Everyone should fear the police state

Salon has an amazing piece of investigative journalism by Radly Balko about the militarization of the police force in the United States over the last few decades. It’s a bit long, so I excerpted the parts I think everyone should see. If you have the time, I recommend reading the whole story.

A 2009 G-20 summit shows us that we can be arrested for pretty much anything:

The most egregious police actions seemed to take place on the Friday evening before the summit, around the university, when police began ordering students who were in public spaces to disperse, despite the fact that they had broken no laws. Students who moved too slowly were arrested, as were students who were standing in front of the dormitories where they lived.

A University of Pittsburgh spokesman later said that the tactic was to break up crowds that “had the potential of disrupting normal activities, traffic flow, egress and the like. . . . Much of the arrests last night had to do with failure to disperse when ordered.” Note that no one needed to have broken any actual laws to get arrested. The potential to break a law was more than enough. That standard was essentially a license for the police to arrest anyone, anywhere in the city, at any time, for any reason.

“What’s that? Freedom of press you say? ‘Cuff him, Jim.”:

At the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, police conducted peremptory raids on the homes of protesters before the convention had even started. Police broke into the homes of people known to be activist rabble-rousers before they had any evidence of any actual crime. Journalists who inquired about the legitimacy of the raids and arrests made during the convention were also arrested. In all, 672 people were put in handcuffs.

I think we can all agree that matching shirts are cute. Especially when they’re bragging about beating non-violent protestors:

Perhaps the best insight into the mentality the police brought to the DNC protests could be found on the T-shirts the Denver police union had printed up for the event. The shirts showed a menacing cop holding a baton. The caption: DNC 2008: WE GET UP EARLY, TO BEAT THE CROWDS. Police were spotted wearing similar shirts at the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. At the 1996 DNC convention in Chicago, cops were seen wearing shirts that read: WE KICKED YOUR FATHER’S ASS IN 1968 . . . WAIT ’TIL YOU SEE WHAT WE DO TO YOU!

“I don’t care about any of this, the only people who have to worry about the police are criminals.” Or, you know, small business owners:

In June 2006, Ruttenberg filed a civil rights suit alleging that, among other things, using a SWAT team to conduct an alcohol inspection was an unreasonable use of force.  In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied his claim. So for now, in the Fourth Circuit, sending a SWAT team to make sure a bar’s beer is labeled correctly is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Georgia Senator attributes sexual assaults in the military to hormones

Saxby Chambliss Attributes Military Sexual Assault To ‘The Hormone Level Created By Nature’:

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) called on the military to do more to crack down on sexual assault in its ranks on Tuesday, while also worrying that they may be hard to stop because of the natural “hormone level” of the young men serving.

“The young folks who are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we’ve got to be very careful how we address it on our side,” Chambliss told top military officials at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “But guys, we are not doing our job. You’re not doing yours, and we are not doing ours with the rates we are seeing on sexual assaults.”

While he’s at least making the point that something should be done, “hormones” don’t explain why this kind of behavior is so disgustingly prevalent – a study by the Pentagon found that 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year alone.

What makes this possible is the perceived lack of repercussions for such behavior. And it’s no wonder they think they can get away with it: they can. Hell, just this April an Air Force pilot convicted of sexual assault had the decision overturned by a three-star general and is now reinstated. In an environment where there’s no punishment for acting like an animal, the worst of the young men in the military are doing just that.

Is the US military prepared for an alien invasion?

Battleship Earth – Foreign Policy:

As summer blockbuster season kicks into high gear, big-budget action movies like The Avengers, Battleship, and Prometheus remind us that there’s one thing that unites Americans: Our shared fear of an alien attack. They also remind us that when the invading space fleet arrives, humanity is not going to surrender without a fight to our intergalactic invaders. Instead, we will band together to fight off their incredibly advanced weaponry with our … well, with what, exactly? Are we really ready to battle our would-be alien overlords?

Luckily, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, as well as some of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers, are dreaming up the weapons of the future today. With the help of everything from lasers on jets to hypersonic planes to invisibility cloaks, we just might be able to make the battle for Earth a fair fight. You may think we’re joking, but why else would NASA be uploading The Avengers to the International Space Station if not as a training manual? Here’s a look at some of the most space-worthy inventions being cooked up now.

This was a really fun article, but I’m going to go ahead and note that if an alien species is able to get here from another star and wants to wipe us out (I’m thinking Independence Day- or Halo-style style aliens), most of this tech would be useless – they’ll just glass our planet with nukes or giant-fuckin’-lasers and be done with it. Now, if it’s Simpsons-style enslavement they’re after, I’m glad DARPA has the following in development:

Fighter jet-sized lasers – If aliens are coming to round us up and do labor for them (I don’t know, for farming maybe?), they’re going to come with enough of a force to take on 7+ billion people. They’ll probably come with massive fleet of vehicles – most of which would probably make even our fifth-generation fighters look like something the Wright Brothers cooked up. Our weapons-grade lasers are designed to take on multiple targets at once – which is pretty useful when you consider the fact that a sizable portion of our air forces will probably be wiped out in a surprise attack.

Hypersonic aircraft – If aliens attack where I live, I’m going to want the military responding as soon as possible. Having planes that can reach Mach-20 – that’s 13,000 miles per hour for those of you at home – would mean that we could respond to threats anywhere in the world in minutes.

Guided bullets – Would you rather confront an alien from within their line of site or from around a corner? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

CROSSHAIRS – Our ground troops roll up in a humvee equipped with one of these detection systems and automatically know where all the baddies are located. Assuming they don’t have invisibility cloaking. Then we’re kind of screwed.

Adaptive armor – Speaking of cloaking, having tanks that can hide their heat signatures would be pretty useful for engaging in guerrilla warfare against a greater alien force.

Paul Ryan to cut social services to protect the military’s budget

Congress Ready to Start Work on Budget – NYTimes.com:

Mr. Ryan is also likely to propose cuts to many programs unaffected by the automatic reductions, like food stamps, Medicaid, social service block grants and farm subsidies. He would use those savings to reduce some of the automatic cuts, including in the military.

Farm subsidies I get. But are F-35s really worth cutting off food and health care from the poor? 

Also, if you think the sequester cuts are bad, wait until you see the cuts Ryan would need to pull off to balance the budget in 10 years:

To bring the budget to balance, Mr. Ryan will need at least $4.6 trillion in new savings over the next decade, on top of nearly $3.6 trillion in deficit reduction enacted over the last two years. By excluding defense and shielding Medicare and Social Security for the rest of the decade, the Ryan budget would need to cut remaining programs by nearly 23 percent, the memo concluded.

Compare that to the cuts coming due to the sequester:

  • $42.7 billion in defense cuts (a 7.9 percent cut).
  • $28.7 billion in domestic discretionary cuts (a 5.3 percent cut).
  • $9.9 billion in Medicare cuts (a 2 percent cut).
  • $4 billion in other mandatory cuts (a 5.8 percent cut to nondefense programs, and a 7.8 percent cut to mandatory defense programs).

Sequestration: Not such a bad idea

Sequestration: Not such a bad idea.:

The key reason is that fully half the cuts are cuts to “defense” spending, and yet nobody from either party is seriously trying to maintain that America will be left defenseless in the wake of this reduced military spending. The specific sequestration mechanism is clearly awkward and clumsy, but again nobody’s saying the Mexican army is going to come swarming over the border to reconquer Santa Fe, that the Taliban is now going to be able to outspend the Pentagon, or that America’s NATO allies are now left unable to fend off a Russian invasion. That’s half the cuts with basically zero real public policy harm.

If I had to choose one thing that surprised me the most about this whole sequestration situation, it’s how little the “cutting defense will make us vulnerable!” line has influenced the discussion. If there’s anything that Republicans hate to cut, it’s defense spending – Paul Ryan’s budget proposal even calls for increasing Pentagon funding while eliminating Medicare as we know it. And yet, unless some alternate deal is arranged sometime in the next few months, defense funding will fall by over $40 billion, putting it somewhere in between 2010 and 2011 spending levels.

Conservatives upset over GDP fall due to cutting military spending

GDP Report: Spending Falls, Conservatives Upset – Business Insider:

“Conservatives are slamming President Barack Obama for a shock drop in GDP last quarter. But we’ve pointed out that the big reason for a surprise shrink was due to a fall in government spending — particularly a big plunge in military spending associated with war drawdown. That’s not a good thing for GDP growth, but it also means that the shrink isn’t a reflection of weakness in the economy or current economic policy. It’s a reflection of reduced government spending, with more to come in the form of sequestration next month. The Republican argument, as noted by RNC communications director Tim Miller, is that the economy is not in a good spot when government spending cuts combined with running large deficits creates GDP shrinkage. “

You cannot win with these people.

Republicans: “The deficit is too high! We have to cut spending!”

Average person: Okay, so let’s stop spending so much money on killing people overseas.

Republican: “The economy is shrinking because you cut spending while we have large deficits! You don’t care about people or their jobs!”

What the what?

How often did soldiers loot other soldiers for weapons?

If you’ve ever played a first-person shooter and wondered whether or not it’s realistic that you go around picking up weapons and ammo from fallen enemies, this AskHistorians reddit thread has many examples of it happening in conflicts throughout the 20th century:

Looting dead enemy soldiers for weapons wasn’t just allowed, it was one of the few things you could loot from an enemy soldier according to the rules of engagement. After all, you wouldn’t want to leave it behind for the enemy to pick up and put them back in their supply chain. If soldiers encountered enemy weapons, they either took them or destroyed them. This is why your grandpa has a Luger and a Nazi bayonet.

I’ve heard stories of soldiers in Vietnam getting rid of their M16’s in favor of enemy AK-47’s because the AK was a much more durable gun. Now, as for the wisdom of doing this, it would probably depend on the situation. In a desperate battle like Stalingrad, anything you can get your hands on is fair game. However, different guns make different sounds and shooting an enemy AK in the jungle might draw friendly fire towards your position.