Category Archives: Merchants of Death

The five biggest threats to human existence

Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute writes for The Conversation:

A nuclear bomb blast‘In the daily hubbub of current “crises” facing humanity, we forget about the many generations we hope are yet to come. Not those who will live 200 years from now, but 1,000 or 10,000 years from now. I use the word “hope” because we face risks, called existential risks, that threaten to wipe out humanity. These risks are not just for big disasters, but for the disasters that could end history.

These risks remain understudied. There is a sense of powerlessness and fatalism about them. People have been talking apocalypses for millennia, but few have tried to prevent them. Humans are also bad at doing anything about problems that have not occurred yet (partially because of the availability heuristic – the tendency to overestimate the probability of events we know examples of, and underestimate events we cannot readily recall).

If humanity becomes extinct, at the very least the loss is equivalent to the loss of all living individuals and the frustration of their goals. But the loss would probably be far greater than that. Human extinction means the loss of meaning generated by past generations, the lives of all future generations (and there could be an astronomical number of future lives) and all the value they might have been able to create. If consciousness or intelligence are lost, it might mean that value itself becomes absent from the universe. This is a huge moral reason to work hard to prevent existential threats from becoming reality. And we must not fail even once in this pursuit.

With that in mind, I have selected what I consider the five biggest threats to humanity’s existence. But there are caveats that must be kept in mind, for this list is not final.’

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After the Flood: Mines and Mass Graves in Bosnia

‘An estimated 120,000 landmines still litter the Bosnian countryside since the end of the war there in 1995, making daily life a challenge for hundreds of thousands of people. In May, the worst floods in over a century dislodged countless mines and deposited them in new locations, from farm fields to the back yards of local residents. The flooding also unearthed previously undiscovered mass graves, making some citizens hopeful that they may finally be reunited with the remains of their lost loved ones. VICE News traveled to northern Bosnia to tag along with the team in charge of de-mining the countryside, and met residents still reeling from the horrors of war.’ (VICE News)

Pentagon: U.S. ship finishes neutralizing Syria’s worst chemical arms

David Alexander reports for Reuters:

‘A specially equipped U.S. ship has finished neutralizing all 600 metric tons of the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons components surrendered to the international community this year to avert threatened air strikes, the Pentagon said on Monday. It said the Cape Ray, equipped with the U.S.-developed Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, neutralized 581.5 metric tons of DF, a sarin precursor chemical, and 19.8 metric tons of HD, an ingredient of sulfur mustard, while afloat in the Mediterranean.

The vessel will travel to Finland and Germany in the next two weeks to unload the resulting effluent, which will undergo treatment as industrial waste to render it safer, a Pentagon spokeswoman said. It was the first time chemical weapons components had been neutralized at sea, the Pentagon said. Damascus agreed last September to a Russian proposal to give up its chemical weapons to avert threatened military strikes by the United States and France, which accused Syria of using the arms against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.’

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Hundreds of bioterror lab mishaps cloaked in secrecy

Alison Young reports for USA Today:

CDC scientist at work‘More than 1,100 laboratory incidents involving bacteria, viruses and toxins that pose significant or bioterror risks to people and agriculture were reported to federal regulators during 2008 through 2012, government reports obtained by USA TODAY show. More than half these incidents were serious enough that lab workers received medical evaluations or treatment, according to the reports. In five incidents, investigations confirmed that laboratory workers had been infected or sickened; all recovered.

In two other incidents, animals were inadvertently infected with contagious diseases that would have posed significant threats to livestock industries if they had spread. One case involved the infection of two animals with hog cholera, a dangerous virus eradicated from the USA in 1978. In another incident, a cow in a disease-free herd next to a research facility studying the bacteria that cause brucellosis, became infected due to practices that violated federal regulations, resulting in regulators suspending the research and ordering a $425,000 fine, records show.

But the names of the labs that had mishaps or made mistakes, as well as most information about all of the incidents, must be kept secret because of federal bioterrorism laws, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the labs and co-authored the annual lab incident reports with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.’

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IEP Study: Only 11 out of 162 countries are free from conflict

Adam Withnall reports for The Independent:

‘With the crisis in Gaza, the rise of Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria and the international stand-off ongoing in Ukraine, it can sometimes feel like the whole world is at war. But experts believe this is actually almost universally the case, according to a think-tank which produces one of the world’s leading measures of “global peacefulness” – and things are only going to get worse.

It may make for bleak reading, but of the 162 countries covered by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP’s) latest study, just 11 were not involved in conflict of one kind or another. Worse still, the world as a whole has been getting incrementally less peaceful every year since 2007 – sharply bucking a trend that had seen a global move away from conflict since the end of the Second World War.’

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US likely to arm Iraq’s new government with weapons to fight ISIS

Spencer Ackerman reports for The Guardian:

‘Iraq’s post-Nouri al-Maliki government is likely to receive accelerated shipments of missiles, guns and ammunition, according to US officials. Internal deliberations are said to continue within the Obama administration over the details and scope of a defense aid package to a yet-unformed successor government led by Haider al-Abadi, who will inherit a country under assault from the army of the Islamic State (Isis).

A State Department official said the administration has been “looking to see what we can accelerate”, adding that much depends on the composition of a new Iraqi government. Obama administration deliberations are said to draw short, for now, of expanding US air strikes against Isis beyond the outskirts of Irbil and Mt Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis remain stranded. It is also unlikely that planned shipments of F-16 fighter jets will greet Abadi at the end of a 30-period mandated for the formation of a government.’

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The Pentagon is adding to its arsenal of weapons in Norway’s caves

Dan Lamothe reports for The Washington Post:

‘In the heart of Norway’s countryside, the U.S. military is bolstering its arsenal of weapons with tanks, gun trucks and other armored vehicles along with hundreds of containers of equipment. The Marine Corps is overseeing the effort, which expands the existing Marine Corps Prepositioning Program. It stashes weapons, vehicle and armor in several locations across the world, including Norway, which first signed an agreement with the United States to do so in 1981, Marine officials said.

The equipment is kept in climate-controlled caves in central Norway, giving the Marines equipment that is closer than the East Coast to use in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Much of what stored in the caves was pulled out and sent to the Middle East ahead of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. It also bolsters the amount of military equipment in Norway as tensions with nearby Russia remain high.

[...] The planned U.S. military expansion in Norway has been under discussion since 2013, Marine officials said.[...] The U.S. military has  more than 700,000 square feet of facilities in Norway, including six climate-controlled caves and two airfields. The Norwegians have maintained the equipment there with the understanding that if they were invaded, U.S. troops will defend them using it.’

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Clearing WWII’s explosive legacy in the Pacific

Neil Sands reports for AFP:

‘The rusting hulks of tanks and field artillery are a common sight in the jungles of Peleliu, but the fighting that scarred the Pacific island in WWII also left a more dangerous legacy — unexploded bombs. A Japanese airfield made the 10-kilometre (six-mile) long island a prized asset during the conflict, with the Americans determined to seize it at any cost.

The island — about an hour’s boat ride from the Palau capital Koror — underwent months of aerial and naval bombardment before US marines launched an amphibious invasion in September 1944 that was expected to take just three days. Instead, the assault dragged on for almost three months and became one of the bloodiest encounters in the Allied “island hopping” campaign, claiming about 13,000 Japanese and 3,000 American lives.’

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US silently continues Apache helicopter shipments to Egypt

Ken Klippenstein and Paul Gottinger report for Middle East Eye:

‘[...] Congress approved the release of $572 million in aid to the Egyptian government in June, but the remainder of the $1.5 billion in aid remains withheld pending John Kerry’s certification that Egypt was on the road to a democratic transition.

Apache helicopters had been part of the original arms freeze to Egypt announced by the State Department in October of 2013, which still includes M1-A1 tank parts, F16 jets, and Harpoon missiles.

Egypt has been seeking the release of the Apaches for months in order to assist their crackdown on the Sinai Peninsula. According to reports, Egypt has 34 Apache helicopters in its possession; however, 12 are not currently operating due to maintenance issues.’

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If Hiroshima was unnecessary, how to justify Nagasaki?

John LaForge writes for CounterPunch:

If shame is the natural response to Hiroshima, how is one to respond to Nagasaki, especially in view of all the declassified government papers on the subject? According to Dr. Joseph Gerson’s With Hiroshima Eyes, some 74,000 were killed instantly at Nagasaki, another 75,000 were injured and 120,000 were poisoned.

If Hiroshima was unnecessary, how to justify Nagasaki?

The saving of thousands of US lives is held up as the official justification for the two atomic bombings. Leaving aside the ethical and legal question of slaughtering civilians to protect soldiers, what can be made of the Nagasaki bomb if Hiroshima’s incineration was not necessary?’

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“War Makes Everyone Crazy”: Hiroshima Survivor Reflects on 69th Anniversary of U.S. Atomic Bombing

‘Sixty-nine years ago at 8:15 a.m., the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Destruction from the bomb was massive — shock waves, radiation and heat rays took the lives of some 140,000 people — nearly half of the town’s population. Three days later, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on the Japanese Nagasaki killing another 74,000. At Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, we hear from blast survivor Koji Hosokawa, who was 17 years old at the time. His 13-year-old sister, Yoko, died in the bombing. Hosokawa spoke to us next to the A-bomb Dome, one of the few structures in the city that survived the blast.’ (Democracy Now!)

Photos: Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Anniversary

An atomic cloud mushrooms over Hiroshima, in this photo taken from the Enola Gay flying over Matsuyama, Shikoku

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100 years since WWI, experts say shells still explosive

US set to woo India with classified info, intel swap

Shishir Gupta reports for The Hindustan Times:

‘As part of a deepening cooperation on defense, the United States has offered to create institutionalized links between its military intelligence and India’s and is willing to share classified information on the region, including Afghanistan-Pakistan and China. While the full scope of the offer will be made by US defense secretary Charles ‘Chuck’ Hagel during his three-day visit to India next week, secretary of state John Kerry hinted about the proposal to defence minister Arun Jaitley in their meeting last Thursday.

Hagel arrives Tuesday and leaves Saturday after meeting Jaitley, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, national security advisor Ajit Doval and Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, who is the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. US diplomatic sources said Hagel will aim to take defense cooperation beyond military hardware sales and transfer of technology under the so-called Defense Technology Initiative (DTI) to joint manufacturing of weapon systems in India under the 49% FDI route announced by Jaitley in the budget.’

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Cluster bombs still in use, report says

Rick Gladstone reports for The New York Times:

Cluster bombs, internationally banned weapons that can maim and destroy indiscriminately, not only have been frequently used for the past two years by government forces in the Syrian civil war but also appear to have been deployed this year by antagonists in the South Sudan and eastern Ukraine conflicts, the director of a leading disarmament advocacy group said Wednesday.

Despite progress in eradicating cluster bombs and persuading more nations to join the treaty that prohibits them, the director of the group, Sarah Blakemore of the Cluster Munition Coalition, said the widened use of the weapons this year was troubling.’

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Cluster Bombs: The Savage Legacy Of Israel’s 2006 Lebanon Bombardment

Marshall Islands Nuclear Lawsuit Reopens Old Wounds

Lucy Westcott reports for Newsweek:

RTR3MON6‘The Republic of the Marshall Islands, the tiny collection of Pacific Ocean atolls and a former nuclear testing ground for the United States, is taking on the U.S. and eight other nuclear-armed nations with a set of lawsuits, claiming that the countries have failed to move towards disarmament and a world without nuclear weapons.

But they aren’t seeking monetary compensation — millions of dollars, along with a series of medical programs and cleanup operations, have been provided by the U.S. since they detonated dozens of nuclear and atomic bombs over the islands. How helpful the money has been remains a controversial topic.

Instead, the David and Goliath lawsuit claims the U.S. and its nuclear counterparts has failed to comply with the 44-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, which seeks to eliminate the international cadre of nuclear weapons, and promote the peaceful use of nuclear power. Filed on April 24, 2014, it seeks peace and adopts the line: If not us, who? If not now, when?’

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DARPA spent over $1 billion trying to build Skynet in the 1980s

Matt Novak reports for Paleofuture:

DARPA Tried to Build Skynet in the 1980s

‘From 1983 to 1993 DARPA spent over $1 billion on a program called the Strategic Computing Initiative. The agency’s goal was to push the boundaries of computers, artificial intelligence, and robotics to build something that, in hindsight, looks strikingly similar to the dystopian future of the Terminator movies. They wanted to build Skynet.

Much like Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program, the idea behind Strategic Computing proved too futuristic for its time. But with the stunning advancements we’re witnessing today in military AI and autonomous robots, it’s worth revisiting this nearly forgotten program, and asking ourselves if we’re ready for a world of hyperconnected killing machines. And perhaps a more futile question: Even if we wanted to stop it, is it too late?’

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Latin America’s military is making a comeback

Simeon Tegel reports for The Global Post:

‘It was a momentous day for Latin America: On March 11, 1990, Augusto Pinochet, the region’s last military dictator, finally handed power to an elected civilian president. Since then, democracy has put down roots in the Americas to such an extent that few expect a repeat of the bloody coups that frequently punctuated the region’s history.

But now, across Latin America, the military is flexing its muscles once again and taking on more central roles in society, including in ways that experts warn are posing subtler risks to constitutional rule.

The most obvious way is the armed forces’ increasingly upfront participation in crime fighting, with the public, media and politicians demanding a “mano dura,” or firm hand, against rampant street violence and ruthless drug cartels.’

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US accuses Russia of violating 1987 nuclear treaty based on tests in 2008

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

‘In a move that seems timed more or less entirely to add to tensions with Russia, the Obama Administration has announced that it sent a letter to Russia accusing them of violating the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

The issue is a fairly old one, centering on tests Russia did of cruise missiles back in 2008. In January of this year, the US finally informed NATO that they were “conducting a review” of the tests, and it was only today that they finally decided the six-year-old tests were a “violation.”’

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Will robots fight Israel’s future wars?

Inbal Orpaz reports for Haaretz:

‘Just as advanced technology is changing the household, it’s also changing the battlefield. Some envision a day when robots will take over from all-too-vulnerable flesh and blood soldiers. While that day hasn’t arrived, and the army is silent about what it’s using now, the robots are out there: Israel, outmanned on the ground, is becoming a global expert on unmanned vehicles for land, sea and air.

…The Israeli army has long used robots in routine security missions. They can stay in the field. They don’t need lunch breaks. In short, the army’s goal is to replace grunts with gears as much as possible. Not only will soldiers’ lives be spared, points out robotics expert Isabelle Okashi, of the Israel Aerospace Industries robotics division: Machines don’t get bored and don’t cavil at messy missions. She believes that within five years, robots will be a routine part of the ground forces. She does not, however, buy “Terminator”-esque apocalyptic visions of wars being relegated to machine versus machine.’

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Japan still clearing World War II bombs from Okinawa

Matthew M. Burke and Chiyomi Sumida report for Stars & Stripes:

280714OKINAWA_BOMBphoto04‘World War II ended 69 years ago, but shells are still exploding off the coast of Okinawa. Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians detonated two dozen U.S.-made munitions Wednesday morning about 800 yards from shore in Kadena town’s Mizugama district, an area known as the “sea wall,” close to Kadena Air Base.

Nineteen of the 24 rounds were 5-inch shells found near the mouth of Hija River in Kadena town along with an 81 mm mortar shell, according to Kadena Town official Nobukazu Kobashigawa. They were accompanied by four 5-inch shells found on the Yomitan Village side. “It is not surprising to find those shells because the beach is where the allied forces first landed during the Battle of Okinawa,” Kobashigawa said. “I am sure there are lots more.”’

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How the Pentagon has been breaking the law for 24 years

Matt Purple writes for Rare:

‘In 1990, Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers Act. Its text noted the obvious: that “billions of dollars are lost each year through fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement,” and that “more effective general and financial management practices” were needed within the federal government. The law required a slew of government agencies to undergo a yearly audit. One of those agencies was the Pentagon.

Since then, the Pentagon hasn’t been audited a single time. Thanks to dodges by the Defense Department and a lack of enforcement by Congress, the 1990 requirement has been completely disregarded for 24 years. Now a group of fiscally conservative Republicans and anti-war Democrats are demanding compliance. Last week Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014. The legislation is backed by a curious left-right coalition rarely seen in Washington.’

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Greatest Protest Sign Of All Time

US Weaponizes Nearly Every Major World Conflict

Abby Martin reports on the militant group ISIS seizing 52 US-made heavy artillery cannons, going over several other examples of US weapons playing a role in almost every major global conflict.’ (Breaking the Set)

School Shootings and US Militarism

Chris Ernesto writes for CounterPunch:

‘In the 18 months [now 19 months] since twenty first-graders were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, there have been 74 shootings at U.S. schools.  That averages out to nearly one school shooting per week since the Newtown massacre. In response the 74th incident, which occurred at a high school in Oregon, president Obama said, “We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens,” and that lawmakers should be “ashamed” of not passing stricter gun control laws. Good for Obama for acknowledging something bad about the country he leads — maybe this will make him rethink his “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being” statement last month. But bad for Obama for turning this into a gun control issue.

It’s hard to take seriously a person who decries violence as a means of conflict resolution when that same person orders the assassination of his own citizens and drops bombs on innocent people in other countries.  A few hours after he lamented gun violence in the US he ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, which killed 13 human beings. So, it’s okay for the US to kill people in another country, but it’s not okay for Americans to kill people in their own country? Obviously, Obama is trying to capitalize on the school shootings as a way to gain political favor for his Democratic party, and to prevent people from talking about the real causes of violence in America. But Obama and Democrats aren’t the only ones trying to distract people from addressing the root causes of schoolyard massacres.  Republican lawmakers attempt to explain away the violence by saying the perpetrators are mentally ill and that more security is needed to stop these atrocities from happening.’

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Robotic ‘cows’ and drone vehicles are patrolling jungles with Marines

Dan Lamothe reports for The Washington Post:

‘More than a 1,000 U.S. Marines are participating in the Rim of the Pacific military exercises in and around Hawaii this month as 49 ships and six submarines from 23 countries test a variety of equipment and work to integrate it. It’s the robot on shore, however, that is getting an inordinate amount of buzz because of its funny looks and potential utility to U.S. troops pulling foot patrols.

Meet the Legged Squad Support System, or LS3. Developed by Boston Dynamics — which was bought out by Google late last year — it can carry as much as 400 pounds of equipment and enough fuel to walk 20 miles over 24 hours, the company says. It began a two-year testing phase in 2012 and is getting some serious work at RIMPAC under the supervision of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.’

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Lapses at high-security CDC labs reveal culture of negligence

Noelle Swan writes for Christian Science Monitor:

‘Revelations of safety breaches at federal biosecurity laboratories reveal gaping holes in safety protocols, a lack of independent oversight, and an apparent culture of hubris among researchers who work with dangerous biological agents, biosecurity experts say.

In the past week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced three separate incidents:

  • In June, scientists at the CDC’s Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Advanced Technology lab exposed 80 unprotected workers to pathogenic anthrax.
  • Weeks earlier, the CDC’s influenza lab shipped samples of a benign avian flu virus that had been cross-contaminated with more pernicious strain to a US Department of Agriculture facility.
  • Researchers at a Federal Drug Administration lab operated by National Institutes and Health uncovered long forgotten vials containing the smallpox virus circa 1954 that were supposed to be consigned to international repositories.

The incidents have shone a light on a broader issue of lapses in safety and security at bio labs operated and funded by the federal government.’

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New super-black material so dark it’s like staring ‘into a black hole’

Sebastian Anthony reports for Extreme Tech:

‘At a nondescript industrial park in south England, scientists have created a new super-black material — fashioned out of carbon nanotubes — that is so dark it’s like “looking at a black hole.” The material, called Vantablack, absorbs all but 0.035% of the incident light that bounces off it, meaning your eyes essentially can’t see it — you can only see the space around it, and then infer that there must be something occupying that eerie abyss. Vantablack’s first customers are in the defense and space sectors, where the material can be used to make a whole variety of stealth craft and weaponry, and more sensitive telescopes that can detect the faintest of faraway stars.’

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VA rejects link between Gulf War service and cancers

Kelly S. Kennedy reports for USA Today:

Soldiers with the U.S. Army's 7th Corps huddle in a bunker in eastern Saudi Arabia with gas masks and chemical suits just after U.S. planes started bombing Iraq on Jan. 18, 1991.‘The Department of Veterans Affairs has rejected a request from members of Congress and veterans advocates to make brain cancer, lung cancer and migraines presumptive conditions for Gulf War veterans. Officials said they cannot prove the high rate of these illnesses among Gulf War vets are related to military service.

VA officials said the number of brain cancer deaths for soldiers exposed to sarin gas was too low to be conclusive, though it was double the rate of soldiers not exposed. And the rate of lung cancer deaths, though 15 percent higher than those who did not serve in the 1991 Gulf War, is “inconclusive” because researchers did not know how many of the service members smoke.’

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