TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 12

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

1. On the fifth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, political strife is still the greatest obstacle to recovery.

By Jacqueline Charles in the Miami Herald

2. The U.S. uses economic sanctions because they don’t require a global coalition to work. But they may inflict damage beyond the intended target.

By Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times

3. With deepening partisanship becoming the norm, don’t look to the states for new ideas.

By Aaron Chatterji in the New York Times

4. Juries could use virtual reality headsets to ‘visit’ crime scenes.

By Jessica Hamzelou in New Scientist

5. A new waterproof solar lantern is helping reduce deaths from burning fuel indoors for the world’s 1.2 billion living without electric light.

By Michael Zelenko in the Verge

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 2016 Election

Why Democrats Are Losing the Working Class

Voting booths in polling place
Getty Images

Hint: they don't vote.

It’s true that wealthier Americans tend to vote for Republicans and that the less well-off tend to vote for Democrats. And it’s true that, in theory, such a demographic breakdown would be good for Dems. After all, in raw numbers, there are more—many, many times more—working-class Americans than there are folks at the top of the income pyramid.

The problem, as Democrats well know, is that it doesn’t much matter who the working class supports if they don’t show up to vote. And there’s the rub.

According to a Pew Research Center study released today, the “least financially secure Americans,” despite being significantly more likely to back Democrats, tend to “opt out of the political system altogether.”

While 94% of the the most financially secure Americans were registered to vote, only 54% of the least financially secure were, according to the study. Even fewer actually make it to their polling booths. While 2014 voting records are not yet available, in 2010, 69% of the most financially secure cast ballots, while just 30% of the least financially secure did, according to Pew.

The least financially secure Americans also tended to avoid other aspects of the political system as well, the study found. Working class Americans called and wrote to their representatives at much lower rates than their richer neighbors, and paid much less attention to basic facts in national politics. Roughly 60% of the most financially secure Americans could correctly identify the parties in control of the House and Senate when the study was conducted before the 2014 midterm; just 26% of the least financially secure could do the same.

These findings will not come as much of a surprise to Democrats, who were trounced in last year’s mid-term election in part because so few people—and particularly those at the lower end of the income spectrum—actually turned up to vote. In November, less than half of eligible voters showed up at the polls in 43 states, marking the lowest voter turnout on record in 72 years.

While voter turnout generally increases during presidential election years, and is therefore likely to tick up again in 2016, low voter turnout remains a huge problem for Democrats’ efforts not only to win over but also collect votes from the American working class.

That’s one reason they have been committed to making it easier for all Americans to vote. Working-class folks, who tend to have less flexible hours at work, vote disproportionately more in states that allow early voting and mail-in ballots—measures that are overwhelmingly supported by Democrats. In Colorado, for example, which began allowing mail-in ballots saw much, much higher turnout in 2014 than it’d had in 2010. Oregon and Washington, which also allow for mail-in ballots, had turnout rates that were higher than average in 2014, too. In North Carolina, where early voting measures allowed people to go to the polls over the course of seven days also helped increase voter turnout in that state by 35% from where it was in 2010.

The Pew study was based on data collected from a nationally representative panel of 3,154 adults, who were surveyed online and by mail between Sept. 9 and Oct. 3, 2014. The survey determined respondents’ financial security by asking about their difficult paying bills, whether they receive government aid, and whether they had access to financial assets and tools, like bank accounts and retirement savings.

TIME States

Ex-Virginia Gov. Bob Mcdonnell Gets 2 Years for Corruption

Bob McDonnell
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell arrives at federal court for sentencing in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. McDonnell, once a top Republican prospect for national office, was convicted for selling the influence of his office to the CEO of a dietary supplements company. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Steve Helber—AP

The former governor and his wife were found guilty in September

RICHMOND, Va. — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has been sentenced to two years in prison for taking money and gifts in exchange for promoting a dietary supplement while he was in office.

McDonnell, a Republican, was once on the short list to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate. He was sentenced Tuesday after being convicted of 11 counts of corruption.

The former governor and his wife, Maureen, were found guilty in September. She was convicted of eight counts and will be sentenced in February.

Lawyers for the former governor asked a judge to order three years of community service. Prosecutors recommended a sentence of at least 10 years in prison.

The six-week jury trial exposed details of the former first couple’s strained marriage and shaky finances.

TIME Drugs

Meth Seizures at U.S.-Mexico Border Set New Records

President Obama to Announce Executive Action on Undocumented Immigration Issue
A car drives along the U.S. - Mexico border wall in Calexico, Calif. on Nov. 19, 2014. Sandy Huffaker—Getty Images

Figures show a 300% increase in methamphetamine seizures at California ports of entry from fiscal years 2009 to 2014

Methamphetamine seizures along the California-Mexico border soared to new highs in the fiscal year 2014, as narcotics smuggling cartels sought to benefit from the cost advantages of producing the drug south of the frontier.

The San Diego field office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 14,732 pounds of methamphetamine during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. That accounts for 63% of all seizures of the drug at U.S. ports of entry nationwide.

Authorities have found the drug strapped to pedestrians or hidden in food cans, as well as in liquid form, passed off as windshield washer fluid.

Read more at The San Diego Union-Tribune

TIME States

Some Cities to Limit Sledding Over Liability Concerns

Sledding
Getty Images

The city council in Dubuque, Iowa, is one of them

(DES MOINES, Iowa) — As anyone who has grown up around snow knows, part of the fun of sledding is the risk of soaring off a jump or careening around a tree.

But faced with the potential bill from sledding injuries, some cities have opted to close hills rather than risk large liability claims.

No one tracks how many cities have banned or limited sledding, but the list grows every year. One of the latest is in Dubuque, Iowa, where the City Council is moving ahead with a plan to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks.

“We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them,” said Marie Ware, Dubuque’s leisure services manager. “We can’t manage the risk at all of those places.”

A study by Columbus, Ohio-based Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that between 1997 and 2007, more than 20,000 children each year were treated at emergency rooms for sledding-related injuries.

In meetings leading up to the ban, Dubuque council members lamented the move but said it was the only responsible choice given liability concerns and demands from the city’s insurance carrier. They pointed to judgments in sledding lawsuits in the past decade, such as a $2 million judgment against Omaha, Nebraska, after a 5-year-old girl was paralyzed when she hit a tree and a $2.75 million payment when a man in Sioux City, Iowa, slid into a sign and injured his spinal cord.

Some cities have opted for less drastic measures in the last several years rather than an all-out ban, including Des Moines, Iowa; Montville, New Jersey; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Columbia City, Indiana. By banning sledding on certain slopes or posting signs warning people to sled at their own risk, cities lessen their liability if someone is seriously hurt, but they’re still more vulnerable to lawsuits than if they had adopted an outright ban.

And then there’s the small central Illinois city of Paxton, where park district officials removed the sledding hill in 2013.

It was more of a dirt mound, created years ago to cover a pile of concrete, metal and other junk, recreation director Neal McKenry said, but given how flat the area is, the 20-foot rise often was crowded with sledders. There was concern someone would slam into trees that had grown on the mound.

“Obviously, many people used this area to sled in the winter, but the park district never promoted it as a sled hill,” McKenry said. “It was simply a built-up mound of dirt that people happened to sled on.” The area is now being used as a dog park.

In Omaha, the city banned sledding at a popular hill as a test one winter after losing a lawsuit, but decided to allow it again after most people ignored the restriction.

“It wasn’t practical,” assistant city attorney Tom Mumgaard said. “People wouldn’t abide by the ban.”

Instead, the city has posted signs warning of sledding risks and workers at the site of the failed ban put pads around posts and hay bales around trees. Mumgaard said courts in Nebraska have decided cities must protect people, even if they make poor choices.

Most people realize that cities must restrict potentially dangerous activities to protect people and guard against costly lawsuits, said Kenneth Bond, a New York lawyer who represents local governments. In the past, people might have embraced a Wild West philosophy of individuals being solely responsible for their actions, but now they expect government to prevent dangers whenever possible.

“It’s a great idea on the frontier, but we don’t live on the frontier anymore,” Bond said.

That doesn’t sit well with Natasha Koss, 40, who frequently sleds with her 5-year-old daughter Elsa in Marquette, Michigan.

Koss sometimes requires Elsa to wear a helmet. When they try a particular hill for the first time, her husband does a few runs solo as a precaution. She said she’d report any safety issues to city authorities but couldn’t imagine filing suit over a sledding mishap.

“I would most certainly take personal responsibility,” she said. “You need to have a mindset to make the best decisions for your own safety.”

However, Steve King, who runs a website that promotes sledding, said he understands why cities impose restrictions. He notes that most sledders don’t wear helmets and it’s near impossible to steer away from trees, rocks or signs.

“We live in a lawsuit-happy society and cities are just being protective by banning sledding in areas that pose a risk for injury or death,” King said.

___

Associated Press writer John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this report.

TIME animals

There Will Be No Live-Possum Drop in Brasstown, N.C., This New Year’s Eve

Possum Drop in Brasstown, North Carolina
A sign honoring the possums of Brasstown is seen during the 20th annual Possum Drop on New Year's Eve at Clay's Corner in Brasstown, North Carolina, Dec. 31, 2013. Erik S. Lesser—EPA

The organizer will drop a dead one, instead

A North Carolina town will drop its tradition of dropping a live possum this New Year’s Eve.

Following an injunction won by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Clay Logan, of Brasstown, N.C., has decided not to use a live animal in his annual Possum Drop, the Charlotte Observer reports. Instead, the possum Logan will lower to the ground in a tinsel-decorated plexiglass cage this year will be roadkill or, perhaps, the main ingredient in a pot of possum stew.

PETA and Logan have been at loggerheads for more than a year over the event, an annual rite in this town of 240 people that includes a full evening of marsupial-themed activities. PETA has accused Logan of subjecting a shy animal to noise and confusion, while Logan has defended the tradition as “good clean family fun, a good old redneck good time” that doesn’t harm the tiny animal, who is released into the wild afterward.

It’s unclear if this battle will be dropped for good come 2015, however. The injunction just requires Logan to get a state permit to use a live possum, and Logan told the Associated Press that he simply didn’t have time to get one this year.

[Charlotte Observer]

TIME States

This Is How Many Americans Will Ring in the New Year

At the beginning of the new year, a baby will be born in the U.S. every 8 seconds

More than 320 million Americans will ring in the New Year, the United States Census Bureau said on Monday.

New projections released by the agency show the U.S. population is expected to hit 320,090,857 on Jan. 1, which is 2.33 million or .73%, more than New Year’s Day 2014.

“In January 2015, the U.S. is expected to experience a birth every eight seconds and one death every 12 seconds,” the bureau said in a statement. “Meanwhile, net international migration is expected to add one person to the U.S. population every 33 seconds.”

On a global level, an estimated 7,214,958,996 people will be alive to celebrate the New Year, up 77.3 million from last year.

See the real-time figures here:

TIME politics

The Man Who Would Be King… of Texas

General Map Of United States With Forts And Military Stations
Map of the United States extending from the Atlantic coast through most of Texas showing military stations and forts, 1861. Illustration by Joseph Hutchins Colton. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Dec. 29, 1845: Texas becomes the 28th state in the Union

Texas has never been much of a joiner. When the United States officially annexed the Lone Star Republic on this day, Dec. 29, in 1845, it did so over some strident objections from inside and outside the state.

Northerners didn’t want Texas to join the Union because it did so as a slave state. Mexico objected because it still considered Texas a territory — and went to war with the U.S. within a year of the annexation. And while a majority of Texans favored statehood, one prominent politician stood in staunch opposition: the Republic’s second president, Mirabeau Lamar.

Lamar — with the apt middle name of Buonaparte — “had a dream of empire,” according to a 1928 TIME story. A Renaissance man known for his poetry and his talents for horseback riding, fencing and oil painting, he became an equally effective revolutionary in the fight for Texas’s independence from Mexico. As president, he was dogged in his determination to solidify the nascent Republic’s sovereignty and to establish trade with foreign powers. In fact, his nation-building efforts helped urge a divided U.S. Congress to pull the trigger on annexation, according to TIME, which explained:

He saw a cotton and mineral country without tariff restrictions, sending raw materials to England in exchange for manufactured products. England liked this and her agents began to talk turkey with Texans. The U. S. Congress, alarmed lest the “golden moment to obtain Texas” be lost, adopted in 1845 a resolution to annex Texas.

While Lamar was unhappy to see the end of his empire dreams, he eventually conceded that it was better for Texas — still under constant threat of Mexican aggression on one front, and at risk of becoming a British satellite on the other — to join forces with the U.S.

But that didn’t stop him from resenting the intrusion. Following annexation, when Lamar was sent to Laredo to set up a municipal government in the midst of the Mexican-American War, he wrote to his former vice president, complaining about President James K. Polk’s collusion with his old political rival, Sam Houston, in typically florid prose: “The post I occupy in this war is certainly a very petty and unsuitable one, but the President is determined to gratify his favorite — your ‘demented monster’ — in all his resentments. Polk is but a poor tool to the malice of that bloated mass of iniquity.”

Like the state that still uses the motto “Texas: It’s like a whole other country,” Lamar was larger than life, with ambitions for the young nation that he couldn’t quite pull off, despite his impressive powers of persuasion.

“Lamar had great personal charm, impulsive generosity, and oratorical gifts,” wrote Herbert Gambrell, the late Texas historian and author of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar: Troubadour and Crusader. “[But] his powerful imagination caused him to project a program greater than he or Texas could actualize.”

While Lamar’s friends “were almost fanatically devoted to him,” Gambrell noted, his detractors “declared him a better poet than politician.”

Read TIME’s 1928 story about Texan history and identity, here in the archives: Texas Magazines

TIME Drugs

Meet the Man Behind Oregon’s New Legal Pot Market

Rob Patridge is chair of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the body that will oversee the creation of Oregon's market for recreational marijuana. Michael Schoenholtz

'We’ve been fortunate that we weren’t the pioneers'

When Oregon voters approved Measure 91 in the midterm elections, they became the latest to say that marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol. Now comes the enormous job of actually bringing the legal marijuana market to life.

The task falls to Rob Patridge, the chair of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and its four volunteer commissioners. The group will be busy ahead of the Jan. 5, 2016 deadline for accepting applications from Oregonians who want to grow, process and sell marijuana. TIME spoke to Patridge, a former Republican state lawmaker and the current district attorney of Klamath County — proud home of Crater Lake — about his thoughts on edibles, when the market will realistically open and whether lawsuits like this one are a threat to the commission’s work.

What is your general philosophy for developing Oregon’s pot market?

We’re going out in late January and doing what we’re calling a listening tour. We’re going to go throughout Oregon to talk to the communities, local government, law enforcement, educators, the treatment community, the people who are invested in growing marijuana and selling marijuana. We’re going to listen to the impacts it’s going to have on the community and try to define how we’re going to move forward to address that as we put together the rules.

What issues do you expect to come up on this listening tour?

There’s been a lot of interest in stuff that the legislature may or may not address [like possibly allowing a special election for local jurisdictions to opt out of allowing pot shops]. There are concerns related to edibles and local government is very interested in public safety issues, how it’s going to interact with criminal laws. The issues are large but we’re going to try to break them down so we can eat the elephant one bite at a time rather than trying to eat the whole thing.

Edibles are proving to be controversial. People are concerned about kids accidentally ingesting them, wondering whether certain types should be banned. What are your thoughts about how to approach the issue?

The concern has certainly been raised, and we’re going to be proceeding with caution. I know there’s some legislative interest related to edibles. The legislature could mandate types. So the jury’s going to be out for a while … We’re watching what Colorado and Washington are doing. We’ve been in direct contact with the other states. We’ve reached out to Alaska. And we’re going to take some of our commissioners and staff there to talk about implementation. I’m not one to not learn from other people’s lessons.

At this point, do you think there are certain types of edibles that shouldn’t be on the market?

I don’t know that [certain types] should or shouldn’t be on the market. It’s about how they’re used and what’s responsible from a packaging standpoint, how they get labeled, those types of things.

In general, how is the situation going to be different in Oregon than in Washington or Colorado?

First, we’re not starting from zero. We already have a system in place for medical. We also have the benefit of seeing what’s gone on in Washington and Colorado, which they didn’t. We’re not plying new ground. The Colorado model is probably a better fit, because of how their medical marijuana is regulated. It’s similar to what we do. We’ve been fortunate that we weren’t the pioneers, even if we are the Pioneer State. We’re fortunate to gain from their knowledge, and they’ve been very free about sharing it.

What is your timeline for when legal shops will open their doors and the state will start collecting tax revenue?

We’re really on a fairly tight timeline. What I’m calling the “home grow provisions” [personal cannabis growing and possession becoming legal] come into effect July 1, 2015. Beyond that, we’ve got a whole set of rules we’ve got to deal with. We’ve got to set up a whole seed-to-sale system. And if the legislature changes the playing field, we’re going to be continually looking at that. Best case scenario, last half of 2016 before we’d be up and running. We’re trying to be very up front. A lot of people thought that in January 2016 these retail locations would pop up and people would go purchase marijuana. And that’s just not going to be the case.

The attorneys general in Oklahoma and Nebraska are suing Colorado over marijuana legalization, saying it violates the Supremacy Clause. How does that shape your thoughts about the nature of the market you’re setting up?

There’s the potential for a lot of legal challenges for Measure 91. Until it’s declared one way or another, we have to stay with what current law is. Our job under current law is to implement, and the court can do what it may. If it’s looks like it’s a substantial enough issue—if a judge issues a stay or something else happens—obviously we would work with the legislature to decide whether we should continue to spend the state’s money, of if they’d want us to wait until there was a legal resolution.

Is legal pot good for Oregon?

It’s my job to implement it as the chair of the commission. Voters made that decision. And as I’ve told everybody, I try to be a consensus builder. That’s my job, to create a process that’s transparent, that engages everybody. That’s really our role, and I’m not taking a policy position as the chair. Certainly there are arguments on all sides. It’s so early.

TIME States

Florida Surpasses New York to Become 3rd Most Populous State

USA Florida Miami South Beach Spring Break Crowded Beach
Robert Clare—Getty Images

And North Dakota is the fastest-growing one

Florida has overtaken New York as the third most populous state in the country.

The Sunshine State added 293,000 new residents between July 1, 2013 and July 1 of this year, according to the U.S. Census bureau, reaching a total population of 19.9 million. New York added only 51,000 people during the same period, amounting to a total of 19.7 million.

North Dakota saw the fastest growth at an increase of 2.16%, while the overall U.S. population increased 0.75% to 318.9 million. California and Texas remain the first and second most populous states, with 38.8 million and 26.95 million, respectively.

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