MONEY Autos

WATCH: Americans Still Love Buying SUVs

GM lost billions of dollars due to recalled vehicles, but sales are actually up thanks largely to SUVs.

TIME celebrities

Hugh Grant on Phone-Hacking Verdict: Don’t Forget the Guilty Pleas

The 59th Hugh Grant Evening Standard Theatre Awards - Ceremony
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Hugh Grant the 59th London Evening Standard Theatre Awards at The Savoy Hotel in London on Nov. 17, 2013. David M. Benett—Getty Images

The actor has been an outspoken critic of the illegal reporting practices that led to the sensational U.K. trial

Hugh Grant would like to amend the score card being touted by most news stories about verdicts in the British phone-hacking trial this week. Most have noted that just one of the seven defendants, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, was found guilty of conspiring to intercept calls. Six others, including Rebekah Brooks, who was editor before Coulson, were found not guilty. Grant, one of the most prominent victims of the phone-hacking in question, is concerned that coverage of the trial isn’t complete, because the tally is leaving out the guilty pleas of others charged in the scandal. In a statement issued to TIME, the actor, who in 2012 settled with the paper’s parent company, Rupert Murdoch’s News International, for damages over the hacking, wrote:

Some newspapers here are spinning these verdicts in the way you describe as “only one out of seven defendants found guilty.” This is deliberately to ignore the guilty pleas of others charged with the same offenses. These guilty pleas could not be reported during the trials and are not being widely reported now by some newspapers who are intent on minimizing the extent of criminality in their industry. The true figures are these (as per today’s Guardian): Of eight journalists charged with hacking, six have now been found, or have pleaded, guilty — one editor, three news editors and two hackers. Twelve more trials of News International (now rebranded News UK) journalists are currently scheduled.

And it may not stop there: In addition to the “dozens” of journalists who the Guardian says could potentially face charges related to this scandal, the paper also reports today that Murdoch, who owned the now-defunct News of the World, has been informed by Scotland Yard that they would like to interview him about the case.

TIME movies

The (2nd) Biggest Mistake Roman Polanski Ever Made

Roman Polanski at Oktoberfest
Director Roman Polanski smokes a cigarette and drinks a beer at Oktoberfest, Sept.29, 1977. Istvan Bajzat—dpa/Corbis

The photo that forced Polanski to flee

Roman Polanski made a lot of mistakes in 1977. The famous director of Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, who had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust as a child and endured the brutal murder of his pregnant wife at the hands of the Manson Family, was on trial for the Quaalude and champagne fueled rape of a 13-year-old girl.

Thanks to Judge Laurence Rittenband, who allegedly loved the media frenzy the trial inspired, Polanski was granted permission to leave the country in exchange for a guilty plea to the least legally damning of the six charges he faced: illegal sex with a minor.

So Polanski flew to Europe to begin filming the massive action epic The Hurricane, but made an unfortunate pit stop in Germany for Oktoberfest, where he was photographed by paparazzo Istvan Bajzat. The image of Polanski, leisurely smoking a cigar, flanked on all sides by young girls and giant beer steins, was a game-changer in a case already rife with legal inconsistencies, and solidified Polanski’s public perception as a freewheeling womanizer.

Polanski was ordered to return to the US, where he was immediately sent to Chino State Prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, of which he served 42 days. Less than three months later, just hours before he was to stand trial, Polanski fled to Europe, where the 81-year-old director still lives and works.

Polanski’s newest film, a racy adaptation of the stage play Venus in Fur, has its U.S. release today, June 20.

TIME Education

Shonda Rhimes: Anyone Who Says They Can ‘Do It All’ Is Lying

Another golden nugget: "Hashtags aren't helping"

Shonda Rhimes gave the commencement speech at Dartmouth Sunday, and it was just as excellent as you’d expect it to be.

The creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal told the graduating class she was seriously worried she would “poop her pants,” because as a TV writer, she’s more comfortable writing words for other people to say. But she kept it together and delivered an amazing speech about the fallacy of “doing it all.”

Shonda, how do you do it all?

The answer is this: I don’t.

Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.

If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost.

Something is always missing.

And yet. I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices and know that they come to Shondaland. There is a land and it is named after their mother. In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it. The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, because I get write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person—and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who didn’t get to do this all day long. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who wasn’t doing.

Rhimes also encouraged students to do something to help the world, and explained why she thinks hashtag activism isn’t really activism.

Oh. And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething

Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it’s Game of Thrones.

Volunteer some hours. Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week. Some people suggest doing this will increase your sense of well-being. Some say it’s good karma. I say that it will allow you to remember that, whether you are a legacy or the first in your family to go to college, the air you are breathing right now is rare air. Appreciate it. Don’t be an asshole.

Start at 1:41 to see the speech in full. It’s worth it:

You can also read a transcript here.

TIME celebrities

Viewpoint: Why America Won’t Forgive Lance Armstrong (for Now)

2013 Harpo,Inc

Some celebrities bounce back from scandal; some never do. Armstrong looks like a longshot

There are popular celebrities, there are unpopular celebrities and then there are the walking dead. You know the walking dead when you see them: they look like Mel Gibson, still striving for drunken charm in an L.A. County mug shot, after getting picked up on a DWI charge that included anti-semitic slurs directed at the police. They look like Seinfeld’s Michael Richards, caught in a racist, career-wrecking rant during a stand-up performance in 2007. They look like John Edwards—whose name alone still makes half the country want to throw crockery while the other half just never, ever wants to have to think about him again. (I’ve written about Edwards before: ‘Why We Love to Loathe John Edwards‘)

There is no end to the number of American celebrities who have found themselves in this netherworld, brought low by crime, sex scandal, Wall Street finagling or just plain nuttiness (we’re looking at you, Charlie Sheen). Now, Lance Armstrong has landed in that same low place. The seven-time Tour de France winner—stripped of his titles for using performance-enhancing drugs and exposed as having apparently lied and intimidated others into keeping his secrets—is about to do what so many disgraced figures do, which is to seek redemption through the TV confessional. And Armstrong—who has never done anything by halves—is going straight to the high priestess: Oprah.

Armstrong’s goal, of course, is forgiveness, a public absolution that will allow him to resume his career as a competitive athlete—this time in triathlons—and regain some tarnished measure of his lost good will. Sometimes it works: Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, Michael Vick—who ran a dog-fighting ring—managed to bounce back. Eliot Spitzer got a TV gig after frolicking with prostitutes and resigning as governor of New York, and is said to be flirting with a run for public office again. Mark Sanford, who stepped down as South Carolina governor after disappearing to hike the Appalachian Trail in his Argentine mistress’s bed, just announced his candidacy to reclaim the seat he once held in Congress. Even Richards has earned a bit of sympathy and is easing back into the public eye on TV and in web videos.

(MORE: Why Lance Armstrong Couldn’t Stop Himself (And Still Can’t))

Other times the reclamation act is hopeless: Gibson is finished, especially after his vile and unhinged phone rants, caught on tape by his estranged wife. O.J. could clear rooms even before he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for a low-rent robbery in 2008; now, mercifully, he seems to be out of sight for good. And as for Edwards? Best for him to stay indoors. Armstrong’s prospects of avoiding their fate depend on a lot of things—some within his control, but some utterly outside them.

For starters, there’s the redemptive power of truth-telling—the big card Armstrong hoped to play by arranging the Oprah sessions. That strategy may turn out to be of limited value to him. Patty Briguglio, CEO of MMI Public Relations in Cary, NC, echos a couple generations of crisis management experts when she counsels, “Tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth.” Unfortunately, she says, “Armstrong didn’t do any of those things.”

That matters. Sanford and Spitzer copped to their misdeeds the second they were caught and they still have at least a pulse as a result. And before you say they had no choice in the matter since there was no denying the allegations, consider that both Edwards and the pants-less Anthony Weiner tried to fudge the truth even when it was too late—with Weiner claiming that his Twitter account had been hacked, which was why that way-too-candid picture of him was making the rounds on the web. Armstrong has reportedly told Oprah that he started doping in the mid 1990s, which means he’s been lying for close to 20 years—and excoriating anyone who dared suggest otherwise. This falls a wee bit short of Briguglio’s “tell it fast” standard.

“This is a long-term betrayal,” she says. “I don’t know if you’ve seen anyone wearing a bracelet for Livestrong [Armstrong's cancer charity] lately, but I haven’t.”

With the long-term nature of his lies, Armstrong did something else public figures should never, ever do: he made his supporters feel foolish for standing by him. Say what you will about Clinton, no one was surprised when his White House affair was revealed, and while his “I did not have sex with that woman” lie may have caused some of his fan base to peel away forever, most people just rolled their eyes and reckoned that, yes, he probably did have sex with her. When it turned out they were right, they could applaud themselves for their prescience. The same was true in a darker way of Richard Nixon, whom everyone figured would go on to commit some kind of high crime one day. Armstrong’s stubborn denials in the face of all the doping rumors persuaded a lot of his fans to put aside their misgivings and believe him. Now they find he was duping them all along—something they may never forgive.

(From the Magazine: What Makes Us Moral?)

It also doesn’t help Armstrong that the very talent that made him famous and earned him fans—his cycling—now turns out to have been at least partly artificial. Vick’s dog-fighting crimes didn’t change the fact that he was a terrific quarterback, and after he served his prison sentence he found a place on a new team. Martha Stewart may have done time for insider trading, but her recipes still work. Randy Moss, the San Francisco 49ers’ wide receiver and serial misbehaver is similarly the real deal on the field, and that helped him a lot. In a story about Moss just today, The New York Times wrote:

He squirted an official with a water bottle and mock-mooned the Green Bay crowd while celebrating a touchdown. He shouted down a team sponsor, loudly disparaged a post-practice meal in front of Minneapolis restaurant owners who catered it, and got into an altercation with a Minneapolis traffic cop. He sulked his way out of Minnesota, Oakland and Tennessee.

“I play when I want to play,” he once said, inspiring predictable condemnation from the punditocracy.

The fact that Moss has survived, the Times argued, is due in no small part “to the fact that his talent was sufficient to buy him multiple chances.” We will never know if Armstrong ever had the talent, thanks to the performance-enhancing drugs he is finally admitting to using.

(From the Magazine: Armstrong’s Ahab)

Finally, it helps to be likable. Clinton’s rascally charm allowed him to perform all manner of PR jujitsu that a lesser pol couldn’t have begun to pull off. Tiger Woods, similarly, has never been short of a sort of agreeable sweetness—and his genuine-seeming contrition after his marital scandal, not to mention his painful unease during the press conferences that followed, bought him a lot of public sympathy. Armstrong, like Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—likely dopers all—has exhibited only defiance and disdain over the years. His Oprah mea culpas might simply not be enough after all this time.

But if there is one very powerful asset Armstrong has that the others don’t, it’s Livestrong. The charity does genuine good, and Armstrong, as a cancer survivor, has earned equally genuine admiration for his decision to devote so much of his time to helping other people battle the disease. “He needs to put every bit of energy he has into Livestrong,” says Briguglio. “That’s his legacy. That’s how he’ll be remembered.”

For a man hooked on competition and the do-what-it-takes ethos that tolerates even cheating, public do-goodism may never have the same thrill as crossing a finish line. But bicycle races and endorsement contracts don’t save lives; Livestrong can. Choose wisely, Lance. We may never love you again, but over time—perhaps a lot of time—we may yet remember how to respect you, even if it’s not for your talent on a bike.

MORE: Can it Get Any Worse For Lance Armstrong?

TIME celebrities

Ellen Page: Creepiness Is a “Systemic Problem” in Hollywood

Ellen Page
Ellen Page at 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, Calif. Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez / AFP / Getty Images

Those in power often manipulate younger people, the actress says

For an actor, promoting a movie usually requires spending a lot of time talking about his or her character and the world of the film. And, in this week’s TIME, Ellen Page does just that for the new X-Men: Days of Future Past (in theaters this weekend), discussing the way the movie’s worldview meshes with her own and why she might use mutant powers to see what it’s like to be Jay Z.

But sometimes, a movie release coincides with real-life events, and in X-Men‘s case, that something happens to be the recent suit against director Bryan Singer, who has been accused of sexually abusing a minor. (On Wednesday, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Singer filed a motion to dismiss. In a recent cover story for the same publication, Page said that those accusations against Singer were “disturbing” and that “the truth will come out in the way that it does.” But, she told TIME, no matter ends up happening with Singer’s case, there’s a larger issue that we should be talking about instead:

TIME: I read what you’ve said about the allegations against Bryan Singer, and I wonder what’s it like to be asked about those accusations…

Ellen Page: When it has nothing to do with me?

TIME: Yeah.

Page: It’s part of this world and it’s part of what we do and it’s the same with Woody [Allen, who directed Page in To Rome with Love] or whatever. I’ve worked with this person and I happen to be in the movie that’s coming out right now, so of course someone will ask about it. What could I possibly say about it? These are accusations and it’s awful and we’ll find out when we find out, when the process happens. I do think that all of Bryan’s situation aside, I do think there is a systemic problem. Any time young people are in places with people of power around, I do think that’s an important thing to talk about.

TIME: Just in general?

Page: In general and in Hollywood, yeah.

TIME: Is that something you’ve experienced personally?

Page: I grew up on film sets, so yes. I’ve never had any situation that is anything too, you know, but people are creepy and try to manipulate young people and luckily I never had anything too drastic happen.

Such power imbalances, and their “creepy” consequences, have often been seen as a problem that mostly affects those for whom the imbalance is greatest; as my colleague Kate Pickert explained when the Singer scandal first broke, advocates say that the aspirants who have the most to gain and lose are the ones most in danger of predatory quid-pro-quo transactions. But, if Page’s observations hold true across her industry, it sounds like the problem isn’t limited to careers that have yet to break through.

TIME U.S.

What the VA Did for My Sick Husband

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RodrigoBlanco—Getty Images/Vetta

Amid scrutiny and furor over misconduct at the government agency, a widow gives thanks to the employees who cared for her husband in his last years.

Two weeks ago my husband of 51 years, Joe, died in his room at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home at age 87. He had served in the Navy from 1941 to 1946 and was a proud veteran.

Like others, I am deeply concerned by reports of delayed treatment for our veterans. Indeed, when I was receiving cancer treatments in 2011 and could no longer care for Joe at home, we had to wait nearly a month before a room became available in a VA facility.

But this is not a story of disappointment. It is instead one of deep gratitude for the extraordinary professional and personal care Joe received over the next three years. Of course we must not excuse those who betray their responsibilities to our veterans and our country, but we must also remember and celebrate the legion of VA employees who provide outstanding care to our veterans, day in and day out.

As Joe’s physical strength waned and vascular dementia sapped his memory, VA doctors, nurses and aides were alert to his medical needs. Time and again they took him to the VA hospital for tests, diagnosis and treatment.

More unexpected were the countless ways in which their thoughtfulness helped Joe and our entire family. Every veteran was treated with the greatest respect, even when he or she was being difficult. For example, at first Joe didn’t understand why he couldn’t come home with me and became angry whenever I left him. The staff always took him aside to provide comfort and tell him I would be back soon.

These small personal kindnesses made such a difference.

To the extent possible, Joe and other patients were encouraged to continue a normal life. Many activities and facilities were available at the nursing home, but patients were not confined there. There were outings of all sorts, such as professional sporting events, fishing, horse riding, shopping at a local store and short road trips to see the fall leaves—even after Joe was confined to a wheelchair.

Our family was allowed to visit any time of day or night, and staff would place a call for Joe whenever he wanted to talk to us. When he could no longer come home for the day, special dinners were scheduled at holidays so we could celebrate together. It was the little things that mattered the most, and they were the most unexpected.

What turned out to be Joe’s last treat took place the afternoon before his death. By then he was in hospice care, but did not realize that his status had changed. A nurse noticed that he seemed down and asked what would make him happy. He said he wanted a Coca-Cola and a Snickers bar. She pushed his wheelchair so they could fetch them, then brought him back with her to the nurses’ station, where they visited while he indulged in this special snack.

It is difficult to leave a loved one’s side once you know that the final stages of life are here. But we knew that no matter how suddenly Joe’s final decline might be, there was no danger that he would die alone. The staff made sure that someone would always be with any patient who was approaching death so that this would never happen, and that was reassuring for us. As it turned out, the doctor was able to gather most of his family in time to be with Joe as he slipped away. The last three of us, our daughter and son and myself, whose planes from Illinois, Arkansas and Texas did not get us to the nursing home until many hours after his death. The staff had kept Joe in his room to await us. The chaplain, who had come to work for a normal day, stayed until midnight so that she could comfort us after we said our goodbyes. Only then did the mortician take Joe’s body.

A final tradition, so touching that it brings tears to my eyes as I write, is that whenever a veteran dies, his caregivers line the halls to offer their salute and play “Taps” as his flag-draped body departs.

In our case, there was a postscript. Joe had greatly admired the black Converse sneakers of two of the aides. Many times he sought to purchase them from one or the other, once offering a dollar he’d won at Bingo as payment. Although they always declined, the aides decided to surprise Joe by purchasing a pair for him out of their own funds. But the parcel arrived a few hours too late. When I urged them to return the $60 shoes for a refund, they declined, saying they were meant for Joe. Although most mourners at his funeral didn’t realize it, Joe wore his new black sneakers to the grave.

Sandra Collard has five children, fourteen grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Her husband Joe served honorably in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

TIME Environment

China’s Food Safety Problems Go Deeper Than Pet Treats

Pet food retailers in the U.S. are pulling Chinese-made dog and cat treats from their shelves out of contamination fears

+ READ ARTICLE

PETCO became the first national pet food store to halt the sale of Chinese-made treats this week, due to concerns over contamination—but it won’t be the last.

Already the rival retailer PetSmart has announced that it will follow suit in taking Chinese pet treats off its store shelves. Over 1,000 dog deaths have been linked to problems with the imported jerky treats, but this problem goes back years. The Food and Drug Administration has been investigating thousands of reports of pet illnesses linked to jerky treats going back to 2007, most of which involve Chinese products, though there’s been a spike since last October.

It’s still not clear exactly how the treats may be contaminated, or exactly how the products may be hurting the dogs and other pets that eat them. But this is hardly the first time that tainted Chinese-made food products have made the news. There was a massive pet food recall in 2007 that implicated Chinese producers, and there were worried that those ingredients could have made it into the human food supply. There have also been concerns about lead paint on Chinese-made toys exported to the U.S.

But any worries about contamination in Chinese exports pales compared to the danger that homegrown Chinese food poses to the country’s own citizens. Food safety scandals are rampant, and by some estimates as much as one fifth of the country’s soil is contaminated. Chinese who can afford it buy imported food whenever possible—and those who can’t just hope they’re lucky. Tainted pet food may get the headlines in the U.S., but food safety is far worse—for animals and people—in China itself.

TIME Veterans

VA Chief Eric Shinseki (Still) Must Go

Eric Shinseki
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki pauses while testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to examine the state of Veterans Affairs health care on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 15, 2014. Cliff Owen—AP

The VA is broken. It’s past time to fix this shameful bureaucratic tragedy

Back at the turn of the 21st century, when he left Washington to become president of the New School university in New York City, former Senator Bob Kerrey learned a little something about the ethos of Veterans Affairs. Kerrey, a Medal of Honor recipient who lost part of a leg in Vietnam, needed to get his home address changed. He had called his bank and settled the matter in 10 minutes. He called the VA and spoke to a hostile and not very helpful receptionist. He spoke to the receptionist’s supervisor, who told him, “You’re going to have to come in.” So Kerrey went to the VA office in New York. The receptionist again wasn’t very helpful. Kerrey pointed out that he was only talking about an address change. The receptionist said, “Talk to one of them,” pointing to customer “service” employees sitting at desks labeled A and B. Desk C was vacant. Kerrey went to Desk A, where he was told, “That’s handled by Desk C.” Kerrey asked when the occupant of Desk C was returning. “I don’t know,” said Desk A. Kerrey went over and sat at Desk C for a long while, and then a longer while. He spoke to the supervisor, who had no idea where Desk C was and told Kerrey, “Come back tomorrow.”

“You gotta be kidding,” Kerrey said, or perhaps yelled. It took 12 days to get his address changed.

I’ve heard far more serious VA horror stories ad nauseam in recent years. I know of at least one young Marine who committed suicide while waiting—months—for his medical records to be transferred from Los Angeles to Houston. I’ve also heard stories of heroic treatment performed by devoted VA doctors, nurses and counselors, but those often occurred after their patients endured a Kafka-esque struggle with the VA’s bureaucratic gate-keepers. You might expect that the system, which is staffed largely by older veterans, would have adapted with alacrity to the crisis posed by the wave of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans over the past decade. But the VA’s response has been stagnation, and worse. It is now clear that there was a conscious, and perhaps criminal, effort to camouflage the time veterans had to wait for service in Phoenix and at other VA facilities. It is alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for service in Phoenix; whether or not that proves accurate, we’re facing a moral catastrophe.

The question is, How do we change this situation? The simple answer is leadership, which is why some have called (as I did last year) for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. By all accounts, Shinseki is a fine man who has spent nearly six years lost in the system. An effective leader would have gone to Phoenix as soon as the scandal broke, expressed his outrage, held a town meeting for local VA outpatients and their families—dealt with their fury face-to-face—and let it be known that he was taking charge and heads were going to roll. Instead, Shinseki intoned the words “mad as hell” at a congressional hearing. And White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said the President was “madder than hell” about the situation. Does anyone actually find this convincing?

The President cares deeply about the troops; he visits the wounded in the hospitals all the time; it’s just not his style to make a public deal of it. But he has been sadly ineffective on the veterans–health issue. The benefits system is still rigged against recent veterans, who go to the end of the line with their claims. Five years ago, Obama promised a unified electronic records system so that a soldier’s medical history would follow him or her seamlessly from active duty to the VA, but it still hasn’t been implemented because of trench warfare between the Pentagon and the VA. More than a billion dollars has been spent on the project. A senior Administration official told me a year ago that a solution was weeks away; now the Administration is promising a new system by 2016. The President could have solved this problem yesterday, by cracking heads—and selecting either the existing VA or Pentagon electronic records system. (Believe it or not, the VA system is pretty effective but not up-to-date.)

The problem of bureaucratic stagnation at the VA (and throughout the rest of the government) could be addressed as well. Think about the lazy clerks Bob Kerrey faced. Why were they so callous? Because under the existing, antiquated civil-service system, they face practically zero threat of being fired. The President could ask for a temporary waiver of civil-service rules to clean up the mess at the VA, but that seems politically impossible. Government accountability is a popular mantra—but you can’t have accountability unless everyone, including Desk C, is held to account.

TIME language

Sterling, Rubio and the Art of Making Things Worse

Donald Sterling speaking—never a good idea
Donald Sterling speaking—never a good idea Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

The only thing that gets you into bigger trouble than saying the wrong thing is to keep saying it again and again. The owner of the L.A. Clippers and the junior senator from Florida need to learn the wisdom of just shutting up

Would somebody please get Donald Sterling away from the microphone—and while you’re at it, take Marco Rubio with you? The current (and, please, soon to be former) owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and the junior Senator from Florida have been taking a lot of heat lately for comments that were inartful at best and head-poundingly stupid at worst. In the case of Sterling, it was the no-go topic of race that landed him in trouble; in the case of Rubio it was anti-science nonsense on global warming. And when both men tried to rehab their reps, they broke the first rule any public figure should know: if you can’t make things better, shut up.

Sterling has offered nothing short of a cautionary clinic in how to do absolutely everything wrong when there’s a mess to clean up. After a recording was released of him telling his ex-girlfriend not to bring African Americans to Clippers games or to post pictures of herself with them on Instagram—despite the fact that the picture that set him off was of her and the globally loved Magic Johnson—he appeared with Anderson Cooper to explain himself and addressed the question of Johnson straightaway.

What kind of a guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV?” he asked. “Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. When he had those AIDS, I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him.”

He added this about Johnson’s work in the African American community: “[W]hat does he do for the black people? He doesn’t do anything. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people, and some of the African-Americans—maybe I’ll get in trouble again—they don’t want to help anybody.”

So, not exactly damage control. Today, things got even worse, as yet another tape of Sterling surfaced in which he criticized President Obama for criticizing him: “I think that was such bad judgment on his part to make a flippant comment from Malaysia. He’s a good guy, and I like him, I just think everybody wants to get into the act, is that it?” Learning curve? Not so much.

Rubio is nowhere nearly so unhinged, but he did himself no favors either. After appearing on ABC News last weekend denying that “human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate,” and arguing that scientists have taken “a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to human activities,” he was predictably and deservedly blowtorched as both a political opportunist and a scientific know-nothing. So he traveled to the National Press Club to explain himself and made a hash of that too.

When he was asked by a moderator, “what information, reports, studies or otherwise are you relying on to inform and reach your conclusion that human activity is not to blame for climate change?” he came up empty, conjuring unwelcome memories of Sarah Palin, who drew a similar blank in 2008 when asked what newspapers she reads. “Well, again,” Rubio said, “headlines notwithstanding, I’ve never disputed that the climate is changing, and I’ve pointed out that climate to some extent is always changing, it’s never static.”

Much worse, he once again played the game of making up things climate scientists never, ever say, and then happily refuting them. “If we ban all coal in the U.S.,” he said, “if we ban all carbon emissions in the United States, will it change the dramatic changes in climate and these dramatic weather impacts that we’re now reading about? And anyone who says that we will is not being truthful.” Good thing no one is saying that then—except, of course, Rubio.

What gets into these guys’ heads is not clear. As with all powerful people—and, in particular, all powerful men—narcissism is surely a part of it. Live your life as a cosseted rich man like Sterling, or rise to a position of extreme prestige and power as a young man, like Rubio, and you begin to believe the rules don’t apply to you—because they often don’t. It’s similar to the tendency of professional athletes—who were often waved through high school and college regardless of poor grades and were then rewarded with eight-figure contracts at the age of 22—to get into so much trouble off the field. Why should DUI or domestic abuse laws apply to them any more than academic ones?

Sometimes it might be cultural obtuseness that’s to blame too. Sterling, 80, grew up in an era in which racial comments that are jaw-dropping today were the stuff of common conversation. Or it may be inexperience. Rubio is only 42, he’s been in the Senate for just over three years and he’s been talked about as a presidential contender for most of that time. The mistakes he’s making in that kind of pressure cooker are not the ones savvier, older campaigners like Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush would make.

Whatever the cause, the advice is almost always a variation on the “measure twice, cut once” dictum carpenters live by. Think about what you’re going to say, then think about it again, then maybe—maybe—speak. Trying to unsay something is always harder than never having said it in the first place.

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