax bacteria (Bacillus anthracis). These Gram-positive bacteria (small red rods) are seen with cells (blue) with oval red nuclei. Commonly a livestock infection, B. anthracis

Officials say there is no risk to the public

The Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday that samples of live anthrax were unintentionally mailed to labs in nine states and South Korea, as officials had believed that the samples were dead.

Col. Steve Warren, the Pentagon’s acting press secretary, told reporters there were no suspected or confirmed cases of infection and no risk to the public, according to ABC News. Anthrax can cause severe illness and even death among people who come in contact with it; dead anthrax samples can be used for research.

The samples were apparently shipped from Dugway Proving Ground in Utah on April 30 to a military lab in Maryland, then distributed to labs in nine states. After a lab in Maryland found out their package included live samples, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was alerted.

The CDC and the Department of Defense are working together to investigate the matter.

[ABC News]

TIME Companies

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Is About to Tap a Huge New Market

Elon Musk SpaceX Dragon
Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduces SpaceX's Dragon V2 spacecraft, the company's next generation version of the Dragon ship designed to carry astronauts into space, at a press conference in Hawthorne, Calif. on May 29, 2014.

It'll take on Boeing and Lockheed

The U.S. Air Force certified SpaceX to launch satellites for the Pentagon, it was announced Tuesday.

This is significant news for Elon Musk’s 13-year-old aerospace company, which has long been involved in a court case over certification from the Pentagon. As the Washington Post reports, obtaining Pentagon certification means SpaceX can compete with United Launch Alliance, a joint space venture formed in 2006 by Lockheed Martin and Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

ULA provides launch services to government entities like NASA and the Department of Defense—customers SpaceX also wants to service.

The certification process began when SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in April of last year, arguing its bidding process for awarding contracts to launch Pentagon satellites had turned ULA into an unfair monopoly. (In 2012, the Air Force awarded 36 launches to ULA, which was the only contractor certified to launch under the EELV, or Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.) Musk framed the lawsuit as a broader effort to get future launches reopened to widespread competition.

The suit was a rare and risky example of a company suing the organization that would be its biggest customer if it won the suit. In January of this year, SpaceX dropped the lawsuit and the certification process began.

Now Musk has earned what he sought—the right to compete. It’s a big win for Musk and SpaceX, which last year won a contract to fly astronauts to NASA’s International Space Station. In a statement about earning Pentagon certification, Musk said it is an “important step.”

He’s not the only one that thinks so. The news is getting big reactions from major names in the defense industry. Republican Senator John McCain, for instance, said in a statement: “The certification of SpaceX as a provider for defense space launch contracts is a win for competition . . . I am hopeful that this and other new competition will help to bring down launch costs and end our reliance on Russian rocket engines that subsidizes Vladimir Putin and his cronies.”

Read next: Watch What It’s Like to Get Blasted to 100MPH in 1.2 Seconds

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME South China Sea

The South China Sea’s Ticking Time Bomb

Still image from United States Navy video shows a U.S. Navy crewman aboard a surveillance aircraft viewing a computer screen purportedly showing Chinese construction on the reclaimed land of Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands
Reuters from U.S. Navy A sailor aboard a P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane points out claimed Chinese construction on Fiery Island Reef during a flight last week.

Beijing is bulldozing sand into the eyes of the world

When it comes to international relations, there are many ways to change the situation on the ground. But the Chinese are trying a new one far off their coast: they are creating new ground.

It’s part of Beijing’s plan to extend its claim to 90% of the South China Sea, and now the Chinese government is ordering the U.S. and other nations to steer clear, or at least to seek permission before visiting the neighborhood.

Sure, it’s not a whole lot of land. China has dredged about 2,000 acres of once-submerged sand to enlarge five islets in the Spratly Islands between Vietnam and the Philippines. That’s a 0.00009% increase in the country’s total land mass of 2.3 billion acres or roughly three times the size of New York City’s Central Park.

But if China continues on its present course—and the international community doesn’t back down—military confrontation seems likely. Luckily, China must reinforce its military claims to the disputed islands before such a showdown, which gives each side time for negotiation.

China said Monday that it had formally complained to Washington about its “provocative behavior” following the flight of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane over the region last week. The Chinese had warned the a U.S. Navy P-8 surveillance plane eight times to leave Chinese airspace as it flew near Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys. The Navy plane refused.

“We urge the U.S. to correct its error, remain rational and stop all irresponsible words and deeds,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday. “Freedom of navigation and overflight by no means mean that foreign countries’ warships and military aircraft can ignore the legitimate rights of other countries as well as the safety of aviation and navigation.”

China’s claim of extended sovereignty is upsetting its neighbors, including the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, as well as Washington. But their denunciations will be little match for the changes coming to the South China Sea sandscape. Unlike U.S. and allied rhetoric about international law, the Chinese are literally making concrete claims in the Spratlys.

“They have manufactured land there at a staggering pace just in the last months,” U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris, who becomes commander of U.S. Pacific Command on Wednesday, tells Time. “They’re still going,” he adds. “They’ve also made massive construction projects on artificial islands for what are clearly, in my point of view, military purposes, including large airstrips and ports.”

So far, beyond words of warning to those getting too close to what China contends is its territory, it has only dredging gear, bulldozers and graders to enforce its claim. So the U.S. is ignoring it. But that, Pentagon officials believe, is all but certain to change. And as it changes, the stakes, and resulting tensions, will grow.

The U.S. Navy is weighing dispatching additional warships to the region to buttress its claim that these are international waters. Washington insists that contested sovereignty claims must be resolved through diplomacy and not dredging.

The Chinese digging is happening atop “submerged features that do not generate territorial claims,” David Shear, the Pentagon’s top Pacific civilian, told a Senate panel May 13. “So, it is difficult to see how Chinese behavior in particular comports with international law.”

Such legal niceties are not deterring Beijing. China is building a long airstrip and has deployed an early-warning radar on the Spratly’s Fiery Cross Reef. That will give the Chinese improved detection of what it claims are intruders into its national airspace.

U.S. Government

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pushed China’s claim of sovereignty further out into the South China Sea, where it conflicts with claims of local U.S. allies like the Philippines. The U.S. says it can fly within 12 miles of a nation’s coast, while China says its permission is needed for any flights coming within 200 miles.

The early-warning radar, U.S. officials believe, is only the first step in China’s quest to control one of the world’s most vital waterways. More than $5 trillion in goods passes through the South China Sea every year. It contains rich fishing grounds, and potentially great reserves of oil and other natural resources.

The sea is speckled with more than 30,000 islands, making conflicting territorial claims common. The Spratlys consist of some 750 islets and atolls. While spread across 164,000 square miles—the size of California—they total only 1.5 square miles.

The Chinese are likely to bolster their early-warning radar on Fiery Cross Reef with air-defense radars, U.S. Navy officials believe. Once early-warning radars detect incoming aircraft, they will hand off that information to the air-defense radars, which would allow the Chinese to track—and target—any incoming aircraft.

But air-defense radars and the blips they reveal on China’s radar screens are worthless without anything to back them up. So the air-defense radars, U.S. officials believe, ultimately will be tied into a network of air-defense missiles. They’ll be capable of shooting down any interlopers.

Once an air-defense network is in place, China will probably reinforce its claim to what it views as its growing archipelago by basing fighter aircraft there.

Shear, the Pentagon official, noted that China’s land grab is different than Russia’s now underway in Ukraine. “China is not physically seizing territory possessed by or controlled by another country,” he said. “They’re not evicting people from contested land features. They’re not nationalizing territory.”

But they are building an aircraft carrier some 1,000 miles from the Chinese mainland. No one knows better than the U.S. Navy the value of an airfield in the middle of an ocean.

Sure, it won’t be moveable. But it also won’t be sinkable.

TIME Veterans

Pearl Harbor’s ‘Unknown’ Dead to Be Exhumed and Identified Using DNA

This Dec. 5, 2012 photo at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu shows a gravestone of 7 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma
Audrey McAvoy—AP This Dec. 5, 2012 photo at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu shows a gravestone of 7 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma

"We will do so with dignity, respect and care”

The Pentagon said Tuesday that the bodies of up to 388 troops killed during the Pearl Harbor attacks, who are buried in “unknown” graves in Hawaii, will be disinterred and identified using the latest DNA technology.

Japanese torpedoes sank the U.S.S. Oklahoma, killing 429 servicemen, during the infamous offensive of December 1941. The sailors and Marines are entombed in Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, but will be examined at the Hawaii laboratory of the Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Accounting Agency after families were notified Tuesday morning.

The Pentagon is optimistic it can identify the dead with forensic evidence from DNA samples and medical or dental records furnished by relatives. It has already identified 41 servicemen postmortem.

“The Secretary of Defense and I will work tirelessly to ensure your loved ones’ remains will be recovered, identified and returned to you as expeditiously as possible, and we will do so with dignity, respect and care,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.

All identified remains will receive military funeral honors upon return to families.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 14

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

1. Have the missing Nigerian schoolgirls been trained to fight?

By Amnesty International

2. Why more roads means more traffic, not less.

By Matthew Beck and Michiel Bliemer in the Conversation

3. Let’s face it. There’s no perfect deal to be made with Iran.

By Pierre Atlas in the Indianapolis Star

4. Does more spending guarantee a better military?

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in the Week

5. What if we could detect some types of cancer with a simple breath test?

By Smitha Mundasad at the BBC

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 20

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

1. The prison system is costly and rarely rehabilitates prisoners. Imagine a better way to transition inmates to freedom.

By Mark A.R. Kleiman, Angela Hawken, & Ross Halperin in Vox

2. Lawmakers should listen to the budget hawks, not the defense hawks.

By Robert Gard and Angela Canterbury in Defense One

3. For teenage girls, it’s possible to shift “attention bias” — literally focusing them on happy faces instead of sad ones — and fight the risk of depression.

By Jennifer Kahn in Pacific Standard

4. The next generation of American workers isn’t prepared to take over the jobs of departing baby boomers. The cost of this failure will be enormous.

By Jennifer Bradley in the Brookings Essay

5. As a four-year college education slips further out of reach, community college has some important lessons to teach us.

By Josh Wyner in the Miami Herald

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 National Security

Al-Shabab Leader Killed in Drone Strike

Adan Garar is believed to have masterminded the 2013 Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi

An American drone strike has killed a leader of Somali militant group al-Shabab, the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday.

Adan Garar was hit by a drone missile near the town of Diinsoor, southern Somalia, on March 12, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

Garar is believed to be behind the 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people.

The U.S. describes Garar as “a key operative” who was “responsible for coordinating al-Shabab’s external operations, which target U.S. persons and other Western interests.”

The Pentagon believes he “posed a major threat to the region and international community.”

Just hours before Garar’s death was confirmed, al-Shabab, a militant Islamist organization, attacked a shop in the Kenyan town of Wajir, killing four people.

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