TIME energy

New York Appeals Court Upholds Bans on Fracking

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Anti Fracking Banner Michelle McCarron—Getty Images

The ruling is a major victory for environmental advocates fighting to stop the practice, which has led to a boom in oil and gas production in the United States

In a blow to the oil and gas industry, the New York state Court of Appeals in Albany ruled Monday that cities have the authority to ban hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas drilling, or fracking.

The decision is a victory for anti-fracking activists while Governor Andrew Cuomo weighs whether or not to lift a six-year-old statewide moratorium on the controversial practice.

The Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York state, dismissed two lawsuits brought by oil and gas firms against the towns of Dryden and Middlefield, two small, rural communities in New York that instituted fracking bans after extraction firms started exploring for natural gas deposits in the area.

Environmental advocates around the country have raised concerns about the potential impact of fracking—in which underground explosions release trapped oil and gas deposits—including pollution of groundwater resources, heavy traffic and road use in rural areas and a possible increase in earthquakes.

But oil and gas firms reject claims that fracking pollutes groundwater or can trigger strong earthquakes, and note that advances in the technology have sparked a fossil fuel boom in the U.S. in recent years, boosting the economy and giving the U.S. increased energy security. Only a decade ago the U.S. faced the prospect of increasing demand and dwindling resources, a situation that has completely reversed thanks to the boom in oil and gas extraction.

The New York towns sit atop the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas rich geological formation that sits under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Like other gas-rich formations, including the Permian Basin in West Texas and the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota, the Marcellus has seen a tremendous uptick in oil and gas drilling in recent years.

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Rules Government Can’t Make Some Employers Cover Contraception

Pro-life supporter Michael Hichborn with American Life League prays outside the US Supreme Court where the nine justices are expected to issue their ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, which challenges the Affordable Care ActÕs mandate that employee health plans include pregnancy preventive services, in Washington on June 30, 2014.
Pro-life supporter Michael Hichborn with American Life League prays outside the US Supreme Court where the nine justices are expected to issue their ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, which challenges the Affordable Care ActÕs mandate that employee health plans include pregnancy preventive services, in Washington on June 30, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

In setback for Obama health law

Private corporations that are so-called “closely held” have a right to religious freedom under U.S. law just like individual citizens, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, in a divided opinion that will allow religious for-profit companies to refuse to pay for the employee contraceptive coverage required by President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

The 5 to 4 decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, found that the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act violates a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RCPA) in the case of two for-profit businesses, the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby of Oklahoma City and the cabinetry maker Conestoga Wood Specialties of Pennsylvania. The owners of both stores argued that certain forms of covered contraception, including Plan B, ella and intrauterine devices, had the potential to work after conception, violating their religious values. The ruling applies to “closely held” corporations that are controlled by just a few people.

Congress passed the RCPA in 1993 to mandate that the government use the “least restrictive means” of furthering its interests in situations that infringed on the religious freedoms. Alito ruled that the contraception mandate did not meet that test, which he said must be applied even in case of objections by closely held corporations. “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law,” Alito wrote in his opinion.

But Alito also limited the scope of his opinion in response to concerns from liberal justices. “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g. for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs,” Alito wrote. “Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” Alito also wrote that the case may not apply directly to large publicly traded companies, where the beliefs of the shareholders are more difficult to discern.

Alito was joined in the majority ruling by Justices John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The cases asked the court to weigh the rights of closely held for-profit corporations to follow the religious beliefs of their owners against the rights of employees to get health insurance coverage for a broad range of contraception.

Political reaction to the ruling was swift. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the decision “jeopardizes the health of women” employed by affected companies.

“The Supreme Court ruled today that some bosses can now withhold contraceptive care from their employees’ health coverage based on their own religious views that their employees may not even share,” he said. “President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them.”

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz described the decision as an assault on women’s access to health care. “This decision takes money out of the pockets of women and their families and allows for-profit employers to deny access to certain health care benefits based on their personal beliefs,” she said in a statement.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus countered that the decision was a victory for religious freedom. “We’re grateful the Court ruled on the side of liberty,” he said in a statement. “The central issue of this case was whether the federal government can coerce Americans to violate their deeply held religious beliefs.”

The Obama Administration has previously given waivers on the contraception mandate to certain non-profit religious organizations, like churches and mosques. Other non-profits with religious affiliations, like the University of Notre Dame, are pursuing separate lawsuits against the mandate, which could reach the Supreme Court in the next term.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that employees of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties may be able to still get full contraceptive coverage with a government workaround that has been offered to employees of religious non-profits. “The accommodation works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it,” Kennedy wrote.

The dissent in the case, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, decried the majority ruling, calling it “a decision of startling breadth” that would allow commercial enterprises to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, Ginsburg went on to argue that corporations, even those controlled by a single family, do not have free exercise rights for religion. “[T]he exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons,” she wrote, “not artificial legal entities.”

TIME States

For $400,000 You Can Be a Town’s Owner, and its Bartender

A road marker highlights Swett, S.D.'s small borders on June 26, 2014.
A road marker highlights Swett, S.D.'s small borders on June 26, 2014. Eric Ginnard—AP

The entire town of Swett, South Dakota is up for sale, and there's a bar included

Ever wished your local bar was a little less crowded? Well wish no more. For a mere $400,000 you can become the proud owner of a bar, and the one-man town it’s based in, the Associated Press reports.

Lance Benson, a wealthy businessman, has put the town of Swett, S.D. up for sale. Benson bought the hamlet in 1998, lost it in a divorce and reclaimed it in 2012. Now he’s looking for a buyer so he can spend more time on his business.

The new owner of Swett will inherit a workshop, three trailers, Benson’s house, and, of course, the bar. Though the town is uninhabited, solitary drinkers need not make an offer. The Swett Tavern is the bar of choice for local cowboys and farmers within a 10-mile radius.

Gerry Runnels, a patron of the bar commented: “This place is pretty much where the highway ends and the Wild West begins.”

Benson put the town on the market last week, though a new proprietor is yet to be found. Its current owner isn’t too bothered though. Benson said if Swett doesn’t sell in a year, he’ll keep it.

[AP]

TIME intelligence

New NSA Chief: Snowden Didn’t Do That Much Damage

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is interviewed by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in a still image taken from video during an interview by the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013 Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—The Guardian/Reuters

Says leaks don't mean "the sky is falling"

The head of the National Security Agency says in a new interview that the massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden didn’t do irreparable damage to national security.

“You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling,’” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the new NSA director, told the New York Times in an interview published Sunday. “I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations.”

But Rogers did say terrorist groups have been using the leaked data to their advantage. “I have seen groups not only talk about making changes, I have seen them make changes,” he said.

While at the NSA, Snowden was able to downloaded more than one million secret documents that detailed the agency’s wide-ranging surveillance efforts. Rogers said he’s working to ensure leaks will not happen again, but does not rule out the possibility. The key, he said, is to keep the volume of stolen data from reaching that of Snowden’s.

“Am I ever going to sit here and say as the director that with 100 percent certainty no one can compromise our systems from the inside?” he said. “Nope. Because I don’t believe that in the long run.”

[NYT]

TIME Accident

Power Failure Strands Dozens on a SeaWorld Ride

A four-hour wait, 200 feet above the ground

Dozens of people were left dangling more than 200 feet in the air for hours after a ride at SeaWorld San Diego malfunctioned on Sunday.

Forty-six guests and two SeaWorld staff were stuck for four hours on the Skytower waiting for engineers to fix a power failure, the Associated Press reports. “The guests were never in danger and park officials were in constant communication with them while the power failure was being addressed,” park spokesman David Koontz said in a statement. “Two SeaWorld employees were also in the Skytower providing guests with water and snacks.”

The ride takes visitors through a revolving capsule that rises up a 320-foot tower to give them views of the park.

After the four-hour wait, engineers restored power and the capsule descended just before 7:30 p.m., AP reports. The 48 people left the ride uninjured, though one 17-year-old boy was taken to hospital to be treated for anxiety.

[AP]

TIME Aviation

Plane Makes Emergency Landing After Evacuation Slide Inflates

All passengers and crew are safe

A flight bound for California had to make an emergency landing in Kansas on Sunday night after the plane’s emergency evacuation slide accidentally deployed while it was in the air.

United Airlines Flight 1463 was carrying 96 passengers and five crew members from Chicago to southern California when the emergency slide deployed by accident, the airline said. Passengers told ABC News they heard a pop and then saw the slide inflate. “It was interesting. Nobody was scared or anything,” passenger Michael Davis told ABC. “The captain made an announcement that we’re gonna land in Wichita. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the emergency trucks, it’s just standard procedure.'”

Passenger Taylor Martinez posted a photo of the deployed evacuation slide on Twitter.

“No one was injured and the flight landed safely,” United spokeswoman Christen David said. The airline provided accommodations for all the passengers in Wichita, and they’re scheduled to fly out on another flight Monday morning.

TIME justice

From Big House to White House: Ex-Convicts To Be Honored By Obama Administration

Fortune HIV AIDS
In this May 29, 2014 photo, Stan Richards, right, an executive with the Fortune Society, listens as Melissa Carter, left, speaks during an interview in New York. Bebeto Matthews—AP

The White House will honor 14 champions for change on prisoner reentry Monday

Stanley Richards is living proof that giving ex-offenders a second chance can pay off.

Richards grew up amid the drug and gang epidemic that terrorized black communities in early 1980s New York, and spent more time on the streets than in school. After bouncing in and out of jail as a teen, he eventually caught a charge that stuck and was sentenced to nine years in prison for robbery. After serving his time, and collecting a GED an associates degree while behind bars, he wanted to turn his life around. “I began to believe life could be different for me,” Richards says. “Just maybe, through education, things could get better.”

Upon his release, he sought employment at several community organizations but kept getting doors slammed in his face due to his lack of experience. Eventually, the Fortune Society, a Bronx-based non-profit that supports successful reentry, was the exception; it hired Richards as a counselor. And after 23 years of employment and several promotions, Richards will be one of 14 honored by the White House on Monday as a Champion of Change for prisoner reentry.

Richards will be joined at the White House by state lawmakers, business leaders and others, who are gathering to discuss how to reduce recidivism by offering more opportunities for the ex-offender population.

The Obama Administration has been rolling out prison reform policies over the past year in an effort to cut America’s prison budget and save the toughest penalties for the worst criminals. The Administration is also working to provide retroactive relief to some criminals impacted by harsh federal drug laws that have since been reformed. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in April that some prisoners could be eligible for a shortened sentence as a result; the Department of Justice is expecting thousands of applications for clemency this year.

The statistics, as they now stand, are not encouraging. Nearly 68% of released prisoners return to prison within three years. After five years, 76.6% of prisoners are back behind bars, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

There are solutions, however, and states have been leading the way in implementing them. In fact, the Council of State Governments’s “State Pathways to Prosperity” initiative, which is working to smarten states’ approach to criminal justice across all branches of government, was a driving inspiration behind Monday’s White House panel.

The states that are making progress have focused on finding employment and stable housing for ex-convicts when they are released. In Pennsylvania, an overhaul of halfway houses and other corrections facilities has already led to a 24% reduction in recidivism among those who pass through facilities with state contracts. “We’re trying to transform the system by looking at the needs of the community and the needs of offenders,” says John Wetzel, the Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, who will be a part of a White House panel Monday to discuss best practices.

Rhode Island Department of Corrections is ramping up its partnership with the state’s Department of Labor to employ offenders upon their release. The director of corrections in Rhode Island, A.T. Wall, has been working in corrections for 38 years, and calls employment and housing the “twin pillars of effective reintegration.” “I have an opportunity to spend a lot of time in our institutions, talking to inmates shortly before release,” Wall says. “When I ask them ‘what do you need,’ the overwhelming majority say ‘I need a job.'”

While the need for ex-offender employment and housing opportunities is obvious to corrections officers, and increasingly lawmakers, private employers and landlords still have to buy in to the idea for it work. And many have been reluctant. “Some employers say it would be wreck less to hire ex-offenders, but wouldn’t it be just as wreck less to say no to employing someone just because they were in state prison?” Wetzel says. “One thing we’ve recognized is that when you have a good outcome in corrections and you can place someone in a job–that’s grassroots crime reduction.”

The Johns Hopkins Hospital system, which will be recognized as a Champion of Change Monday, has been leading the way in employing those with criminal histories. Of the 5,000 people they hired last year, 5% had criminal records. The key, says Pamela Paulk, senior Vice President of Human Resources at Johns Hopkins, is the screening and thoughtful placement of all hires. Recruiters work with the security team, head up by a former Secret Service agent, to make sure potential hires would be a good match for a certain job, depending on what crime they committed.

“We’re not going to put someone with a drug history in the pharmacy department,” Paulk says. The hospitals hiring guidelines also prohibit employing people who have committed violent crimes; those with sex-related histories do not work near patients.

Paulk says she hopes Monday’s event will increase dialogue among hiring managers. “We need more employers willing to expand hiring opportunities,” she says. “Jobs are what ‘s going to help with reducing the recidivism rate.”

For, Richards, who plans to bring his wife, youngest son, and nine-year-old grandson on Monday, it’s a bit more personal. “I’m from the big house to the White House,” Richards says. “That’s pretty powerful.”

TIME LGBT

Gay Pride Parades From Around the World

In 1969, a violent confrontation between raiding police and the patrons of the Stonewall Inn bar helped galvanize the formation of some LGBT activist groups. Now four decades later, millions all across the globe are celebrating the milestone

TIME Veterans

Obama to Tap Soap Salesman to Clean Up VA

Former Procter & Gamble boss is a West Point grad

President Obama will announce he is replacing the retired Army general who was running the VA with a former Army captain—swapping four-star salutes for business smarts. The pick suggests just how tough the VA assignment is, and an acknowledges that the sprawling bureaucracy of 300,000 doesn’t always salute when it’s given orders.

Bob McDonald, a former chief executive of soap giant Procter & Gamble, is replacing Eric Shinseki, who stepped down May 30 after it became clear many officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs were hiding how long it took veterans to get their promised medical care.

Obama picked the right guy to clean an agency tarnished by accusations that its managers repeatedly gamed VA records—potentially leading to the deaths of some veterans—to help VA officials win annual cash bonuses. Early in his career at P&G, McDonald managed the company’s Tide detergent business, before heading to Canada and then Asia to run the company’s laundry and cleaning operations. The White House leaked news of McDonald’s nomination, expected Monday, and said his business skills and military background make him the right choice.

Paul Rieckhoff, chief of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, suggested McDonald’s corporate background could be an asset. “His branding background may prove helpful,” he said. “There are few organizations in America with a worse reputation with its customers than the VA right now.”

A native of Gary, Ind., McDonald spent five years in the Army, primarily with the 82nd Airborne Division, after his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1975. He joined P&G—and its lengthy roster of brands, which now includes Gillette, Crest and Febreze—in 1980. He ran the company for four years before retiring in 2013, after pressure from investors that he wasn’t cutting spending sufficiently.

Congressional reaction was muted. Senator Bernie Saunders, I-Vt., who chairs the veterans committee that will hold McDonald’s confirmation hearing, said simply that he looks forward to meeting McDonald “in order to ascertain his views” on the VA’s problems. His Republican House counterpart was even less welcoming. “The only way McDonald can set the department up for long term success is to take the opposite approach of some other VA senior leaders,” said Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “That means focusing on solving problems instead of downplaying or hiding them, holding employees accountable for mismanagement and negligence that harms veterans, and understanding that taxpayer funded organizations such as VA have a responsibility to provide information to Congress and the public rather than stonewalling them.”

McDonald spoke about such fudging as P&G’s chief operating officer. “We don’t lie, cheat, or steal,” he said in remarks he would make to new P&G employees in 2008 and 2009, “and we don’t tolerate people who do.”

McDonald has his work cut out for him, as detailed in a report by White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, who Obama dispatched to the VA’s Veterans Health Administration to determine how bad things are. “The VHA leadership team is not prepared to deliver effective day-to-day management or crisis management,” Nabors report, released Friday, concluded. “Instead, VHA is marked by an inherent lack of responsiveness and a belief many issues raised by the public, the VA Leadership, or oversight entities are exaggerated, unimportant, or `will pass.'”

McDonald will be the first VA chief of the last four who didn’t retire from the service after an Army career. The prior four VA secretaries—since it became a Cabinet-level agency in 1989—served, like McDonald, in uniform early in their careers. He qualified for many badges during his five years in uniform: Airborne, Ranger, Jungle, Arctic and Desert Warfare, Jumpmaster, Expert Infantry, and Senior Parachutist.

He brought that same approach to P&G. When he took control of the Tide account in 1984, “Tide only came in one form, which was powder Tide regular scent,” he told a Yale audience last year. “Today…you can get liquid Tide, you can get Tide with bleach, and you can get Tide with Febreze. We just launched a Tide for fitness clothes.”

Knowing consumers—and what they want—is key, he explained: “You’re going to create better loyalty, more indispensability, and as a result of that you will have a higher market share.”

He’s going to need all the business savvy he can muster, assuming Senate approval, in his new job. When McDonald left P&G, it had annual sales of about $84 billion, half of the VA’s annual budget. The Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this month that the reforms the Senate wants to make in providing veterans with better access to health care could double the VA’s annual $44 billion health-care budget.

TIME Religion

What the Bible Really Says About the Rapture

Christopher Eccleston as Reverend Matt Jamison and Carrie Coon as Nora Durst in the episode "Two Boats and a Helicopter" in the HBO show The Leftovers.
Christopher Eccleston as Reverend Matt Jamison and Carrie Coon as Nora Durst in the episode "Two Boats and a Helicopter" in the HBO show The Leftovers. Paul Schiraldi—HBO

What would the end times really be like? A new HBO series airing Sunday night, The Leftovers, attempts to answer that question, sort of. In the show, based on a Tom Perrotta novel, 2% of the global population vanishes suddenly, and without explanation. The disappearance is mostly attributed to some kind of religious event, and the show deals with how life might be afterward for those left behind — with all the grief, guilt and confusion that something like that would entail.

Despite the setup, neither the show nor the book are overtly religious. The word rapture is never used — at least not in the book — and the ranks of the disappeared seem to have been chosen at random. With many sinners among the vanished, the “true believers” still on earth are left to wonder how they missed the cut.

The word rapture isn’t used in the Holy Bible, but the idea of Judgment Day appears in all the canonical gospels. It’s probably most frequently associated with the apocalyptic imagery of the Book of Revelation to John, but it’s most clearly laid out in the Book of Matthew, in which it is prophesied that the Son of Man will send out his angels with a trumpet call to “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other,” before separating the righteous sheep from the accursed goats (Matthew 24:31, and 25:31–46).

Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians contains passages along the same lines:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:16–17)

Then in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he describes how suddenly the “mystery” will occur:

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51–52)

Matthew’s eerie description of the event sounds much like the event portrayed in the HBO show: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (Matt. 24:40–41)

So when did the Day of Judgment become associated with a physical rapture? It’s important to note that Christianity’s many denominations disagree on exactly how Christ will return to earth, or how literally to interpret the Bible’s account of how the day of reckoning will go down. (See Robert Jewett’s Jesus Against the Rapture for an example of how many theologians are skeptical of doomsday prognosticators.)

The idea that the godly would be “raptured,” or literally sucked into the air to meet Christ, was reportedly popularized by a dispensationalist British minister, John Nelson Darby, in the 1830s after a Scottish teenager had visions of Christ’s return.

Evangelical U.S. Christians learned about it from an early 20th century Bible, and the idea gained popularity among Christian fundamentalists here until it became a cultural touchstone.

One branch of Christian theology, dispensational premillennialism, holds that Christ will physically return to earth to sort the wicked from the godly before a tribulation, when anyone left behind will suffer various torments and plagues.

Prominent in this school of thought is Texan evangelical Hal Lindsey, whose literalist screed The Late, Great Planet Earth became a best seller in 1970, later spawning follow-ups Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (the latter of which sounds like a sketch featuring Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” on Saturday Night Live). During the 2008 election, Lindsey wrote that Barack Obama was paving the way for the Antichrist.

(The literal-minded belief in how Judgment Day will go down got a darkly funny spin during one of the opening sequences of another HBO offering, Six Feet Under, in which a woman witnesses a bunch of inflatable sex dolls escaping into the sky from the back of a delivery truck, mistakes them for angels floating up to heaven, and gets so excited about the Second Coming that she runs fatally into the middle of oncoming traffic.)

Today, about 1 in 4 believe Christ will return to earth, though it’s far from clear how many of those believe that the rapture will occur. But the idea has clearly captured many people’s imaginations, be they self-styled soothsayers of the apocalypse or simply novelists hoping for a best seller. And judging by the rapturous reviews of HBO’s new series, the idea still has plenty of mileage left in it.

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