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On V Update to Old Ideas: American Security State Edition

More updates, this time on the state of America’s security state.

Militarization of Police Forces

According to Sarah Stillman at The New Yorker, before 1990, law enforcement conducted at most, “several hundred paramilitary-style drug” raids each year. Now, across America, police forces routinely conduct tens of thousands of such raids. (H/T to the now retired Andrew Sullivan.) We’ve been following this trend since our posts a couple of years ago comparing this to Robocop’s prediction of militarized future to the present.

And now the police have military-style equipment. Partly in response to the events of Ferguson, the Obama administration researched and released a report on police militarization that came in the beginning of December last year. Some critics pointed out that only 4% of the gear is actual combat equipment. Reason debates that point:

“But the report does also show how big that four percent is in real numbers:

“‘To date, approximately 460,000 pieces of controlled property are currently in the possession of LEAs. Examples of controlled property provided include: 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 high mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs), 617 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and 616 aircraft.’”

“Mine resistant vehicles?” you ask. Yeah, like this one. I mean, listen, I don’t like Ohio State, but I’m sure their fans aren’t planting IEDs around their own stadium. (Maybe the Michigan fans are terrorists?)

Violent Crime is Down, But...

Unfortunately, our police forces don’t need military equipment. The job is safer than it has been since the 1960s (and the increase in heavy weaponry and equipment had little to do with it). It turns out that assaults on police officers have just plummeted overall. Articles in the Huffington Post and The Atlantic both push back a narrative of a “war on cops” that some media outlets have pushed.

As multiple, multiple media outlets have covered post-Ferguson, violent crime is at its lowest level in decades. Ironically--and the records are incomplete, because the government doesn’t track all police shootings--civilian deaths by police are on the rise.

Sigh.

Our Awesomely Privatized Prison System

Why does America have such a large prison population compared to the rest of the world? One reason is that we’ve privatized prisons. Fareed Zakaria, in his “What in the World?” segment, explains the problem:

“Believe it or not, many of our prisons are run by private companies that then lobby state legislatures massively for bigger prisons, larger budgets, and of course more prisoners.

“According to the non-profit Justice Policy Institute, the two largest private prison companies in America together generate revenues of $3 billion a year – paid by taxpayers, of course. These private prison companies also happen to be major donors to a number of state campaigns, lobbying for more resources.”

We’ve haven’t touched on the deplorable state of our prisons before. (Consider it one of many issues like gun violence, war films, and COIN board games, which we’d write about more if we had more time.) But we have written about privatizing law enforcement, which we absolutely oppose.

Also, Leon Neyfakh, over at Slate, offers a new theory for the America’s developed-country-leading incarceration rate: overly aggressive prosecutors. Stay tuned for more on this.

A Good Plan for the Department of Homeland Security: Shut it Down!

We’ve read two persuasive articles on this in the last two years. This article in Bloomberg Business, by Charles Kenny of the New America Foundation, advocates for shutting down the entire Department of Homeland Security as an over-reaction to 9/11 and the terrorism threat. This week, with Republicans threatening DHS funding, we agree with Dara Lind at Vox to just let it go. We still hold the hope that libertarian-minded Republicans will one day consider national security spending as wasteful as other government spending.

Al Qaeda FBI Continues to Lead All Al Qaeda Branches in Planned Attacks

Journalist Trevor Aaronson (we’ve written about his work here) has an entire book, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism, on how the FBI plans, launches and captures suspected terrorists. While these stings bring us no closer to stopping actual Al Qaeda terrorists, they do waste the FBI’s time convincing people to launch “terror attacks”. The last supposed domestic terrorist was an exemplar of FBI agents encouraging, motivating, funding and training an otherwise harmless person.