TIME politics

Former Virginia Governor: My Dysfunctional Marriage Proves I’m Innocent

Bob McDonnell, Maureen McDonnell
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, accompanied by his wife, Maureen, speaks during a news conference in Richmond, Va., Jan. 21, 2014. Steve Helber—AP

Defense lawyers say the gov's wife accepted gifts because she had a crush on a political donor. Will the jury buy it? We asked the experts.

Lawyers for former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, argued Tuesday that the couple didn’t conspire to take over $165,000 in cash, shopping trips, and vacations from a wealthy donor, but instead only accepted the gifts because Mrs. McDonnell had a “crush” on the donor.

McDonnell, who left office in January, is accused of taking cash and gifts from Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in return for help promoting his dietary supplement company. But the couple’s lawyers are arguing that the Maureen McDonnell let Williams pay for expensive shopping trips and vacations because she had a “crush” on the charismatic businessman, and was unhappy in her marriage to the Governor. “Unlike the other man in her life, Jonnie Williams paid attention to Maureen McDonnell,” her defense attorney William Burck said. The couple face over 20 years in prison if convicted on federal corruption charges.

But will a jury believe the “crush” defense? Some lawyers think they just might.

“I think it’s ingenious, and I think it may work,” says Solomon L. Wisenberg, a D.C. based white collar defense lawyer who served as deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr during the Whitewater-Lewinsky investigations. “It certainly doesn’t make either one of them look good, but that’s not the same thing as committing a crime.”

Wisenberg notes that the McDonnells had filed a motion to sever, which would have allowed the co-defendants to face separate charges, but that this motion was denied, which means they had to coordinate their defense arguments. “This allows them to have kind of a complementary defense without pointing fingers at each other, yet it helps him because she’s obviously the principle player, and she’s the first one who roped this guy in,” he says.

“This strikes me as a more atypical defense, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Hail Mary pass,” says Josh Bowers, a professor at University of Virginia Law School who specializes in criminal procedure. “It could very well be the truth, and sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.”

But is Maureen McDonnell falling on her sword to protect her husband? “She’s got a lot less room to maneuver than he does,” Wisenberg explains. Mrs. McDonnell would have frequent private meetings with Williams, one former staff member called him her “favorite playmate,” and the two allegedly exchanged over 1,200 texts and phone calls over two years. “What’s she gonna do, say ‘It’s all my husband?’ The facts don’t seem to support that. What are her options other than what she’s doing?” he adds. The defense team also argued that Mrs. McDonnell was never a public official, and so shouldn’t be held to the same standards as her husband.

Wisenberg also notes that it might have been a misstep for the prosecution to start off with testimony from the McDonnell’s daughter Cailin, whose wedding was partially funded through gifts from Williams. Cailin McDonnell Young cried on the stand when she testified Tuesday that Williams had footed the bill for the catering at her 2011 nupitals. Wisenberg says Cailin’s tears on the witness stand could bode well for the defense, since a crying young woman makes the prosecution look like bullies, especially since juries are more likely to remember what happens at the beginning and end of the trial. “She’s an attractive young female testifying about the wedding, asking for Kleenex,” he says. “If I’m on the defense, I’m doing high-fives under the table.”

TIME politics

What I Saw at the Border

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at the Aspen Security Forum. Dan Bayer/Aspen Institute

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson describes his visit to McAllen, Texas

aspen journal logo

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson appeared recently at the Aspen Security Forum. Here he describes his visit to McAllen, Texas on the border with Mexico to NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston. His remarks have been provided by the Aspen Journal of Ideas, a new digital publication of the Aspen Institute. Find this article, more from the journal, and their daily list of the Five Best Ideas at Aspen.us.

I came into office December 23rd, and almost from the beginning I was hearing about the issue of unaccompanied kids coming into the Rio Grande Valley illegally. I went down to Brownsville, to our detention center near Brownsville in January. One of the things that struck me then was that day we had 995 detainees, only 18 percent of whom were from Mexico. And this is a mile from the Mexican border. The other 82 percent were from 30 different countries all across the globe, different continents, and so it was apparent to me then that the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the Southwest border needed to be an area of particular concern.

In January, in our budget process, we estimated that we were going to have 60,000 unaccompanied kids coming in. We ramped up resources. And then the numbers really began to spike to an unprecedented level in the period of March, April, May. I was hearing reports about this and recognized that we needed a plan to deal with it.

Thursday before Mother’s Day, so that was probably May 8th, I got a report from the Customs and Border Protection that the numbers were really spiking up, and we needed to address it, and they were recommending certain things to me that I needed to do as the Secretary of DHS on a DHS-wide basis to address this spike in migration by the kids.

And so my wife, Susan, and I were planning to go out to California to visit our son at Occidental College, and we were going to fly back in time to spend the rest of the day with our daughter, who’s back in Washington, for Mother’s Day. And I said to Susan, “While we’re out there would you mind stopping with me in South Texas to see a lot of other kids in between our two kids?” And we went there to the processing center at McAllen Station, and when you walk into a border patrol processing center you see a long table with border patrol agents in green sitting on one side in front of computer terminals, and they’re conducting interviews of the illegal migrants that have just come in, most often adult men, and they’re taking down basic information, name, where you’re from, age, and so forth, and so on.

We walked in on this particular day, it was Sunday, May 11th, Mother’s Day, and first of all, it was flooded with people, kids, and what was most striking is on this long processing table you’ve got the border patrol agents in their green uniforms, and on the other side, sitting on benches, are 7-, 8-year-old children, 10-year-old children being interviewed and processed. And my first encounter, I’ve been there probably five times, I think, and every time I go there I spend time talking to the children about why they made this journey. And my first encounter was the most memorable.

I saw this little girl with this beautiful long black hair, she was about 10 or 12 years old, sitting there being interviewed by a border patrol agent, and I asked her, “Where’s your mother?” And through the translator she said, “My mother is dead. I’m looking for my father in the United States. That’s why I came here.” And the translator started to cry. The little girl started to cry. And I don’t mind telling you I started to cry. And I came back to Washington the next day realizing this was a big problem, and we had to do something about it. And I made a bunch of phone calls to the ambassadors of the three Central American countries, the ambassador from Mexico, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS then, Deputy Secretary of Defense, the American Red Cross, to mobilize, to begin the process of mobilizing the resources that we needed to address this problem.

And as I’m sure you know, we’ve brought to bear a lot of resources to address it. Over the last four to six weeks, the numbers have been going down, and overall apprehensions among kids, adults with kids, unaccompanied adults, it reached its high water mark around June 10th, and it’s been going back down, but it could spike back up again at any moment, and so we’ve surged resources, and we have on Capitol Hill right now a request for supplemental funding, which is critical, which Congress is going to be taking up this week and next week, and if it doesn’t pass, we’re going to run out of money to deal with this.

And I’ve got my CFO working overtime without sleep trying to figure out how we are going to pay for this if Congress doesn’t act. Basically, that’s not an option because I’m going to have to dial back all the things we’ve done to surge resources to deal with this spike unless Congress acts. I’ve been in a number of conversations with members on both sides of the aisle about the urgency of this, and we really need it to pass. Sorry for the long-winded answer.

I do not know what happened to the little girl, and that’s something I will wonder about all the rest of my life.

TIME Canada

Canada Accuses Chinese Hackers of Cyberattack

Canada singles out China for a cyberattack on the government's leading research body at a time when Ottawa hopes to increase its oil sales to Beijing

In an unprecedented move, Canada accused Chinese hackers of infiltrating a computer network at the National Research Council on Tuesday, although Beijing denied responsibility for the assault.

Canadian officials lodged an official complaint to Beijing that state-backed hackers penetrated the council — the government’s primary research body that works with many companies, including major manufacturing firms. “The government takes this issue very seriously, and we are addressing it at the highest levels in both Beijing and Ottawa,” said Caitlin Workman, a Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Department spokeswoman, according to Bloomberg.

Yang Yudong, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, told Reuters that the claims against Beijing were based on “groundless speculation.”

China has garnered a slew of media attention for reported cyberattacks, most recently by a New York Times report revealing that Chinese hackers broke into a U.S. government agency in March, but this is the first time that Canada has accused Beijing of hacking. Canada’s claim of the security breach also comes at a time when the country is hoping to bolster its oil sales to China.

The council’s computers are being quarantined from the rest of the government system as a precaution. “We have no evidence that data compromises have occurred on the broader government of Canada network,” Corinne Charette, Canada’s chief government information officer, said in a statement, as quoted by Agence France-Presse.

TIME Panda Sex

Richard Nixon Asked a Reporter to Watch Panda Sex

A new book details the former president’s keen interest making sure his new pandas got busy

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When former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai gave the United States two pandas in 1972, the result, as captured in a pun-perfect turn of phrase by first lady Pat Nixon, was “panda-monium,” report the authors of the new book The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972.

And that panda-monium–something which we here at TIME, progenitors of our very own replacement panda-cam, know all about–has continued, once more proving that we are but one nation, under panda.

But the very first panda lover of all of us–the prototypical panda pursuer, the panda panderer to rule them all–was none other than bowling enthusiast and nearly two-term President Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon’s interest in his new Chinese pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, was such that he was touchingly concerned with their sex lives.

Here’s Nixon’s exchange with Washington Star foreign editor Crosby Noyes, courtesy of The Washington Post.

Nixon: The problem, however, with pandas is that they don’t know how to mate. The only way they learn how is to watch other pandas mate. You see?

Noyes: [laughs]

Nixon: And, so they’re keeping them there a little while—these are younger ones—

Noyes: I see.

Nixon: —to sort of learn, you know, how it’s done.

Noyes: Sure, learn the ropes—

Nixon: Now, if they don’t learn it, they’ll get over here and nothing will happen, so I just thought you should just have your best reporter out there to see whether these pandas—

You get the picture.

In exchange for the pandas, the U.S. gave China two musk oxen, which are neat enough, sure, but it’s pretty clear who got the better end of that deal.

TIME Business

The Suburbs Will Die: One Man’s Fight to Fix the American Dream

The End of the Suburbs
The End of the Suburbs Courtesy Penguin Press

Engineer Charles Marohn worked his whole life trying to make his community better—until the day he realized he was ruining it.

If you looked up “Minnesota nice” in the dictionary you might see a picture of Charles Marohn. Affable and mild-mannered, Marohn, who goes by Chuck, grew up the eldest of three sons of two elementary school teachers on a small farm near Brainerd, the central Minnesota city best known as the backdrop for the movie Fargo. Marohn (pronounced “mer-OWN”) graduated from Brainerd High School, entered the National Guard on his seventeenth birthday, and went on to study civil engineering at the University of Minnesota. He now lives with his wife, two daughters, and two Samoyeds in East Gull Lake, a small city north of Brainerd. Marohn, forty, likes the Minnesota Twins, reads voraciously, and is a proud Republican. He’s the friendliest guy you’re likely to meet. He’s also a revolutionary who’s trying to upend the suburbs as we know them.

After graduating from college, Marohn went to work as a municipal engineer in his hometown and spent several years working with the small towns around the greater Brainerd area, putting projects together that would build roads, pipes, storm drains, and all kinds of infrastructure. It was the mid-1990s, the area was booming, and Marohn was laying down the systems that helped the area grow. “I built sprawl,” he now says.

Often his work required him to knock on the doors of residents, many of whom he knew from growing up, and tell them about changes that might impact their property. In order to make the town’s roads safer, he would explain, engineers were going to have to widen the road in front of their house or cut down a tree in their yard. When his neighbors would get upset and ask why or try to protest—the roads were hardly trafficked at all, and sparse enough to almost be rural, they would point out—he’d explain that the town was required to make these changes in order to comply with the book of engineering standards to which it had to adhere. The code, put in place by the town but derived from state and national standards, dictated that roads must have an ample “recovery zone,” or a wide berth to accommodate cars that veer off the road, and that drivers have improved “sight distance,” the distance a driver needs to be able to see in order to have enough room to be able to react before colliding with some- thing in the roadway. When residents pointed out that the recovery zone was also their yard, and that their kids played kick ball and hopscotch there, Marohn recommended they put up a fence, so long as it was outside the right-of-way. He was sorry, he told them, but the standards required it. The trees were removed, the roads widened, the asphalt paved and repaved. “I never stepped back from my own assumptions to consider that I wasn’t making anything safer,” Marohn says. “In reality, I was making their street more dangerous, and in the process, I was not only taking out their trees, I was pretending I knew more than them.”

In 2000, Marohn found himself assigned to fix a leaky pipe in Remer, a small town north of Brainerd. It was a routine project, but it would ultimately lead him to an epiphany. A sewer pipe that sat under a highway had a leak that was allowing clean groundwater to flow in. That meant that the clean water was getting pumped out to sewage treatment ponds, which were exceeding their capacity and would soon overflow. It was easily fixable, but it would cost $300,000, a hefty sum considering the town’s total budget for such projects was $120,000 a year; sure enough, the town said no. But the pipe was going to cause the sewage ponds to overflow, undermine the dike, knock down its wall, and pour into the neighboring river “in like a catastrophic way,” Marohn says. So he decided to find a federal grant to pay for it.

He discovered that the project was too small; grant agencies didn’t seem to be interested in a $300,000 renovation, he found, presumably because it wasn’t worth the time in administration costs. So he expanded the project, proposing the government pay not just to fix the pipe but also to extend the sewers, expand the size of the pumps, and more, at a cost of $2.6 million. The grant agency gave the green light; the state and federal government put up all the money except for

$130,000, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture financed at below-market rates over a forty-year time period. Marohn was hailed a hero. “Everybody was super thrilled with me because I got this project approved out of nowhere,” he says. And since the project would connect more homes, it would allow the town to promote the fact that it was creating capacity for the city to grow.

But over the next several years, as Marohn went back to Remer to do additional work—he had by then gotten a degree in urban planning—and saw that the town was in the process of doing a similar project with their water system, he realized he had created an unsustainable financial situation. Thanks to the leaky pipe he fixed, the town now had to bear the maintenance costs of a system that was double the size of the one it had before. “I bought them time,” he says, “but I gave them a giant unfunded liability.”

Marohn started questioning the rationale of this kind of system. The government paid the up-front costs of the massive project, but there was no accounting for the significant cost to maintain the system. The town’s property taxes wouldn’t come close to covering those costs, which meant the city would ultimately need to take on more debt. And the system was likely to need replacing well before forty years were up—the duration of the financing he’d procured—which would require an investment of equal or larger size. Marohn began to wonder whether all the work he’d been doing to supposedly help the city grow was really necessary or whether it was going to end up hurting it and, on top of that, whether the roads he was helping to “improve” were designed to accommodate the way people lived or were that way simply because the planning books said that was the way they had to be built.

He connected with a few friends in the local planning community who shared his concerns. In November 2009 they started a Web site called Strong Towns to start raising questions about America’s approach to land use and the financial impracticalities suburban sprawl encourages. Rich in case studies and educational materials, Strong Towns lobbies for communities that are financially productive and grow responsibly. But it’s also a screed against what Marohn sees as development patterns that go against the logic of design, finance, and the best interests of residential communities and everyday Americans.

One night soon after he started the Web site, Marohn wasn’t sure what to write about, so he composed a blog post on his experience tearing down trees in his neighbors’ yards, an idea that had been bouncing around in his head for a while. Declaring his work “professional malpractice,” he described how the wider, faster streets he was sent to build weren’t only financially wasteful but unsafe. “In retrospect, I understand that it was utter insanity,” he wrote in the essay, which he called “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer.” “Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people,” he wrote, referring to statistics of traffic deaths each year that, in his view, were a direct result of poor design. He penned the piece in less than an hour and went to bed. When he got up, his in-box was full of comments from people in the planning community with whom his words had resonated.

The Web site soon became a nonprofit, which became a series of podcasts, videos, and live neighborhood events around the country called the “Curbside Chat.” A local nonprofit threw in three years’ worth of funding, and in mid-2012 Marohn quit his job to focus on Strong Towns, which is now a robust site packed with in-depth articles, podcasts, a Curbside Chat companion booklet for public officials, and a “Strong Towns University” section with instructional videos featuring Marohn and his partners discussing things like the ins and outs of wastewater management. Marohn’s work has brought him attention within the planning community; he now travels all over the country speaking at conferences, hosting Curbside Chats, and spreading his message. But all, he says, for the greater good. “We’re not bomb throw- ers,” he says. “We like to think of ourselves as intellectual disruptors.”

Marohn primarily takes issue with the financial structure of the suburbs. The amount of tax revenue their low-density setup generates, he says, doesn’t come close to paying for the cost of maintaining the vast and costly infrastructure systems, so the only way to keep the machine going is to keep adding and growing. “The public yield from the suburban development pattern is ridiculously low,” he says. One of the most popular articles on the Strong Towns Web site is a five-part series Marohn wrote likening American suburban development to a giant Ponzi scheme.

Here’s what he means. The way suburban development usually works is that a town lays the pipes, plumbing, and infrastructure for housing development—often getting big loans from the government to do so—and soon after a developer appears and offers to build homes on it. Developers usually fund most of the cost of the infrastructure because they make their money back from the sale of the homes. The short-term cost to the city or town, therefore, is very low: it gets a cash infusion from whichever entity fronted the costs, and the city gets to keep all the revenue from property taxes. The thinking is that either taxes will cover the maintenance costs, or the city will keep growing and generate enough future cash flow to cover the obligations. But the tax revenue at low suburban densities isn’t nearly enough to pay the bills; in Marohn’s estimation, property taxes at suburban densities bring in anywhere from 4 cents to 65 cents for every dollar of liability. Most suburban municipalities, he says, are therefore unable to pay the maintenance costs of their infrastructure, let alone replace things when they inevitably wear out after twenty to twenty-five years. The only way to survive is to keep growing or take on more debt, or both. “It is a ridiculously unproductive system,” he says.

Marohn points out that while this has been an issue as long as there have been suburbs, the problem has become more acute with each additional “life cycle” of suburban infrastructure (the point at which the systems need to be replaced—funded by debt, more growth, or both). Most U.S. suburbs are now on their third life cycle, and infrastructure systems have only become more bloated, inefficient, and costly. “When people say we’re living beyond our means, they’re usually talking about a forty-inch TV instead of a twenty-inch TV,” he says. “This is like pennies compared to the dollars we’ve spent on the way we’ve arranged ourselves across the landscape.”

Marohn and his friends are not the only ones warning about the fix we’ve put ourselves in. In 2010 the financial analyst Meredith Whitney wrote a now-famous report called The Tragedy of the Commons, whose title was taken from the economic principle that individuals will act on their own self-interest and deplete a shared resource for their own benefit, even if that goes against the long-term common good. In her report, Whitney said states and municipalities were on the verge of collapse thanks in part to irresponsible spending on growth. Likening the municipalities’ finances and spending patterns to those of the banks leading up to the financial crisis of 2008, Whitney explained how spending has far outpaced revenues—some states had spent two or three times their tax receipts on everything from infrastructure to teacher salaries to libraries—all financed by borrowing from future dollars.

Marohn, too, claims we’ve tilled our land in inefficient ways we can’t afford (Whitney is one of Marohn’s personal heroes). The “suburban experiment,” as he calls it, has been a fiscal failure. On top of the issues of low-density tax collection, sprawling development is more expensive to build. Roads are wider and require more paving. Water and sewage service costs are higher. It costs more to maintain emergency services since more fire stations and police stations are needed per capita to keep response times down. Children need to be bused farther distances to school. One study by the Denver Regional Council of Governments found that conventional suburban development would cost local governments $4.3 billion more in infrastructure costs than compact, “smart” growth through 2020, only counting capital construction costs for sewer, water, and road infrastructure. A 2008 report by the University of Utah’s Arthur C. Nelson estimated that municipal service costs in low-density, sprawling locations can be as much as 2.5 times those in compact, higher-density locations.

Marohn thinks this is all just too gluttonous. “The fact that I can drive to work on paved roads where I can drive fifty-five miles an hour the minute I leave my driveway despite the fact that I won’t see another car for five miles,” he says, “is living beyond our means on a grand, grand scale.”

Marohn is one of a growing number of sprawl refugees I encountered during my reporting—people who at one point helped enable the building of modern-day suburbia but now spend their days lobbying against it with the zeal of religious converts. Some, like Marohn, focus on the unsustainability of the financial structure. Others focus on the actual physical design of the suburbs and point to all the ways it’s flawed. Most of them argue for the development of more walkable communities closer to public transportation. But their unifying criticism is that our spread-out development pattern was manufactured, packaged, and sold to Americans as part of an American Dream that fails to deliver on its promises.

Leigh Gallagher is an assistant managing editor at Fortune and a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, among other national television and radio news shows. She lives in New York City. This article is excerpted from Gallagher’s book, The End of the Suburbs, out now in paperback.

TIME Media

The Sarah Palin Channel: $99.95 a Year, Comes With Salad

In her latest media-politics endeavor, the former governor seeks to escape the "filters," this time between her and her fans' credit cards.

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In the welcome video to the Sarah Palin Channel, the former governor of Alaska explains her motivation for starting a personal subscription network: “We’ll go beyond the soundbites and the media’s politically correct filter to get to the truth.”

Over her six years in the national spotlight, Sarah Palin has not exactly lacked for media platforms, filtered or unfiltered. She’s had a reality show on TLC and one currently on Sportsman Channel. She’s been a paid contributor to Fox News. And should even Fox prove too much filter for her truth, she’s had no problem taking her message direct, on Twitter, on Facebook and in videos. For Palin to have less-filtered access to the consciousness of her followers, she would have to possess their very souls.

But the most notable distinction about this brand-new platform, so far, is that it allows the former governor to get a message out to the public without the traditional, mainstream filter between her and your wallet. A subscription to SarahPalinChannel.com is $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year (with a two-week free trial period). That’s 96 cents more a month than a Netflix streaming subscription. It’s 95 cents more a year than an annual subscription to Amazon Prime, which also offers music, streaming TV and movies, Kindle benefits, and free shipping. Not here; if you’ve been mail-ordering your smoked salmon from Alaska (there’s no online store at the SPC site), you will still have to pay full freight.

So politics aside, it’s fair to ask what the value proposition is for a subscription to Sarah Palin Channel. At this early point–the channel launched Sunday and began collecting paid subscriptions at startup–much of SPC’s front-page offerings are repurposed and available in some form free elsewhere.

There’s the seven-minute video calling for President Obama’s impeachment from earlier in the month; various speeches, like her July 19 talk to the Western Conservative Summit, that are on YouTube; reproductions of conservative meme images; a link to her daughter Bristol’s blog at the religious site Patheos.com. There’s a national debt counter and a countdown clock to the end of the Obama administration. Getting a place of prominence is “Sally’s Word of the Day,” a feature “brought to you by my Scrabble-obsessed Mom and her friends.” (The inaugural word: “Rectitude”–“the quality of being honest and morally correct”–which reproduces the Merriam-Webster definition verbatim.)

But wait! There’s more! The marquee original content thus far is a collection of short videos in which–as she’s been doing via Facebook–Palin weighs in on current events hitting longtime talking points. The trouble in Ukraine, for instance, is evidence that we need to “unlock” our natural energy resources, or Drill, Baby, Drill. Another publicizes her book from last year re-fighting the “war on Christmas.” In others, she answers questions from supporters, such as, “How many things can you name that Obama has failed at?”

Many of SPC’s short videos recall Palin’s hits for Fox News, placing her in a home-office setting backed symbolically by a carven eagle, a flag and a globe, speaking in a single take, YouTube-style; others have her speaking at an angle to the camera, as if addressing an unseen interviewer. The tone is on-brand: the folksy, familiar speech (after last year’s Phil Robertson controversy, she tells fans, “You guys rose up and said, ‘Oh my gosh, enough is enough!'”), her knack for digs that will rouse fans and aggravate detractors (Obama is “addicted to OPM”–say it out loud–“other people’s money”), the Alaskan-mountain imagery on the homepage.

Beyond that, what SPC is trying to sell is community and connection. The site’s videos are shareable on social media–so depending on your friends-and-family list, you’ll be seeing them free on Facebook soon enough–but you can only see or post comments if you subscribe. The idea, an FAQ says, is that “the community would feel more secure”–secure enough, for instance, for one commenter to post on the Putin video that “Like most people who have been paying attention, I would trade our little Kenyan collectivist for Vladimir Putin any day.”

For my money, though–or rather, what will be my money if I keep my subscription beyond the free trial–the channel is most effective, like many of Palin’s past media efforts, when it takes her out of the talking-head chair, especially in a series of odd, often fascinating “Behind the Scenes” videos. In one, Palin, wearing a vest and an Oscar the Grouch T-shirt, shows off a painting in her home office of a tableau of Republican presidents–Ike, Reagan, both Bushes, Lincoln, Nixon–laughing around a pool table. In a little inset photo, she’s holding her son Trig at a Tea Party rally, where she says her appearance was misinterpreted by the media. “At that time, I didn’t have so much of a platform or a microphone to counter some of the falsehoods and goofy, stupid things that some of the news channels say and do,” she says. “But now I do!”

Thanks to you, subscriber! Really, you could make a good case that the biggest feature SPC offers subscribers for $99.95 a year is the ability to give Sarah Palin $99.95 a year–that is, to feel empowered, to feel like part of a movement, to defy the politically correct media that don’t respect you, to stick it to “the powers that be” by standing up for liberty and Christmas.

Whether Palin has any future in politics or SPC is one of the last efforts to monetize the brand that John McCain launched by naming her his running mate in 2008, Palin demonstrably still has that ability to home in on exposed nerves, to appeal to a sense of cultural besiegement and grievance, to make the personal archly, needlingly political.

Just look, for instance, at her video, “An Alaskan Garden and the Lessons for D.C.,” which promises “a behind-the-scenes look at the Governor’s kitchen garden.” For over six minutes, Palin stands in her kitchen, tearing up lettuce for her salad–bought at the store, she says, not grown in her yard–and talks about the abundance of sunlight in the Land of the Midnight Sun, and the richness of Alaska’s resources in general, and what it all says about what this country would be if those liberal bureaucrats would just get out of our darn way: “The sun and our volcanic soil that makes this area so rich, so rich in resources, this soil, our oil and our gold and all that God’s created for man’s use, the minerals, the fisheries, the resources in the state can help secure the union. And once the Feds figure that out and allow us to unlock the lands in Alaska and responsibly develop them? Well, our country will be more secure.”

Just one thing, though: you never do get that look at Palin’s kitchen garden. You just see her step away from her salad for a second and look at some unseen spot beyond her kitchen window. But pony up just $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year, and who knows? Maybe someday, all will be revealed.

TIME Television

Sarah Palin Has Launched Her Own Internet Television Network

The former vice-presidential candidate envisions The Sarah Palin Channel to function as a "community," she tells viewers in a video clip on the homepage

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Sarah Palin has never been uncomfortable with her status as one of America’s most watchable celebrities, which she’s enjoyed since first joining John McCain’s presidential campaign as a virtually unknown former governor of Alaska six years ago next month. She gave us a memoir, she gave us another memoir, she landed a spot at Fox News. “She was hot and got ratings,” network president Roger Ailes told the Associated Press.

Now, she’ll be the star of her own internet television network, Variety reports, after The Sarah Palin Channel launched Sunday night.

In an introductory video posted on the network’s website, Palin digs at the status quo of information and politics in the U.S., and while she doesn’t ever directly address the perimeters of party lines, there is obvious reason to suspect that she’s gunning for a conservative audience.

“We’ll go directly to the root of the problems confronting America,” she says in the clip. “We’ll talk about the issues that the mainstream media won’t talk about. We’ll look at the ideas that I think Washington doesn’t want you to hear.”

The 50-year-old describes the network as a “community” where, for a subscription fee of either $9.95 a month or $99.95 a year, users can post footage to the site, send Palin their own questions and, should they so desire, read a blog curated by Bristol Palin, her 24-year-old daughter.

Palin’s not the first candidate to lose an election and then embrace the media. Aug. 1 marks the ninth anniversary of the launch of Current TV, Al Gore’s since-folded television network, which Al Jazeera bought last year.

 

TIME politics

An Economic and Moral Case for Legalizing Cocaine and Heroin

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Drug user's stash Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Criminalization comes at a large cost--elevated prices, impurities, and the vagaries of black markets--and does marginal good for the few very abusive users.

We’ve come a long way since Reefer Madness. Over the past two decades, 16 states have de-criminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, and 22 have legalized it for medical purposes. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington went further, legalizing marijuana under state law for recreational purposes. Public attitudes toward marijuana have also changed; in a November 2013 Gallup Poll, 58 percent of Americans supported marijuana legalization.

Yet amidst these cultural and political shifts, American attitudes and U.S. policy toward other drugs have remained static. No state has decriminalized, medicalized, or legalized cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. And a recent poll suggests only about 10 percent of Americans favor legalization of cocaine or heroin. Many who advocate marijuana legalization draw a sharp distinction between marijuana and “hard drugs.”

That’s understandable: Different drugs do carry different risks, and the potential for serious harm from marijuana is less than for cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. Marijuana, for example, appears incapable of causing a lethal overdose, but cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine can kill if taken in excess or under the wrong circumstances.

But if the goal is to minimize harm – to people here and abroad– the right policy is to legalize all drugs, not just marijuana.

In fact, many legal goods cause serious harm, including death. In recent years, about 40 people per year have died from skiing or snowboarding accidents; almost 800 from bicycle accidents; several thousand from drowning in swimming pools; more than 20,000 per year from pharmaceuticals; more than 30,000 annually from auto accidents; and at least 38,000 from excessive alcohol use.

Few people want to ban these goods, mainly because while harmful when misused, they provide substantial benefit to most people in most circumstances.

The same condition holds for hard drugs. Media accounts focus on users who experience bad outcomes, since these are dramatic or newsworthy. Yet millions risk arrest, elevated prices, impurities, and the vagaries of black markets to purchase these goods, suggesting people do derive benefits from use.

That means even if prohibition could eliminate drug use, at no cost, it would probably do more harm than good. Numerous moderate and responsible drug users would be worse off, while only a few abusive users would be better off.

And prohibition does, in fact, have huge costs, regardless of how harmful drugs might be.

First, a few Economics 101 basics: Prohibiting a good does not eliminate the market for that good. Prohibition may shrink the market, by raising costs and therefore price, but even under strongly enforced prohibitions, a substantial black market emerges in which production and use continue. And black markets generate numerous unwanted side effects.

Black markets increase violence because buyers and sellers can’t resolve disputes with courts, lawyers, or arbitration, so they turn to guns instead. Black markets generate corruption, too, since participants have a greater incentive to bribe police, prosecutors, judges, and prison guards. They also inhibit quality control, which causes more accidental poisonings and overdoses.

The bottom line: Even if hard drugs carry greater health risks than marijuana, rationally, we can’t ban them without comparing the harm from prohibition against the harms from drugs themselves. What’s more, prohibition creates health risks that wouldn’t exist in a legal market. Because prohibition raises heroin prices, users have a greater incentive to inject because this offers a bigger bang for the buck. Plus, prohibition generates restrictions on the sale of clean needles (because this might “send the wrong message”). Many users therefore share contaminated needles, which transmit HIV, Hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. In 2010, 8 percent of new HIV cases in the United States were attributed to IV drug use.

Prohibition enforcement also encourages infringements on civil liberties, such as no-knock warrants (which have killed dozens of innocent bystanders) and racial profiling (which generates much higher arrest rates for blacks than whites despite similar drug use rates). It also costs a lot to enforce prohibition, and it means we can’t collect taxes on drugs; my estimates suggest U.S. governments could improve their budgets by at least $85 billion annually by legalizing – and taxing – all drugs. U.S. insistence that source countries outlaw drugs means increased violence and corruption there as well (think Columbia, Mexico, or Afghanistan).

It’s also critical to analyze whether prohibition actually reduces drug use; if the effects are small, then prohibition is virtually all cost and no benefit.

On that question, available evidence is far from ideal, but none of it suggests that prohibition has a substantial impact on drug use. States and countries that decriminalize or medicalize see little or no increase in drug use. And differences in enforcement across time or place bear little correlation with uses. This evidence does not bear directly on what would occur under full legalization, since that might allow advertising and more efficient, large-scale production. But data on cirrhosis from repeal of U.S. Alcohol Prohibition suggest only a modest increase in alcohol consumption.

To the extent prohibition does reduce drug use, the effect is likely smaller for hard drugs than for marijuana. That’s because the demands for cocaine and heroin appear less responsive to price. From this perspective, the case is even stronger for legalizing cocaine or heroin than marijuana; for hard drugs, prohibition mainly raises the price, which increases the resources devoted to the black market while having minimal impact on use.

But perhaps the best reason to legalize hard drugs is that people who wish to consume them have the same liberty to determine their own well-being as those who consume alcohol, or marijuana, or anything else. In a free society, the presumption must always be that individuals, not government, get to decide what is in their own best interest.

Jeffrey Miron is Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University and Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Studies at the Cato Institute.

TIME Science

Note to Science: The GOP’s Just Not That That Into You

Rick Scott: Not a scientist—and darn proud to say it
Rick Scott: Not a scientist—and darn proud to say it Orlando Sentinel; MCT via Getty Images

Fla. Gov. Rick Scott is the latest Republican to play the scientific ignorance card. It's a game that's gotten old

Every dysfunctional relationship proceeds though the same stages: from promise to problem to crisis and, ultimately, to repetitive farce. There is one more embarrassing public scene, one more fight that disturbs the neighbors—a lather-rinse-repeat cycle that becomes more tiresome than anything else. That final stage is where the hard right of the GOP has at last arrived in its tortured pas de deux with science.

The most recent Republican to get into an ugly dust-up with the scientific truth is Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Running for re-election against former Gov. (and former Republican) Charlie Crist—and currently trailing in polls—Scott was asked by a reporter whether he believes climate change is real. Depressingly but predictably, he went for what is becoming the go-to dodge for too many in the GOP when pressed on a scientific fact that they dare not acknowledge for fear of fallout from the base, but can no longer openly deny for fear of being called out for willful know-nothingism. “I’m not a scientist,” Scott thus began—and there he should have stopped.

The device, of course, is meant to suggest that the issue is just too complex, just too abstruse for people without advanced degrees to presume to pass judgment on. It was the bob-and-weave used by Fla. Senator Marco Rubio when GQ magazine asked him the age of the Earth. “I’m not a scientist, man,” he said—adding the “man” fillip because it presumably suggested a certain whew-this-stuff-is-hard fatigue.

It was used as well by House Speaker John Boehner when he was pressed about proposed EPA regulations intended to curb greenhouse gasses. “Well, listen,” he began, “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”

There’s something not just risibly dishonest about this reg’lar-folk pose, it’s flat-out unseemly too, which is why less disingenuous Republicans, whatever their views, tend to find a defter way to phrase things. Boehner, Scott, Rubio and the like are seeking to have things two incompatible ways—they deny the science, even ridicule the science, and then they seek to hide behind the skirts of the science, recusing themselves from answering questions because it’s all just too dang complicated.

Never mind that if you take them at their word—if you say, okay, let’s see what the eggheads in the labs say, and it turns out that the eggheads in the labs all but universally agree that global warming is dangerously, frighteningly real—they neatly flip the script. The scientists—the ones to whom they pretend to defer—are suddenly dismissed as “grant-grubbing” hoaxsters, conniving with liberal politicians to “expand the role of government.”

But, okay, let’s pretend the politicos are sincere. If the Speaker, by his own admission, isn’t qualified to debate climate change, fine, he’s excused from the conversation—and he should be expected not to offer further opinion on the matter. This, however, is a dangerous game to play. If being a scientist, man, is a threshold requirement for taking a thoughtful, honest position on climate change, then the same is true for being an economist or physician or astronomer if you presume to offer an opinion on the federal budget or the health care law or NASA funding.

The “both sides do it” faux equivalency game is hard to play on this one, since science denial is simply not endemic in the Democratic party the way it is in the GOP. But that hardly means all Dems have covered themselves in glory. West Va. Sen. Joe Manchin literally shot a hole in a copy of the cap and trade bill in a 2010 election ad, a crude symbolic twofer that signaled yes to guns and no to climate regulation in his rural, coal-producing state. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, locked in a tough reelection battle, has consistently blocked climate action, opposing tighter regulations on coal-fired power plants, because, she says, “Requiring [the plants] to use technology that has not been proven viable in industrial settings is completely backward,” a good argument if what she says about the technology were remotely accurate—which it isn’t.

But the hard truth is Manchin and Landrieu are outliers among the Democrats, while the counterfactual voices are among the loudest within Republican ranks. The time really has come for the GOP to fix its relationship with science—or just break up for good. Either way, they should do something soon, because the rest of us are getting sick of the fighting.

TIME Religion

Immigration Laws Should Serve People, Not Politics

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

Was the law made for people or people for the law?

Throughout both legal history and Judeo-Christian scripture, there has always been tension between the “letter” and the “spirit” of the law. In the gospels, Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for focusing too much on legalism instead of grace. He famously said, “The Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath.”

In light of what’s been happening in our political systems, it’s clear that we need to ask: “are our laws made for people?” Or do we believe that people were made for our laws?

I have worked alongside many Republicans who have helped lead the battle for immigration reform. These Republicans care about the 11 million undocumented people in this country who have gotten stuck, stranded, marginalized, and jeopardized in a broken immigration system. These are Republicans who don’t want to deport millions of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants and who don’t want to break up their families. These are Republicans who believe that legalizing those immigrants would be good for the country and the economy and support an earned path to citizenship for those who want to wait at the back of the line to become American citizens, pay a fine for breaking the law, submit to complete background and criminal checks, learn English, and pay American taxes for the good work they do. These are Republicans who believe that helping vulnerable children supersedes ideology. And these are Republicans who want their party to be open and inclusive and ready to welcome the Hispanic American community into their party.

But then there are Republicans who have blocked immigration reform even though a majority of Republican party members across the country now favor it, who want to physically deport or make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they will “self-deport,” and who either themselves accept or are willing to accommodate to what even other Republicans call “racial factors” in their white constituencies. And there are, cynically, Republicans who simply refuse work with the President or Democrats on any issue. And there are some Republicans who are helping to fuel the alarmists that are rising up across the country to attack immigration and immigrants, and now even children from Central America who have recently come as desperate refugees.

The same voices that have blocked immigration reform are now trying to distort a very serious refugee crisis of children fleeing for their lives from the escalating violence in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador into an immigration problem, and are using those desperate and vulnerable children as political pawns in the debate around immigration reform. That is morally reprehensible. In Congress, with their consistent commitment to block anything President Obama proposes, the GOP is refusing to spend the money necessary to care for and carefully process the children who are seeking safety and asylum in America. Children are sitting alone away from their families in processing centers without the adequate resources to care for them.

And most shockingly—and absurdly—instead of doing what’s right and working to address the crisis we’re facing at the border, the leader of the Republican party would rather sue the President over failing to execute the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After a year of political maneuverings and a shutdown of the government in protest over the ACA, Speaker Boehner preferred to sue the president for not enforcing the letter of a law he opposes, than to vote on immigration reform which might have humanely addressed the crisis at the border. I fear the actions on health care and the inaction on immigration reform proves that in Congress scoring a political victory is far more important than alleviating the suffering of people. This is a matter of moral leadership and doing what’s right that should transcend ideology.

Because Congress has defaulted on its moral leadership in favor of political maneuvering, President Obama is considering what options his administration can take to fix particular aspects of our broken immigration system or at least reduce the suffering. But any steps he takes will far fall short of the ideal – because the only sustainable solution is legislative. We should the support the President’s attempts to offer compassion until Congress has the courage to act. He should start with ending the deportations of law-abiding people that would break up their families.

While any action the President takes will certainly be within his constitutional and legal authority, the fact that it will be the executive branch providing relief instead of the legislative branch enacting reform again raises the age old question of what purpose the law is supposed to serve? Too many of our supposed leaders seem to have forgotten that they were elected to serve people not politics and parties. This is a moral test of leadership that John Boehner needs to retake.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

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