TIME politics

Exclusive: Read a 9-Year-Old’s Letter to Obama About Putting a Woman on U.S. Currency — and His Response

Image courtesy of Kim B., Sofia's mother Sofia, the girl who wrote to Obama asking him to put a woman on U.S. currency

"Why don’t women have coins or dollar bills with their faces on it?"

The little girl who asked Obama last year why there aren’t any women on U.S. bills has finally gotten a letter back from the President — and she’s invited to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

President Obama made waves last year when he mentioned he had received a letter from a little girl asking him to put some women on U.S. currency, which he called a “pretty good idea.” That letter was from Sofia, a Massachusetts girl who was just finishing third grade at the time.

“I was studying Ann Hutchinson, who stood up for women’s rights,” she says. “Almost everyone who chose a boy, on their poster they had pictures of different dollar bills or coins with their person on it. So I noticed, why don’t women have coins or dollar bills with their faces on it?”

Sofia, now 9, knew immediately what she had to do. “I just came home from school and said, ‘I need to write to the president.’” Sofia’s mother provided her letter exclusively to TIME:

Kim B. (Sofia's mother)
Image courtesy of Kim B., Sofia’s mother

For a while, Sofia didn’t hear anything back from the President. She says she “sort of forgot about it” until her dad showed her the President had mentioned her letter in a speech. “I was really excited about it, because I thought that maybe it would actually happen,” she says.

In the months since Sofia wrote to Obama, a campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill has gone viral. The W20 movement is hosting an online poll so the public can vote on which woman should replace Andrew Jackson. The group plans to petition Obama and the Treasury Secretary to make it happen. Almost 220,000 people have voted in the online poll so far. And Sofia, who is now in fourth grade, is a junior ambassador for the campaign.

MORE 10 Countries That Put Women on Cash Before the U.S.

Even though she’s a longtime fan of Ann Hutchinson, Sofia wants to see Rosa Parks on the $20. “What she did was really important,” she says. “If it wasn’t for her, we’d still be segregated today.” She got her whole class to vote in the online poll, and her third grade teacher got her class to vote as well.

Last month, Sofia finally got a personalized letter back from the President, along with an invitation to attend this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll. Here’s what President Obama wrote to her:

Unknown-1
Image courtesy of Kim B., Sofia’s mother

“The women you listed and drew make up an impressive group,” Obama wrote. “And I must say you’re pretty impressive, too.”

“I’ll keep working to make sure you grow up in a country where women have the same opportunities as men, and I hope you’ll stay involved in issues that matter to you,” he continued. “If you keep focusing in school and trying to help others whenever you can, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.”

Sofia wants to be a teacher or a scientist when she grows up — after a younger friend was diagnosed with cancer, she decided she wants to study cures. But she also has some advice for other kids her age who want to make a difference. “Write a letter to somebody important,” she says, “because something could happen and it could actually change.”

Read next: The Campaign to Get a Woman on the $20 Bill Is Picking Up Steam

TIME climate change

White House Outlines Plans to Cut Carbon Emissions By Up to 28%

Coal plant
Getty Images

The plan is the first step toward achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050

The White House reaffirmed a commitment to cut carbon emissions by up to 28% by 2025 in a Tuesday submission to the United Nations that promises new regulations on power plants, new fuel economy standards for some vehicles and rules to address methane emissions.

The plan, the first step toward achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, calls for a dramatic increase in the rate at which the U.S. reduces carbon pollution, from 1.2% per year between 2005 and 2020 to between 2.3% and 2.8% between 2020 and 2025.

“This submission is ambitious and achievable,” said Brian Deese, a senior advisor to the President on climate change, on a conference call. “We know this is good for our economy, good for our health and good for our future.”

The plan, submitted to meet an informal United Nations target date, reaffirms a commitment made by the U.S. in November to cut its carbon emissions by more than a quarter by 2025. At the time, the U.S. and China—the world’s two largest emitters of carbon—made a bilateral commitment to take the lead on the issue, with China agreeing to stop growth in its carbon emissions by 2030.

The commitments of the U.S. and China, along with those of other countries that have submitted plans to the UN, are intended to make a statement that will encourage other countries ahead of a U.N. conference in December intended to produce a binding international agreement on climate change. Leadership aside, the plans already submitted promise to make a dramatic impact on global carbon emissions. Together the U.S., China, the European Union and Mexico, all of which have submitted plans, represent 58% of the world’s carbon emissions.

The U.S. plan, which relies on actions that don’t need Congressional approval, will likely face pushback from Republicans who have already sought to undermine the effort. U.S. officials said Tuesday that proposals are designed to remain in place for years beyond the Obama administration.

“The undoing of the kind of regulation that we’re putting in place is something that’s very tough to do,” said Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change at the State Department, on a conference call.

The plan drew immediate praise in environmental circles. Natural Resources Defense Council president Rhea Suh in a statement that she believes the plan can be “met” and “even exceeded.”

“This important commitment sends a powerful message to the world: Together we can slash dangerous carbon pollution and combat climate change,” she said.

TIME politics

How Terri Schiavo Shaped the Right-to-Die Movement

Terri Schiavo
Matt May / Getty Images A family photo of Terri Schiavo, taken at Terri's hospital bed in 2003 in Gulfport, Fla., as seen on a protester's sign.

The question of the role of government in end-of-life decisions still resonates 10 years later

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Death With Dignity National Center kept an office in Washington, D.C. For years, Republican lawmakers tried to pass legislation nullifying Oregon’s 1997 Death With Dignity Act, which allowed terminally ill patients to obtain life-ending medication. The legislation never made it out of the Senate, but it eventually passed in the Republican-controlled House, and the aid-in-dying organization felt compelled to keep pressure on Congress to stop the bill. Then came Terri Schiavo.

Ten years ago, Schiavo—a severely brain-damaged Florida woman—became a national symbol for how not to die in America. At its heart, the case was a family squabble. Schiavo had been kept alive by a feeding tube after collapsing in 1990 from full cardiac arrest that deprived her brain of oxygen. Multiple doctors diagnosed her as being in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband Michael Schiavo argued that his wife would never have wanted to live like that and attempted to get the feeding tube removed. Her parents disagreed and fought to keep her alive.

MORE: How Canada’s Right-to-Die Ruling Could Boost Movement in U.S.

Schiavo’s case languished inside courtrooms for years. Jeb Bush, who was Florida’s governor at the time and is now a likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, signed “Terri’s Law” in 2003 to reinsert her feeding tube after courts had ordered it taken out. Congressional legislators attempted to diagnose her on the Senate and House floors without having seen her in person. It all culminated with President George W. Bush cutting short a vacation at his ranch in Texas to fly back to Washington to sign a bill that would allow Schiavo’s case to be heard in federal courts.

Eventually, the courts agreed with Michael and allowed her feeding tubes to be removed. After Schiavo died on March 31, 2005, Congress all but stopped trying to pass a law banning aid in dying, says Death With Dignity National Center Executive Director Peg Sandeen, and the group eventually packed up its Washington, D.C., office and took its fight to the states to try to legalize it. A majority of Americans seemed to say that in a relationship involving physicians and families, politicians should steer clear. According to a TIME poll taken in 2005, 70% of respondents said they disapproved of the president’s role in the issue and 54% said they would be more likely to vote against their representative in Congress if he or she sided with the president. Congress appeared to have gotten the message, and aid-in-dying organizations eventually stopped worrying about the practice being outlawed at the federal level.

“The will of the people was not for the government to intervene in end-of-life decisions,” Sandeen tells TIME. “When [Sen.] Trent Lott and [Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist are on the floor diagnosing her, not having ever looked at her as a patient, I think America said, ‘Enough is enough.’”

People associated with the aid-in-dying movement today say that the Terri Schiavo case was a turning point for Americans thinking about their own end-of-life decisions. While Schiavo’s situation was an extreme outlier, her case ultimately brought into question the government’s role in end-of-life choices altogether.

“A lot of people saw the Schiavo case and said, ‘I don’t want to end up like that. I don’t want to get trapped,’” says Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University. “It scared people.”

MORE: More States Considering Right-to-Die Laws After Brittany Maynard

In the months following Schiavo’s death, there was a spike in national interest in written advance directives — documents that instruct family members on what to do in end-of-life situations — says Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, an aid-in-dying advocacy organization. The news also sparked a discussion about the benefits of prolonging life at all costs.

Prior to Schiavo’s case, the person most associated with aid in dying was Jack Kevorkian, the Michigan doctor who performed dozens of assisted suicides and was eventually convicted for second-degree murder. If Kevorkian showed the darker side of individual end-of-life decisions, Schiavo showed a side in which not making those choices can mean an individuals’ ultimate fate ending up in the hands of feuding family members, judges and legislators.

“One of the American people’s greatest fears is that someone other than themselves will make these decisions,” says Coombs Lee. “This isn’t political or partisan, it’s personal. And that was the first time people realized how intrusive government could actually be.”

Ten years later, there’s renewed interest in end-of-life choices thanks to Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old newlywed who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s physician-assisted suicide law. Maynard died Nov. 19, 2014, after ingesting barbiturates given to her by a doctor. In the last several months, more than half of all U.S. states have either introduced end-of-life legislation or signaled they would do so.

Most polls today show that about seven in 10 Americans support the idea that state and federal governments should allow people to make end-of-life choices for themselves, something Schiavo’s story made clear a decade ago.

“The lesson,” Coombs Lee says, “is that death is not the worst thing that can happen to you.”

Read TIME’s 2005 cover story about the battle over Terri Schiavo, here in the archives: The End of Life: Who Decides?

TIME States

The Debate Over What Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act Is Really About

Demonstrators gathered at the Indiana State Capital to protest the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015.
Nate Chute—Reuters Demonstrators gathered at the Indiana State Capital to protest the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015.

More than a dozen other states have considered similar measures this year, which critics tar as "anti-gay"

Opponents of Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act believe that while the law explicitly says one thing, it is designed to do another.

Supporters say the measure is meant to do just what it sounds like: make sure the government doesn’t impinge on the religious liberty of Hoosiers. But many gay rights advocates, politicians and civil liberty organizations believe the law will aid discrimination against lesbians and gays in the Midwestern state—giving businesses, landlords or employers legal grounds to treat them differently based on a religious opposition to homosexuality.

When Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill into law on Saturday, Indiana joined 19 other states that have similar “RFRAs,” while Indiana is one of 31 states that does not have a state-level non-discrimination law that covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The boogeyman that wants to attack religious adherents has just not arrived in Indiana,” says Jennifer Drobac, a law professor at Indiana University who signed a letter from academics expressing concern about the bill. “This is all coming on the heels of the same-sex marriage debate.”

The law prohibits the government from infringing on a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless the government has a “compelling interest” and that infringement is the “least restrictive” means of protecting that interest. The language of the bill defines a “person” as not just an individual, but essentially any business or organization.

Many religious freedom laws are modeled on a 1993 federal law signed by former President Bill Clinton. Pence has explicitly likened Indiana’s new law to that measure. Back then, Democrats lauded the bill as righting wrongs done to Americans who had been forced to follow the letter of laws that contradicted their beliefs—like a man whose religion forbids autopsies being forced to undergo that procedure, or an American Indian who loses his job for taking part in a ritual that involves peyote.

Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett, who supports the law, says Indiana’s measure has the same aim of protecting such people. In an op-ed in the South Bend Tribune, he gives the example of a Muslim prisoner who should be able to wear a beard, as his religion dictates, despite prison regulations against facial hair. Garnett was among the signatories of another letter from academics expressing support for the bill and arguing that Indiana’s Constitution “protects religious liberty to a considerable — but uncertain — degree.”

MORE: What You Need to Know About Indiana’s Controversial Religious Objections Law

Opponents of the bill point out that more than 20 years from the time Clinton signed the federal law, the political context has changed.

Some social conservatives have championed religious freedom bills as way to exempt businesses like bakeries or florists from providing services to same-sex couples who are winning the right to marry in places where that practice isn’t politically popular. Lawmakers in Indiana worked but failed to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2014, months before the state was forced through court rulings to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Advocates who oppose the law say it appears like a “Plan B.” Eunice Rho, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says that amendments to the bill that would make it clear that it can’t be used to undermine civil rights laws were repeatedly offered. “The proponents of the legislation proclaimed, over and over again, that this can’t be used to discriminate, this is about religious freedom. So we said, ‘Great. We’re in agreement on that. Let’s put it in the bill,'” she says. “And all of those amendments were voted down.”

In addition to Indiana, lawmakers in more than a dozen other states have considered “religious freedom” bills in 2015. Sometimes such measures crop up alongside non-discrimination legislation that LGBT rights advocates continue to push in legislatures across the states. While federal law prohibits discrimination based on attributes like sex and race, there is no federal anti-discrimination law that protects people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The same is the case in 31 states, where there is no law prohibiting employers from firing someone or landlords from denying someone housing solely because they are gay or transgender.

In Michigan, the Christian Coalition’s Keith den Hollander recently testified against an LGBT non-discrimination bill and said it amounted to “religious persecution.” David Kallman, speaking on behalf of the socially conservative Michigan Family Forum, framed the stakes this way: “Why should that baker or photographer be forced against their religious beliefs and conscience to participate in [a same-sex wedding]? And if they refuse to because of their religious conscience, to be put out of business?”

Such opponents of non-discrimination laws sometimes seek “religious freedom” bills as a counter attack, giving that hypothetical business owner grounds to challenge non-discrimination laws and protections against being sued.

MORE: 5 Things to Know About Indiana Gov. Mike Pence

While Indiana has no state-level LGBT non-discrimination measure, several cities including Indianapolis do. Those are the places where such laws could go head to head in court when the act takes effect on July 1. Legal experts say it’s unclear how the courts in Indiana would rule. “It does not say that members of religious minorities will be successful if they seek exemptions,” Garnett, the Notre Dame law professor, wrote, “only that they are entitled to a day in court.”

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, which advocates for LGBT rights, also expresses uncertainty about what precedents might be set in court. But, she says, regardless of what happens in the legal sphere, there is also a “social effect” that could lead to more discrimination.

“People’s conduct is shaped by their understanding of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in terms of human interactions, what the social standards are,” she adds. “That bill now embodies a state policy that religion is a legitimate reason for turning away customers because of who they are.”

As Indiana has dealt with backlash from passing the new law—ranging from grassroots protests to announcements that companies would be taking their business elsewhere—North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said he wouldn’t be signing a similar bill. In Georgia, a committee meeting to consider a religious freedom act on Monday was canceled, for the time stalling a measure that already passed the state senate.

In Florida, a state that has passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the legislature is considering a LGBT non-discrimination bill. A group working to pass the measure released a study in late March suggesting that having an environment that is potentially “hostile” to LGBT people was costing the state around $362 million per year. Several organizations and businesses have expressed dismay at Indiana’s new law, which may end up being costly for the Hoosier State. Conventions are relocating, businesses are putting expansions in the state on hold and even the NCAA has expressed skepticism about the political climate.

Some Indiana politicians are calling for the state’s civil rights law to be updated so that people are explicitly protected on the basis of sexual orientation. Pence has meanwhile said he’s open to legislation that will further clarify what the new religious freedom law can do. Rho, of the ACLU, says there are few limitations about which acts the law could be used to defend based on religious conviction—whether it’s firing a woman for using the pill or kicking a couple out of an apartment for cohabiting before marriage.

“I’m definitely worried about gays and lesbians, but I’m also worried about women who want to access birth control,” says Indiana University’s Drobac. “This is a stupid law … We need to repeal this law immediately.”

Read next: Uproar Over Religious Freedom Law Trips Up Indiana’s Governor

TIME Law

Indiana Governor Says Religious Objections Law Is ‘Not About Discrimination’

Mike Pence
Michael Conroy—AP Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, March 26, 2015.

"We're not going to change this law"

(INDIANAPOLIS) — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defended the new state law that’s garnered widespread criticism over concerns it could foster discrimination and said Sunday it wasn’t a mistake to have enacted it.

Pence appeared on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” to discuss the measure he signed last week prohibiting state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Since the Republican governor signed the bill into law Thursday, Indiana has been widely criticized by businesses and organizations around the nation, as well as on social media with the hashtag #boycottindiana. Already, consumer review service Angie’s List has said it will suspend a planned expansion in Indianapolis because of the new law.

Pence did not answer directly when asked at least six times whether under the law it would be legal for a merchant to refuse to serve gay customers. “This is not about discrimination, this is about empowering people to confront government overreach,” he said. Asked again, he said, “Look, the issue here is still is tolerance a two-way street or not.”

Pence told the Indianapolis Star on Saturday that he was in discussions with legislative leaders over the weekend and expects a clarification bill to be introduced in the coming week. He addressed that Sunday, saying, “if the General Assembly … sends me a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is and what it has been for the last 20 years, then I’m open to that.”

But Pence was adamant that the measure, slated to take effect in July, will stick. “We’re not going to change this law,” Pence said.

Some national gay-rights groups say it’s a way for lawmakers in Indiana and several others states where such bills have been proposed this year to essentially grant a state-sanctioned waiver for discrimination as the nation’s highest court prepares to mull the gay marriage question.

Supporters of the law, including Pence, contend discrimination claims are overblown and insist it will keep the government from compelling people to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds. They also maintain courts haven’t allowed discrimination under similar laws covering the federal government and 19 other states. Arkansas is poised to follow in Indiana’s footsteps, with a final vote expected next week in the House on legislation that Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he’ll sign.

Josh Earnest, President Barack Obama’s spokesman, appeared on “This Week” just after Pence, and said the debate isn’t a political argument.

“If you have to go back two decades to try to justify what you’re doing today, it may raise questions,” Earnest said, referring to the 1993 federal law Pence brought up. He added that Pence “is in damage-control mode this morning and he’s got some damage to fix.”

State Rep. Ed DeLaney, an Indianapolis Democrat, told a large, boisterous crowd Saturday gathered outside of the Statehouse to protest that the law creates “a road map, a path to discrimination.” Rally attendees chanted “Pence must go!” several times and held signs that read “No hate in our state.”

Pence addressed the critics Sunday, saying: “This avalanche of intolerance that’s been poured on our state is just outrageous.” Asked if he would be willing to add sexual orientation to the list of characteristics against which discrimination is illegal, he said, “I will not push for that. That’s not on my agenda, and that’s not been an objective of the people of the state of Indiana.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, released a video statement on his Facebook page Saturday, saying: “We’ll work together to reverse SB101 and we’ll stand together to make sure that here in Indiana, we welcome everyone, every day.”

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who opposed the law, has said he and other city officials will talk with businesses and convention planners to counter the uproar.

Angie’s List had sought an $18.5 million incentive package from Indianapolis’ City-County Council to add 1,000 jobs over five years. But founder and CEO Bill Oseterle said in a statement Saturday that the expansion was on hold “until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees.”

The Indianapolis-based NCAA has expressed concerns about the law and has suggested it could move future events elsewhere; the men’s Final Four will be held in the city next weekend.

___

Associated Press writers Tom Davies and Rick Callahan contributed to this report.

TIME politics

Former Obama Tech Expert: Democrats Need a Competitive Primary

Barack Obama's tweets on Nov. 7, 2012 after his re-election as US president.
Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images Barack Obama's tweets on Nov. 7, 2012 after his re-election as US president.

Scott Goodstein is CEO of digital-strategy firm Revolution Messaging and former external online director for Obama for America.

Democrats risk falling behind Republicans on technology

For much of our nation’s history, there have been insiders who aimed to quash competition within political parties. Even today, far too many party elites seem to think uncontested primaries are better. However, competitive primaries force an evolution of organizing models and new technologies that benefits campaigns and the public. The lack of a vibrant primary in 2016 would put Democrats at risk of falling behind Republicans in bringing technology to bear on campaign strategy — and that would be a big loss for both Democrats and the country.

Primaries are the research-and-development stages for the nation’s political machines. It is during primaries that our politics evolve. This is true of policy as well as campaign strategy — especially online. Large organizations need deadlines to beta-test products. The Obama campaign in 2008 looked at the 50 state primaries as the best timeline to create new experiments, test them, and release finished products. Remember how well-oiled the Obama machine felt by the summer of 2008 when you couldn’t turn a corner without some form of “Hope and Change” bombarding you in a battleground state? That didn’t happen overnight!

In 2007 and 2008, Barack Obama’s stiffest competition was Hillary Clinton. Competing against Clinton — a household name, a former first lady, and a well-respected senator — as a first-termer with a name like Barack Obama was truly daunting. When you have an uphill battle, you are going to get creative, and that’s what we did. As part of his early campaign team, we had to get a new and different set of voters to the polls. We needed to find younger voters who would be motivated by Obama’s message. And for the first time in a presidential primary, that meant using social media and sending messages directly to voters’ cell phones.

Back then, social media was seen as a fun new fad that kids were playing with — not as an organizing tool. Facebook had been open to non-college students for less than a year, and MySpace was in its prime. With each tool, we were able to target different voting blocks. We used Facebook mostly for reaching college-educated people, college students, and super-local groups. On MySpace we targeted young voters, military families (it was an easy way to communicate between military members overseas and family members back home), Silicon Valley techies, the entertainment industry, and women over 35.

Over the course of the primaries, having multiple digital teams experimenting with new techniques pushed each campaign to become better and evolve more quickly. And, quite frankly, we enjoyed the challenge.

In Iowa, we experimented to see if setting up a statewide MySpace page would return new volunteers. In Nevada, we built rapid-response interactive voice hotlines and text-messaging tools that reinvented the process for dealing with election violations. In South Carolina, we launched two-way text messages on canvasses to see how we could better tether canvassers to their local headquarters. On Super Tuesday, we created separate MySpace and Facebook groups to empower Obama supporters to self-organize, kept in touch with our hard-core base on Twitter, and used the social networking tool Eventful to send surrogates to rallies and build crowds quickly. In the late primaries, we tested new ways to engage young voters by combining offline advertising and point-of-purchase display advertising with text-messaging and toll-free hotlines that provided additional information.

By the time the general election arrived, we were wielding more powerful tools with a known return on investment. We even built our own social media site (MyBO) for supporters and volunteers. All of that work during the primaries put the party in a stronger position for the general election. It also enabled Democratic firms and private-sector partners at social media sites to build more and more robust tools in the years that followed to allow candidates to engage with voters and vice versa. These advancements put Democrats at a serious advantage over the competition — and none of these advances would have been realized if not for a hotly contested primary.

So what will we be missing if the Republicans have a debated primary and the Democrats don’t? Their candidates and campaigns will get better at giving a rehearsed stump speech and answering questions at debates and fish fries. But the lost opportunities would go far beyond that.

There is no question that Republicans are catching up when it comes to putting technology to work on the campaign trail — a competitive Democratic primary would allow us to stay out in front. We can pressure-test the new advances in ad-technology and mobile marketing by experimenting in each state primary with real deadlines and real results. Can hyper-geo-fencing different messages affect turnout on an election day? Can Democratic campaigns better divide their resources between direct-mail universes, walkable precincts and geo-fenced ads in gated-communities that can’t be canvassed? Can connected TV be integrated in a campaign’s field and in fundraising efforts?

While the political results of a candidate who isn’t battle-tested are well known, the lasting effects from failing to evolve our political technology could not only put us at a disadvantage in 2016, but also put Democrats behind for years to come.

 

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 Congress

Harry Reid’s Early Retirement Announcement Shows How Much He Likes to Plan Ahead

Harry Reid
Douglas Graham—Roll Call/Getty Images Harry Reid on July 10, 2000

The Senate minority leader will not seek reelection in 2016

By announcing early that he will not run for reelection next fall, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has freed up party resources that might have been spent on what would have been a tough race for other elections — a major reason behind his early decision, as he told the New York Times. That kind of planning ahead is not unusual for the minority leader.

Reid’s personal background might not peg him as a super planner: as TIME explained in a 2004 profile, he was once an amateur boxer, the son of “a hard-drinking gold miner.” (His mother’s pay came from taking in laundry from brothels.) But he devoted himself to finding stability, including through a conversion to Mormonism, and ended up the kind of person who famously carries around notecards on which to record every promise he makes, with the idea that he’ll later be able to record when he fulfills them.

One of the best illustrations of that forward-looking nature was explained in that same 2004 article, in which TIME’s Douglas Waller laid out how the Senator prepared for a filibuster:

Harry Reid is the kind of adversary who might just wear you down. Last year, for example, the Nevada Senator staged a one-day filibuster, standing on the Senate floor and talking for eight hours and 35 minutes straight to put majority leader Bill Frist hopelessly behind schedule on other bills that he wanted to rush through before the Thanksgiving recess. Reid planned everything carefully, down to his diet. So he wouldn’t be forced to go to the bathroom and lose his right to the floor, he ate only a slice of wheat bread and a handful of unsalted peanuts for breakfast, kept Senate pages from refilling the water glass at his desk and made sure he sipped only half of it during the day.

One thing he can’t plan, of course, is the one thing that many Washington-watchers will wonder most: who will take his place as the leader of the Senate Democrats.

Read the full 2004 story, here in the TIME archives: Herding the Democrats

TIME politics

Watch John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi Read Mean Tweets About Themselves

Tans were discussed

Members of Congress including House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi came together to read mean tweets about themselves on video to promote Wednesday’s 2015 Radio & Television Correspondents Association Dinner.

Spoiler alert: Fake tans were discussed.

“Um… @NancyPelosi looks like a tub of orange sherbert right now on CSPAN,” Pelosi read one, before ad-libbing: “Was I standing too close to John Boehner?”

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 10.24.03 AM

The video then cuts to Boehner reading a tweet stating that he “Looks like an angry Oompa Loopa. I presume he bribes his constituents with promises of chocolate and Gobstoppers.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 10.04.44 AM

The twitterverse can be so cruel. Luckily Boehner was able to keep it together:

TIME politics

San Francisco Lawmakers Propose Tougher Restrictions on Airbnb Rentals

Airbnb
Airbnb

The proposal would take a trailblazing regulation measure passed last year and make it more restrictive

At a meeting of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, a local lawmaker returned to an issue that sparked long and contentious hearings in 2014: regulation of the city’s short-term rentals facilitated by Airbnb and similar companies.

“This law is a mess,” David Campos, one of the 11 board members, said of a measure passed last year that legalized short-term rentals. “It’s a mess that needs to be cleaned up. And we need to clean it up as soon as possible.”

Campos introduced legislation that would place stricter limitations on how often people can rent out rooms or homes, putting a “hard cap” of 90 days on every property, regardless of whether the host is present. It would also require companies such as Airbnb to share data about rentals, ban rentals in certain neighborhoods that have been zoned for no commercial use and give disturbed neighbors—like ones living next door to people who rent out units illegally—the right to sue for damages.

A spokesperson for Airbnb said in a statement to TIME that the new proposal is just creating tension over an issue that was settled in 2014.

“Elected officials spent three years debating all aspects of this issue before passing comprehensive legislation, but some folks still don’t think you should be able to occasionally share the home in which you live,” said Christopher Nulty. “We should all be striving to make the law work but these ad hoc rules and this new bill just make things more confusing.”

Campos’ measure has been co-sponsored by two other members of the board.

Under the law passed last year, residents in San Francisco are allowed to rent out their properties an unlimited amount of days if the host is present, while there is a 90-day cap on un-hosted rentals. The different limits were aimed at maximizing the economic potential for residents who depend on sites like Airbnb for income, while making it impossible for landlords to put rental units on those sites full-time. Before the law passed, all short-term rentals were technically illegal; rentals shorter than 30 days were banned.

MORE: 5 Things You Never Knew About the Sharing Economy

The problem, Campos says, is that the city planning commission, which is charged with enforcing the law, says there’s no method of determining when hosts are at home sleeping in their own beds, meaning they cannot monitor whether people are respecting the limits. Campos called the law a “paper tiger” that is “unenforceable” because it has no teeth.

Local lawmakers have pushed for limits on short-term rentals to make sure the sharing economy doesn’t cannibalize existing housing stock. “The concern is you take your unit off the market,” says Supervisor Jane Kim, who supports a 90-day cap.

In recent years, San Francisco has been in the midst of a housing crisis, with the amount of people wanting to live in the city exceeding the apartments that are available—which has sent rental prices skyrocketing. The law was partly aimed at stopping landlords from taking much-needed units off the market because renting them out every night on sites like Airbnb was more valuable than collecting a monthly check. It also legitimized a business popular with tourists and locals.

Kim points out that 90 days per year breaks down to about a week per month, or could be the length of a summer when a college student is out of town. It’s sufficient for what one might consider “regular” hosts who use Airbnb, she says. “If you’re doing more than 90 days, you’re running a business,” she says. Kim believes that people in that camp should apply for a bed-and-breakfast license, which requires hosts to meet more requirements like installing exit signs.

With the aim of making oversight more feasible, Campos’ proposal would require platforms like Airbnb to give the city data about how often properties are being rented through their sites. “Without that data, there’s simply no way of knowing,” Campos says. He adds that Airbnb has responded to previous requests for such data by demanding the city subpoena them and notes that Airbnb has fought such subpoenas in states like New York.

Under the current law, which went into effect in February, all hosts must register with the city before listing a property on a site like Airbnb. Campos says that as of two weeks ago only a few dozen residents have registered, while there are “thousands” of rooms and units being listed on short-term rental sites. In an attempt to incentivize compliance with the law, the proposal would also fine hosting platforms that list unregistered units in San Francisco to the tune of $1,000 per day.

“All of us support short-term rentals,” Campos said of the board members during Tuesday’s meeting. “We know that short-term rentals are part of San Francisco, that they are here to stay … That said, I think that those of us that have been talking about this believe there should be reasonable, fair regulation of this industry,” he continued. “The law that was passed last year does not constitute what we would like to see.”

Read next: Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and do My Errands, and Rent My Stuff…

TIME politics

It’s 1815 All Over Again: The Troubling Tale of the Chappaqua Email Server

Congress of Vienna
Culture Club / Getty Images Congress of Vienna, 1814, after painting by J B Isabey

There are protestations that the HRC files were unclassified. But, the history of the Congress of Vienna shows, every bit can be exploited

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Keyboards are aflutter over the revelation that former U.S. Secretary of State and presumed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) bypassed the State Department and outsourced her email management to a server located at the Clinton family home in Chappaqua, NY. It is a brewing storm in search of a scandalous name. Hillar-email-ageddon? Chappaqua-servergate?

Put aside for the moment the propriety of a Cabinet official engaging in these practices and let us explore why this cyber kerfuffle created potentially easy pickings for determined nation-state actors and put national security at risk.

Does anyone care about seemingly uninteresting tidbits from the world’s most powerful foreign minister? After all, as HRC has noted, the emails were not classified. Simple. Countries want to know the plans and intentions of friends and enemies, and they will take any scraps they can get.

To illustrate, let us wind the clock back to a time when one world power had no compunction about breaching protocol and spying on everyone’s diplomatic correspondence in a concerted effort to protect the security of the state and further its own political agenda.

Exactly two hundred years ago, the European powers gathered at the Congress of Vienna to redraw the map of the Continent. The French Revolution had collapsed after a head-chopping reign of terror. Napoleon’s gallivanting across Europe was over. The aristocrats were back in the catbird seat and they were ready to party. For nine months from the official opening in October 1814 until June 1815, greater and lesser powers jockeyed for position as territories changed hands.

The secret police of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been preparing for months for the delegates’ arrival. As the diplomats negotiated at the Congress or whiled away the evenings at fancy dinners and galas, the Austrian surveillance state was hard at work, following their every move. Secret police transcripts from the time run in the thousands of pages. No grain of information, however mundane, escaped notice and was dutifully transmitted to the Emperor’s desk.

The backbone of the Austrian spying program was reading diplomatic correspondence as delegates reported progress back to their countries (and threw in the odd bit of palace gossip and intrigue.)

Some diplomats tried to take precautions by sealing the envelopes with distinctive wax seals bearing their royal crests. Today we might call this using a weak password because the Austrian secret police could break the seals without leaving a trace. In secret bureaus, operatives employed special smokeless candles to pry loose the seals and, using metal putty, create perfect counterfeit replicas. The mail could be read, a new seal put in place, and the mail sent on its way as if it had traveled unmolested. Just like a man-in-the-middle attack works today for third parties who want to read your email and leave you none the wiser.

This worked until the nobles used new seals, which would be like changing your password to something easily guessable, and presented only a minor inconvenience to Austrian intelligence until new fake seals could be fabricated.

Some royals were too clever by half. Princess Theresa of Saxony tried to fool the watchers by giving the major diplomatic players nicknames in her letters home. The French foreign minister became “Krumpholz” and the Austrian was “Krautfeld”. Let’s call this very weak encryption, because with a little bit of work, a trained eye could engage in word substitution and figure out the puzzle.

Others went farther, writing in invisible ink between the lines of more innocuous letters. This is like strong encryption, but can still be broken with enough technical know-how. Prepared as ever, the secret police had chemical solutions to reveal the hidden text.

The Secretary of State’s email is like the diplomatic correspondence of two hundred years ago. As the Austrians had figured out, the connection of many innocuous seeming details could tell a story and provide indicators of an adversary’s intentions.

Imagine you intercepted a one-line HRC email to a staff aide: “Purchase Urdu phrase book by Fri” (not a real example). Might this indicate that a trip to Pakistan was imminent, signaling a change in U.S. foreign policy? India would certainly care about this, as would others with interests in the region.

Back at the Congress of Vienna, closely watching friend and foe soon overwhelmed the secret police. In addition to the four major political powers of the day, hundreds of advisors, courtesans, hangers-on and special interest groups had descended on the capital.

The surveillance net had grown too wide. It was impossible to shadow everyone and the decryption bureau was getting behind in transcribing letters, leading higher-ups to complain that the mail was being delayed. The intelligence service had what we might call a Big Data problem, and they had not yet evolved the analytical capabilities to make sense of all the information that poured in daily. Modern governments have many more resources at their disposal and can leverage technology to separate the wheat from the chaff, quickly doing the work that legions of clerks once did by hand, so vacuuming up all the data doesn’t necessarily create an undue burden.

Not everyone had his proverbial pockets picked at the Congress. One shining beacon of good information security practices emerges. The British Foreign Secretary, Viscount Castlereagh, though under the watchful eye of the Austrian surveillance state, frustrated their efforts to penetrate his information cocoon. In their internal reports the secret police privately complain that they cannot obtain any useful information. Castlereagh hired his own household servants, thwarting efforts to infiltrate his milieu with local agents. He further had his diplomatic correspondence hand-carried back to London and he ensured that all notes were completely burned in the fireplace.

Castlereagh’s good example from two hundred years ago shows us how these common-sense practices can still resonate today in the digital age, notably not sending sensitive information via unprotected channels and using electronic document shredding to erase proprietary information.

It is doubtful that the Chappaqua server had encryption to the standards of State Department diplomatic security. Yes, the HRC email server was behind a locked door. But information flowed in and out. As SecState, HRC was a million-plus mile flyer. Thus, of the tens of thousands of emails she penned while in office, we must reasonably assume that a significant number were sent from overseas before being routed via Chappaqua. From the WiFi hotspot at the airport VIP lounge in Beijing or Moscow perhaps? Who sits atop these access points to the information highway and sniffs the messages passing through? Answer: whoever wants to.

There are protestations that the HRC files were unclassified. But, as has been shown from the point of view of a two-century-old intelligence service (that didn’t even have the benefit of electricity), every bit can be part of a larger mosaic and exploited for all the wrong reasons. This tale of snooping during the Congress of Vienna would be an amusing bit of waltz-till-dawn diplomatic history if it weren’t such a stark reminder that in the digital age a country with enough resources and ill intent can use time-honored practices to exploit weaknesses in communications practices, read the mail, and make calculated adjustments based on what it learns. And that is why this episode has such disturbing implications.

Greg Cullison is an independent researcher and Founder & CEO of ProVerity, Inc., a security and risk analysis firm headquartered near Washington, D.C.

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