TIME Military

Chuck Hagel Defends Bergdahl Exchange Before House Committee

Hagel's opening comments stressed the dangers posed to Bergdahl's life had the administration delayed or exposed any details of the negotiation

Updated 2:02 p.m. E.T. on June 11

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel defended the recent Taliban prisoner exchange before skeptical members of the House on Wednesday, calling it “a fleeting opportunity” to rescue Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from imminent danger.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee questioned Hagel for more than three hours on the legality and wisdom of the deal in a series of exchanges that were at times clipped, testy and as one committee member admonished his colleagues, “prosecutorial.”

Hagel acknowledged the release of the five Taliban detainees raised thorny questions about national security. “All of these decisions are part of the brutal, imperfect realities we all deal with in war,” he said in his opening remarks.” Nonetheless, he stressed that the decision was made with the “unanimous” consent of the President’s security council and amid threats that Bergdahl’s health was rapidly deterioriating.

Hagel said the first warning signs came in January, when officials received a “disturbing” video from Bergdahl’s captors. “It showed a deterioration in his physical appearance and mental state compared to previous videos,” Hagel said. The sense of urgency was compounded by a warning from Qatari intermediaries in May that “time was not on their side.”

Hagel also argued that the secrecy of the negotiations was critical for Bergdahl’s safety, saying that the exact location of the swap was not settled until 1 hour before the exchange took place. “We were told by the Qataris that a leak, any kind of leak, would end the negotiation for Bergdahl’s release,” Hagel said.

Republican members of the committee sparred with Hagel on the legality of releasing Taliban prisoners without giving Congress 30 days notice. Republicans also questioned whether Hagel had considered the ongoing risks posed by the released Taliban commanders. “Did you make an assessment of how many American lives may be put at risk if they have to be recaptured,” Rep. Randy Forbes asked in a repeated attempt to obtain a “yes” or “no” answer.

Hagel rebuffed criticism that the administration had underestimated the security threats posed by the transfer of five Taliban detainees to Qatar. “I take that responsibility damn seriously, damn seriously,” Hagel said, arguing that the detainees were placed under travel restrictions in Qatar and had no direct involvement in attacks on American soil.

TIME Crime

NYC Strippers Drugged and Robbed Wealthy Victims, Cops Say

Strippers Drugs
Samantha Barbash, center, is escorted by law enforcement officers following her arrest. Barbash is allegedly part of a crew of New York City strippers who scammed wealthy men by drugging them and running up extravagant bills at topless clubs while they were in a daze, according to authorities, New York City, June 9, 2014. DEA/AP

Police say the four women would drug their victims with molly before driving them to a strip club and running up their bill

Federal and local officers arrested a group of strippers in New York City Wednesday and accused them of drugging wealthy men, driving them to strip clubs and charging their credit cards tens of thousands of dollars while they were incapacitated, the Associated Press reports.

Authorities say they discovered through an undercover investigation that the strippers would arrange to meet wealthy men at upscale bars in New York and Long Island and then spike their drinks with illegal drugs such as methylone—otherwise known as molly. The women would then allegedly drive the men to either Scores in Manhattan or the RoadHouse in Queens, charge them for private rooms, and expensive meals and drinks. The four victims lost at least $200,000.

Investigators at the Drug Enforcement Administration and New York Police Department arrested four women earlier this week on charges of grand larceny, assault and forgery. Three of the women are expected to appear in court Tuesday and one on Wednesday.

The clubs are not facing charges, though authorities say they did pay the strippers for the visits. Victims of the scam, including a banker, a real estate attorney and a cardiologist, told police that they woke up in a hotel room or their car with little or no memory of the night before. The men said the strippers threatened to blackmail them if they tried to dispute the charges.

[AP]

TIME The Brief

The Religion of Futbol: Christ the Redeemer Balloon Urges Australia to #keepthefaith

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Wednesday, June 11.

A political earthquake shook Virginia last night after Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated by Tea Party challenger David Brat in the primary vote.

A school shooting in Oregon marked the 74th such event since Sandy Hook, leaving President Barack Obama frustrated with the difficulty of gun control legislation.

Traffic in Europe ground to a halt today as Cabbies went on strike in protest of lax laws surrounding ride-hailing app Uber.

And finally, one day before the World Cup, Australia urges fans to #keepthefaith in the “religion” of Futbol with a giant “Christ the Redeemer” hot air balloon.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

TIME viral

Man Alone in Las Vegas Airport Kills Time by Lip-Syncing Celine Dion’s “All By Myself”

All by himself

Some may say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But when a man named Richard Dunn was in McCarran International Airport overnight, he clearly wanted the world to know. So he turned a boring night into a hilarious viral video, lip-syncing Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” while sitting on the escalator, and slouching against the handrail of the moving walkway while looking longingly into the camera to show the pain of going nowhere.

TIME Transportation

10 American Cities With the Worst Traffic

U.S. Cities with Worst Traffic
Zoran Milich—Getty Images

Traffic-jammed cities include Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu

This post is in partnership with The Fiscal Times. The article below was originally published on The Fiscal Times.

You’ve heard it before: “Los Angeles has the worst traffic in the world.”

The city has earned a reputation for its abhorrent traffic, and an annual traffic index released this week by TomTom, the maker of GPS devices, shows that reputation is well-deserved: L.A. really does have the worst roadway congestion in the country. Drivers there who have a 30-minute commute spend an average of 90 hours a year sitting in traffic.

Related: The 10 Richest Small Cities in America

The report finds that overall travel times in L.A. are about 36 percent longer than they would be without traffic delays — and 75 percent longer during the evening rush hour.

And as notoriously bad as L.A. traffic is, the TomTom index suggests that it has actually gotten worse: Congestion rose 2 percentage points from 2012 to 2013.

Los Angelinos might find some small measure of comfort in knowing that it could be worse: They could be in Rio de Janeiro, which has the worst traffic in all of the Americas, according to the index.

Mexico City and Sao Paulo also ranked worse than L.A. Half of the 10 worst cities in the report are in the U.S., with West Coast population centers like San Francisco, Seattle and San Jose joining Los Angeles on the list.

The index is compiled by measuring travel times during the whole day and peak periods and comparing them with travel times during non-congested hours. Based on information collected from its GPS units, TomTom reported data for each weekday and took into account local roads and highways.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Save on Gas This Summer

Here are the 10 U.S. cities with the worst traffic:

1. Los Angeles: The list-topper features a nearly 40-minute delay per hour driven during peak commuting times , and its overall traffic levels make it the fourth-worst of 63 cities studied across the Americas.

2. San Francisco: Commuters will be delayed 83 hours per year based on a 30-minute commute. The city’s 32 percent congestion rate ranks as sixth-worst in the Americas.

3. Honolulu: The evening commute posts a huge challenge in the Hawaiian capital, with more than a 50 percent congestion rate each weekday night. After a roughly three-percent drop in congestion in the middle of 2013, Honolulu’s congestion has trended back upward.

4. Seattle: Thursday night is a bad time to be on the roads in the Emerald City – it has an average of more than 80 percent congestion.

5. San Jose: Congestion here has trended upward since the first quarter of 2012, culminating in a 35-minute delay per hour driven in the peak period.

6. New York: With the largest population on the list, New York holds a steady percent of congestion throughout its weekday mornings (35-40 percent) and evenings (40-55 percent).

7. Miami: The congestion level on Miami’s highways is 12 percent, while it has 32 percent congestion on non-highways.

8. Washington: Drivers with a 30-minute commute can expect to spend 73 hours in traffic annually in our nation’s capital.

9. Portland: Morning commutes are a breeze in Portland compared to other cities on the list, with a 31 percent congestion rate.

10. New Orleans: With a 25-minute delay per hour driven during peak periods, New Orleans has a morning congestion rate similar to Portland’s.

By comparison to those cities, driving in Cleveland, Indianapolis and Kansas City might be generally less frustrating. Those three cities earned bragging rights for the least amount of traffic. The congestion rate for all three put together (29 percent) is smaller than that for Los Angeles’ (36 percent).

Read more from The Fiscal Times:

Your Tax Dollars Pay for Walmart Execs’ Bonuses

10 Affordable Housing Markets—On the Beach!

How Hookers and Drug Dealers Could Boost US GDP

TIME Crime

A Woman Gets Jailed For Posing as a 15-Year-Old

Handout of Charity Johnson in Longview, Texas
Charity Johnson, 34, is shown in this police booking photo provided by the Longview Police Department in Longview, Texas, on May 15, 2014 Reuters

The 34-year-old woman, who pretended to be a teenager and enrolled in high school, has been sent to jail in East Texas

Charity Johnson, who previously went under the false name of Charite Stevens, has been sentenced to jail for 85 days for failing to identify herself, according to the Associated Press.

Johnson, 34 years old, was arrested in May after posing as a teenager and enrolling as a sophomore in New Life Christian School in Longview, Texas.

The ruse was exposed after her guardian, Tamica Lincoln, suspected something was amiss. Lincoln claimed that Johnson said she was a 15-year-old orphan and victim of child abuse.

“I sympathized with her, and invited her into my home. I took her in as a child, did her hair, got her clothes and shoes,” Lincoln told KLTV in May.

[AP]

TIME Kentucky

50,000 Homes Lose Power in Kentucky During Severe Thunderstorms

Residents have been advised to seek shelter and stay away from windows

Thunderstorms that are wreaking havoc throughout the central and eastern part of Kentucky have caused 50,000 homes to lose power, energy companies report.

The National Weather Service issued a severe-thunderstorm warning on Wednesday that is anticipated to last until Thursday. Local media report winds gusting at 70 m.p.h., striking down power lines and trees. Residents have been instructed to seek shelter and stay away from windows to avoid the strong winds and quarter-sized hail.

The Kentucky Weather Center also warned of potential “local high water issues” on Tuesday following heavy rainfall.

No injuries have been reported at this time.

TIME

Here’s the Real Reason College Sex Assault Reports are Rising

It may actually be a sign of progress

It would seem an odd cause for optimism: the number of sex crimes reported by colleges rose 52 percent between 2001 and 2011, according to a government report released on Tuesday, even as overall crime on campuses dropped.

Yet to many counselors and administrators, the increase is a sign that schools are getting better at handling sexual assault, a problem Time highlighted in a recent cover story. It sounds counterintuitive, but here’s why:

For a number of reasons — institutional resistance, lack of understanding, victims’ own fears — colleges have historically under-reported sex crimes on campus. The substantial jump in reports — from 2,200 to 3,300 over a decade — doesn’t necessarily mean that more sexual assaults occurred as much as it shows that colleges are getting better at acknowledging the ones that have always taken place. This is likely the result of a number of factors: schools becoming better educated about defining sexual assault and more transparent about disclosing when it happens, and victims feeling increasingly empowered to come forward because of these changes.

The Obama administration has made preventing campus sexual assault a priority, appointing a White House advisor on violence against woman, ramping up investigations into colleges’ alleged mishandling of sexual assaults, and threatening to withdraw federal funding from schools that fail to adequately address sexual violence. According to the new data, the increase in reported incidents was particularly high in 2010 and 2011, rising by 15% both years, which could be an indication that the administration’s efforts are having an effect.

There’s another development reflected in the data that shows how our understanding of what constitutes rape is evolving. While more “forcible” sexual offenses were reported between 2001 to 2011, there was a whopping 90% decline in “non forcible” sexual offenses, from 461 in 2001 to 45 in 2011. It’s not a stretch to infer that some of the rise in “forcible” offenses is because colleges stopped classifying so many assaults as “non forcible.”

Misconceptions about rape and sexual assault lead some college administrators to mistakenly believe that sexual assaults between intimate partners or involving a victim incapacitated by alcohol don’t count as “forcible” sexual assault. The change in reporting patterns likely reflects a reeducation of college administrators on the appropriate definitions of force, says W. Scott Lewis, a lawyer at the NCHERM group, a firm focused on safety and risk management in higher education. “They are now starting to realize that force also includes rendering someone incapacitated, coercion, and intimidation,” Lewis says. “If I take you out and watch you take shot after shot while I drink one glass of wine, there’s an element of force–using the alcohol instead of a knife.”

TIME Education

Gates Foundation Calls for Delay in ‘Common Core’–Based Teacher Evaluations

Common Core-Indiana
Kindergarten students at George Buck Elementary School in Indianapolis on March 25, 2014 AJ Mast—AP

A major supporter of the controversial academic standards, the Gates Foundation now says schools should wait two years before using Common Core tests to make "high-stakes" decisions

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent more than $200 million supporting the Common Core academic standards, is pushing for a delay in using test results associated with the new guidelines to evaluate teachers.

The foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world, called for a two-year moratorium Tuesday on using the Common Core standards to make “high-stakes” decisions about educators and students.

“No evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition,” Vicki Phillips, the director of education for the Gates Foundation, wrote in a letter. “The standards need time to work. Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests and offer their feedback.”

The decision was met with support from the country’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, the New York Times reports. “We absolutely need more time not only in using them in high-stakes decisions about teachers, but in using them in high-stakes decisions about students too,” the association’s secretary-treasurer Becky Pringle said.

Critics, however, say that such delays should be decided individually by Common Core states, according to their own specific timelines. Others suggest the delay doesn’t do enough to directly address concerns about the standards, such as whether punishments meted out on teachers based on poor test scores alone will dull creativity in the classroom or, worse, encourage cheating.

Designed by a convention of experienced educators, the Common Core received bipartisan support and encouragement from the Obama Administration when it was formally adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. In the years since, it has become a source of frustration for parents and teachers struggling to adjust to the new standards amid speedy state rollouts and mounting test-focused performance evaluations. Several states have already began testing students according to Common Core standards, while three states — Oklahoma, Indiana and South Carolina — have repealed the Common Core entirely.

TIME Military

The Curse of ‘Friendly Fire’

A B-1 bomber over Afghanistan. Air Force / Getty Images

American bomber reportedly killed five U.S. troops in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan began with friendly fire. Now it seems to be ending the same way.

On Dec. 5, 2001, two months after the U.S. invasion, a massive 2,000-lb. (907 kg) bomb killed three U.S. Special Forces north of Kandahar. The GPS-guided weapon struck the Americans because the controller on the ground who called in the air strike changed the battery on his GPS device in the middle of the bombing run. But he didn’t realize that once the unit rebooted, the aim point it began transmitting to the B-52 bomber far above wasn’t the enemy’s location. It was his.

On Monday, at about 9 p.m. local time, it happened again, this time in restive Zabul province in the southern part of the country. “Five American troops were killed yesterday in an incident in southern Afghanistan,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday. “We do have reason to suspect that friendly fire was the cause here, specifically friendly fire from the air.” Reports from Afghanistan indicated a B-1 bomber mistakenly dropped its weapon on the commandos for unknown reasons. The blast also killed an Afghan soldier.

Kirby declined to specify the aircraft or whether those killed were special-ops troops. “Pardon me for editorializing,” he said, “but let’s remember we got five families that are having a pretty tough day today.”

Once again, Taliban fire triggered a call for airpower that apparently ended up killing those who made the call.

Fratricide — where one side kills its own in combat — is a curse of the technologically advanced. They are most likely to have the beyond-visual-range, fast weapons — and the need for batteries to summon a bomb from the heavens — that make it more likely.

Beyond the death and devastation caused by friendly fire, it ripples through the ranks, making those left behind less aggressive, more likely to forfeit the initiative, leery of fighting at night or bad weather and raising doubt in the minds of the commanders involved.

Friendly fire has been a problem as long as war has been a solution. The U.S., as the world’s most modern fighting force, has been fighting friendly fire seriously for two decades.

“The fact that the percentage of casualties resulting from friendly fire from World War I through Vietnam has been extremely low does not make the accidental killing or wounding of one’s own troops any less tragic or unpalatable,” a 1982 Army report said. “There is reason to believe that the casualties attributable to friendly fire in modern war constitute a statistically insignificant portion of total casualties (perhaps less than 2%).”

Weapons got better faster than the trigger fingers firing them. “While modern weapons have furthered the military’s combat firepower, technology that can help U.S. fighting personnel maintain situational awareness and differentiate between friends and foes in difficult combat conditions has lagged,” a 1992 Army paper noted. But doctrine — how and when to use force — and training — how to use it properly — are just as critical in reducing friendly fire as technology, military officers say.

As war has become increasingly antiseptic — with the ability to track who killed whom — friendly fire has loomed as a growing problem. In 1991’s Gulf War, 24% of the 148 U.S. battle deaths — 35 — were due to so-called friendly fire.

“The press of battle, political considerations, emotions and most particularly the lack of a comprehensive and accessible automated data base have mitigated against thorough examinations of the problem,” a 1993 outside study conducted for the Army said. “Recent analysis of empirical data from World War II, Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm indicates that historically accepted fratricide rates of about 2% … are woefully low.”

That sparked a lot of research into ways to curb such accidents, although they continue to occur, if not at the rate of the Gulf War (one tally acknowledges 23 cases of friendly fire in Afghanistan that have killed 40 U.S. and allied troops). In April 2002, four Canadians died when a U.S. Air National Guard pilot dropped a 500-lb. (226 kg) bomb on them while they were conducting a nighttime training exercise in southern Afghanistan. Three British soldiers were killed in August 2007 when a U.S. Air Force F-15 bombed their position during a firefight with the Taliban in Helmand province.

As the 1994 shootdown in Iraq of two U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters by a pair of U.S. F-15s, which killed all 26 aboard, and the 2004 friendly-fire death of NFL football star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan — as well as the pair of bombings in Afghanistan — demonstrate, progress has been halting.

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