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.

TIME 2014 Election

Embattled State Senator Gets Nearly 300,000 Votes Despite Dropping Out

Leland Yee
California state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, right, leaves the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco, March 26, 2014. Ben Margot—AP

Suspended California State Senator Leland Yee won nearly 10% of the vote on Tuesday, even though he dropped out of the race in late March

Nearly 300,000 Californians voted for Leland Yee in a Democratic primary Tuesday, leading the embattled state senator to garner 9.8% of the vote in a race to be named his party’s candidate for Secretary of State. But there’s just one problem: Yee dropped out of the race in March, but not before a deadline to remove his name from the ballot had passed.

The collection votes would hardly qualify Yee for a spot on the general election ballot. Still, the state senator — who plead not guilty to federal gun trafficking charges in April — finished second in the state’s Democratic primary. A total of 287,590 people voted for him.

The 65-year-old San Franciscan Democrat was indicted on federal gun trafficking and corruption charges in March. The charges followed a Federal Bureau of Investigations operation after which Yee was accused of accepting money from undercover agents to cover campaign debt. Yee also allegedly agreed to help the agents obtain illegal firearms.

Yee was suspended from the state senate without pay in March following the indictment.

Democrat Alex Padilla and Republican Pete Peterson will face one another in a general election this November.

TIME politics

Why Veterans Affairs Can’t Root Out Its Corruption

VA Secretary Shinseki Testifies Before Senate On State Of VA Health Care
U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee about wait times veterans face to get medical care May 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Eric Shinseki may be gone, but there are still indefensible civil service rules in place that put failing bureaucrats' job security ahead of the safety of the veterans they should be serving.

A pair of scathing reports last week on the growing scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that wait time schemes and data manipulation are systemic throughout the VA, putting veterans across the country at risk.

The independent VA Inspector General’s report was brutal in its assessment. Department officials at the Phoenix VA Health Care System used tricks to hide months-long delays faced by veterans seeking appointments. This fraud increased hospital administrators’ chances of netting cash bonuses and salary increases while jeopardizing veterans’ health, the report implied. According to the IG, similar scams are taking place at VA hospitals throughout the country.

A second report, done by the VA itself, was even bleaker. Many VA medical centers are plagued by a systemic lack of integrity, it said. Schedulers were pressured into manipulating data in order to make appointment wait times appear shorter, and staff at nearly two-thirds of 216 VA medical facilities reviewed were instructed to cook the books.

Clearly the VA’s entire system for providing timely medical care is in dire need of reform. A number of lawmakers, including me, are in the process of introducing legislation that would do just that. But those reforms will be impossible to implement if the people responsible for this corruption remain entrenched in the VA’s bureaucracy.

As the reports make painfully obvious, the environment in today’s Veterans Health Administration is one in which some VA health officials are so driven in their quest for performance bonuses, promotions and power that they are willing to lie, cheat and put the health of the veterans they were hired to serve at risk. These are not people who deserve a second chance. They deserve a swift exit from federal employment, and possibly an entrance to federal prison. Any VA administrator who ordered subordinates to purposely manipulate appointment data should be fired immediately.

Unfortunately that is currently impossible due to indefensible civil service rules that put the job security of failing VA bureaucrats ahead of the safety of the veterans they are charged with serving. In his last speech as VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki essentially admitted this when he said he had “initiated the process for the removal” of the Phoenix hospital’s senior leaders.

The process Shinseki was referring to can drag on for long periods of time, involves miles of red tape and does not guarantee the removal of anyone, as it is subject to review by something called the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-judicial agency with complete power to overturn federal personnel actions on the basis of “due process violations” and other legal technicalities.

Last month the House of Representatives passed a bill that would give the VA secretary the authority to sidestep this arcane process and immediately fire VA senior executives based on performance. By an overwhelming bipartisan 390-33 vote, lawmakers sent the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act, which I introduced, to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future amid concerns that it would trample on the “rights” and “protections” of failing VA executives. Ironically, the same lawmakers voicing these concerns do not afford similar “rights” and “protections” to their own employees, making their opposition to the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act all the more incomprehensible.

The VA is in the middle of the biggest healthcare scandal in its history. At least 42 VA medical facilities are under federal investigation for lying about the extent of the VA’s delays in care problem, and by the department’s own count at least 23 veterans are dead due to recent delays in VA medical care. To date, despite numerous requests from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs regarding disciplinary actions in response to these deaths and more than a dozen other recent preventable fatalities at a host of VA medical facilities around the country, there is no indication that any VA executives have been fired. Instead, department officials have pointed to non-disciplinary actions, such as employee transfers, resignations and retirements, or bureaucratic slaps on the wrist, such as temporary written warnings, in order to create the appearance of accountability.

When mismanagement and negligence of this scale go essentially unpunished, it sends a message of cold, hard indifference to veterans seeking care at the VA, as well as the hundreds of thousands of dedicated department employees who go to work every day trying to do the right thing.

In order to pave the way for serious and substantive reforms that will help the VA to effectively deliver the care and benefits our veterans have earned, we need to root out the culture of corruption and complacency that has taken hold within the department and is contributing to all of its most pressing challenges. The only way to accomplish this is by getting rid of the VA leaders whose negligence and dishonesty have enabled these problems to fester.

The only right executives who contributed to the VA scandal should have is the right to be shown the door. It would be a grave mistake for the Senate to stand in the doorway, blocking their exit.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Chumuckla, Fla., is the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

TIME politics

I Spent More Than Six Years as an Innocent Woman on Death Row

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Frank van den Bergh—Getty Images

I was 18 when I was convicted of murdering my baby and sentenced to death, and 25 when I was finally found innocent.

The new season of Orange is the New Black will be available on Netflix starting next weekend. I won’t be watching it. I lived it.

I was 17 and living in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1989. One night, I went to check on my beautiful 9-month-old son, Walter. He wasn’t breathing. I scooped him up and frantically rushed to the neighbor next door, who could not help me. I ran downstairs where another girl took my baby, started CPR, and advised me what to do. I performed CPR all the way to the hospital. The CPR left bruises on his chest. At the hospital, the doctors said they had done all they could.

The next morning, I went down to the police station as I had been asked to do. When I got there, a detective yelled at me, “You know you killed your baby. You stepped on him with your feet and smashed him on the floor. You killed him.”

I was alone with no lawyer or parent with me. I told him I tried to save my baby. He wrote down what I said and threw it in the garbage. He yelled at me for three hours. No matter what I said, he screamed over and over that I had killed my baby. I was terrified. I was put in jail and not allowed to attend Walter’s funeral.

When I was 18, I was convicted of murdering my baby and sentenced to death. As a death row prisoner, I was alone in my cell for 23 hours a day. It was a good thing: if the other women could have gotten near me, they would have killed me because they thought I deserved to die. In prison, you have to constantly watch your back.

Around the time my other son Danny was five years old, he asked me on the phone, “Are they going to kill you with a needle?” It is a question no child should ever have to ask his mother or father.

My own mother fought to prove my innocence. I was lucky: attorneys Rob McDuff and Clive Stafford Smith took my case pro bono. They got me a new trial and called witnesses who said I had been trying to resuscitate Walter with CPR. That’s where the bruises came from. My new attorneys also showed that my son died from a hereditary kidney condition. There was no murder at all.

I was 25 years old when I was finally found innocent. I am the only woman ever exonerated and freed from death row in the United States.

I wish I could say that it is rare for innocent people to be convicted and sentenced to death. But it’s not. Since 1973, 144 people have been exonerated and freed from death row in the U.S. I provide support to many of these men through my job at Witness to Innocence, a nonprofit organization that helps people who have been exonerated from death row and their loved ones.

A study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that more than 4% — one in every 25 — of the death sentences in the U.S. are imposed on people who are innocent. This should be a cause for outrage. If one in 25 bank transactions were inaccurate, no one would stand for it.

Recently, a group of former governors, judges and other important people got together and issued 39 recommendations to make the death penalty more fair and accurate. Even if every reform was adopted, innocent people would still get convicted and sent to death row. As long as human beings are in charge, they will make mistakes. If we can’t get the death penalty right every time, we shouldn’t do it at all.

You can change the laws, but you can’t change some things about human nature. There will always be people who want to advance their careers by putting people to death. Some of those people will be innocent, like me, and most of them will be poor, isolated and African American or Latino.

I was a teenager who, less than 24 hours before, had lost my precious baby boy. Ambitious men questioned, demoralized and intimidated me. In that state of mind, I signed the lies they wrote on a piece of paper. I signed my name in tiny letters in the margin to show some form of resistance to the power they had over me. People who say they would never sign a false confession have never been in my shoes.

When I first went to prison, I hated the people who railroaded me onto death row. Then I realized that I could be bitter and angry, but the only person it would hurt was me. I made a decision to fill my heart with love, try to be happy every day, and help other people. You can choose to be positive or you can choose to be negative. And that’s the choice that makes all the difference in the world.

Sabrina Butler is the Assistant Director of Membership and Training at Witness to Innocence. She still lives in Columbus, Mississippi, with her husband of 19 years and three children.

TIME politics

Sandy Hook Father on Gun Violence: ‘It’s Not Too Late to Protect Your Children’

UCSB Holds Memorial Service For Shooting Victims At Harder Stadium
Students mourn at a public memorial service on the Day of Mourning and Reflection for the victims of a killing spree at University of California, Santa Barbara on May 27, 2014 in Isla Vista, California. David McNew—Getty Images

Last week in Santa Barbara, six more families joined that terrible club of parents who have lost children to shootings.

When each of my three children were born, I held them in my arms and imagined who they would one day become. Even at birth, James, Natalie and Daniel each had very distinct and unique personalities, and I thought their futures would be limitless. It was unimaginable that sweet little Daniel’s future would be violently cut short by a rampaging young man whose brain was clearly broken. But it happened. I can still feel the softness of his 7-year-old cheek when I kissed him and put him on the school bus to go to Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, never to see him alive again.

My story, my anguish is shared by more parents than you can imagine. Not just those who lost children and loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary, but the tens and hundreds of thousands of parents who have lost children to gun violence before and since, families across the country whose grief is no less because their tragedy didn’t make headlines. Last week in Santa Barbara, six more families joined that terrible club. I don’t personally know Richard Martinez, but when he said in an interview “you never think it can happen to you,” I hung my head and cried.

We all have to make our peace with the dangerous realities in our lives. And sometimes it’s just easier to look the other way and go about your routine. But just as I buckled my children into their car seats and taught them to look both ways before crossing the street, there are things we can do to make our children safe. And if we can agree that safety for our children is just common sense, then we must agree to come together, put aside petty political differences and do the things we all say we agree on.

We can’t look to Washington to solve all our problems, but two things are happening in Congress this week that can make a real difference in the lives of our children. I pray that we have the strength to accomplish them both.

What use is a law without adequate resources to enforce it? The House votes Thursday on appropriations proposed by Congressmen Pete King and Mike Thompson that would add more money to the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) to ensure that the felons, domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill who are legally prohibited from owning firearms are registered in NICS and prohibited from purchasing firearms from authorized dealers. It’s unbelievable that some seriously mentally ill people pass the NICS check because states can’t afford to keep their NICS list updated. Who doesn’t want to ensure that firearms are kept out of the hands of the severely mentally ill? This is already a bi-partisan bill and should have overwhelming bi-partisan support.

Another bill being introduced just this week, the Promoting Healthy Minds for Safer Communities Act, would reduce gun violence both by keeping guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill and providing access to treatment for those with mental illness across the country. This bill would strengthen provisions already in the law that keep firearms out of the hands of those who have been determined to be a danger to themselves or others. The law now says that you can’t purchase a firearm if you’ve been involuntary committed to a mental institution, but it doesn’t include people who have been involuntarily committed to outpatient treatment. If people are a danger to themselves and others, they should be prohibited from purchasing guns whether they have been committed to a formal institution or not.

Despite my pain and grief, I have great faith we can find a way through this terrible morass with enough voices joined together: voices from the political left and the right, voices of gun owners and those who don’t own guns, millions of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles around the country who look at their children and think, there is something I can do to protect you. We don’t risk any of our freedoms or values. We do it in the shared belief that America is a stronger country when we make common sense choices to protect our innocent children. It’s too late for my sweet little Daniel or for Christopher Michaels-Martinez, or the hundreds of thousands of children already gone, but it’s not too late to protect your children and the children that you love. Please join us.

Mark Barden is the Advocacy Director at Sandy Hook Promise.

TIME health

You Say Potato, Mrs. Obama. I Say, Please Stop Micromanaging Our Diets and Our Schools

If you’ve ever wondered just where the role of government ends and where the ability of adults to choose things for themselves and their children begins, don’t bother. The answer, at least according to First Lady Michelle Obama, is nowhere.

Marching under the banner of Science with a capital S, Obama believes the federal government should be able to tell you what to eat. Or, more precisely, not eat. At least if you’re poor enough to be on relief or if you’re remanded to the custody of a K-12 public school.

Writing in the New York Times, Obama warns that “right now, the House of Representatives is considering a bill to override science by mandating that white potatoes be included on the list of foods that women can purchase using WIC dollars.”

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. Obama agrees that “there is nothing wrong with potatoes.” It’s just that according to the Institute of Medicine (a.k.a. “science”), the “low-income women and their babies and toddlers” served by the WIC program would be better off if they chowed down on “nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.”

When it comes to schoolkids, Obama is just as emphatic that decisions are best made in Washington, rather than in the countless cafeterias of the nation’s 100,000 public schools. Some House members, she writes, “want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids. They also want to allow more sodium and fewer whole grains than recommended into school lunches.”

The First Lady believes that the various programs she’s championed over the past few years (like Let’s Move!, which hectors kids to exercise) are producing “glimmers of progress” in the War on Fat People, especially among children ages 2 to 5. The fact is, however, that there is no clear link between any of the programs she promotes and the trends she applauds.

According to a new Centers for Disease Control study, the obesity rate among kids that age is 8%, down from 14% in 2003. That’s all well and good, but the authors caution that one year doesn’t make a trend, especially since that group makes up “a tiny fraction” of the population. Indeed, the same report also notes that obesity rates among Americans 19 years old and younger had already stopped climbing by 2003 and have been flat ever since, at about 17%. Other accounts suggest that youth obesity rates peaked even earlier, in 1999. Over the same general time frame, adult obesity rates have stayed steady, at around 30%. This all came after a tripling of rates between the 1970s and 1990s.

Obama is welcome to take credit for a general flattening of trends that began years before her husband became President. However, when she starts urging the federal government to limit individual choices and centralize control in the federal government, attention should be paid. “As parents, we always put our children’s interests first,” she writes. “We wake up every morning and go to bed every night worrying about their well-being and their futures.”

If she really believes that, then why not treat poor people with the same respect that we treat middle-class and upper-middle-class folks? If we’re going to supplement their incomes, why not give them a cash payment and let them figure out how to make the best use of it?

Similarly, if we can’t trust our schools to figure out how best to fill their students’ stomachs, why the hell are we forcing our children to attend such institutions in the first place? When is the last time you heard kids who attend schools of choice—whether private, religious or public charters (which enroll disproportionately high numbers of low-income students)—even mention food?

During the debate over Obamacare’s individual mandate, we had a fiery national conversation over whether the government could force you to buy broccoli. But even when the Supreme Court effectively said it could, nobody believed it could make you eat the stuff. That debate, it seems, took place in a simpler time.

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