TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Fighting Intensifies in Eastern Ukraine

A weekend of fierce fighting in Ukraine's embattled Donbass region continued Monday

A weekend of fierce fighting in Ukraine’s embattled Donbass region continued Monday as pro-Russian insurgents encircled Ukrainian government troops in a new advance. The war of words heated up, too, as Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Kiev of relying on a “foreign legion” to wage war against the separatist militias. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called Putin’s comments “nonsense.”

TIME politics

9 Takeaways from the 2015 Blizzard Bust

Benjamin Lowy—Getty Images Reportage for TIME A man crosses the street in New York City during a snow storm in New York City on Jan. 26, 2015.

Incentives matter, and politicians have the wrong ones

It may still be snowing somewhere, but it’s not too early to draw some conclusions from the great blizzard bust of 2015. Among them:

Politicians are on power trips. This is true both of Republicans like the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who honed his command-and-control techniques during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, and Democrats like the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, and New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who appeared to see the storm as an opportunity to distract the public from their political problems. When were mayors and governors given the power to ban travel by individual citizens?

Complex systems are hard to predict. The same weathermen who can’t tell for sure one day in advance if New York City will get an 18-inch walloping of snow or a mere dusting are the ones who want us to trust their models for estimated sea level rise by 2100. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan or try to mitigate risks, but it does mean we should apply some skepticism and allow for the possibility that they might be off.

Regional variations matter. It didn’t snow much in New York City. It did snow a lot in Boston. Lots of things in addition to weather also vary with geography. Attitudes toward guns, for example. That’s why it’s often better to handle all but the most core Constitutional freedoms at local levels of government, which have a better handle on local sensibilities than Washington does.

Sometimes the urge to sue is overwhelming. I’m about the least litigious person around and have little to no use for tort lawyers. But where do the businesses of New York and New Jersey go to recover the losses from being essentially ordered to close? In the private sector, if someone got a call as wrong as the governors, the mayor, and the National Weather Service, they’d be on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

Incentives matter. When I moved to Boston from New York a couple of years ago, I couldn’t get over how much better the snow removal is here in Boston. The reason is that in Boston the job is done by private contractors with their own equipment instead of by the New York City method of affixing plows to the front of city-owned garbage trucks operated by unionized city employees.

Religion is one of the strongest forces. A lot of things in Boston and New York are closed, and state authorities are telling people to stay indoors. But the twice-daily prayer service at my synagogue is proceeding as scheduled.

News is often what happens where the reporters are. A snowstorm, real or just predicted, gets a lot more attention when it hits New York City or Washington, D.C. than when it hits Buffalo or Chicago. That’s not because more ordinary people are affected, it’s because that is where the television producers and the newspaper editors happen to live.

The contrarian bet is often the right one. When the politicians, stock market commentators, or weather forecasters say to panic is usually a good time to relax. When they say not to panic, it’s usually a good time to be worried.

Competition and choice have advantages. When there’s one state-run subway system, the governor decides to close it, and it’s closed. In a world with several competing subway lines run by different companies, the different managements may make different choices. Some might close. Some might stay open. Some might stay open and charge higher prices to compensate for the risk of damage to equipment. When the governor decides to ban travel, everyone has to stay off the roads, even if the predicted blizzard turns out to be just a gentle flurry. Better for the governor to just say, “there’s a big snowstorm predicted, please try to stay off the roads if you can so that plows and ambulances can get around,” and let individuals make their own judgments. That’s actually a good approach no matter what the weather is.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative and Samuel Adams: A Life.

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Political differences aren’t the problem in America. It’s our fierce intolerance of political differences.

By Clive Crook in Bloomberg View

2. Instead of burying carbon emissions underground, a new plan converts it to minerals for longer-lasting, safer storage.

By Andy Extance in Slate

3. As more states and communities give ex-cons a fair chance at employment, the momentum is building for action by the White House.

By Lydia DePillis in the Washington Post

4. Games inspire deeper engagement and interaction. Can we gamify the news?

By Lene Bech Sillesen in Columbia Journalism Review

5. It’s time to reimagine youth sports in America with an eye on inclusion and health.

By Tom Farrey in the Aspen Idea Blog

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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

Blame De Blasio and Cuomo and Christie for the Blizzard Snow Job

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exits a news conference with Department of Sanitation workers in New York.
Yana Paskova—The New York Times/Redux New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exits a news conference with Department of Sanitation workers in preparation for a blizzard in New York City, Jan. 26, 2015.

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

As politicians rushed to out-serious each other, New Yorkers were whipped into a fear frenzy.

Every modern event has a hashtag and this morning, as New York City takes stock of the #snowmageddon2015 that wasn’t, it’s turning to #snowperbole.

On Monday, as Governor Cuomo, Governor Christie, and Mayor de Blasio rushed to out-serious each other, New Yorkers were whipped into a fear frenzy. Supermarket shelves were stripped bare, photos of Whole Foods depleted of kale circulated, and people stocked up for what would likely be days (maybe weeks!) indoors.

Even as we were doing it, we acknowledged it didn’t make much sense. After all, we’re in New York City. Bodegas never close. Delivery guys on bicycles have been a constant through all previous winter storms. All New Yorkers have their stories. That time we ordered Chinese Food during the snowstorm of 1994. Swimming on Brighton Beach during Hurricane Gloria. Buying Poptarts at the corner bodega during Sandy. Driving from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again during the blackout of 2003. Yes, those are all mine.

MORE Here’s Who Decides If Your Flight Takes off This Week

As we waited for the storm deemed “historic,” the only real history was made when the subway shut down for the first time ever in preparation for snow. The real insult came when it was reported later that the trains were indeed still running, empty, as trains needed to keep moving to clear the tracks. Citibike was shut down. Cars were banned from the roads and anyone who didn’t take heed risked being fined.

These are all symptoms of our infantilizing “do something!” culture. Everyone understands the pressure politicians feel to be seen as proactive. But this time they went way too far in the name of protecting us. It’s one thing to warn drivers that conditions are dangerous and that they go out at their own risk. It’s another to shut down all roads in the city that allegedly never sleeps.

The 11 p.m. curfew resulted in lost wages for delivery people who count on larger-than-usual tips during inclement weather. Why couldn’t they make their own decisions about working during the snow? Not everyone makes a salary the way our mayor and governor do. Many workers count on their hourly wage, and their tips, to make their rent each month.

The storm was a dud, but even if had been as severe as predicted, bringing a city like New York to a preemptive standstill makes little sense. The people who keep New York humming take the subway after 11pm and can decide for themselves whether to keep their businesses open. Preparedness doesn’t have to mean panic.

Read next: 9 Takeaways from the 2015 Blizzard Bust

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

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

The Drone Threat May Be the Only Problem the Secret Service Is on Top Of

White House Lockdown
Susan Walsh—AP Secret Service officers search the south grounds of the White House for an unmanned aerial drone in Washington D.C. on Jan. 26, 2015.

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

The agency is working on counter-measures that would zap drones with electromagnetic waves or disrupt their radio commands

The crash of a drone on the White House grounds points to the vulnerability of the Executive Mansion and is another headache for the beleaguered Secret Service.

But here is a surprise: In contrast to its repeated security lapses, the Secret Service actually has already recognized drones as a possible threat. The agency has consulted with the Energy Department’s national laboratories, which protect nuclear sites from attack, on what to do about them before a drone deploys a bomb or radiological, biological, or chemical agents at the White House.

The Secret Service, the national laboratories, and Defense Department are working on counter-measures that would zap the electronic components of drones with electromagnetic waves or disrupt their radio commands.

The roof of the New Executive Office Building around the corner from the White House is outfitted with a missile battery that could take down airplanes, but it is useless against tiny drones that could be launched from a van parked next to the White House grounds. Because of their small size, even detecting drones is a problem.

The president’s vulnerability is illustrated by the fact that a drone flew within feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere at a campaign rally in Dresden on September 15. The small quadrocopter with its four propellers hovered briefly in front of them before crashing into the stage practically at Merkel’s feet. The same type of drone crashed on the White House grounds.

The fact that the Secret Service has been alert to the drone issue is in stark contrast with the rest of its operations. In an interview with me, then Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan boasted that the once proud Secret Service “makes do with less,” pinpointing a management culture that has resulted in the Secret Service crumbling.

As an example, the Secret Service has refused to deploy the most advanced technology to detect intrusions and weapons of mass destruction at the White House. It didn’t deploy surveillance cameras on the road leading to Vice President Joe Biden’s home in Wilmington so that the perpetrator of a recent shooting there could have been tracked and apprehended.

In its arrogance, the Secret Service never even locked the front door of the White House, allowing intruder Omar J. Gonzalez to run through most of the main floor of the White House into the East Room, passing by the staircase to the residence portion.

The drone incident at 3:08 a.m. Monday lends urgency to a report by an all-star, four-person panel appointed by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to recommend a new director and improvements to White House security. The panel said that only a strong new director from outside the agency, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, would be able to do the “honest top-to bottom reassessment this will require” to change the agency’s culture.

The panel did not buy the Secret Service’s excuses about not having enough money and its lackadaisical “we make do with less” attitude. In another example of how outrageously lax the Secret Service has been, the panel pointed out that simple changes to the White House fence would make it far more difficult to scale: increasing its height by four or five feet, curving the top of the fence outward toward the sidewalk, and eliminating horizontal bars that make the fence easy to climb.

While the panel did not formally recommend a candidate as the new director, behind the scenes members adopted as one possibility a recommendation I made when the panel asked to meet with me: appointment of a former high-ranking FBI official to lead the Secret Service. Since 9/11, the FBI has done a remarkable job of keeping the country safe from a foreign terrorist attack. The FBI’s culture would never tolerate the cover-up mentality that pervades the Secret Service.

Unfortunately, it took the assassination of President Kennedy to galvanize the Secret Service to make major upgrades. It should not take another tragedy to turn the Secret Service back into the elite agency that its brave agents and this country deserve.

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.

TIME White House

The Story Behind Bill Clinton’s Infamous Denial

It was on this day in 1998 that President Bill Clinton (as seen around 6:18 in the video above) uttered 11 words that would go down in history: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.”

Though the definition of “sexual relations” — and other phrases — may be questioned, even in hindsight, Clinton did eventually end up admitting to an affair.

So why did he say those 11 words in the first place?

One possible explanation can be found in the Feb. 9, 1998, TIME special report that explored the impact of that speech:

While Starr was trying to make his case, Clinton’s job last week was to persuade the American people to reserve judgment, let the investigation proceed and bear with the Great Explainer’s refusal to explain much of anything. So after days of watery nondenials and rumors of resignation, last Monday Clinton finally gave voters who wanted to believe in him an excuse to do so. In the Roosevelt Room of the White House Monday morning, with Hillary beside him, he stared into the camera and narrowed his eyes. “I want you to listen to me,” he said. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time, never.”

It was an enormous gamble, the result of a fierce White House battle. While Clinton had for days been urged by adviser Mickey Kantor and others to toughen his denial, the Monday morning statement was finally worked out in a post-midnight strategy session with former deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes and Hollywood imagineer Harry Thomason. Ickes, the street-smart infighter who had steered Clinton’s re-election campaign only to be bumped out of a second-term job, flew in from California and went straight to the White House. Ickes’ prescription for the President: Look the people straight in the eye and, to the extent you and your lawyer are confident, say, “I didn’t do it.” Only a loud, unambiguous denial would “stanch the wound,” Ickes said. Thomason, meanwhile, helped the President rehearse the stern, reproving body language, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

It was the first of several turning points, and it worked. That afternoon, when Hillary arrived in Harlem to visit an after-school program, the crowd was jeering reporters, chanting, “Leave Bill alone!”

Read more about the semantics of the statement, here in the TIME Vault: When Is Sex Not ‘Sexual Relations’?

TIME White House

Obama Moves to Protect 12 Million Acres of Alaskan Wildlife

183745239
Getty Images Polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

It would be the largest such designation in more than 50 years

The Obama Administration will ask Congress to protect millions of acres of land in Alaska from a range of human activity including drilling and road construction, officials said Sunday.

If approved by Congress, the move would designate more than 12 million acres as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection, and protect native wildlife including caribou, polar bears and wolves. It would be the largest such designation in more than 50 years.

“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”

The proposal will undoubtedly meet opposition in Congress. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski condemned the move immediately as an act of federal overreach.

“It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory,” she said in a statement. “The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them.”

TIME Environment

The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

170412165
Image Source RF/Ditto; Getty Never noticed that before: Welcome to the conversation, Senators

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A landslide vote brings Congress's upper chamber into the 21st century—a little

Correction appended, January 24

Surely by now you’ve heard the big news: On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate—The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body Except For the Fact That it Never Really Deliberates Anything—passed a landmark resolution declaring that “climate change is real and is not a hoax.” The proposal passed by a nail-bitingly close vote of 98-1. Only Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, who heads the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, voted no.

The landslide victory thrilled the green community, especially since it included such anti-science paleoliths as Oklahoma’s James Inhofe and Florida’s Marco (“I’m not a scientist, man”) Rubio. But let’s not get carried away. For one thing, voting to acknowledge a fact that virtually every other sentient human on the planet long ago accepted is a little like passing a bill that declares, “Gravity is real” or “Fire make man hurt.” Not exactly groundbreaking.

What’s more, there was only so far the newly enlightened GOP was willing to go. Votes on two other measures—one that declared “climate change is real and human activity contributes significantly to climate change,” and one that made essentially the same point but without the word “significantly”—were blocked by Republican maneuvering. What’s more, the weak tea version of the resolution that did pass—sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse—made it through only because it was a rider to the Keystone XL pipeline legislation. At this point, Republicans would likely approve a Puppies For Lunch rider if it would get Keystone passed.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, among the greenest of the greenies, responded to the GOP’s grudging concession with something less than unalloyed enthusiasm. “From Know-Nothingism to Do-Nothingism in the U.S. Senate,” it declared in a news release. And indeed, the 98 brave men and women who stepped forward to go on record with a statement of the patently obvious have given absolutely no indication that they are actually prepared to do anything about that obvious thing.

The GOP’s big wins in November certainly don’t make them more inclined to yield on what has become a central pillar of party dogma. But if science—to say nothing of the health of the planet—can’t move them, they should at least consider the unsavory company their fringe position is increasingly causing them to keep. Writing in The New York Times, Paul Krugman addressed climate deniers, supply-siders and foes of the Affordable Care Act as one counterfactual whole—people who are fixed in their positions no matter what the objective evidence shows. That may or may not be too wide a net to cast, but Krugman is right on one score:

If you’ve gotten involved in any of these debates, you know that these people aren’t happy warriors; they’re red-faced angry, with special rage directed at know-it-alls who snootily point out that the facts don’t support their position.

Krugman offers any number of explanations for this, with which reasonable people can agree or disagree, but his larger point—of an ideological cohort animated by rage as much as anything else—certainly feels right. I see it regularly in that least scientific but most pointed place of all, my Twitter feed. I’ve crossed swords with the anti-vaccine crowd more than once, and while some of them have found a way to be savagely nasty in the 140 characters they’re allowed, most of the anger is civil. They’re fretful and, I believe, foolish to have been duped by anti-scientific rubbish, but they’re at least fit for inclusion in the public square.

Not so the climate-deniers, who hurl spluttery insults, fill their feeds with the usual swill about President Barack Obama’s suspicious birthplace and the conspiratorial doings across the border in Mexico, and link to risible idiocy about how the global warming “conspiracy” is a “ploy to make us poorer,” whose real purpose is “to redistribute wealth from the first world to the third, an explicit goal of UN climate policy.”

Yes. Of course. Because it’s harder to believe in science than it is to believe that there’s a four-decade plot afoot that virtually every country in the world has signed onto, dragging virtually every scientist in the world along with them—none of whom have ever had a crisis of conscience or spilled the beans in a bar or simply decided to sell the whole sordid story to the press—and that only a rump faction in the U.S. knows the truth. Makes perfect sense.

If the Senate, even reluctantly, has made the tiniest baby step toward rational thought, that’s undeniably a good thing. “It starts by admitting you have a problem, just like many other areas of human life,” Whitehouse told The Hill. Outside the Senate chamber, however, in the country that is second only to coal-soiled China in CO2 emissions, the ugly, vein-in-the-temple anger remains. The GOP can continue to make common cause with this nasty crowd or, if it chooses, can finally, clear-headedly rejoin the ranks of reason.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Natural Resources Defense Council

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

Watch Larry Wilmore Nail the Secret of Obama’s State of the Union Speech

"Barry got his groove back"

When reviewing President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Speech on Wednesday’s episode of The Nighty Show, host Larry Wilmore noted with glee that “Barry got his groove back.”

The President touted job growth, deficit cuts, and a plan to go to Mars. But why, Wilmore pondered, was Obama so positive? \

“Doesn’t he realize he just lost an historic election, both houses, by historic margins?” he asked. “Even his own party was deserting him? Doesn’t Obama know he won’t be able to get anything done in his last two years?”

What could possibly going on in Barry’s brain?

“Oh wait!” Wilmore exclaimed. “He doesn’t give a f–k. No wonder he’s throwing Mars at us, man. Why not Jupiter, Obama. Jupiter’s got more moons!”

See the full clip below.

The Nightly Show
Get More: The Nightly Show Full Episodes,The Nightly Show on Facebook,The Nightly Show Video Archive

TIME Television

Knope and Change: The Politics of Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation - Season 7
Colleen Hayes/NBC

How the sitcom has cheerfully made the case for a "liberal" idea that didn't used to be considered so liberal.

Reviewing “Leslie and Ron” earlier this week, I wrote that part of the appeal of Parks and Recreation, specifically Leslie and Ron’s friendship, is that it’s a model–or fantasy–of how people of opposite politics can still work together and care about each other. It’s a sitcom about politics that works, in part, because of how its characters put friendship over politics–or at least aside from politics.

But what about the show’s politics itself? I wrote about that in my farewell column to Parks in the print TIME this week (subscription required). Even though Parks has never been assertively political (it’s foremost a workplace sitcom, set in a world as richly developed as The Simpsons‘ Springfield), and it’s generally avoided real-world, hot-button issues, the show does have politics in its way.

Parks‘ politics, like Leslie’s, are liberal. But “liberal” only in the sense that the definition of liberal has been shifted rightward, along with the general conversation about government and what it’s for, over the past few decades:

There’s a big idea in Parks’ small-scale vision. In the frame of today’s politics, it might be a liberal notion, but it’s one that for much of the 20th century was centrist, and even championed by Republicans like park lover Teddy Roosevelt: that we need government to do things the private sector can’t or won’t, like preserving public spaces.

Shockingly, Parks has dared to suggest that while some civil servants might be bumbling–sorry, Jerry!–they can also be well-intentioned and competent. (This too wasn’t considered a liberal notion before the era when Ronald Reagan joked that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”)

One reason, I think, that Parks‘ politics don’t play especially “political” is that they grow out of a worldview that goes way beyond politics: about the importance of community, the idea that people need each other, that when you help someone, you’re also helping to make yourself better. That community goes well beyond government–it’s friends, neighbors, businesses–but Parks doesn’t hesitate to say that government, however imperfect and ludicrous, is another aspect of community, not an outside force imposed on legitimate community. (At the same time, though, it’s been respectful of the opposition view, if only by putting it in the mouth of Ron Swanson, the most awesome man on the planet.)

I’ve written this before, but this is one of the biggest things Parks has in common with American stories from It’s a Wonderful Life to Friday Night Lights, a touchstone that Parks has referenced repeatedly. People in FNL were liberal or conservative or neither; community meant everything from teams to churches to school systems. But the constant was that nobody does anything alone.

So it is on Parks: it’s only by pulling together that you turn a pit into the Pawnee Commons. In its own little way, that central story has made the case for what didn’t used to be such a divisive idea: that there is such a thing as the public common, and that it’s a good thing. Congratulations, Leslie and Parks: You built that.

 

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