TIME language

Russia’s Spin Job of the MH17 Crash Brings Back Soviet Memories

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia, July 16, 2014. Alexei Nikolskyi—Ria Novosti/Reuters

Moscow's response to the attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is a return to the ham-handed ways of the Soviet days — and that portends bad things

A Russian disaster is almost never followed by Russian candor. This is true of most countries, but most countries are at least adept at explaining themselves — even if disingenuously — as the George W. Bush Administration showed with its flood-the-airwaves spin campaign after the weapons of mass destruction that were the casus belli of the Iraq War turned out not to exist. Not so Russia, and — as TIME’s Simon Shuster reports — its response to the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the murder of the 298 people on board is one more illustration of that fact. Even after what are purported to be recordings between a pro-Russian rebel and a Russian military officer discussing the destruction of the airliner surfaced, Moscow remained in defiant denial — even flipping the script to blame Ukraine. “This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took a lower road, going for the ad hominem: “With regard to the claims raised by Kiev, that it was almost us who did it,” he said to a Russian state-run news channel, “in fact I haven’t heard any truthful statements from Kiev over the past few months.” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described this response with elegant understatement, labeling it “deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.” Soviet Russia was even more ham-handed in its defense of itself. A few days after the April 26, 1986, explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Soviet Ambassador Eugene Pozdnyakov appeared with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline. When Koppel asked him why Russia initially covered up the accident, coming clean only when radiation readings in Europe revealed the truth, Pozdnyakov blamed the calendar. “It happened on Saturday,” he said, “and the governments of proper countries are usually on holidays on weekends.” Koppel responded with frank incredulity, scolding the diplomat with a simple, “Oh, come on!” In the current crisis, Moscow could at least call on experience, since — depressingly, remarkably — it’s not even the first time Russia has been implicated in shooting down a civilian passenger plane. That first time occurred on Sept. 1, 1983, when a military interceptor jet blew Korean Airlines Flight 007 out of the sky, killing 269 people, after the plane accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace. Moscow hedged and fudged and blamed the Korean pilot for being where he wasn’t supposed to be, and finally decided to fake transparency, releasing what were said to be air to ground transcripts between the interceptor plane and the base, intending to show, if nothing else, that the pilot seemed confused about what was happening. At one point during the attack, he was said to have exclaimed “yolki palki,” which TIME described then as “an exceedingly mild oath,” and indeed it is. Its literal translation is “sticks of the fir tree.” And it’s English equivalent? “Fiddlesticks.” The fighter pilot has not been born who speaks that way when engaging the enemy. Wordplay amounts to little for the 298 people killed in the new attack — or for the 298 grieving families. But it amounts to a lot as the rest of the world tries to reckon with Russia’s new aggression and its return to its old, opaque ways. The attack on the plane was over quickly; the aftermath promises to play out slowly and uncertainly.

TIME politics

What the Swedish Model Gets Wrong About Prostitution

TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'Norway-prostitutio
A prostitute working on the street in central Oslo. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

Making the purchase of sex a crime strips women of agency and autonomy. It should be decriminalized altogether.

Prostitution is known as the “world’s oldest profession,” and whether it should be criminalized – or not – is one of the oldest debates among social reformers. Today, a growing consensus around the world claims the sex trade perpetuates male violence against women, and so customers should be held as criminals. On the contrary, it’s decriminalizing prostitution that could make women—in and outside the sex industry—safer.

This modern debate has roots in Victorian England, which branded prostitutes as wicked, depraved and a public nuisance. Yet a shift in social thought throughout the era introduced the prostitute as a victim, often lured or forced into sexual slavery by immoral men.

Today, we’re seeing a global shift in prostitution attitudes that looks startlingly like the one in Victorian England. Many areas have adopted or are considering what’s known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic Model,” which criminalizes the buying, rather than the selling, of sexual services (because, as the logic goes, purchasing sex is a form of male violence against women, thus only customers should be held accountable). In this nouveau-Victorian view, “sexual slavery” has become “sex trafficking,” and it’s common to see media referring to brothel owners, pimps, and madams as “sex traffickers” even when those working for them do so willingly.

The Swedish model (also adopted by Iceland and Norway and under consideration in France, Canada and the UK) may seem like a step in the right direction—a progressive step, a feminist step. But it’s not. Conceptually, the system strips women of agency and autonomy. Under the Swedish model, men “are defined as morally superior to the woman,” notes author and former sex worker Maggie McNeill in an essay for the Cato Institute. “He is criminally culpable for his decisions, but she is not.” Adult women are legally unable to give consent, “just as an adolescent girl is in the crime of statutory rape.”

From a practical standpoint, criminalizing clients is just the flip side of the same old coin. It still focuses law enforcement efforts and siphons tax dollars toward fighting the sex trade. It still means arresting, fining and jailing people over consensual sex. If we really want to try something new—and something that has a real chance at decreasing violence against women—we should decriminalize prostitution altogether.

How would this work, exactly? “Decriminalizing” may sound like a less radical step than “legalization,” but it’s actually quite the opposite. Decriminalization means the removal of all statutory penalties for prostitution and things related to its facilitation, such as advertising. It does not mean there are no municipal codes about how a sex-work business can be run or that general codes about public behavior do not apply, explains Mistress Matisse, a dominatrix, writer and prominent sex-worker rights advocate. Legalization, on the other hand, is a stricter regime, wherein the state doesn’t prosecute prostitution per se but takes a heavy-handed approach to its regulation. “This is how it works in Nevada, for example, where legal brothels exist, but one may not just be an independent sex worker,” says Matisse. Under both schemes, forcing someone into prostitution (aka sex trafficking) and being involved in the sale or purchase of sex from a minor would obviously remain a crime.

But other crimes supposedly associated with the sex trade could be reduced if prostitution were decriminalized. Research has shown incidences of rape to decrease with the availability of prostitution. One recent study of data from Rhode Island—where a loophole allowed legal indoor prostitution in 2003-2009—found the state’s rape rate declined significantly over this period, especially in urban areas. (The gonorrhea rate also went down.) “Decriminalization could have potentially large social benefits for the population at large–not just sex market participants,” wrote economists Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah in a working paper about their research.

In New Zealand, street prostitution, escort services, pimping and brothels were decriminalized in 2003, and so far sex workers and the New Zealand government have raved about the arrangement. A government review in 2008 found the overall number of sex workers had not gone up since prostitution became legal, nor had instances of illegal sex-trafficking. The most significant change was sex workers enjoying safer and better working conditions. Researchers also found high levels of condom use and a very low rate of HIV among New Zealand sex workers.

The bottom line on decriminalization is that it is a means of harm reduction.

Keeping prostitution illegal is done in the name of women, yet it only perpetuates violence against them while expanding the reach of the carceral state. Decriminalization would end the punitive system wherein sex workers—a disproportionately female, minority and transgender group—are being separated from their families, thrown in jail, and saddled with court costs and criminal records over blow-jobs. It would also allow them to take more measures of precaution (like organizing in brothels) and give them access to the legal protections available other workers (like being able to go to the police when they’ve been wronged). Yet for Swedish Model advocates, only the total eradication of the sex trade will “save” women from the violence and exploitation associated with it.

Certainly some in the sex trade – like minors, for example – are exploited, abused and forced into prostitution, while others aren’t literally trafficked but feel trapped in the industry by economic necessity. These are the people who should receive attention, and resources, from social reformers. And there would be a lot more resources to devote if we left consenting adults to exchange money for sex in peace.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a staff editor for Reason.com. She blogs often at Reason’s Hit & Run and enjoys covering food issues, gender, Gen Y, reproductive rights, intellectual property, sex work and things people are talking about on Twitter. This piece originally appeared at The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Opinion

Todd Akin Still Doesn’t Get What’s Wrong With Saying ‘Legitimate Rape’

Todd Akin
Then-U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO)) address the media on September 24, 2012 in Kirkwood, Missouri. (Whitney Curtis--Getty Images) Whitney Curtis—Getty Images

He says it's a law enforcement term. It's not.

Former Missouri Congressman Todd Akin went on MSNBC Thursday morning to try to explain his much-maligned comments from 2012 in which he said abortions wouldn’t be necessary for rape victims. “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” he told a St. Louis TV station in 2012.

Akin was on MSNBC to promote his new book, Firing Back, but he also took it as an opportunity to explain his earlier flub. “Legitimate rape is a law enforcement term, it’s an abbreviation for ‘legitimate case of rape,’” he told Chuck Todd. “A woman calls a police station, the police investigate, she says ‘I’ve been raped,’ they investigate that. So before any of the facts are in, they call it a legitimate case of rape,” explained Aiken.

 

But is ‘”legitimate rape” really a law enforcement term? We asked some experts.

“I’ve taught police officers, and worked with police officers on every continent in the world, and that’s something I’ve never heard in my 50 years in law enforcement,” says Dr. James A. Williams, former Chief of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces for the U.S Department of Justice, who also worked in municipal law enforcement in New Jersey. “I’ve never heard of that. Never.”

Richard Lichten, a veteran of the LA County Sheriff’s Department and expert on sexual assault investigations agrees:

“I have 30 years of experience, I’m qualified to testify in federal court on the way to investigate sexual assault crimes, and I’ve never heard of that,” said Lichten. “In all my life I’ve never heard of that.”

Nonetheless, Akin believes that everyone took what he said out of context. “This was intentionally misunderstood and twisted for political purposes. It doesn’t make any sense to say ‘a conservative is saying that rape is legitimate,’ that doesn’t even add up.”

But the real problem isn’t that people think conservatives are pro-rape, it’s that Akin’s comment sounds like victim-blaming. By calling some rapes “legitimate,” he is (perhaps unintentionally) implying that some aren’t. And that has lead his critics to say that Aikin wants to make sure that a woman’s claim of rape is “legitimate” and that they aren’t just making it up to get a free abortion or something.

Once the topic of abortion came up, the interview took an even more controversial turn. When asked point-blank whether rape victims should be allowed to have abortions if they get pregnant, Akin turned it around. “Should the child conceived in rape have the same right to live as a child conceived in love?” he said. “I had a number of people in my campaign that were children…who were conceived in rape.” That assertion was not immediately verifiable.

Chuck Todd (rightly) pointed out that if Akin had staffers who were conceived from rape, then wouldn’t that disprove his theory that women can “shut that whole thing down?” Yes, according to logic, but all Akin had to say was: “I believe that little children are special.”

 

 

TIME politics

The Border and Obama

The Week That Was From Latin America Photo Gallery
A young girl from Honduras waits for a northbound freight train to depart in Mexico as she makes her way to the U.S. border Eduardo Verdugo—AP

It's time to stop running away from the nation's troubles

The woman from Honduras was tiny and extremely pregnant. “When are you due?” asked Sister Norma Pimentel, the director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley. “Ya,” the woman replied in Spanish: “Already”–she was past due. She had left Honduras to save her daughter, who is 12–peak poaching age for the killer gangs that are wreaking havoc in that country these days. “A man came into our house and tried to kill my girl with a machete,” the woman said. “I stopped him.” She showed Sister Norma her right hand, which was slashed down the middle and had healed crumpled. The man also slashed her daughter’s arm, but they managed to fend him off. The woman paid a coyote to get herself and her daughter across the border as soon as possible.

It seems clear to Sister Norma–and to the hundreds of volunteers who staff her processing center on the grounds of the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas–that this summer’s tide of Central Americans crossing the border are refugees, not immigrants. They have fled, terrified, from countries that are the Latino equivalent of Syria or Iraq–but in Central America it’s anarchy, not religious fanaticism, they are fleeing, the rampaging of militant drug gangs. The refugees here are a lucky subset: they have verifiable family members in the U.S. The Border Patrol releases them to Sister Norma with bus tickets to the places where their families are living. Catholic Charities then provides a way station, a place to take a breath, take a shower and get a meal, new clothes and a medical exam. The center processes as many as 200 families a day. When a family arrives, the entire staff applauds. No doubt, Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh would be appalled, but when you see the relief and smiles and tears on the faces, which seem far more humble than menacing, you cannot help but be moved.

A woman named Libby Casanova brings her four children to volunteer every day. She is a pathologist in the real world but does intake at the center; she’s the first person the refugees encounter. “Many of them start to cry when they hear the applause,” she says. “They are so grateful.” Casanova brought her children on the first day so they could see that not everyone was as fortunate as they are–and the kids insisted on coming back and volunteering every day. “This place is making the entire community stronger,” Sister Norma says. And there is an infectious spiritual joy in the air. As Sister Norma says, “Jesus did not say, ‘I was hungry and you asked for my papers.’ “

Barack Obama should see the Catholic Charities mission in McAllen. He should also have a town meeting with the Tea Party nativists who are so angry and threatened by the rush of refugees–43,933 unaccompanied children alone since October–who began to appear from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. His job, after all, is to rise above the rancor and, well, lead. You don’t do this by making a speech to a favored audience. You do it by taking action, setting a personal example. All sorts of Protestant congregations are sending volunteers to Sacred Heart–perhaps he could encourage a Tea Party group to do the same. The President has gone to the scene of other human tragedies. He has acknowledged the suffering personally in the past. But not now, and you have to wonder why.

True political courage is near extinct. I saw the real thing for the first time on the night of April 4, 1968, when riots broke out across the country after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Senator Robert Kennedy decided to go into the heart of the Indianapolis ghetto–he was running for President at the time–and talk to the people. His aides and the local police pleaded with him not to do it. He was putting his life in danger, but he believed he had a responsibility to show up. He spoke for only five minutes, without a text–you can watch it on YouTube–and he calmed the crowd by quoting Aeschylus about the experience of excruciating pain that leads to deeper wisdom. Indianapolis was one of the few major cities that remained quiet that night.

Nowadays politicians are swaddled by their media consultants, who determine whether it is “safe” to be “courageous.” But acts of courage don’t come with a money-back guarantee. They are courageous because they’re potentially dangerous or, more likely, embarrassing. Courage’s reward comes subtly, in the form of trust as the public learns that a politician is willing to take risks to tell the truth. Obama is currently wandering about the country, trying to meet average people, but the choreography is more stringent than the Bolshoi’s. He said he didn’t want to go to the border because it would only be a “photo op” … on the same day his office published a photo of the President and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper shooting pool. Who choreographed that?

There is a “teachable moment” available on the border, where there doesn’t seem to be much chaos these days. There have been fewer people in general coming across in recent years, but there is a specific “Other Than Mexican” (OTM in Border Patrol lingo) humanitarian crisis. The President could even take the opportunity to call a Central American summit to organize a peacemaking force for Honduras, which has become a regional security threat. Indeed, he could host it in Laredo. It is one thing to oppose intervention halfway across the world, in cultures thoroughly alien to our own; it is quite another to work with our neighbors to deal with a humanitarian disaster that is spilling across all our borders. This is one “foreign policy” issue that the public really cares about.

These are precisely the sort of things that Obama doesn’t seem to do anymore. There has been a skein of stories indicating he’s thrown in the towel. He’s so tired of head-banging with Republicans that he has taken refuge in late-night dinners with celebrities and intellectuals. Robert Kennedy did a lot of that too. But Kennedy never gave the impression that politics was distasteful, beneath him, as Obama too frequently does. Kennedy was all about passion; Obama seems all about decorum. He needs to go to the border–on a lot of issues. If he’s going to accomplish anything in the last two years of his presidency, he’s going to have to change his style, which will be near impossible for a man as entrenched behind his flacks-in-jackets as the President is. He’s right about photo ops. Enough already. But there are other “ops”–study ops, passion ops, conversation ops. He needs to do something dramatic to win back the country.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/politics

TIME foreign affairs

Don’t Be Fooled, Germany’s Outrage at U.S. Spying Is Just for Show

GERMANY-US-RUSSIA-INTELLIGENCE-NSA-PARLIAMENT
Activists wearing a mask of fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden (R) and of German Chancellor Angela Merkel take part in a demonstration in favor of an appearance by Snowden as a witness in German NSA hearings held in the German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, outside the Reichstag building in Berlin on May 8, 2014. ADAM BERRY—AFP/Getty Images

It's unlikely Germany didn't know what the U.S. was up to, and kicking out a local CIA chief is largely political theatrics for a German citizenry still fuming over last year's revelations of extensive NSA surveillance, says former CIA lawyer John Rizzo.

After serving more than three decades as a lawyer at the CIA, I retired from the Agency nearly five years ago. Since then, I’ve been like everyone else in the outside world—all I know about what the CIA is reportedly up to comes from the media. For someone who had been privy to the most sensitive national security secrets for so long, I’ve found my new existence at once liberating and frustrating. I no longer have to help manage the messy controversies in which the CIA seems to be constantly embroiled, but I also wonder whether all the spy “flaps” I read about now in the newspapers really tell the true, or at least the complete, story.

So it is with the latest crisis du jour, the German government’s announcement that it was expelling the alleged local CIA station chief in the wake of the Agency’s “recruitment” of maybe one or two Germans working inside the government in Berlin. Germany’s official reaction has been outrage and hurt – how could the U.S. do such a sneaky, underhanded thing like spying on one of its closest allies? Critics in both countries publicly fret that a crucial bilateral relationship may have suffered lasting harm. But amid all the ensuing sturm und drang, when I read the press accounts, my experience tells me that there’s more going on here than the headlines indicate.

First, make no mistake: a key U.S. ally booting an alleged CIA station chief out of a country with such orchestrated public fanfare is a big deal indeed. I can’t recall anything quite like it happening during my 34 years at Langley. I do remember a number of occasions when a friendly foreign government, for any number of reasons, including a botched or “blown” covert operation inside its borders, would make no bones about how much it disliked or distrusted a senior in-country CIA representative.

In the current case, the Germans could have expressed their ire through private back channels to Washington and our guy would likely be gone. But it would be handled discreetly, the way spy organizations on the same side deal with each other on something like this. That political leaders in Berlin chose to trumpet the expulsion from the rafters tells me that the target audience here was not the American government but rather a German citizenry still fuming over revelations dating from last year, courtesy of Edward Snowden, of extensive NSA surveillance activities there. But setting up the alleged local CIA chief as a bogeyman and publicity ploy heretofore has been a tactic employed by the U.S.’s adversaries, not its allies.

At the same time, there is an unmistakable “Captain Renault” quality to Berlin’s protestations of being “shocked, shocked” at what CIA was up to. The BND – the German equivalent of the CIA — is among the most sophisticated and coldly pragmatic intelligence organizations in the free world. Surely it has long assumed that other countries, including the U.S., were seeking to obtain secret inside information on Germany’s plans, intentions, motivations, etc. That’s what spy outfits have always done and are expected to do to each other, whether it be friend or foe. So take the German politicians’ laments for what they are: largely political theatrics. I bet the BND does; in fact, I suspect its career leadership is already quietly passing the word to its CIA counterparts that, “Hey, don’t pay any attention to the hoopla. We’re all professionals. Let’s forget about this and keep working together.”

Company Man jacket image

I have seen this phenomenon before when I was on the inside at the CIA for all those years. Like in the 1980s, when CIA was covertly arming the Contras in Nicaragua, to the publicly expressed consternation – but private encouragement and sometimes secret support – of U.S. allies around the world. Or in the early post-9/11 years, when leading politicians in many of the same countries took to the public airwaves to assail CIA terrorist interrogation techniques like waterboarding as illegal and barbaric, while at the same the spy organizations under their jurisdiction were quietly imploring the Agency to ignore the noise and keep the river of intelligence derived from those techniques flowing in their direction.

Sure, this all sounds cynical, but spies often have to have to maintain a healthy level of cynicism to do their jobs. So no one should blame our friends in Berlin for behaving the way they have. After all, it was my former employer that apparently violated one of the most cynical but enduring tenets in the espionage business: don’t get caught.

John Rizzo had a decorated career at the CIA, culminating with seven years as the Agency’s chief legal officer. Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA is his first book.

TIME States

California May Vote on ‘Six States’ Plan in 2016

Campaign claims to have enough signatures to get proposal on the state ballot

An initiative to break California into six separate states has proven to be more than just fodder for late night talk show jokes, after receiving enough signatures to be placed on the November 2016 ballot, the campaign announced Monday.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper is the initiative’s only backer thus far, having contributed $4.9 million of his own money to propel the plan forward. But that funding has apparently gained results. Campaign spokesperson Roger Salazar said Monday that they had accumulated more than the 808,000 signatures necessary to gain placement on the ballot, Reuters reports, and it will be filed Tuesday.

“It’s important because it will help us create a more responsive, more innovative and more local government, and that ultimately will end up being better for all of Californians,” Salazar told Reuters. “The idea … is to create six states with responsive local governments – states that are more representative and accountable to their constituents.

If the plan is carried out, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office reports that Draper’s plan would create America’s richest state (Silicon Valley, made up of Monterey, Santa Crus, and most of the Bay Area), and America’s poorest state (Central California, which includes Fresno, Stockton, and Bakersfield).

The other four states would include Jefferson (Humboldt and Medocino counties), North California (Sonoma, Napa, and the Sierra Nevada Area), West California (Santa Barbara and Los Angeles), and South California (San Diego and the Inland Empire.)

Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio strongly opposed the plan.

“This is a colossal and divisive waste of time, energy and money that will hurt the California brand… [and its] ability to attract business and jobs,” Maviglio told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Draper is putting his millions into this effort to split up our state rather than help us face our challenges.”

Further information, including the number of signatures received, will be announced in a news conference Tuesday.

 

TIME North Korea

North Korea Pushes Farmers For More

North Korea Feeding the Nation
A North Korean woman walks on a trail through a rice paddy southeast of Pyongyang, North Korea on June 21, 2014. For more than four decades, farming in the North was characterized by heavy use of mechanization swiftly followed by chronic fuel and equipment shortages and stopgap policies. David Guttenfelder—AP

North Korea needs sustainable agriculture as much as it needs nuclear power to keep enemies at bay, which has led to a push for self-sufficient farming — but for it to succeed the country would have to sanction capitalist-style reforms

Rim Ok Hua looks out over her patch of farm just across the Tumen River from China, where rows of lush, green young potato plants stretch into the distance.

As North Korean farmers go, Rim is exceptionally lucky. The Changpyong Cooperative Farm where she works is mechanized, has 500 pigs to provide fertilizer and uses the best available seeds, originally brought in from Switzerland. In most fields throughout the country, farmers work the fields by hand, or behind bony oxen.

However, this year, even more than most, they are all under intense pressure to feed a hungry nation.

Leader Kim Jong Un has succeeded in establishing his country as a nuclear power, and even sent a satellite into orbit. Now, with prolonged international sanctions and largesse from former communist allies mostly gone, Kim is calling on farmers to win him another battle. In 2012, and again this year, he promised the nation it would never face famine again.

But can isolated and impoverished North Korea ever escape the ghosts of famines past?

For more than four decades, farming in the North was characterized by heavy use of mechanization swiftly followed by chronic fuel and equipment shortages and stopgap policies. That legacy has left its mark not only on the North Korean psyche, but on its countryside.

Hillsides denuded of trees for terraced farming plots produce little but increase the risk of damage from erosion or landslides. Goats, which are everywhere after a mass goat-breeding campaign in 1996, eat their way into hillside shrubs, which makes the landslide problem even worse. Overuse of chemical fertilizers has trashed soil fertility in many areas.

North Korea has struggled to obtain tractor fuel for more than two decades. Housewives, college students and workers brought in from the cities, along with military units, make up for the lack of mechanization at crucial times.

There are many less tangible problems: state-controlled distribution, top-down planning and a quota system that doesn’t fully encourage innovation and individual effort. All these factors make North Korea’s agricultural sector a very fragile ecosystem. Almost as soon as this season’s rice was transplanted, the North’s Korean Central News Agency reported that tens of thousands of hectares of farmland had already been damaged by drought.

Even so, North Korea is by no means an agricultural lost cause.

As the summer growing months approach, the North Korean countryside is bursting with the bright greens of young rice, corn, soybeans and cabbage. On hillier ground lie orchards for apples and pears. Whole villages are devoted to growing mushrooms — another “magic bullet” innovation from the 1990s. It seems every valley and flatland, each nook and cranny, has been turned into a plot for some sort of crop.

In the minds of North Korea’s leaders, agricultural self-sufficiency is as much a key to the nation’s survival as nuclear weapons are to keeping its foes at bay. North Korea needed massive international aid during the devastating famine of the 1990s.

There are some signs of improvement. The combined overall crop production for this year and 2013 is expected to increase by 5 percent, to 5.98 million tons, according to a joint report compiled by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program. The report, released last November, estimated the North would still need to import 340,000 tons of cereals.

About 16 million of North Korea’s 25 million people rely on state-provided rations of cereals, and stunting from chronic malnutrition is estimated to be as high as 40 percent in some areas. But according to U.N. monitors, North Koreans have been getting larger rations of rice, potatoes and corn over the past two years. The production gap in the FAO-WFP report, meanwhile, is the smallest North Korea has seen in about two decades.

North Korean farmers are learning sustainable farming, with more use of manure and better compost, said agricultural consultant Randall Ireson. He recommended rotating and planting a wider variety of crops, particularly soybeans, and using organic fertilizer.

“No magic technology is needed,” he said. “Just good ‘best farming practices.’”

In rural North Korea, some of those changes are well underway.

Nestled in high country near the scenic Mount Paektu, the Taehongdan district became a national priority development area for potatoes around 2002. The Changpyong farm is one of its shining successes.

“We don’t need chemical fertilizer,” boasted farmer Jo Kwang Il, one of the cooperative’s 500 workers. “We have pigs to produce tons of manure a year. They also provide meat, so that benefits our whole community.”

For the whole agricultural sector to succeed, more systemic, and politically risky, changes may also be needed, such as relaxing central government command and bringing state-set prices for crops more in line with what farmers can get for surplus sold in farmers’ markets. Farms and divisions within them could then afford to reinvest their profits in small walk-behind tractors, rice-transplanting machines, fuel or fertilizer. This kind of action, however, could move North Korea closer to sanctioning capitalist-style markets and reforms, which it has long resisted.

In the meantime, as she stands near her potato patch, Rim says it’s been nothing but rain here in the high country.

“The weather hasn’t been so good lately,” she said, squinting into the glare of the overcast, late-morning sky. But then, after a pause: “All of us farmers are working harder than ever. It will be a good harvest this year.”

 

TIME Tech

The Future Internet World Order

Pay attention to the "swing states" that will determine the future of Internet governance, which depends on a reshuffling of the prevailing world order.

In the future, who – or what – will govern the Internet? The answer to that question could also shed light on one of the biggest foreign policy questions of the decade: As power is shifting among states and diffusing, what is the future of the world order?

That first question was in the spotlight in 2012, right around the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. It was the first time in nearly a decade that the topic of Internet governance attracted major international media attention. The conference provided a snapshot of the status quo: It ended in a diplomatic éclat with 89 states, including Russia and China, signing a new telecommunications treaty and 55 countries, including the United States, the vast majority of OECD members and several others such as Mongolia, India and Peru, publicly opposing it. The conference became the latest showdown of the ongoing struggle over the future of the Internet, with some countries led by Russia and China seeking greater governmental control and others supporting an Internet governance model driven by civil society, the private sector and governments.

Caught in the middle are the “swing states”– countries that have not decided which vision for the future of the Internet they will support. Yet, the outcome of this debate ultimately depends on these states – the ones that have not yet firmly staked out a position and who represent a significant share of the world’s population and economy.

The future of the world order, too, depends on a set of “swing states.” In 2011, G. John Ikenberry, an international relations theorist at Princeton, published his influential article “The Future of the Liberal World Order,” in Foreign Affairs arguing that though the composition of world power is changing, the liberal international order and its liberal and democratic norms are alive and well. The events in Ukraine reignited this debate, as some point to the ongoing conflict as an evidence of the demise of this same world order. They say that these norms are eroding and increasingly contested. So which is it? Again – the answer will come from the swing states. Writing in the Washington Quarterly in Winter 2013, Richard Fontaine and Daniel M. Kliman note that the direction these countries go “may, together, decisively influence the trajectory of the current international order.”

In a new study, we scrutinize the role of swing states in the wake of the discord at WCIT in 2012. Our report Tipping the Scale moves beyond previous analyses that have focused on predefined groups of countries such as the “IBSA,” “BRICS” or “MINTs” by applying a more systematic approach using the voting record at the WCIT as a baseline. We examined the 193 UN member states using a range of indicators to identify a core group of 30 swing states that we believe will be the global game-changers. Our findings will hopefully serve as a checklist to compare current efforts and to inform future strategic planning.

While it is not surprising to find India, Brazil and South Africa among the key 30 swing states, some of our findings raise interesting questions. For example, why did Belarus, “Europe’s last dictatorship,” as some have called it, vote against the Internet regulations from that Dubai conference while most of the other authoritarian regimes voted for them? Why did Brazil vote for them in spite of a vibrant civil society supporting multistakeholderism? And what about Turkey, Mexico and South Korea, the only OECD members voting for the regulations in spite of having endorsed the OECD’s Principles for Internet Policy-Making, which explicitly reference multistakeholder cooperation? And, critically, what do these voting records tell us about other political realities in each country?

Ultimately, this Internet governance debate is embedded in the larger systemic shift – the reshuffling of the world order. Take Brazil and India, two of the countries that have attracted greater attention during this debate, not only with regard to the future of the Internet but the future of the international order. Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Ghana and Malaysia also are on our list and deserve more attention. Their behavior shapes what norms and institutions will govern our lives in the future, including finance, post-2015 development goals, international security – and the future of the Internet.

Tim Maurer is a research fellow at New America, the focuses on cyberspace and international affairs at New America. Robert Morgus is a research associate at the Open Technology Institute, where he provides research and writing support on cyber space and international affairs. This piece originally appeared at The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Media

Bloggers, Surveillance and Obama’s Orwellian State

President Obama Delivers Statement On Veterans Affairs Scandal
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) arrives to make a statement to the news media about the recent problems at the Veterans Affairs Department with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House May 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Advancements in technology have fueled this White House's obsession with controlling the message.

Jay Carney is free. But not loose – at least so far. After resigning as the press secretary for President Obama on June 20, Carney gave insight into the Obama administration’s handling of classified documents, and responded to criticism that this administration has been the most Orwellian in recent history.

“I know — because I covered them — that this was said of Clinton and Bush, and it will probably be said of the next White House,” said Carney in a recent New York Times Magazine interview. “I think a little perspective is useful…It is a serious, serious matter to leak classified information. Some of the debate around this kind of forgets how serious that is.”

But, it could also be the changing nature of the relationship between the media and the White House. At a recent event at the New America Foundation, journalists and historians challenged Carney, arguing that this White House has been more secret than previous occupants.

“Increasingly, the Obama White House has become so brittle, and so controlling of the message, that people are afraid to respond to me,” said Kimberly Dozier, a former Associated Press reporter. She was one of the journalists whose phone records were obtained by the Department of Justice last spring during its investigation into a leak of classified information about a failed Al-Qaeda plot. The scope of that investigation, some critics said, was unprecedented overreach.

According to ProPublica, the Obama administration has filed eight cases under the Espionage Act, which criminalizes disclosing information harmful to national security. Before the Obama administration, only three known cases had ever been charged under the act.

But some say that the crackdown by the Obama administration is not due to an extraordinary effort, but rather due to advancements in surveillance.

“[Bush administration] lawyers told me that they wanted to prosecute as many leaks then, but technology had not moved on to the point where it is today, where it is so easy to track peoples’ electronic footprint,” said Dozier, who is now a contributing writer at The Daily Beast. “There are simply more tools for the Department of Justice now than they had back then.”

Thom Shanker, the Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times, noted that his employer has implemented rigorous standards to balance the security risks of reporting classified information with the public’s right to know.

“When we reported on WikiLeaks, we had conversations with all of the relevant agencies, and the takeaway is that the American public learned how it was operating,” said Shanker. “We asked then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was a former C.I.A. director, what he thought about the WikiLeaks story, and he said, ‘As an intelligence professional, I am very upset whenever this happens, but I can tell you that I don’t see any specific damage to our national security programs because of the way the information was handled.’”

But as citizen journalism – people without an official press affiliation reporting on personal blogs – becomes more popular, the way the military and intelligence community is reported on could shift. Random bloggers need not follow the professional standards by which journalists abide.

Matthew Pinsker, a professor of history at Dickinson College, pointed out that this “new” form of journalism is a throwback to previous models that did not value objectivity and impartiality. In some ways, bloggers use the same practices of 19th Century pamphleteers, where anybody with a hand-crank could stand on a corner and shout to a group of people.

If these bloggers can’t hold themselves to the same standards of journalists in the 20th Century, “maybe the Obama administration is justified in pursuing leakers in a harsher way,” Pinsker said.

Regardless, as both the news industry and surveillance technology continue to evolve, the White House will have to work harder to determine which offenses merit harsher tactics – to balance national security interests with respect for the Fourth Estate.

“The government really needs to get its message out to the American people, and it knows that the best way to do that is by using the American news media,” said Shanker. “The relationship between the government and the media is like a marriage; it is a dysfunctional marriage to be sure, but we stay together for the kids.”

Justin Lynch is the Social Media Coordinator at the New America Foundation. Outside of New America, Justin is the Youth Ambassador to the United Nations for Voices of African Mothers, where he works to promote gender equality and educational opportunity in West Africa. This piece appeared originally at The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Religion

More Muslims Approve of Obama Than Any Other Religious Group

President Barack Obama in Texas
U.S. President Barack Obama the legendary Paramount Theater in Austin on July 10, 2014. Bob Daemmrich—Corbis

Mormons are the least approving group

More than 70 percent of Muslim-Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance, a higher percentage than that of any other religious group, according to data released by Gallup Friday. On the other end of the spectrum, only 18 percent of Mormons said they approve of the President’s performance.

Overall, the data suggests a sharp religious division. Non-Christians are much more likely to approve of Obama’s performance than their Christian counterparts — minorities of Protestants, Catholics and Mormons approve of the President while majorities of Jewish, Muslim, non-religious, and other non-Christian people do so.

The data also show that most Americans continue to identify as Christians, with approximately 50 percent saying they are Protestant and 25 percent saying they are Catholic.

Obama’s approval rating across all groups stands at 43 percent.

The data, complied from 88,000 interviews, was collected during interviews for Gallup’s daily tracking poll during the first six months of 2014.

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