TIME politics

Army Vet: Bowe Bergdahl’s Rescue Was the Right Message to Send to Soldiers

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. Army/Getty Images

American troops should never have to question whether their opinions make them unworthy of rescue.

The rotors on the Blackhawk helicopter that recovered Sgt. Bowe Bergahl had barely stopped spinning before a cadre of armchair commandos began accusing everyone from the President, to Bergdahl’s father Bob, to Bergdahl himself of being in cahoots with the Taliban. There were the compassionate patriots at Fox & Friends who told the elder Bergdahl to “find a razor”and accused him of looking “like the Taliban,” just weeks after they carried the banner of the bearded cast of Duck Dynasty. There was Oliver North, who accused the administration of financing terrorism. Yes, the same Oliver North who financed terrorism. Let’s not forget John McCain, who was for freeing Sgt. Bergdahl before he was against it. Not to mention the host of conservatives—who never served yet have suddenly claim expertise in the field of battlefield honor—feigning outrage.

My favorite, though, is Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who claims he would have raised “holy hell” about the exchange had he been warned. I, for one, am certainly glad he wasn’t notified in that case. I wouldn’t want any influence over this decision in the hands of the same man who accused a veteran who left three limbs in Vietnam of lacking courage while comparing him to Osama Bin Laden.

I’ve spoken to many of my fellow veterans, as well as many of the men who deployed with me to Afghanistan in 2007 who still wear the uniform. Their responses to the release of five Taliban detainees in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl vary. Many are angry about his alleged desertion, and are upset that six American lives may have been lost searching for him in the months after he allegedly walked off a fire base in eastern Afghanistan, a story for which there are legitimate doubts and questions. None that I spoke to believe Bergdahl belonged in captivity for the last five years, or that he didn’t deserve to come home and face an American military court for his possible offenses. Bergdahl is an American soldier; regardless of what circumstances led to his capture, he deserved to be returned. That anyone would express otherwise is appalling.

Many of Sgt. Bergdahl’s detractors point to his last email to his parents, published in a 2012 Rolling Stone piece, to justify their feigned outrage. In the message, Sgt. Begdahl expressed doubts about U.S. involvement in the conflict, as well concerns about the conduct of his unit. That same piece notes that an investigation found Bergdahl’s unit to be undisciplined and poorly led. This line of argument is what concerns me most.

In 2007, I was a noncommissioned officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. I held a support position in an infantry unit involved in some of the heaviest fighting at that period of the war (though I went on only a handful of missions and spent most of the time working in our task force’s tactical operation center). It is imperative that U.S. service members understand that their country will use every resource and make every effort to rescue those in enemy captivity. It is what gives them the morale to keep going for five years, the amount of time spent as prisoners of war by both Sgt. Bergdahl and Sen. McCain. It’s what encourages them to not reveal information they might have when questioned by their captors. This sentiment was important enough that President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Executive Order that created the U.S. Military Code of Conduct.

If Bergdahl’s conduct and opinions entitle him to be forgotten in captivity by his country, what sort of message does that send to soldiers like the soldier I was in 2007? Should I have assumed that I was not entitled to rescue because I opposed America’s wars? Did I belong with the Taliban because I once stopped soldiers from taking photos of detainees in violation of the Geneva Convention (one of whom later gained national attention for similar conduct)?

The important distinction is that Sgt. Bergdahl allegedly walked away from his post, whereas I never considered such an action, believing that, regardless of the value of the war, I needed to be there to support my brothers however I could. But that isn’t a very stark line. Would Fox & Friends and Sen. Chambliss assume those intentions had I been abducted while pulling a late night guard shift near the concertina wire at Musa Qala?

These are the questions I ask myself as I hear “leaders,”most of whom never served (North and McCain being notable exceptions), split hairs over what kind of troop deserves rescue, and whether five detainees who may have been important a decade and a half ago were worth the life of an American whose value to the Taliban was rapidly declining with his reported ill health and the upcoming American withdrawal. I no longer wear a uniform, but this sort of doubt is severely dangerous for those who do. American troops should never have to question whether their opinions make them unworthy of rescue.

Richard Allen Smith is a former Army sergeant. He served five years on active duty, including a deployment to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division from February of 2007 to April of 2008. Smith is currently a graduate student in writing at Johns Hopkins University.


Underpaying Employees Can Hurt a Company’s Bottom Line

Fast-Food Strikes in 50 U.S. Cities Seeking $15 Per Hour
Fast-food workers and supporters organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) protest outside of a Burger King Worldwide Inc. restaurant in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

There's little evidence to indicate that raising wages will lead to job losses, and studies show that high-wage companies fare better than lower-wage ones.

Just this week, Seattle workers won a significant battle when the city raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Richmond, Calif, recently voted to hike theirs to $13 by 2018, while polls indicate San Francisco voters favor a $15 minimum. Even the CEO of McDonalds is somewhere between neutral and positive on raising the minimum wage.

People continue to argue that increasing the price of labor will reduce the number of jobs. However, the oft-cited study in the fast-food industry by economists David Card and Alan Krueger show small to no negative employment effects. And a comprehensive study of minimum wages in European countries concludes that there is “no general evidence that minimum wages reduced employment.” But even if higher minimum wages do cost jobs, should U.S. policymakers care? Maybe not.

Contrary to what you may think, the U.S. is actually a comparatively low-wage country. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2013 the U.S. ranked 23rd out of 28 industrialized countries in terms of hourly earnings. These data suggest that the U.S. can easily afford to pay more and not jeopardize its competitive standing.

Moreover–and this is important–there is essentially no relationship between average hourly earnings and that country’s competitiveness as measured, for instance, by balance of trade statistics. In 2012, countries with high wages—such as Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, to take a few examples—ran a large balance of trade surpluses, while low-wage countries such as Portugal, Iceland and the U.S. ran a balance of trade deficits.

Nor, for that matter, do high-wage companies invariably suffer, as University of Colorado Denver management professor Wayne Cascio’s comparison of higher-wage (and benefits) Costco with lower-wage (and benefits) Sam’s Club so nicely illustrated. The issue is not what people cost, but what they can do, their innovativeness, and their productivity. Poorly paid people are more likely to quit, and turnover is costly. Underpaid people are unlikely to be engaged with their work or to exert discretionary effort. There is simply little reason to believe that raising wage rates will unduly harm country or company competitiveness.

But most fundamentally, policymakers need to ask what sort of economy they want to create: a) an economy with low-wage jobs—and maybe one with few environmental or safety protections as well—such as Bangladesh, or b) an economy with high-wage employment and working conditions that do not sicken and kill people—think Denmark or Singapore.

Some years ago I had the privilege of working with the Ministry of Manpower in Singapore. Although Singapore has no national minimum wage, the government has consistently pursued policies to raise not just the education and training levels of the workforce, but also income. Early in Singapore’s history, it was a hub for low-cost manufacturing. When low-wage manufacturers complained they would be forced to move their operations out of Singapore as wage levels rose, the government’s response was: learn to be more efficient and productive, or go. Why would the government want to encourage the preservation of low-wage work—a policy that would also retard the growth in national median income?

Missing from the minimum wage discussion are the effects of wages and other job conditions on people’s physical, psychological and economic well being. And what about the “social pollution” caused by companies who pay people so little that their food and health care must then be subsidized by the public? Many advanced industrialized economies have chosen a “high road” policy path that has produced higher incomes and, not coincidentally, much better health outcomes such as longer life expectancy and lower rates of infant mortality. Economics teaches us that trade-offs are inevitable. Trading off job quality for job quantity might be a poor choice.

Jeffrey Pfeffer is Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.

TIME politics

10 Things You Might Not Know About Ronald Reagan

Did you know jelly beans helped him kick a bad habit and that he couldn't resist feeding the squirrels outside of the White House?

Republican President Ronald Reagan died 10 years ago today at 93. Below are some facts you may not know about the late Hollywood actor-turned-statesman.

• While running for California Governor in 1966, he started eating jelly beans to kick his smoking habit. Licorice was his favorite flavor. There would be a crystal jar of them on the table at Cabinet meetings.

NBC / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

• He liked to feed the squirrels outside of the Oval Office. In George H.W. Bush’s eulogy for Reagan, he said that on the 40th president’s last day in the White House, he left a sign on the Oval Office door addressed to the squirrels that said “Beware of the dog” because “our dog Millie came in and beat the heck out of the squirrels.”

• When he declared May 1983 National Amateur Baseball Month, he said he loved baseball so much, “I wouldn’t even complain if a stray ball came through the Oval Office window now and then.”

• Nancy Reagan published I Love You, Ronnie, a collection of love letters that he wrote to her from the 1950s to the 1990s. Among the writings, one dated 1956 is addressed to “Nancy Poo Pants,” while one dated Mar. 4, 1971, is signed “Your In Luv Guv.” Valentine’s Day, he wrote in 1960, is for people of “ordinary luck,” boasting that he had a “Valentine life.”

• She also wrote in her memoir that he was fed so many brussels sprouts during a trip to England that he swore them off for the rest of his life.

• He was known for writing personal checks (sometimes $4,000 or $5,000) to citizens who wrote to him about their money problems. “Reagan was famous for firing up air force jets on behalf of children who needed transport for kidney operations,” Frank J. Kelly, who wrote presidential messages, said in Ronald Kessler’s book In The President’s Secret Service.

• The day before the Group 7 summit meeting in 1983, White House Chief of Staff James Baker dropped off a briefing book and was furious the next day when he noticed it hadn’t been touched, prompting Reagan to joke, “Well, Jim, The Sound of Music was on last night.”

• He nominated the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, who served from 1986 to 2001.

• His nickname “The Gipper” comes from his role as Notre Dame football player George Gipp in the 1940 movie about the school’s legendary football coach, Knute Rockne All American.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

• His role in Bedtime for Bonzo as an anthropologist raising a chimp like a child — sleeping with it and nursing it — became a cult hit, especially after he won the 1980 presidential election. He once said he wouldn’t do the sequel Bonzo Goes to College (1952) because “Who could believe a chimp could go to college and play on the college team?”

TIME White House

Front Row Seat at the Reagan White House

TIME photographer Diana Walker recounts what it was like to cover the Great Communicator

TIME 2016 Election

The Myth of Inevitability

Silhouetted by a stage light, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the University of the Western Cape about U.S.-South Africa partnership, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012, in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
The Myth of Inevitability: Nothing is certain in 2016 Jacquelyn Martin—AP

Nothing is certain for Hillary Clinton in 2016

We have reached, believe it or not, the first crucial moment in the 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton has written a book. It will be launched, with Vesuvian hoopla, on June 10. Her schedule will be incredible for the weeks thereafter–an hour interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, for starters; Good Morning America the next morning; a town meeting with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. There will be joint appearances with Bill and Chelsea. And attention, Costco shoppers! Hillary Clinton will be signing copies of Hard Choices at Costco’s Arlington, Va., store on Saturday, June 14.

We are sure to be smothered by Hillary (or Hillary!, as an old campaign button had it) well past the summer solstice. There will be reviews and nonstop attempts to tease policy and controversy from the substance of the book, which concerns her time as Secretary of State. Her account of the Benghazi controversy has already been leaked. In it, she says she was “ultimately responsible” for the insufficient security at the consulate there, even though it was well below her pay grade. Happily, she fights back against the bizarre Republican campaign to find a scandal amid the tragedy. This is called getting out in front of the story, a common political strategy. Hard Choices is, like almost everything else Clinton, a campaign. How it is promoted and received will say a lot about the campaign to come, if it is to come.

As always, there will be a festering low road of speculation about Clinton herself, her health, her hair, her husband. And as always, a squalid tabloid underbuzz: Did she ask Chelsea to become pregnant to give her campaign a soft, grandmotherly tinge? Will new Whitewater papers reveal that the real estate deal was really a conspiracy to sell heroin? Monica Lewinsky has already reappeared and disappeared, coming out of seclusion to tell her story for the umpteenth time. The Clintons have long held an unprecedented primacy in academic journals and supermarket tabloids. That’s why we can’t take our eyes off them. They have big thoughts; they are creative policymakers who balance budgets; they care about the average guy, his widow and orphan. And yet their private world often seems laced with circus-sideshow overreach, both purposeful and accidental: Bill Clinton abandoned McDonald’s to become a vegan. Hillary’s top aide, Huma Abedin, married the tweeting exhibitionist Anthony Weiner.

Inevitably, there will be political speculation. Does this book mean she is running? Does her book tour prove that she “takes all the oxygen” out of the Democratic race? Is she “inevitable”? Is the Benghazi chapter “enough” to quiet the controversy? Will she learn to love the media–and will the media stop being so trashball in its Clinton coverage?

As a veteran Clinton watcher, I approach the coming spectacle with a combination of obsession, exhaustion, dread and exhilaration. This is going to be horrible fun–and crucial, as the Clintons always are. If she runs.

For the sake of magazine sales, let’s say she’s running. She’s got it locked, right? She’s the Democratic nominee at the very least, right? Ask any Republican and they’ll tell you she’s a cinch. They’ve already started their general-election campaign against her. Karl Rove is speculating that the fall she took at the end of her time as Secretary of State caused traumatic brain injury. Others fantasize that she conspired to have Lewinsky tell her story now, to get it out of the way–as if anything could. And congressional Republicans have dragged Benghazi back into public view, with stacked hearings that will amount, no doubt, to a hill of beans. Most Democrats think that she’ll not only waltz to the nomination but also crush anyone the Republicans put up, except maybe Jeb Bush–and hasn’t the Bush family saga become a moldy oldie over the decades?

But wait a minute. Aren’t the Clintons approaching their sell-by date too? Aren’t we about to become tired of their personal and policy baggage and retinue of overcaffeinated too-loyal aides spewing talking points on cable news? It can and will also be argued that the Clintons are out of touch with millennials and their handheld virtual society, out of touch with the growing populism of the Democratic Party, too closely aligned with Wall Street and untrammeled free trade, too hawkish, too closely aligned with an unpopular incumbent President. (Of course, Obama could easily rebound.) It can and will be argued, as always, that Hillary is stiff, programmed, overcautious. Exhibit A: her book-tour schedule.

It is possible, maybe even probable, that all these arguments will have the same effect on the Clinton juggernaut as a flea on a rhinoceros. Clinton is said to be the best-prepared politician to run for President in our lifetime, and that is probably true. She knows the issues, foreign and domestic; no one will outwonk her. She has the potential to run the table when it comes to big donors and endorsements. She has a presidential temperament–prudent, patient and tough. She is both funny and wise: ask anyone, Republican or Democrat, who has ever sat in a policy meeting with her. She started as a lousy stump politician but became a real trouper in the crucible of the 2008 primary campaign against Obama, especially in Pennsylvania, where she started hanging out in bars and bowling alleys and taught white working-class males that she was no quitter. Indeed, the lessons she learned in the 2008 primaries may be her quiet competitive advantage in 2016. Finally, she is a woman–an aspect of her candidacy that was foolishly underplayed by her advisers in 2008. As such, she lives in history.

Some presidential campaigns are about inevitability. Others are about energy. The best have both, but it’s rare: inevitability tends to crush energy. It makes candidates cautious. In 2000, George W. Bush raised a ton of money and secured a ton of endorsements. He was skating toward the nomination, according to the polls. “It’s amazing how close we came to losing,” says Matthew Dowd, who worked for Bush. “We were hanging on by our fingernails after McCain beat us by 18 points in New Hampshire, but McCain made some mistakes in South Carolina,” and Bush turned vicious, “and we were lucky to win.” Lest we forget: an inevitable candidate named Hillary Clinton was blindsided by Barack Obama’s energy in 2008.

Obama may be her greatest challenge in 2016 as well. It’s been reported that she has scrubbed Hard Choices for any negative references to the President. But any candidate following a two-term President has to figure out a “kinder, gentler” way to distinguish herself from her predecessor. People always want a change, a fact Al Gore and John McCain found out the hard way. It will be trickier if Obama remains unpopular. Inevitability is reality’s first casualty. If Obama makes a big mistake overseas or the economy flops, Clinton’s first job will be to say what she’d do differently, without offending the Democratic base who’ll remain loyal to the President no matter what.

Even if Obama successfully navigates his last two years in office, Clinton is likely to face more than one energy candidate in 2016. Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, profiled by Michael Scherer on page 36, is as entertaining as a presidential candidate should be allowed to be, and substantive too. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has a new book out–aha! (perhaps)–and is wowing the Democratic left at their partisan powwows. And former Virginia Senator Jim Webb–who also has a new book out, aha!–has not ruled out a presidential campaign. All three would challenge Clinton from the populist left, a force that is growing noisier within the party, if not more populous. The moderate governors, like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Martin O’Malley, probably won’t run if Clinton does.

Any of the three populists could run an exciting and perhaps even successful campaign against Clinton. She has real vulnerabilities and, yes, hard choices to make on policies she is assumed to have inherited from her husband, especially regarding the primacy of Wall Street and free trade. Bill Clinton essentially deregulated Wall Street while he was President–repealing the Glass-Steagall laws and refusing to regulate the exotic derivatives that helped cause the stock-market crash of 2008. Will Hillary Clinton move away from those positions? Is she willing to walk away from the egregious buckraking and speechmaking she and her husband have done with the global megarich in the service of the Clinton Global Initiative? “If not, she’s red meat in this new age of economic populism,” says David “Mudcat” Saunders, a Democratic consultant who has been close to Jim Webb in the past.

I recently asked Webb what he saw when he looked at America a year after he left the Senate. “Groundhog Day,” he said. Nothing had changed. In his book I Heard My Country Calling, Webb writes about a country “governed by a club of insiders who manipulate public opinion in order to serve the interests of hidden elites who hold the reins of power.” That could be a call to arms for Democratic populists and Tea Partyers alike. It is a bit over the top–hidden elites?–but it is a voice to be reckoned with in a ticked-off America.

There is also a bubbling-up of what the historian Fred Siegel calls gentry liberals, the old alliance of guilt-ridden limousine riders and (mostly African-American) minority groups who are itchy to file grievances again after 50 years of remarkable progress. A 2003 Brookings Institution study showed that if you graduate from high school, wait until marriage to have no more than two babies and have a job (any job, and there are plenty out there), the chances of your living in poverty are 3.7%. Those sorts of stats–and there are plenty of others like them–are downplayed by a new generation of African-American activists and by mayors like New York City’s Bill de Blasio, who has lifted some of the work requirements imposed by Bill Clinton for people on welfare. The left argues that times have changed. The economy has changed. It’s harder to get a job. Will Clinton modify her long-held positions on welfare and the importance of two-parent families?

Then there is her foreign policy. Robert Gates’ fabulously candid memoir about his time as Secretary of Defense has some juicy tidbits–like the fact that Clinton stood to his right on the Afghan surge in 2009. He favored adding 30,000 more troops; Clinton and General Stan McChrystal favored 40,000. Her support of the war in Iraq, except for the 2007 surge there, is also on the record–but Gates has her admitting that her opposition to the surge was “political.”

That is probably the ultimate argument against Clinton. She can be prohibitively “political” and far more cautious than she needs to be. The trouble is, presidential campaigns can’t be managed like book tours. They tend to be overwhelmed by events and trivialities. There is a constant gotcha contest with the press. In a recent Politico article about Clinton and the press, one of her advisers is quoted: “Look, she hates you. Period. That is not going to change.” To make things worse, her top communications adviser, Phillippe Reines, argued that Clinton didn’t really hate the press. She brought bagels to the back of the bus. But bringing bagels to the back of the bus is an embarrassingly transparent ploy. Bringing candor to the back of the bus might be a little more successful. I’ve seen her candor more than once, but always off the record. That will have to change. If Hillary Clinton hopes to succeed, she’s going to have to drop the veil–spontaneously, quite possibly in a crucial moment, like a debate–and trust the public to accept who she really is. Absent that, there is no such thing as inevitability.

TIME politics

This Country Proves That National Gun Buybacks Reduce Mass Shootings

San Francisco Holds Gun Buyback Event
Surrendered firearms sit on a table during a gun buyback event on August 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

In the decade and a half since Australia initiated the policy, the number of firearms per person has stayed constant, and gun deaths have remained low.

Sometimes a tragedy is so awful that it changes the national debate. The 1996 Dunblane school shooting in Scotland and the 2011 Norwegian gun massacre all prompted an outpouring of anguish and a demand for changes in law. In Australia, that moment was the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which a gunman killed 35 people at a tourist attraction in Tasmania.

As the U.S. reels over yet another mass shooting – this one involving a man who killed six students at UC Santa Barbara and shot himself – it’s worth taking a look at what happened in my country after that mass shooting – and at what has happened since.

As a nation that won its independence from Britain by consent rather than revolution, Australia’s Constitution does not contain a right to bear arms. But firearms are a part of rural life (used, for example, to cull kangaroos). Our police officers carry a firearm when they’re on patrol. Shooting ranges are common.

That’s the backdrop for the Port Arthur massacre, which took place a month after a conservative government had been elected. After the shooting, the new Prime Minister, John Howard, immediately came under pressure from elements of his party to leave gun laws unchanged.

But he didn’t. Supported by Tim Fisher, leader of the rural-based National Party (with which Howard’s party was in coalition), Howard tightened laws around access to firearms, particularly rifles and shotguns. The government also announced a buyback, with owners being compensated for their weapons at market prices. More than 650,000 guns were handed in.

From 2008 to 2010, while working as an economics professor at the Australian National University, I teamed up with Wilfrid Laurier University’s Christine Neill to study how the Australian gun buyback affected the firearms homicide and suicide rate. Whichever way you cut the data, it seemed clear that the national gun buyback reduced gun deaths. In the decade prior to the buyback, there was an average of one mass shooting (five or more victims) every year. In the decade after the buyback, there were no mass shootings. Overall, the firearms homicide and firearms suicide rates had been trending steadily downwards through the 1980s and early 1990s, but the fall accelerated after the buyback. Analyzing variations in the amount of guns turned in for buyback between states, we again found the same result: in states where more firearms were bought back, there was a bigger drop in gun deaths.

Although the policy was aimed at reducing gun homicides, we found that its effect was mostly to reduce the gun suicide rate, with most of the 200 lives saved being averted suicides. This makes sense once you realize that the ratio of firearms suicides to homicides is around 4 to 1 in Australia.

In the decade and a half since the Australian gun buyback, the number of firearms per person has stayed constant, and gun deaths have remained thankfully low.

When I studied the effect of the policy, I was a professor. Since then, I have entered federal politics, representing the Australian Labor Party. So one lesson is to recognize courage when you see it in your political opponents. Howard and Fisher could have squibbed the chance to change Australia’s gun laws, but they didn’t. Both believed that gun laws needed to change, and set about building a political movement for reform. They probably paid a political price at the 1998 election.

Another lesson is the value of a bold package of reforms in changing culture. When U.S. researchers have studied the impact of U.S. gun buybacks on crime, they typically find no effect. Most likely, it’s because these buybacks are conducted at the city level, and are not accompanied by a general tightening in ownership laws.

In my parliamentary district, most see firm gun laws as supporting the ability of law-abiding shooters to enjoy their sports. This was the philosophy adopted by America’s National Rifle Association in the 1960s, when it backed a crackdown on cheap handguns (“Saturday night specials”) because, as they said at the time, they had “no sporting purpose.”

Yet since 1977, when Harlan Carter and Wayne LaPierre took over the organization, the NRA has taken progressively more hardline positions: opposing bans on armor-piercing bullets, describing federal agents as “jack-booted thugs.” Australia’s gun lobbies have never been as well resourced, connected or politically extreme.

Much as we’d like to believe the “Dirty Harry” fantasy that guns are used to defend goodies from baddies, the world doesn’t work like that. Gun deaths are more likely to occur when a depressed teen finds dad’s gun, when an angry spouse turns a rifle on their cheating partner, or when a young boy opens the bedside drawer and starts playing with the a loaded pistol inside. That’s why the most careful U.S. studies point to the same conclusion: more guns, more crime.

Andrew Leigh is the assistant treasury spokesperson for the Labor Opposition in Australia and was an economics professor at the Australian National University in Canberra. He serves in the House of Representatives, for the seat of Fraser. His website is www.andrewleigh.com. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME foreign affairs

Sen. Inhofe: President Obama Compromised American Security To Burnish His Legacy

Now that the Taliban Dream Team is back on the field of battle, it will be that much easier to close Guantanamo—the administration's true priority.

Our nation has long honored a commitment to the men and women of our military that when they are sent into harm’s way, they will never be left behind. For this reason, Americans should find solace in the fact that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is coming home after five years in captivity. However, these feelings should be tempered by the troubling questions that remain unanswered about the President’s secret deal with the Taliban and using this as an opportunity to pursue his legacy of closing Guantanamo Bay.

The men at the center of this trade were no ordinary terrorists captured on the battlefield. Instead, by the Taliban’s own statements, they were five of the most senior leaders the Taliban had to offer. Many are labeling them the “Taliban Dream Team,” directly responsible for countless atrocities during the Taliban’s brutal rule. They undoubtedly have the blood of American soldiers and Afghans on their hands.

Multiple reviews by the U.S.military of these detainees while at Guantanamo found that they were too dangerous to release. Today, according to press reports, these ruthless terrorists appear to be living quite well in Qatar and will eventually be able to return to Afghanistan. The Obama Administration has not provided details to the American people or Congress on what security guarantees are in place to stop these men from returning to the battlefield or to stop them from conducting attacks against the thousands of American servicemembers and diplomats who are currently serving in the region.

This reckless decision by the President has been hailed as a great victory—not by the American people or our allies, but by the same terrorists who are trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan today. Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader, has called the release of the detainees a “great victory.” Mullah Salem Khan, a senior Taliban commander in Helmand Province, the scene of some of the toughest fighting our troops have encountered to date, characterized the release as “like putting 10,000 Taliban fighters into battle on the side of jihad. Now, the Taliban have the right lion to lead them in the final moment before victory in Afghanistan.”

It’s no coincidence that the President’s secret deal comes on the heels of his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. One would expect the transfer of high-value prisoners does not happen until peace is established, but the premature offer for five senior Taliban members significantly undermines our ability to effectively and responsibly transition our engagement in the region.

What we’ve witnessed should not come as a great surprise. Releasing dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo is all part of the President’s focus as he looks to solidify his legacy in these last two years of office. Despite the reality that nearly one-third of detainees released from Guantanamo are suspected or confirmed to have re-joined the fight, the President remains determined to close the detention center and transfer the remaining detainees overseas and some even to U.S. soil. Now that the Taliban Dream Team is gone, it will make it that much easier to achieve his goal.

To prevent decisions that pose a threat to our national security like the one President Obama made last week, Congress passed a law last year with strong bipartisan support requiring the President to notify Congress prior to transferring Guantanamo detainees overseas. The law is clear, and President Obama clearly failed to follow it. Section 1035(d) of the Fiscal Year 2014 Defense Authorization Act states Congress will be notified 30 days before a transfer. Elements required in the notification include: “(1) a detailed statement of the basis for the transfer or release; (2) an explanation of why the transfer or release is in the national security interests of the United States”; and “(3) a description of any actions taken to mitigate the risks of reengagement by the individual to be transferred or released.”

Yet, once again, the President believed himself to be above the law.

As details continue to emerge on the prisoner exchange, I urge the nation to stay focused on the matter really at hand. This President will go any length to solidify his legacy. The nation has seen this with the way he failed to tell the American public the whole truth about the devastating impacts of his health care law; his pursuit to enact cap-and-trade through regulation after being defeated through legislation; and now he is willing to compromise our national security and our military members in harms way to get one step closer to closing Guantanamo.

As Congress begins hearings on this topic, I will be vigilant in pursuing real answers about the President’s decision to ignore the law and put Americans and our military members at greater risk.

Senator Jim Inhofe is the Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee.

TIME politics

Here Is What the VA Needs to Do to Start Rehabilitating Itself

Veterans Affairs Secretary General Eric Shinseki
Veterans Affairs Secretary General Eric Shinseki gives the keynote address at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday, May 30, 2014. The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Navy SEAL Eric Greitens breaks down the twin challenges the scandal-plagued organization faces of restoring credibility while also transforming for the future.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is facing an emergency. Deception in record keeping, manipulation of data, lies to families, secret lists, systemic corruption at health centers. Yet this crisis of credibility is more than a short-term emergency at the department that pledges to fulfill Lincoln’s promise to “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” There’s also a long-term challenge. To meet it, the VA leadership will have to move boldly to address questions both strategic and cultural.

I’ve worked with thousands of veterans since returning from Iraq in 2007. My team has honored nurses and doctors in the VA who saved lives, and there are many stories of the sweat and courage of VA employees that are too infrequently told. Many veterans are satisfied with the care they receive, and the VA has model programs for some illnesses. Yet almost every veteran has at least one story of VA dysfunction. Too much VA heroism is about fighting the VA itself by going above, under or around its beastly bureaucracy.

After the Pentagon, the VA is the single largest department of the government, spending more than $160 billion dollars a year and employing 300,000 people. Leading any organization of this size through a crisis would be difficult. At the VA, new leadership will have to build a team, shape a culture and develop a strategy to face the twin challenges of restoring credibility while also leading transformation.

At the moment, the VA is facing a crisis of demand. Veterans who need care can’t get it from VA hospitals. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many people believe that the veteran population is growing. It would be easy to think that the answer is simple: hire more and spend more. But in fact, we’ve lost more than 6 million veterans over the last 30 years, and veterans now represent less than 7% of the population. We face a future with millions fewer veterans in a country with millions more people. Over the long term, the VA will have to adjust to a shrinking population with changing needs. The right kind of planning will rely less on predicting the future and more on building a flexible system that responds quickly to shifting needs.

The current structure of VA healthcare makes that kind of planning difficult. A patient-centered approach would incorporate lessons from other hospital systems to create structures for physicians and hospitals to deliver excellence while providing flexibility for patients to go wherever they can to get the best care. This is easy to write and hard to do. But it’s the kind of thinking and planning that the VA must do if they are going to preserve centers of excellence and avoid the waste of half-filled hospitals and ghost town clinics. Solving this challenge will require close work with Congress on a sensible plan for consolidation in some areas, while expanding excellent care options for all veterans, especially those living in rural and remote areas.

Unlike the military, almost every function performed by the VA (healthcare, home loans, scholarships, cemeteries) has a clear private sector counterpart. Innovative leaders have to look to public/private partnerships and market competition and ask, “What works best?” We should rethink what services we want the VA only to pay for, and which ones we want it to provide.

In addition, through increased collaboration the VA can take far greater advantage of the work of high-performing non-profit organizations that are providing quality services to veterans. Perhaps more than at any time in American history, the average citizen is ready and willing to help veterans. But for reasons of privacy, health, and quality, the VA has built a high wall around its patients. (Some of these walls are necessary; there are many people with good intentions who create no results, and the field of those who say they want to help veterans includes people who are fraudulent and manipulative.) The VA should create a certification system for quality, proven organizations to make a difference in the lives of veterans who would benefit from the healing presence and helpful service of their fellow Americans.

In a similar vein, civil service reform may not seem exciting, but it’s essential. With 300,000 employees and a crisis of accountability, the VA must find ways to remove poor performers, promote and reward excellence and attract and retain top talent. Insisting on excellence is the best way to preserve, promote and celebrate the public service ethic shared by many VA physicians who forego higher salaries to serve veterans. Done right, reform at the VA could point the way toward a more dynamic and effective civil service.

Finally, any discussion of the structural and strategic challenges facing the VA has to include technology. Both the inability of the Pentagon and the VA to smoothly transition a service members’ health records and the VA backlog of disability claims have been well documented and much discussed. But without a fix, serious problems will persist.

In addition to these structural issues, there are cultural issues that must be tackled as well. Thus far, the VA has failed to fully integrate this generation of veterans into its systems or culture. Combat-injured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with pressing needs too often continue to wait in horrific lines. Their signature injuries—traumatic brain injury and PTSD–have still not been effectively addressed. And despite some women’s health centers, the VA too often thinks of veterans only as men, when female service members now make up 14% of the force.

The “pop a pill” approach to pain in general and to PTSD in particular is also hurting. There’s a place for prescription medication for some patients, but the side effects of overmedication too often include addiction and suicide. Exercise, service in the community, work with dignity, and meaningful relationships all seem to have a lasting effect on relieving PTSD. These are not things that a government can provide for its citizens; all people, veterans included, must be partners in the protection and promotion of their own health. The VA needs to encourage therapeutic plans that reinforce a culture of responsibility.

The disability system itself has also devolved into a cumbersome check-writing scheme unattached from commonsense understanding of disability. (Because of that, I and many others make a point of donating “disability” checks to charity.) Veterans who were disabled by war and need financial assistance to lead a dignified life should get it. Veterans who do not need disability payments should be able to easily opt out of receiving them, while not forfeiting their future eligibility should they suffer a setback. Lost eyesight rarely returns and limbs don’t grow back, but where a disability can be overcome, veterans should be aided by a system that incentivizes progress toward health rather than simply paying for disability. The money we save could be redirected toward programs that help reintroduce veterans as contributing citizens to society.

Many people who work with veterans are frustrated by media stories that focus on “troubled” veterans: stories of suicide, sexual assault, homelessness and crime. But the journalists who cover these issues are often veterans themselves, and many spent time embedded in military units. When they draw attention to flaws at the VA, they should be thanked rather than shut out.

Criticism of the media counts for little if veterans don’t join the conversation. Perhaps more than anything, new leadership at the VA must help the public to know the men and women I know: men and women who served with courage overseas and who’ve come back home to help us build stronger communities. The leader of the VA serves as the most visible and powerful spokesperson for veterans in the country. As such, he or she must help the country understand not only what veterans deserve, but also what they offer.

Many of these problems have roots that go back more than 50 years. They won’t be solved in five months. Still, discussions about veterans have been buoyed for too long by the rhetoric of intentions. We know that everyone wants to do well by veterans, but there is a vast difference between wanting a result and creating one.

The veterans that came home from World War II shaped a nation. The generation that came home from Vietnam shaped a culture. What will be the legacy of this generation? The men and women I served with were never afraid to do hard things. This too will be hard. But it’s what we all want: veterans, honorable employees inside the VA, and every American who believes it’s time we got this right.

Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL and founder and CEO of The Mission Continues, was a TIME 100 honoree in 2013. He was recently named by Fortune Magazine as one of the 50 Best Leaders in the World.

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