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‘High threat’ Texas border busts aren’t always

Drivers in Texas busted for drunken driving, not paying child support or low-level drug offenses are among thousands of “high-threat” criminal arrests being counted as part of a nearly $1 billion mission to secure the border with Mexico, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Having once claimed that conventional crime data doesn’t fully capture the dangers to public safety and homeland security, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified more than 1,800 offenders arrested near the border by highway troopers in 2015 as “high threat criminals.”

But not all live up to that menacing label or were anywhere close to the border — and they weren’t caught entering the country illegally, as Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is Texas’ chairman for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, has suggested.

In response to the AP’s findings, the Department of Public Safety said it will recommend removing child support evaders from the list and signaled a willingness to stop classifying other arrests as “high threat.”

However, it defended the data overall, saying it isn’t intended to measure border security, even though the figures are included in briefings to lawmakers.

“It’s deceptive to say the least,” Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales, from the border city of Edinburg, said of the data. “I would say it’s shocking that a person arrested with a small amount of cocaine in Odessa is used to show supposedly high-threat criminal arrests on the Texas-Mexico border.”

The AP used open records laws to obtain a list of 2015 Texas Highway Patrol arrests classified as “high threat” in a broad 60-county area that the DPS has defined as the border region, then reviewed online court and jail records for cases in Hidalgo and El Paso counties, which had the most such arrests.

Among the “high threat” incidents was a trailer that unlatched from an RV and rolled into oncoming traffic, killing another driver in a town more than 150 miles from the border. Other crimes lumped in with suspected killers and human traffickers were speeding teenagers and hit-and-runs that caused no serious injuries.

Republican leaders have used crime, smuggling and immigration data to justify an intensified deployment of troopers, armored boats and spy planes to the border since 2014. And Trump’s promises to wall off the border with Mexico resonate with many in Texas, where Republican lawmakers tripled border security spending last year, and in 2017 will consider approving another $1 billion.

A threat overview published by DPS in 2013 defined high-threat criminals as “individuals whose criminal activity poses a serious public safety or homeland security threat.” But about 40 “high threat” offenses can be overly broad. For instance, nearly half the 2015 arrests were for possession of a controlled substance, but DPS doesn’t distinguish between a gram of cocaine and a drug smuggler’s 50 pounds of marijuana. And failure to pay child support is included with sex crimes under offenses against the family.

High-threat arrests, which are tracked statewide, are among nearly three dozen “border security related” metrics collected by DPS, according to agency briefings given to lawmakers.

But DPS Director Steve McCraw told the AP that high-threat data isn’t used to assess border security but rather is included in briefings for the sake of transparency. McCraw said the term “high threat” was never meant to suggest only the worst of the worst, but rather to distinguish more serious crimes.

“I don’t care, we can change the name,” McCraw said. “Just so long as, internally, we have a way of differentiating.”

Hidalgo County, in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the busiest corridors for drug and human trafficking in the U.S., and where Texas deployed an influx of troopers, National Guard patrols and camera surveillance. While dozens of 161 high-threat arrests for drug possession were alleged pot smugglers, about 1 in 5 were charged with having less than a gram or other low-level drug charges. Drunken drivers who didn’t pull over are also counted the same as fleeing traffickers.

In El Paso County, more than half of 190 high-threat arrests last year were for drug offenses. Of those, about three in 10 were arrests for less than a gram of drugs such as cocaine or small amounts of marijuana.

Some lawmakers, including members of Texas’ House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, said they didn’t pay attention to high-threat arrests and that the data isn’t included in high-level briefings.

But following a border visit in March, Patrick incorrectly tweeted that DPS had arrested about 14,000 high-threat criminals in the previous year. Patrick senior adviser Sherry Sylvester said the lieutenant governor had been “unintentionally unclear,” but then herself falsely described the arrests as “criminal illegal aliens” who she said pose a “serious threat to public safety in Texas.”

Records show Trump released tax returns when he stood to gain

Donald Trump won’t publicly release his income tax returns but records reveal the New York businessman turned them over when it suited his needs.

The Associated Press is reporting that Trump provided his returns when he stood to make a profit, needed a loan or when dealing with legal matters.

The news service reports that Pennsylvania gaming regulators were given at least five years’ worth and eight boxes full of Trump’s tax documents.

Also, Nevada, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana and other state gaming officials had access to multiple years of Trump’s returns.

And large banks that lent Trump money over the years have obtained Trump’s returns.

In all cases reviewed by The Associated Press, each person, organization, company or government office that has seen Trump’s tax returns is barred from discussing their full contents by professional or legal restrictions.

So the public still knows little about Trump’s more recent finances.

At a press event today in Waukesha, Wisconsin Democrats plan to call on Trump to release his tax returns.

An announcement from Hillary Clinton’s campaign said the event at noon at the Waukesha DNC headquarters would involve Democratic supporters, including state Rep. Mandela Barnes.

In the debate earlier this week, Clinton questioned whether Trump’s tax returns might reveal that he has paid little or no taxes. Trump said he was “smart” for not paying federal income taxes in some years.

Documents first reported on by Politico show Trump didn’t pay any federal income tax during at least two years in the early 1990s because he lost more money than he earned.

Other documents show he didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 1978, 1979 and 1984.

Trump has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns citing an IRS audit, but the IRS and tax experts have said an audit doesn’t bar Trump from making the documents public.

Since 1976, every major party nominee has released the returns and Clinton has publicly released nearly 40 years’ worth.

Trump’s tax returns would reveal his charitable contributions. The AP has reported that there is little record of substantial personal philanthropy from Trump.

The returns would also reveal how much Trump earned from his assets, helping someone work back to an approximation of his net worth to compare to his own estimation.

Clinton, Trump and the road to 270

Hillary Clinton continues to hold advantages over Donald Trump in the states she would need to win the presidency in November, but Donald Trump has made gains in some battleground states.

The Associated Press has moved Iowa to leaning Republican after recent polls there by Quinnipiac and Monmouth Universities showing Trump’s lead there in the high single digits.

The AP considers preference polling, recent electoral history, demographic trends and campaign priorities such as advertising, travel and on-the-ground staff.

Many national and battleground state polls have showed Trump gaining on Clinton, but several surveys released last week, including an AP-GfK poll released Thursday, suggest the former secretary of state may be consolidating a national lead ahead of tonight’s presidential debate.

SOLID DEMOCRATIC: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state (200 total electoral votes).

LEANS DEMOCRATIC: Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin (72 total electoral votes).

TOSS-UP: Florida, Maine 2nd District, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio (69 total electoral votes).

LEANS REPUBLICAN: Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska 2nd District, Utah (50 total electoral votes).

SOLID REPUBLICAN: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wyoming (147 total electoral votes).

WHY IT MATTERS: North Korea and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: Pariah state North Korea could soon be capable of targeting America with nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation have failed to halt its progress. What can the U.S. do to stop the authoritarian government from building up a nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States and its allies in Asia?

WHERE THEY STAND

Republican Donald Trump says the U.S. can put more pressure on China to rein in its unpredictable North Korean ally. He has suggested that Japan and South Korea could get nuclear weapons to defend themselves rather than depend on the U.S. military. But he’s also ready to meet the North Korean leader.

Democrat Hillary Clinton isn’t contemplating a face-to-face with Kim Jong Un, who has met no other foreign leader. She wants the international community to intensify sanctions on North Korea as the Obama administration did with Iran, which eventually opened the way for a deal to contain its nuclear program.

WHY IT MATTERS

Unlike Iran, North Korea already has the bomb. It has conducted four underground nuclear test explosions since 2006. The most recent test was in January, when it claimed to have detonated a hydrogen bomb — a much more powerful device than in the previous tests — although the U.S. government doubts that claim.

North Korea is also working on ways to deliver nuclear weapons. After five failures, it successfully test-launched in June a ballistic missile that puts U.S. military bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam within reach. North Korea has displayed an intercontinental missile that could potentially hit the mainland U.S., although it has not yet been flight-tested. It could take several more years to perfect that missile, which can be moved by road, making it harder to destroy pre-emptively. The U.S. military has said North Korea may by now have developed a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on such a missile.

The U.S. keeps 28,500 troops based in neighboring South Korea as a deterrent force, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended without a formal peace treaty. North Korea is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies, a move that would invite its own destruction. But, mindful of the fate of ousted dictators in Iraq and Libya who gave up nuclear weapons programs, Kim is clinging to his. He views atomic weapons as a security guarantee for his oppressive regime. That is the main obstacle to resuming negotiations in which the North could win much-needed aid in exchange for disarming.

International attitudes to North Korea are hardening. The nuclear test in January triggered the toughest sanctions yet, restricting the North’s access to foreign currency and weapons technology, but it remains to be seen how aggressively China enforces them. In a sign of how seriously the U.S. takes the emerging North Korean threat, it is investing in missile interceptors in Alaska and California to combat it. U.S. experts estimate that North Korea has 13 to 21 nuclear weapons, and could have as many as 100 by 2020. That’s about 20 weapons fewer than what India is estimated to have in its arsenal today.

WHY IT MATTERS: Health care and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: About nine in 10 Americans now have health insurance, more than at any time in history. But progress is incomplete, and the future far from certain. Millions remain uninsured. Quality is still uneven. Costs are high and trending up again. Medicare’s insolvency is two years closer, now projected in 2028. Every family has a stake.

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton would stay the course, making adjustments as needed to major government health insurance programs. She’d build on President Barack Obama’s health care law, with one exception — a tax on generous coverage that she’d repeal. Medicare, the health care program for older Americans and the disabled, would get new legal powers to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharma companies. Clinton would also offer some relief from rising out-of-pocket costs, like deductibles and copayments.

Donald Trump would repeal “Obamacare.” But a recent study found his plan would make 18 million people uninsured. Stay tuned, because Trump has also said he doesn’t want people “dying on the street.” Similar to Clinton, he has promised not to cut Medicare. He agrees Medicare should be able to negotiate drug prices, unusual for a Republican. Trump’s campaign has said he may revisit major health care programs once in the White House.

WHY IT MATTERS

Patients from all over the world come to America for treatment. U.S. research keeps expanding humanity’s ability to confront disease. But the U.S. still spends far more than any advanced country, and its people are not much healthier.

Obama’s progress reducing the number of uninsured may be reaching its limits. Premiums are expected to rise sharply in many communities for people covered by his namesake law, raising concerns about the future.

The health care overhaul did not solve the nation’s longstanding problem with costs. Total health spending is picking up again, underscoring that the system is financially unsustainable over the long run. Employers keep shifting costs to workers and their families.

No one can be denied coverage anymore because of a pre-existing condition, but high costs are still a barrier to access for many, including insured people facing high deductibles and copayments. Prescription drug prices — even for some generics — are another major worry.

The election offers a choice between a candidate of continuity — Clinton — and a Republican who seems to have some core beliefs about health care, but lacks a coherent plan.

If the presidential candidates do not engage the nation in debating the future of health care, it still matters.

Even if you’re healthy, deeper national debt affects the economy and in some way everyone’s standard of living, especially the next generation. If the government has to spend more on health care, it comes at the expense of more debt, cuts in something else or higher taxes.

America’s problem with health care spending can’t be ignored or wished away. Political leaders can postpone hard choices, but that will mean consequences even more wrenching when the bill comes due.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: The Supreme Court and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: No one likes an even number on a court that makes decisions by majority vote. Yet that’s just what the Supreme Court has been left with, eight justices, since the death of Antonin Scalia in February.

Four cases ended in a tie after Scalia’s death. With Senate Republicans refusing to confirm President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Scalia, the outcome of the presidential election will determine whether the ninth, tie-breaking justice moves the court right or left. How much can one vote matter?

In key decisions in recent years on health care, gun rights, same-sex marriage, voting rights and campaign finance, the vote was 5-4. And more Supreme Court appointments probably await the next president because two justices will be older than 80 and a third will be 78 come Election Day.

WHERE THEY STAND

Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have made the future of the Supreme Court part of their pitch to their respective party faithful. In talking about the court, Clinton has stressed her support for abortion rights, LGBT issues and immigration. Trump has released a list of 11 conservative state and federal judges whom he would consider nominating if elected.

WHY IT MATTERS

The current vacancy is the moment both sides alternately have wished for and feared. Supreme Court nominations are always important because a justice can serve a quarter century or more. But the stakes are even higher when the president has a chance to put a like-minded justice on the court to take the place of an ideological opponent. Such a switch can change the outcome of some of the court’s most important cases.

That’s the tantalizing opportunity for Democrats and why Republicans have been resolute in refusing to consider Obama nominee Merrick Garland. Though Garland has a reputation as a moderate, he still would be left of Scalia on most issues.

A Clinton victory in November would, with the confirmation of Garland or someone else as the ninth justice, immediately shift the court to the left and result in a majority of justices nominated by a Democratic president for the first time since 1969.

If Trump is elected, he presumably would restore the court’s conservative tilt by appointing a like-minded successor to Scalia.

So the direction of a court closely divided between conservatives and liberals is at stake. The Supreme Court may be the least understood of the three branches of government, but its decisions affect Americans rich and poor.

A switch of one vote would have doomed Obama’s health care overhaul in 2012, kept the heart of a voting rights law in place in 2013 and prevented some Americans from marrying their same-sex partners in 2015.

Chances are Trump or Clinton will have other Supreme Court vacancies to fill, nominations that could cement conservative or liberal domination of the court for decades.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Justice Anthony Kennedy is 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 78. Justices tend to retire when their replacement is likely to be of similar ideology.

Garland or another Democratic nominee could be expected to reinforce support for abortion rights, look favorably on executive actions to deal with immigration and climate change and be more willing to uphold campaign finance restrictions. Trump’s choices probably would come down on the other side of those issues and be more skeptical about gun control and consideration of race in higher education as well.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: The opioid crisis and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: More Americans are dying from opioids than at any time in recent history, with overdose deaths hitting a peak of 28,000 in 2014. That amounts to 78 Americans dying from an opioid overdose every day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC uses opioid as an umbrella term for synthetic painkillers and for drugs derived naturally from opium (known more specifically as opiates), such a heroin.

It’s not just the use of illicit opiates like heroin that is on the rise — overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999, tracking a similar increase in the amount of these drugs being prescribed by doctors.

WHERE THEY STAND

Donald Trump sees his plans to build a wall along the Mexican border as essential to stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the country. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports the seizure of drugs at the Southern border quadrupled between 2008 and 2013.

Hillary Clinton proposes spending $10 billion to tackle the drug crisis. Her plan would send more money to states to expand drug treatment and mental health services, promote greater availability of the overdose reversal drug naloxone and support better prevention programs in schools, among other things.

WHY IT MATTERS

More than 2.4 million Americans were addicted to synthetic pain relievers or heroin in 2014, according to the latest federal survey on drug use and health. And that number excludes the millions more — family members, first responders, taxpayers — who feel the ripple effects of addiction in their daily lives.

Clinton has called drug addiction a “quiet epidemic.” But it’s one that’s getting louder, as more and more Americans share their stories and prove that drug addiction follows no standard profile of age, race or class.

For decades, drug addiction was viewed as a criminal justice problem, not a health one. The stigma is lessening, but many states simply don’t have the capability to provide treatment and recovery for people who need it, leaving police departments and emergency rooms to fill the void. Lawmakers and advocates are fighting for precious tax dollars to expand services, but the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that just 0.9 percent of people seeking treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol received it.

Experts now believe the sharp increase in prescribed painkillers is to blame. People are quick to share stories of being prescribed dozens of pills for pain relief following procedures as simple as wisdom teeth removal. The strength of these medications can easily cause addiction, forcing many people to turn to a cheaper alternative — heroin — when their prescriptions run out. Roughly 75 percent of new heroin users report first using prescription opioids, the government says.

Lawmakers are beginning to take notice: At the meeting of the National Governors Association in July, 45 governors signed on to a compact aimed at tightening prescribing rules. Several attorneys general are engaged in or considering waging legal battles against major pharmaceutical companies, alleging they played down the risks of addiction when marketing their painkillers.

At the same time, the illicit drugs people are turning to are becoming even more deadly. The synthetic painkiller fentanyl, which is up to 50 times as potent as heroin, is now being manufactured illegally. By sight, it’s impossible to tell the difference between heroin and fentanyl, leaving people unaware of the deadliness of the drugs they are consuming. Northeastern and Midwestern states, such as New Hampshire and Ohio, are seeing a dramatic rise in the use of fentanyl. More than 5,000 people nationwide died from a synthetic opioid like fentanyl in 2014, and that number is only on the rise.

As most politicians know, families and communities are demanding change, and fast.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: China, trade and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: Tensions have been rising between China and the United States. China is modernizing its military and pressing its sovereignty claims over the disputed South China Sea, an important route for global trade.

The U.S. is pushing back by increasing its military presence in Asia, which China views as provocative. The U.S. also accuses China of unfair trading practices and cyber theft of business secrets. Tough action by either side could spark a skirmish at sea or a trade war that would make many goods in the U.S. more expensive.

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton says the U.S. needs to “stand up to China” and press the rising Asian power to play by international rules — in trade, in cyberspace, and in territorial disputes. But she’s also said the two nations need to cooperate where they can.

Donald Trump says the high volume of U.S.-China trade gives Washington leverage over Beijing. He accuses China of undervaluing its currency to makes its exports artificially cheap and he proposes tariffs as high as 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports into the U.S. to force it to trade fairly and support other U.S. policy goals.

WHY IT MATTERS

The U.S. and China are the world’s two largest economies and biggest military spenders. The wider world needs them to get along, to keep the peace and tackle global problems like climate change and a nuclear North Korea. The U.S. and China also depend on each other economically. Two-way trade topped $600 billion in 2015. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, and by some estimates, Chinese foreign direct investment into the U.S. has started to outstrip the flow of U.S. investment into China.

President Xi Jinping is trying to manage a soft landing for a slowing economy, and boost domestic consumption to reduce China’s reliance on foreign trade to drive growth. That goal is supported by Washington as it could help reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China, which hit a record of nearly $370 billion last year. But China has a mixed record on economic reform. It has allowed market forces to play a bigger role in its currency exchange rate, but the U.S. has other complaints: restrictions on market access for foreign companies, economic espionage, and state subsidies, including cheap imports from China’s bloated steel industry.

China is building Asia’s strongest military and wants to be treated as a global leader, but its assertive behavior has unnerved its neighbors who look to the U.S. to help preserve order.

The U.S. worries that China, which has built several artificial islands in the South China Sea, wants to control crucial sea lanes. China denies this but refuses to compromise in what it says is a historical right to tiny islands and adjacent waters in the South China Sea where five other governments have territorial claims.

The U.S. Navy has periodically sailed close to the islands to demonstrate its freedom to navigate the area, angering China. In July, China rejected an international tribunal ruling in a case brought by a U.S. ally, the Philippines, that invalidated the legal basis of China’s claims. The U.S. hopes China will moderate its position, but it shows no sign of doing so, although Beijing says it is ready to negotiate directly with other claimants.

Such economic and strategic tensions between two world powers can directly affect American jobs, wages, consumer prices and security.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: Trade and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: In this angry election year, many American voters are deeply skeptical about free trade — or downright hostile to it.

The backlash against trade threatens a pillar of U.S. policy since World War II: Through trade pacts and institutions like the World Trade Organization, the United States has sought to rip down barriers to global commerce, including quotas and taxes on imports.

Economists argue that the benefits of free trade outweigh the costs. Imports cut prices for consumers, and exposure to foreign competition makes American firms and the overall U.S. economy more efficient. There’s a geopolitical angle, too: Countries that do business with each other are less likely to go to war.

Free trade, it seemed, paid off.

But doubts lingered, especially as China emerged as an economic power. China overwhelmed the world with hundreds of millions of low-paid factory workers who could crank out products for less than just about anybody else. And critics charge that China doesn’t play by the rules — unfairly subsidizing exporters, manipulating its currency to give them a competitive edge and condoning the theft of U.S. trade secrets. Whatever the reasons, the United States last year ran a $334 billion trade deficit with China — a big chunk of America’s $500 billion total trade deficit.

Even economists are having second thoughts. David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gordon Hanson of the University of California, San Diego, and David Dorn of the University of Zurich looked at the American workers most exposed to competition from China. They got an unpleasant surprise. Instead of finding jobs in newer, growing industries, as economic theory dictated, Americans thrown out of work by the “China shock” bounced from job to job and suffered a drop in lifetime pay. China’s rise has “challenged much of the received empirical wisdom about how labor markets adjust to trade shocks,” they concluded.

WHERE THEY STAND

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton oppose the trade agreements that are a hallmark of U.S. economic policy.

Clinton has broken with President Barack Obama by opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that Obama’s administration hammered out with 11 Pacific Rim countries (excluding China) and that awaits congressional approval. Awkwardly for Clinton, she had called the agreement the “gold standard” for trade deals when she was Obama’s secretary of state.

Trump vows to tear up existing trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, and to slap huge tariffs on Chinese imports. He traces America’s economic problems to bad trade deals reached by clueless U.S. negotiators outfoxed by craftier foreigners. The author of “The Art of the Deal” says he can do better.

WHY IT MATTERS

Foreign competition is one reason America has lost 3.4 million factory jobs since China joined the World Trade Organization and became a bigger part of global trade in 2001. It’s also partly responsible for stagnant American wages. Adjusting for inflation, U.S. households earn less than they did in 1997.

But trade isn’t the only culprit: Technology allows factories to cut jobs and still increase production.

Despite the campaign rhetoric, trade deals have far less impact on jobs than forces such as automation and wage differences between countries. The controversial Pacific deal, for instance, probably would have a negligible impact on American employment, the International Trade Commission concluded.

Trump’s plans to impose punitive tariffs would risk setting off a trade war and driving up prices for American consumers. Pulling back from trade agreements could also reduce America’s diplomatic influence. The Pacific agreement, for instance, is aimed partly at countering China’s clout in Asia.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

Why it matters: America and the world

THE ISSUE: How should America use its influence in a world where being a superpower doesn’t get you what it once did? As instability and human tragedy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria have shown, the U.S. alone cannot impose solutions or force the surrender of adversaries like the Islamic State group, which cannot be deterred by the threat of nuclear attack.

WHERE THEY STAND

Donald Trump says his approach is defined by the phrase “America First.” He says, for example, that if allies in Europe and Asia won’t pay the full cost of U.S. contributions to their defense, then the U.S. should let them defend themselves. He is sour on “international unions that tie us up and bring America down.”

Hillary Clinton takes the view that America benefits from a wide network of alliances, both for security and for economic strength. She says she would work to widen and strengthen that network. She criticizes a “go-it-alone” approach for the U.S. and asserts that international partnerships are “a unique source of America’s strength.”

WHY IT MATTERS

The way America wields its power around the world affects people in every walk of life, in every corner of the country. Going to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 profoundly changed the lives of tens of thousands of people whose loved ones were killed or grievously wounded. It also raised questions that confront Clinton and Trump: How can American influence be used most effectively to protect the homeland and prevent future wars?

In Iraq and Syria, President Barack Obama has chosen not to use the full force of the U.S. military against IS. Instead he has sent small numbers of troops to prod and coach local forces to do the main fighting, backed by U.S. airpower. He says this is more likely to create a durable success than fighting the Iraqis’ and Syrians’ wars for them. Trump says this is an abdication of a commander-in-chief’s responsibility to extinguish as quickly as possible the most immediate threat to the United States. Clinton supports the thrust of Obama’s approach to avoiding another U.S. war in the Mideast.

The Iran nuclear deal, which Trump trashes and Clinton praises, is an example of diplomacy with the potential to change the course of history, for better or worse. Critics like Trump say it opens the door for Iran to get its hands eventually on nuclear weapons, which would threaten America. Clinton says it blocks that path and provides possibilities for change in Iran that could reduce the chance of war.

At its core, the discussion about U.S. leadership gets down to this: How much can the U.S. accomplish acting alone, compared with allying itself with like-minded nations? The question applies not just on the military front but also in economics. Trump argues the U.S. gets too little out of current trade arrangements as well as decades-old security partnerships like NATO, which is anchored in Europe but traditionally led by the U.S. He has called NATO “obsolete” and a bad deal for America.

Clinton, by contrast, sees NATO and alliances with Japan and South Korea as a pillar of U.S. strategy for promoting peace and preventing war.

Trump is right when he says NATO was created to confront a threat – the Soviet Union – that no longer exists. The question is whether the alliance is capable of adapting to 21st century threats like a resurgent Russia, instability in the Middle East and the appeal of the Islamic State group. Whereas Trump suggests the U.S. can be better off going it alone, Clinton aligns herself with the more traditional notion that there is strength in numbers.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.