TIME politics

Obama’s Wrong About Our Go-It-Alone, Imperialistic, America-First Tax Code

Burger King To Buy Tim Hortons Chain For About $11.4 Billion
A vehicle drives past a Burger King Worldwide Inc. restaurant in Peoria, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Burger King Worldwide Inc. agreed to acquire Tim Hortons Inc. for about C$12.5 billion ($11.4 billion) in a deal that creates the third-largest fast-food company and moves its headquarters to Canada. Bloomberg—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column.

Our "territorial” tax system is just Yankee imperialism

The Obama administration is not living up to its promise to move the country away from an arrogant, unilateral approach to the world. And it has not embraced a more consensus-driven, multipolar vision that reflects the fact that America is not the sole player in the global sandbox.

No, I am not talking here about national security or counter-terrorism policy, but rather the telling issue of how governments think about money — specifically the money they are entitled to, as established by their tax policies.

The president and Jack Lew, his treasury secretary, have labeled companies that relocate overseas “unpatriotic.” This week the administration announced a series of executive actions meant to crack down on such relocations — legally known as “inversions” — when they entail folding a U.S. entity into an overseas holding company, often for tax purposes. Walgreens, the drugstore chain, recently backed down from a plan to pull off an inversion given the firestorm around the issue.

The political fight around these inversions have pitted profitable corporations (mostly pharmaceuticals) and their lobbyists against politicians and pundits lamenting the fact that some folks refuse to pay their “fair share” or to appreciate the benefits bestowed upon us all by our American citizenship. And we all know which side of that fight we’re supposed to be on.

But hold on. The political debate around this issue is — and I know this will come as a shock! — divorced from the real underlying problem. The inversions debate is less about greedy companies wanting to lower their taxes and more about the fact that ours is a country with an outdated tax code — one that reflects the worst go-it-alone, imperialistic, America-first impulses.

Most of the arguments around inversions, and most of the media coverage, are purely focused on tax rates. And that’s understandable. We’re used to squabbling about rates and, at 35 percent, America’s corporate income tax is among the highest in the world. So this story of unpatriotic companies is almost entirely told as a quest for lower rates elsewhere.

But the far more significant problem is old-fashioned Yankee imperialism. The United States persists in imposing its “worldwide taxation” system — as opposed to the “territorial” model embraced by most of the rest of the world.

Under a “territorial” tax system, the sovereign with jurisdiction over the economic activity is entitled to tax it. If you profit from doing business in France, you owe the French treasury taxes, regardless of whether you are a French, American, or Japanese multinational. Even the United States, conveniently, subscribes to this logical approach when it comes to foreign companies doing business here: Foreign companies pay Washington corporate taxes on the income made by their U.S. operations.

But under our worldwide tax system, Uncle Sam also taxes your income as an American citizen (or Apple’s or Coca-Cola’s) anywhere in the world. What confers jurisdiction in this case is not the location of the economic activity but your home base or residency, as a company or individual. So $100 made by Apple selling a device in Shanghai or Paris is the same to Uncle Sam as $100 made in Los Angeles.

Well, almost the same. The one difference is that the $100 profit Apple makes in another country is first taxed by that country, and only taxed by Washington when it is literally brought back home (“repatriated,” in tax lingo). At that time, Apple receives a credit for the taxes paid elsewhere (just like you get to deduct your state income taxes from your federal tax bill).

So, let’s assume Apple makes $100 in a country with a 15 percent corporate tax. Apple pays that country’s tax authority $15. Then, Apple must decide whether or not to keep the rest of its money overseas. Bringing that $85 back to the United States to invest in business here or return to shareholders would require Apple to pay an extra $20 tax to Uncle Sam. (Apple would owe $35 in U.S. taxes minus the $15 credit it would receive for taxes paid elsewhere on that income.)

This deferral in imposing a tax that shouldn’t be imposed in the first place gives us the worst of all possible worlds — in complexity, inefficiency, and disincentives to investing in America and its future. Defenders of the status quo and corporate critics like to point out that companies often don’t pay a full 35 percent rate on their global income because a hefty portion of their overseas profits remains trapped overseas. So they shouldn’t whine about the rate, the argument goes, as if companies relish these artificial hurdles to allocating resources where they are most needed.

Imagine you are a California-based widget manufacturer competing around the world against a Dutch widget manufacturer. You both do very well and compete aggressively in Latin America, and pay taxes on your income there. Trouble is, your Dutch competitor can reinvest those profits back in its home country without paying additional taxes, but you can’t. Alibaba, the Chinese online retailer that just floated its massive IPO in New York, may face a lot of challenges expanding beyond its Chinese market, but taxes certainly won’t be one of them. USA Today reported that the company’s effective tax rate is 11.9 percent, compared to more than 30 percent for Amazon. And, the Chinese company won’t be hounded by its Communist regime to pay taxes on money it makes outside China.

The big underlying conceptual problem is that our worldwide approach to taxation, dating back to the 1920s, is the tax code equivalent of gunboat diplomacy. It presupposes that America has jurisdiction over anything Americans do elsewhere, and that other countries don’t really matter. It presupposes that it is our government, and no other, that is responsible for creating the conditions for business to take place. This approach dates back to a time when it would have been unimaginable to think that iconic American multinationals could one day do more business in foreign lands than at home, or that they might face formidable foreign competitors (even within the U.S. market!).

A number of companies have moved their headquarters outside the United States because our tax code makes it so difficult to run a global business. But it was emblematic of our nationalistic hubris that Burger King was also denounced as “unpatriotic” recently when its merger with Canada’s Tim Horton’s was announced. The company’s relocation to Canada (hardly a dodgy, tax-evasion haven) makes sense given where the combined companies’ operations are, but in Washington this was just seen as another treason by inversion – because in our myopic worldview, other countries don’t matter.

Instead of attacking companies struggling to compete in the global marketplace, the Obama administration should work with Republicans to move to a territorial tax system. That’s even more important than fiddling with the actual rates, because it is what will level the playing field between U.S. companies and their foreign competitors. Both would pay the U.S. rate here, but not elsewhere.

If we modernize our tax system to reflect the realities of the global economy, we won’t just stop more American companies from leaving. We’d also be encouraging plenty of foreign companies to pull off inversions of their own, to America. We may not be the only country that matters (sorry, D.C.), but if we fix the tax code, we’d be about as good a place to do business as anywhere else on earth.

Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column. He wrote this piece for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Eric Holder’s Legacy: Duplicity, Incompetence, and Obliviousness

Attorney General Addresses Ferguson Police Shooting, Day After Visiting The City
Attorney General Eric Holder makes a separated during a major financial fraud announcement press conference on Aug. 21, 2014 at the Justice Department in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Holder exists to protect the president and his policies. Worse, his successor will almost certainly take up exactly where he leaves off.

So Eric Holder is stepping down as attorney general of the United States, reportedly just as soon as a successor is named and confirmed.

It’s a shame that it can’t happen sooner.

Despite some positive actions — refusing to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that is plainly discriminatory, and calling for long-overdue sentencing reform, for instance – Holder’s tenure has been marked by a disturbing mix of duplicity, incompetence, and obliviousness.

Which is another way of saying that he was a thoroughly typical attorney general, a cabinet position that has long been held by individuals whose first loyalty is to the president that appointed them rather than to the Constitution they swear to defend.

From A. Mitchell Palmer (who rounded up and deported real and imagined Communists) to John Mitchell (convicted on perjury charges related to Watergate) to Janet Reno (who ordered the disastrous assault on the Branch Davidians and spent years threatening to censor cable TV), the position has long been a holding tank for low-performing miscreants.

Early on his tenure, Holder told Congress that federal agents wouldn’t raid and arrest proprietors of medical marijuana dispensaries that were complying with state laws (all pot is illegal under federal law). Yet through 2013, the Obama administration was averaging 36 medical marijuana prosecutions a year, compared to 20 a year for the George W. Bush administration. Either Holder directed the Department of Justice and was lying to Congress or he was an administrator whose subordinates routinely disobeyed him. Neither possibility is comforting.

In 2012, he was held in contempt by a bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives for refusing to testify about the “Fast and Furious” scandal emanating from the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATF). Fast and Furious involved government agents allowing illegal sales of guns that were later found at the scene of the murder of a Border Patrol agent. The BATF is part of the Department of Justice and Holder has given conflicting statements about the operation.

Holder managed to earn the ire of progressive politicians such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) when he admitted that some Wall Street banks were not only too big to fail but too big to jail. The sheer size of some institutions, he told Congress, “has an inhibiting influence — impact on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate.”

Arguably more disturbing was Holder’s central role in signing off on the secret monitoring of Fox News’ James Rosen and other journalists and his staunch defense of National Security Agency surveillance programs (even when federal oversight boards decreed them unconstitutional and ineffective). It took a 13-hour filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to get Holder to acknowledge in plain language that there were in fact limits to the president’s secret kill list (the existence of which is itself deeply disturbing).

That Holder has moderated on some of these issues — just a couple of weeks ago, Holder voiced support for NSA reforms that would “provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system” — only drives home just how situational his ethics and actions always have been as attorney general.

Back in 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama rightly attacked the risible performance of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whom he said conceived of his job as being “the president’s attorney” rather than “the people’s attorney.”

Yet that’s exactly how Eric Holder has behaved during his time in office. Holder exists to protect the president and his policies. Worse still, his successor will almost certainly take up exactly where he leaves off.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Midterms

A Virtual Cycle

Joe Klein Road Trip Thom Tillis and Mark Walker
US Senate candidate Thom Tillis, right in blue shirt, greets and speaks to rally attendees at the Guildford County Republican Party headquarters in Greensboro, N.C. on Sept. 20, 2014. Jeremy M. Lange for TIME

Nobody wins when voters only experience politics second hand

Peter Tennis is an endangered species. He’s 72, lives in Marietta, Ga., and still works in commercial real estate. He’s a devout Episcopalian who insists we begin our breakfast at the OK Cafe with a prayer. He reads the newspaper every day and clips out the stories he finds interesting. A few years ago, he saw an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a 15-year-old black kid who had been sent to adult prison for participating in an armed robbery. He started corresponding with the young man, then visited him in prison and led a group to pray for him at St. David’s Episcopal Church. He found this work so rewarding that he began contacting other prisoners he read about, visiting them in prison, helping them where he could; he corresponds regularly with “three prisoners at a time” in Georgia. There isn’t a dramatic climax to Pete’s prison work. He just does it. His wife Margot is similarly involved, teaching English to Latino adults. “I once knew a guy named Railroad Bob, pretty down and out,” Pete says. “But he said something I’ll never forget: ‘We teach best what we desperately need to learn.'”

I mention Peter and Margot Tennis because they reached out to me when they heard I was going on another of my annual road trips–this time through the South. Pete offered to organize a meeting of his friends and co-workers to talk politics with me in Marietta. That’s how these road trips work; TIME readers provide the itinerary. But a certain sort of TIME reader: Dr. Richard Merwarth, 76, in Pittsboro, N.C.–who organized a meeting for me with 200 or so senior citizens at the Galloway Ridge retirement community–is another. What Pete and Dick have in common is that they are active citizens–not activists, just people who think part of their job as Americans is to be involved in stuff. It’s probably not an accident that they’re both in their 70s: they are among a dwindling but vital minority in the country. They grew up believing that public life, including politics, was a group activity, something you share with your neighbors. That isn’t true anymore. Politics is now a virtual activity. It happens, mostly via ads, on television and the radio. That makes it a lot easier for most people: nothing is expected of them but a vote. “We just don’t do many events anymore,” a campaign manager in Georgia told me. The candidates’ time is better spent dialing for dollars. That’s nothing new, but gradually politics–and political reporting–has become an arid exercise, the tabulation of money raised and ads promulgated (and invisible phone banks microtargeting voters, which is something journalists can’t quantify). It’s hard to imagine that the Founding Fathers–who staged raucous rallies complete with beer, barbecue and juicy speeches–would recognize the process.

A politically eclectic group gathered in a bland room at the East Cobb, Ga., county offices, 25 people, mostly friends and real estate colleagues of Peter Tennis. They were mostly conservative, though not angry Tea Party sorts. There were a handful of moderate liberals, too, who weren’t as forceful as the conservatives. “Politicians just want to throw money at things,” said Jeff Marshall, 54, a recent Connecticut transplant. “I’m just not convinced that government can do all that very effectively.”

This is not an uncommon sentiment, of course. But a small-business owner named Charles Bonds, 41, put some flesh on it, regaling the group with the troubles his company, with 51 employees, was having with the Affordable Care Act. He wanted to provide health coverage and was required to under the law. But his private insurer had raised premiums 57.8%, and while the rates in the local Obamacare exchange were better for his employees individually, the law said that companies with more than 50 employees had to provide the insurance. The obvious answer was to fire two people, hire some temps and subsidize his employees to get their insurance through Obamacare. “And even if we did that, the feds require us to report which of our employees haven’t gotten health coverage–which is sort of like snitching on them.”

Eric Flamm, 58, a computer consultant, said he thought the whole idea of mandated health care was “flagrantly unconstitutional,” and he was “pessimistic about ever getting the federal government to shrink.”

The other big issue was a surprising amalgam of immigration and terrorism. Bob Wood, 72, said he was worried that the southern border was porous, that ISIS terrorists were crossing over, that the country was riddled with sleeper cells. “They’re all over the place,” he said. Several others said they were fearful of ISIS and immigrants–no accident, it turned out, since the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, a businessman named David Perdue, had just launched an ad accusing his opponent, Michelle Nunn, of supporting “amnesty” and an immigration bill that wouldn’t seal the southern border and might allow ISIS terrorists in. (The bill, which was passed with the support of 14 Republican Senators, provides “legal status” but not citizenship for undocumented workers and also would spend an additional $38 billion on increased border security.)

The Perdue ad is almost hilariously despicable. It also accuses Nunn–the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn–of “funding organizations linked to terrorists.” This allegedly occurred while she was the president of George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation. The real story is TCFP: too complicated for politics. Users of eBay were offered a list of charities to support via Points of Light. In the end, they chose to give $13,500 to a federally approved organization called Islamic Relief USA, which has “ties” to an international organization of the same name, which allegedly has “ties” to Hamas. Said Neil Bush, the chairman of Points of Light: “To attack an organization founded by my father … to smear our organization for political gains, is in my opinion shameful.” (Bush the Elder has endorsed Perdue.)

In North Carolina, a few days earlier, I attended an actual political rally. It was staged by Republicans in Greensboro and featured their U.S. Senate candidate, Thom Tillis, who wasn’t carrying a pitchfork; and neither did Mark Walker, a local minister running for Congress. “It’s sad,” Tillis said, “that we have to be this disappointed in this President.” He criticized his Democratic opponent Kay Hagan–for supporting the Affordable Care Act, diplomacy with Iran, the Senate immigration bill–with a call-and-respond line: “Is that a Senator from North Carolina?” He told his own up-by-his-bootstraps story. (Tillis started on a loading dock and didn’t get his college degree until he turned 36, but he’s been successful in business and is now the speaker of the state legislature.) “I’m optimistic about our country,” he said, running against the right-wing radio trope that the country is in the midst of an Old Testament slide toward damnation.

It sounded to me, at first, like the Republicans had wised up in 2014. They were serving up smoked brisket, not red meat. There was a rationale for this: white women are likely to be the swing group in the North Carolina and Georgia elections. Women tend not to respond to rhetorical violence. Walker, the minister running for Congress, mentioned neither gay rights nor abortion. It was, I thought, grounds for optimism about the growing climate threat of political overheating. But after I saw the Perdue ad in Georgia, I realized that I–like the lovely folks who set up my road-trip meetings–was living in a community-oriented past, where speeches and rallies meant something. Nowadays, a candidate can be all smiles and more-in-sadness-than-in-anger on the stump, and run ads that are sicker than swamp gas on television, where it really counts.

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

TIME politics

U.N. Headquarters in South Dakota: How It Could Have Happened

UN HQ - Dec. 10, 1945
From the Dec. 10, 1945, issue of TIME TIME

New York City wasn’t the obvious choice for the United Nations headquarters

Representatives from around the world are now gathering in New York City for the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly. A vast cadre of diplomats, staff and heads of state have descended on the Big Apple — ensuring a nightmare for daily commuters. But, though that traffic jam is now a dependable annual event, New York City wasn’t the obvious choice for the United Nations headquarters.

In the wake of the 1945 conference establishing the modern day United Nations — which took place in San Francisco — a committee was set up to find the best spot for what would essentially become the world’s capital. A look back into TIME’s coverage of that period shows that the competition to host the U.N. was wide open, though one thing was clear: New York City, where the UN would be overshadowed by “Wall Street, etc…” as one TIME story put it, was no good.

Philadelphia made a strong case for itself when delegates visited to check out potential sites in 1946, TIME reported:

When the time for on-the-spot inspection came, the spirit of brotherly love was almost overpowering. There was a cocktail party for them in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Day, who would be evicted if [one of the potential locations] were chosen. Mr. and Mrs. Day thought that would be a fine idea.

…Philadelphia’s hosts never missed a bet. There was a concert by the famed Philadelphia Orchestra, a luncheon at the Art Museum (under pictures by Matisse, Gauguin and Reynolds). In a helicopter provided for the delegates, Holland’s Jan de Ranitz and Dr. M. P. M. van Karnebeek plopped down near Philadelphia for a hearty greeting by a local farmer & family.

But, still, even Philadelphia was considered to be too close to New York and Washington, D.C.

Chicago, San Francisco, Atlantic City and Boston were among the other locales lobbying to become the permanent headquarters. One unlikely contender, the Black Hills region of South Dakota, made the rational argument that it was far from the reach of an atomic bomb, unlike the coastal cities.

“In the Black Hills there are no military objectives, and the gentlemen who are striving for the peace of the world can live at peace while the atomic bombs are falling,” Paul Bellamy, a businessman representing the Black Hills, told an assembly of the U.N., which was temporarily based in London, according to a TIME story from December 1945.

“It was no part of Bellamy’s job, or of the booster tradition,” the author noted, “to ask what the gentlemen would be doing at that point.”

Ultimately, Bellamy’s urgings were for naught. Despite the organizers’ original misgivings, real-estate concerns ended up carrying more weight than atomic ones: New York City received the boost it needed when philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. gifted a parcel of Manhattan land to the U.N.

Read a 1952 cover story about the building of the current United Nations headquarters: Cheops’ Architect

TIME politics

Justice Ginsburg: U.S. ‘About as Conservative As It Will Get’ on Abortion

Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Ginsburg Discuss First Amendment At Forum
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Country will become more progressive "when we have a more functioning Congress," Supreme Court Justice tells Elle

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Elle in an interview published Tuesday that she believes the country has reached peak conservatism on the issue of abortion rights.

Asked whether the country would swing rightwards on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, the left-leaning 81-year-old replied, “No, I think it’s gotten about as conservative as it will get.” She added that she thinks the pendulum will swing in a more progressive direction in her lifetime, “when we have a more functioning Congress.”

Ginsburg said that Justice Anthony Kennedy has been the key reason for a perceived lack of progress by the pro-choice movement in the abortion debate: “To be frank, it’s one person who made the difference: Justice Kennedy. He was a member of the triumvirate used to [reaffirm] Roe v. Wade in the Casey case, but since then, his decisions have been on upholding restrictions on access to abortion.”

The Supreme Court Justice also told Elle that the court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which affirmed a company’s right to withhold insurance coverage for types of birth control that conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs, will be a black mark on its record. “I think 50 years from now, people will not be able to understand Hobby Lobby,” she said. Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion on the decision.

She argued that one of the reasons the pro-choice movement has not been as active as she would like is that many young privileged women who might otherwise be protesting do have access to abortion clinics. “The impact of all these restrictions is on poor women, because women who have means, if their state doesn’t provide access, another state does. I think that the country will wake up and see that it can never go back to [abortions just] for women who can afford to travel to a neighboring state…It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people.”

Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, was believed likely to retire during President Obama’s second term in office. But she poured scorn on people who thought she would step down so that Obama could replace her with a justice who shared her political beliefs. “Anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided,” she said, adding that she would sit on the court for “as long as I can do the job full steam.”

“I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer,” she said. “But now I can.”

[Elle]

 

TIME White House

Behind the Scenes: The Complete Kennedy Assassination Story in 9 Pages

Oct. 2, 1964, cover
The Oct. 2, 1964, cover of TIME TIME

Looking back on the Warren Commission Report, 50 years after its findings on the Kennedy assassination were released

Only a week had passed since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination when his successor in the White House, Lyndon B. Johnson, appointed the Warren Commission to investigate the crime. The nation and its government wanted answers about what had happened, and the Commission was given the task of finding them, releasing their report 50 years ago Wednesday on Sept. 24, 1964.

In the form in which it was delivered to Johnson, the Warren Commission Report was 888 pages long, including photos and diagrams and, by TIME’s count, 706 pages of text.

For the reporters and writers at TIME, that length meant that efficiency was of the essence to publish a response ahead of the magazine’s weekly deadline. As recounted in the publisher’s note from the Oct. 2, 1964, issue, the staff was given a small head start:

While printing presses ran day and night to reprint the full document in various editions, our job was different: we went to work to excerpt the report, cull its most significant detail, and summarize its meaning in a special nine-page section.

The task began on Friday morning, 54 hours before the report’s official release and less than 36 hours before this issue was to go to press. In the Indian Treaty Room of Washington’s old Executive Office Building, advance copies were being handed out to the press from three pushcarts. Near the head of the line that had formed was John Brown, a messenger working for TIME’S Washington Bureau. He placed ten copies in a suitcase and headed for the airport. Less than two hours later, copies were turned over to a team assigned to prepare the special section—Nation Editor Champ Clark, Writers Marshall Loeb and William Johnson, Researchers Harriet Heck and Pat Gordon. They closed their doors and started reading the nearly 300,000 words.

About seven hours later, they were ready for a dinner conference with TIME’S managing editor. The entire section was written, edited, checked and in type not long after our usual press time on Saturday night.

“We worked through the night and into a second night,” recalls Marshall Loeb, now 85. “The mood was one of determination to get the story done.”

In addition to recounting the events that surrounded the assassination, the Commission’s report debunked the major conspiracy theories that had emerged in the year after that day. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. He and Jack Ruby had no connection. There was no foreign conspiracy, nor was there a domestic one.

But what the report lacked in scandal it made up for in detail. “Its great value comes from the thoroughness with which the Commission carried out its investigation, from its laying to rest many malignant rumors and speculations, and from its fascinating wealth of detail by which future historians can abide,” noted TIME’s story on the report.

Among those details were many that Loeb and his colleagues decided were worth highlighting for TIME’s readers. There was the clear plastic bubble that could have covered the convertible in which the President was driving, had it not been such a nice day. The fact that the plastic wasn’t actually bulletproof in the first place. The “chilling re-enactment of the assassination” that the Commission staged in order to make sure the car would have been visible from the Book Depository window. The list of characteristics of Oswald’s home life: an unusual attachment to his mother, delusions of grandeur, insistence that his wife could not smoke or drink or wear make-up. The Secret Service agents who were out drinking the night before. The failure to secure the buildings along the motorcade route.

“The Warren Commission Report piece was to be the definitive piece for TIME on the Kennedy assassination,” Loeb says, and everyone working on it knew so.

After the special issue was published, Loeb, who had first joined TIME in 1956, would end up spending 30 more years at Time Inc., retiring in 1994 from his job as managing editor of Fortune magazine. Following his retirement, he became editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. So it’s only fitting that, when he looks back on the Warren Commission Report piece, it’s with an editor’s eye that he sees the way those 36 hours of work have stood the test of 50 years.

“I think it was a well-done job — one, to focus the material and, two, picking out which areas of the report to focus on. To this very day, if someone picks up the Warren Commission Report, which is like a big book, and picks up one of our stories about the report, it will look very good,” Loeb says. “There were no huge errors discovered afterward — I mean years afterward, when there was plenty of time to examine it.”

Read TIME’s special section on the Warren Commission Report, free of charge, here in the archives: The Warren Commission Report

Watch a video report on how LIFE acquired Abraham Zapruder’s film of the JFK assassination: How LIFE Brought the Zapruder Film to Light

TIME politics

People Died So I Could Vote

Singing The 1965 Voting Rights Act
President Lyndon B. Johnson presents one of the pens used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) James L. Farmer Jr, Washington DC, August 6, 1965. PhotoQuest—Getty Images

Jocelyn Y. Stewart is a journalist and screenwriter based in Los Angeles

It’s hard not to go to the polls when a generation of African-Americans risked—and sometimes lost—their lives to get you there

When we were growing up in South Los Angeles, my siblings and I often heard my dad’s impromptu sermons about matters of importance: the value of education, the perils of purchasing on credit, the virtue of hard work, and the dire necessity of voting.

“People died so we could vote,” he’d say.

As a very young kid, I imagined the dying as a scene from a Western movie: good guys vs. bad guys and bodies strewn across a grassy battlefield. In the end the good guys walked away, alive and free to vote. My imaginary battle scene was historically inaccurate, but I came to learn the element of peril was real. And we weren’t talking about faraway countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, but the U.S.A., in the not very distant past.

I came to learn how perilous it had been for black people to vote in the South, especially in the era prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. People of color didn’t return from the poll wearing a splashy red, white and blue “I voted” sticker the way we might now. People of color often weren’t allowed to vote, and if they persisted, and tried organizing others to exercise their rights as Americans, they were often beaten, sometimes killed, for their efforts.

Hence my dad’s “you gotta vote” speeches. At the core of my dad’s fidelity to the ballot was an appreciation for the sacrifices made by everyday people that allowed African Americans—and other people of color—to obtain it.

In the 1950s, when my parents were kids, the NAACP began an effort to register voters in the small rural Louisiana town where they lived. Local African-American residents, like my mother’s father and the father of her friend Curtis Spears Jr., became members and participated in the effort.

One day Curtis’s father returned from town beaten and bloodied. The assault had come at the hands of the town marshal, who later explained it as a case of “mistaken identity.” Not long afterward, the loan on the family’s farm was recalled by the local lending institution. The family was forced to become sharecroppers—a plummet in status and fortune—all because of their desire to vote.

My mother remembers her mother and others memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution and various historical facts before heading to the polls to face questions from a poll worker. But preparation didn’t always help, my dad added.

“They’d ask you: ‘How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” he said.

Any answer was wrong if the poll worker wanted it to be and the bid to vote ended there. Today my parents are avid voters, going to the polls for races that feature only city councilmembers and candidates for sheriff, in addition to the ones for president. They vote with a sense of duty and commitment that might be hard for non-voters to understand.

History explains it.

Our democracy demanded a double portion of faith from older African Americans. It required them to believe in the rights accorded to citizens of this nation, even as the nation denied these same rights to people of color. It required them to march, sit-in, stand up, face police dogs and water hoses until America was forced to do as Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

The true price of the ballot was reinforced many years later, in the mid 1990s, when I met my friend Frank Godden.

At his home near USC, where he was mostly housebound and later blind, Frank, then in his 80s, loved talking about all he’d witnessed in his almost a century of living. He had the longest political memory of anyone I’d ever met. He was a World War II veteran, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute and a businessman who’d helped develop a resort community in northern Los Angeles County open to African Americans during segregation when other places of recreation were closed to them.

As a small boy growing up in Live Oak, Florida, he remembered his father telling him: “When you finish school I want you to leave Live Oak, leave the South. You spend too much time trying to be accepted as a citizen.”

The admonition to leave the South baffled him. Frank had eight brothers and sisters, a dog named Scout, a horse named Fannie, and plenty of friends. Life was good, as far as he could see—until the issue of black people voting arose in the early 1920s.

The voting efforts in Live Oak were part of a larger campaign by African Americans in Florida to use the ballot as a means of defeating Jim Crow laws that segregated nearly every part of Southern life, I later learned by reading Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920. This was a time when black men were beaten, black women arrested, and white supporters threatened — all to thwart black voting.

In Live Oak, the town’s black leaders decided to run a candidate for office. They gathered on the porch of the Godden home one Sunday and nominated Frank’s father to run for postmaster. The family was well-known in the Live Oak community — Frank’s father was a livestock farmer and a minister; his mother was a principal at the town’s colored elementary school and a music teacher.

Rev. Godden was elected and, the way Frank remembered it, that vote on the porch was the beginning of the end.

Frank’s father received threats, including a letter that he carried in his wallet. Then one night a carload full of men drove to the Godden house. A man jumped out and lobbed a firebomb that landed on the porch of the home and exploded, leaving a crater that extended into the living room of the home.

Anxious about the possibility of violence, Frank’s parents had sent the children to their grandparents’ house for the evening. So thankfully, nobody was hurt.

As a very old man, Frank still remembered the fear his 11-year-old self felt upon returning home and staring into the hole left by the bomb. That day, the family packed up their lives and left Live Oak forever, on a train headed to New Orleans.

“We couldn’t let anybody know we were leaving,” Frank recalled. “We couldn’t even say goodbye to our friends.”

To be American is to appreciate and acknowledge those who died so we could vote, who faced bombs and beatings, and lost farms—and voted anyway. They are owed a debt, payable in the currency of participation in the democratic process.

When I turned 18, my father walked with me, a newly minted voter, to the polling place at the school down the street from our house. My first vote was important enough he felt he had to share it with me. Like my parents, I now consider myself a regular voter. This is not to say that I never miss; I have. But I believe, like they do, that my vote matters.

I’ve heard my father’s words flowing from my mouth when I talk to younger people about voting: people died so we could vote. Now they are my words. Now I understand the battlefield and the soldiers.

In 2000, I traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi, with Endesha Ida Mae Holland, a foot soldier in the Civil Rights movement who had just published a memoir about her life in the Mississippi Delta. She had received an invitation to speak at a literary conference at the University of Mississippi at Oxford (better known by its nickname Ole Miss). This was a place black people could only dream of attending when she was growing up. I accompanied Holland, who had since become a professor at USC and a Pulitzer-prize-nominated playwright, to write a Los Angeles Times magazine profile.

She showed me where she’d once seen the battered body of Emmett Till, an African-American teen who had been killed for reportedly flirting with a white woman, and where she had marched. She showed me where the house she grew up used to be. It had been firebombed because she joined civil rights workers in registering people to vote. Holland’s mother had been afraid that her daughter was stirring up trouble and was opposed to her civil rights activity; she didn’t want to vote. When the house was bombed, Holland’s disabled mother was seriously injured. In our conversations, Holland told me how, at the hospital, not long before she died, her mother whispered to her: “Tote me to vote, gal.”

Voting stories have been to me like family heirlooms; they make it impossible for me to take voting lightly. For Frank, the bombing robbed him of the world as he knew it. It might have stripped him too of his faith in democracy. Instead, Frank became fervent about voting, community involvement, collective action—from the neighborhood block club, to the college alumni association, to his political party. He remained a believer in the democratic process. He followed politics like others follow sports.

In 2008, at the age of 97, Frank did something his parents never did: he casted a vote for an African American to hold the nation’s highest office, then he’d witnessed Barack Obama’s election. Listening to the inauguration, Frank cried tears that carried the weight of generations.

Jocelyn Y. Stewart originally wrote this piece for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Lawmakers Push Increased Access to Emergency Contraception

Bipartisan U.S. Budget Deal Said to Ease Automatic Spending Cuts
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who introduced a bill to increase access to emergency contraception. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bill comes ahead of a midterm elections in which women are expected to be a key voting bloc

Updated: September 23, 4:40 p.m. ET

Five Democratic senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would require any federally-funded hospital to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors.

The Emergency Contraception Access and Education Act of 2014 was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) signing on as co-sponsors. The bill would ensure that any hospital receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds provides accurate information and timely access to emergency contraception for survivors of sexual assault, regardless of whether or not they can pay for it. It would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to disseminate information on emergency contraception to pharmacists and health care providers.

“As we saw in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, and as we’ve seen in state legislatures across the country, Republicans are intent on standing in the way of women and their ability to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their own health care,” Senator Murray told TIME. “This means, now more than ever, it is our job to protect these kinds of decisions for women, their families, and particularly for survivors of sexual assault. Emergency contraception is a critical part of these family planning choices and it’s time Republicans join us in supporting this safe and responsible means of preventing unintended pregnancies.”

“It is unacceptable that a survivor of rape or incest can be denied access to emergency contraception in the emergency room, and therefore forced to carry a pregnancy caused by her attacker,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “Decisions about emergency contraception, like all forms of birth control, should be between a woman and her doctor, not her pharmacist, her boss, or her Congressman.”

The bill may face opposition from congressional Republicans, and comes just two months before the midterm elections, in which many expect women to be a decisive voting bloc.

TIME politics

The Secret Service Thinks We Are Fools

USA - Politics - President Obama Campaigns for New Jersey Governor Corzine
A Secret Service agent watches the crowd as President Barrack Obama speaks in Holmdel, N.J. on July 16, 2009. Brooks Kraft—Corbis

Ronald Kessler is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

Its excuses after this weekend's breach are ridiculous and revealing of a troubled culture. The agency needs a new, outside director to clean house.

If you want to know what is wrong with the Secret Service, take a look at the statement the agency issued after a deranged intruder managed to enter the White House for the first time since the Secret Service closed off public access to the mansion during World War II.

According to the Secret Service, the Uniformed Division officers who did nothing to apprehend 42-year-old Omar J. Gonzalez after he hopped over the White House fence “showed tremendous restraint.” The agency is so arrogant that it thinks it can make such an obviously ridiculous statement and the public will buy it because we are fools.

But the Secret Service is not fooling the FBI. Senior FBI officials are horrified by the Secret Service’s handling of the matter and are laughing at its effort to cover up its own failure by brazenly praising the officers’ “restraint.”

The FBI’s reaction is well founded. In protecting the White House, the Secret Service Uniformed Division officers and the Uniformed Division’s Emergency Response Team, armed with P90 submachine guns, are supposed to be the first line of defense. But they were either asleep or just not paying attention when Gonzales sprinted across the lawn. They thus failed to unleash the agency’s Belgian Malinois dogs, which are cross-trained to sniff out explosives and to attack an intruder and take him or her down.

Having failed to unleash the dogs in time, the officers should have taken out the intruder with a bullet. When it comes to protecting the president, officers and agents must make split-second decisions to avoid an assassination. Courts have given the Secret Service much wider latitude than other law enforcement agencies in use of deadly force.

In Gonzalez’ case, no one knew if he was concealing a bomb or weapons of mass destruction. If it turned out he had them, it would have been too late to kill him once he was in the White House. While President Obama had just left the White House, he might have decided to return. Gonzalez’s act of racing into the White House by definition meant that he was a threat to the president. The Secret Service was derelict in its duty to protect the president by failing to eliminate that threat.

While all of this may seem obvious, apparently it is not to Obama, who has defended the Secret Service and its leaders even as it let Michaele and Tareq Salahi and a third intruder, Carlos Allen, into a White House state dinner even though they were not on the guest list. The president continued to defend the agency even as 11 agents had to be sent home from Colombia for hiring prostitutes when Obama was about to visit (a story which I broke).

Yet these scandals are the tip of the iceberg. As reported in my book The First Family Detail, while agents are brave and dedicated, Secret Service management perpetuates a culture that condones laxness and cutting corners. Under pressure from White House political staffs or presidential campaign staffs, Secret Service management tells agents to let people into events without magnetometer or metal detector screening. Assassins concealing grenades or other weapons could theoretically enter an event and easily assassinate the president or a presidential candidate. When it comes to firearms requalification and physical fitness, the Secret Service either doesn’t allow agents time to fulfill the requirements or asks agents to fill out their own test scores.

All this has led to poor morale and a high turnover rate. Tired agents and officers are forced to work long overtime hours, contributing to the sort of inattention that took place when Gonzalez scaled the White House fence. The Secret Service has refused to update its sensors around the White House with the latest technologically advanced devices for detecting intrusions and weapons of mass destruction. Its arrogance extended to leaving the doors to the White House unlocked on the presumption that its personnel could handle any threat.

No congressional hearings or internal reviews are going to fix the agency. Only an outside director with a fresh perspective—comparable to Robert S. Mueller III when he took over as FBI director—would be capable of reforming Secret Service management, shaking up the agency, and changing the culture that fosters corner cutting and punishes agents who question it.

But given Obama’s lack of judgment, that is not going to happen. An assassination nullifies American democracy. But Obama will continue to insist that he has confidence in the Secret Service despite the risk to his own life and the lives of his family members, who would be prime targets of an attack by ISIS terrorists on the vulnerable White House.

“We don’t have enough people or the equipment to do protection the way they advertise they do,” a veteran current agent (who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of losing his job) says. “And how we have not had an incident up to this point is truly amazing—a miracle.”

Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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