Military & Security

8,400 American Troops to Remain In Afghanistan

New York Times: “President Obama said on Wednesday that he planned to leave 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan, deferring a decision to cut the deployment to 5,500, and underlining that the United States will remain militarily entangled there for the foreseeable future.”









“The Taliban have a significant footprint in Afghanistan, according to Bill Roggio, the editor of The Long War Journal, an online publication that is tracking Taliban control. Mr. Roggio has been able to confirm that about one-fifth of the country is controlled or contested by the Taliban, but he emphasized that this was a conservative estimate. ‘They probably either control or heavily influence about a half of the country,’ he said.”

How Terrorism Suspects Buy Guns — and How They Still Could, Even With a Ban

New York Times: “According to a study by the Government Accountability Office using data collected by the F.B.I., the vast majority of those on the watchlist who attempted to buy a gun from 2004 to 2015 were allowed to proceed, because they were not stopped by a disqualifying factor like a history of criminal or mental health problems.”

“Even if the Orlando gunman had been denied the purchase of guns from a licensed dealer because of his connections to terrorism, he could have still obtained weapons legally from a private seller at a gun show or online, because federal law does not require a background check for private purchases.”

Paul Ryan Breaks with Trump on Muslim Immigrant Ban

Politico: “[Paul Ryan] said Tuesday that Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants runs counter to the nation’s principles — a day after the presumptive GOP nominee reiterated his support for the idea.”

“‘I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest,’ Ryan said at a press conference at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters on Capitol Hill. ‘I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party, but as a country. And I think the smarter way to go in all respects is to have a security test, not a religious test.'”


Paul Ryan Lays Out GOP’s National Security Agenda

Washington Post: “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday introduced his national security blueprint — and it often reads like an attempt to soften the sharp edges of some of Donald Trump’s more controversial proposals.”

“Where Trump has proposed building a wall along the southern border and getting Mexico to pay for it, Ryan’s blueprint stresses that ‘we need more than just fencing’ to keep undocumented immigrants and illegal weapons from crossing the border.”

“Where Trump has dismissed NATO as obsolete, Ryan urged ‘modernizing and solidifying NATO’ – while at the same time encouraging NATO allies to spend more on defense so the alliance does not ‘fall into disrepair, or worse, irrelevance.'”

“And where Trump has suggested arming countries like Japan and South Korea with nuclear weapons might be a good way to counter North Korea, Ryan favors efforts to ‘shore up our defense arrangements’ in order ‘to bring together’ those countries – but steered clear of mentioning the bomb.

“America First” and Increased Defense Spending Popularity Signal Public Opinion Shift

Pew Research Center released a report on May 5 investigating the American public’s view on the U.S.’s role in the world.

Among the findings were a sharp uptick in support for increased defense spending.

“Most of the increase has come among Republicans. Fully 61% of Republicans favor higher defense spending, up 24 percentage points from 2013. Support for more defense spending has increased much more modestly among other partisan groups. And the gap in support for higher military spending between Republicans and Democrats, which was 25 percentage points three years ago, now stands at 41 points.”

“Still, 57% of Americans want the U.S. to deal with its own problems, while letting other countries get along as best they can. Just 37% say the U.S. should help other countries deal with their problems. And more Americans say the U.S. does too much (41%), rather than too little (27%), to solve world problems, with 28% saying it is doing about the right amount.”

The logical contradiction of growing public support for increased defense spending and a growing desire for subdued international activity may be explained by threat recognition: Americans are far more likely to see non-state actors as a threat than Eastern rivals.

Cruz on Military Spending is Big Government

Daily Kos: Sen. Ted Cruz has “talked about giving our nation’s bloated war budget a big boost if he becomes president. As if spending more than the next 14 countries combined isn’t enough.”

“His proposal to increase the Pentagon’s budget … to 4.1 percent of gross domestic product during his first two years in office would raise the 2017 fiscal year budget to $738 billion, a 26 percent increase from what President Obama has proposed. That compares with the peak war budget of $699 billion in 2011.”

“Cruz doesn’t want to raise taxes to accomplish this—golly, no. Rather, he wants to pay for it by dumping the Internal Revenue Service and four Cabinet-level departments: Education, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, and Commerce.”

“Fifty-four percent of federal discretionary spending now flows to the military. But that’s only so when a narrow view is taken regarding what comprises military spending. The overall Veterans Affairs budget including benefits and health care adds another 7 percent in discretionary spending. There is also national security spending for international FBI activities, Selective Service, the National Defense Stockpile, and other miscellaneous defense-related activities that add another 4 percent. An additional 5 percent goes to Homeland Security functions that are not part of the Department of Defense or Department of Energy. So federal discretionary spending that actually goes for national security purposes is 70 percent.”

No Improvement in Doomsday Clock

Eco Watch: “With ‘utter dismay,’ the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Tuesday that the symbolic Doomsday Clock will hold at three minutes to midnight—at the ‘brink’ of man-made apocalypse—because world leaders have failed to take the necessary steps to protect citizens from the grave threats of nuclear war and runaway climate change.”


“The decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock ‘is not good news,’ it continues, ‘but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.’”

“Since the clock was first introduced in 1947, the hands have moved 22 times. As Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin, explained, the clock represents a ‘summary view of leading experts deeply engaged in the existential issues of our time.’”

States That Have Surrendered to ISIS

Daily Kos: “Recent polls show that not only are Republicans unhappy with Obama’s handling of Daesh … but so are Democrats. The extreme paranoia exhibited by American politicians, pundits, and terrorism ‘experts’ is so overblown as to be ludicrous … Americans are safer today from outside threats than we have been in a long time, maybe ever. The Daesh threat to Americans is miniscule, and the data prove it.”

“But, but, ISIS is in the news all the time, aren’t they killing lots of Americans? Shouldn’t we be really afraid? Well, actually, no. In 2013, all domestic and international terrorists killed exactly 16 Americans. Three died in the Boston Marathon bombing, the rest died in overseas attacks. Sixteen Americans. So if you live in the U.S.A., your odds of being killed by a terrorist were (and are still) one in 20 million (16 deaths out of 330 million Americans). And if you didn’t leave the country, your chances improved to one in 110 million.”

As the CDC mortality tables show, “more people died from TV and appliance tip-overs (based on 2011 data) than from terrorism. Twenty times more people died from appendicitis than from terrorist attacks. Four times as many Americans died from machinery-related carbon monoxide poisoning. And during the same 12-month period, for every single terrorist fatality, more than 200 people STARVED TO DEATH in America.”


What Do You Call White Guys With Guns?

Christopher Ingraham: “A bunch of heavily-armed white guys walk into a federal building, declare that they’re in charge of the place and say they plan to stick around indefinitely. What do you call them, exactly?”

“In the interest of clarity, here’s how 15 major media outlets are referring to the group as of Monday morning. To keep the tally manageable, I’m counting only the first reference to the Oregon group in either the headline or body of the main story on the standoff on the organizations’ websites.”

“Of the 15 outlets I surveyed, six are describing the group as either “armed activists” or “armed protesters.” That includes The Washington Post, along with all three major cable networks and two network news outlets.”

Despite ‘War on Cops,’ 2015 Was One of the Safest Years for Cops

Vox: “For much of 2015, Fox News and the New York Post decried a “war on cops,” specifically blaming the Black Lives Matter movement — and its criticisms of excessive use of force by cops — for enabling a wave of violence against police officers in the US.”

“Yet with the year over, it looks like 2015 was one of the safest years to be a police officer in America. Since 1960, only 2013 had fewer on-duty police officer deaths than 2015.”

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“The Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks police officer deaths, estimated 129 police officers died in the line of duty in 2015, down 3 percent from 2014. This continued the long-term trend downward, based on the organization’s statistics going back decades.”

“The single biggest cause of death in 2015 was gunfire. Out of 129 deaths, 39 were gun homicides and two were accidental shootings. But deadly shootings were down from 2014, when 49 cops died to gunfire.”

For the First Time, Guns Kill More Americans Than Cars

Vox: “Cars are no longer deadlier than guns in America. For the first time in modern history, the age-adjusted death rate for both guns and car crashes is identical: 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people.”

“The data, previously reported by the Center for American Progress and Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post, doesn’t show that gun violence is on the rise. Over the past decade or so, gun homicides dropped while gun suicides rose, keeping the rate of gun deaths flat. Instead, the real story is in the dramatic drop in car-related deaths — a trend that continued through 2014, in large part thanks to policy changes meant to make roads and cars safer.”

“Gun violence has been treated much less seriously by lawmakers. Although tough-on-crime laws and mass incarceration policies were in part a response to violent crime, the research shows such measures only partly contributed to the crime drop of the past couple of decades. States and the federal government have passed some gun control measures … but many of the measures are riddled with loopholes, considerably weaker than those in other developed countries with lower levels of crime, or were relaxed or allowed to lapse over the decades, such as the assault weapons ban.”

GOP Candidates’ Solution to Terrorism: Big Government

Tim Fernholz in Quartz: “The Republican presidential candidates debating on CNN tonight (Dec. 15) fit right in with the trailer for Michael Bay’s Benghazi techno-thriller that all too briefly interrupted their squabbles: They were stoked for big, explosive government to take over and blow voters’ fears away.”

“Following the San Bernardino attacks, the candidates were happy to leverage fears of terror plots to promote their White House aspirations … But the natural tension between the ostensible party of small government and the apparatus of a massive national security state underlined the challenge of building a broad coalition in the fractured Republican electorate.”

“Senator Rand Paul, the night’s designated libertarian conscience, made the case against bulk surveillance and various Trump policies that appear unconstitutional on their face, but his was a rare voice of dissent against a tide of conservatives arguing that the US government should expand its surveillance capabilities at home and its war-making efforts abroad.”