Military & Security

How America Dominates Defense Spending

Matthew Yglesias: “This map, found in Bank of America’s “Transforming World” atlas, dramatizes exactly how enormous our defense budget is in context:”

“Not only does the US defense budget equal about half the world’s total military spending, but a huge chunk of the rest of the total is spent by close American allies. Russia’s military spending, for example, is dwarfed by the combined commitments of the UK, France, and Germany. North Korea’s military spending looks like a tiny pimple sitting on the top of South Korea’s head.”

Only 5 States Limit Police Seizure of Personal Property

Vox: “Only five states prevent police from taking and keeping your stuff without charging you for a crime: Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Carolina.”

“The rest fully allow what’s known as ‘civil forfeiture’: Police officers can seize someone’s property without proving the person was guilty of a crime; they just need probable cause to believe the assets are being used as part of criminal activity, typically drug trafficking. Police can then absorb the value of this property — be it cash, cars, guns, or something else — as profit, either through state programs or under a federal program known as Equitable Sharing that lets local and state police get up to 80 percent of the value of what they seize as money for their departments.”

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“Critics have long argued that civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to essentially police for profit, since many of the proceeds from seizures can go back to police departments.”

Americans: Don’t Take Away My Freedoms!

Gallup: The federal government’s recent actions to limit the scope of what it can do to prevent terrorism are consistent with Americans’ preference to prioritize civil liberties over anti-terrorism efforts when the two come into conflict. Sixty-five percent of Americans say the government should take steps to prevent terrorism but not violate civil liberties, while 30% think any steps to prevent terrorism are justified, even if they violate liberties. In the first few months after 9/11, Americans were more divided on the issue.

Trend: Americans' Views of Tradeoffs Between Anti-Terrorism Efforts and Respecting Civil Liberties

Americans continue to place a greater emphasis on civil liberties even as concern about terrorism has risen amid the growing threat of ISIS.

The change in the public opinion climate, which is reflected in the views of elected representatives, may help explain why the newly passed USA Freedom Act pulls back some of the powers the Patriot Act provided to the government in its efforts to prevent terrorism.

1 in 13 Gun Killings Are Committed By Police

Christopher Ingraham: “America’s law enforcement officers have shot and killed upwards of 385 people so far this year, according to a new Washington Post investigation. That’s a rate of about 1 every 9 hours, or 2.5 shootings per day. That’s a lot compared to other countries — cops in Germany killed only 8 people in 2013-2014, for instance. British police didn’t kill anyone last year.”

“Through June 1, there have been 5,099 gun deaths in the U.S., according to up-to-date numbers maintained by the Gun Violence Archive. Based on the 385 figure, that means that American police are responsible for about 1 in every 13 gun deaths in the country, or 8 percent. The Gun Violence Archive numbers include suicide as well as homicide, so the police-involved share of gun homicides would be even larger.”

Female Soldiers Wrestle With New Roles

The New York Times writes that “even though women distinguished themselves as leaders and enlisted soldiers” in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, “many of them describe struggling with feeling they do not quite belong.”

“Women are 10 times more likely than men to have reported serious sexual harassment. Suicide has been an enormous issue across the military, particularly for white men. But Army data show that the suicide rate for female soldiers tripled during deployment, to 14 per 100,000 from 4 per 100,000 back home — unlike the rate for men, which rose more modestly.”

“As social scientists have sought to understand the increased rates of depression and suicide among enlisted women, they have looked at research on other groups at the margins of a culture, whether blacks in the Ivy League, whites attending a nonwhite high school — or women in male professions. And they have found that the mental costs borne by those in the minority are similar. Members of such groups tend to report as many insults and bad days as members of the dominant culture. But compared with the majority, they feel far less secure.”

Obama to Limit Military-Style Equipment for Police

President Obama “will ban the federal provision of some types of military-style equipment to local police departments and sharply restrict the availability of others,” the New York Times reports.

“The ban is part of Mr. Obama’s push to ease tensions between law enforcement and minority communities in reaction to the crises in Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities.”

Politico: “Bayonets, weaponized vehicles and grenade launchers are no longer available to local police, following a report from a presidential task force on the militarization of law enforcement released Monday. And if local cops want riot gear and other types of armored vehicles, they’re going to have to meet many new standards for training and data collection.”

A Split in Priorities for Republicans and Democrats

Wall Street Journal:  “Members of the two political parties are split over which issues are most important for the government to address, with Republicans giving much higher priority to national security issues than do Democrats, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.”

“Asked which issues should be the federal government’s top priorities, Republican primary voters’ top three issues were national security, the deficit and the issue of job creation and economic growth. Democratic primary voters, by contrast, named jobs first, followed by health care and climate change.”

“In the new survey, some 27% of Republican primary voters named national security and terrorism as the government’s highest priority, compared with only 13% of Democratic primary voters who picked that as the top priority.”

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U.S. Military Has Special Forces in 81 Countries

Wall Street Journal: “These days, the sun never sets on America’s special-operations forces. Over the past year, they have landed in 81 countries, most of them training local commandos to fight so American troops don’t have to. From Honduras to Mongolia, Estonia to Djibouti, U.S. special operators teach local soldiers diplomatic skills to shield their countries against extremist ideologies, as well as combat skills to fight militants who break through.”

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“President Barack Obama, as part of his plan to shrink U.S. reliance on traditional warfare, has promised to piece together a web of such alliances from South Asia to the Sahel. Faced with mobile enemies working independently of foreign governments, the U.S. military has scattered small, nimble teams in many places, rather than just maintaining large forces in a few.”

Declassified Report Questions Value of Warrantless Wiretaps

The New York Times has a newly declassified report from the inspectors general of the CIA, NSA, Justice Department, Defense Department, and Director of National Intelligence finding that the “secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted.

“The document is a lengthy report on a once secret N.S.A. program code-named Stellarwind… The report amounts to a detailed history of the program. While significant parts remain classified, it includes some new information. For example, it explains how the Bush administration came to tell the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Royce C. Lamberth, about the program’s existence in early 2002.”

“The report said that the secrecy surrounding the program made it less useful. Very few working-level C.I.A. analysts were told about it. After the warrantless wiretapping part became public, Congress legalized it in 2007; the report said this should have happened earlier to remove ‘the substantial restrictions placed on F.B.I. agents’ and analysts’ access to and use of program-derived information due to the highly classified status’ of Stellarwind.”