James Foley Beheaded, Journalists Tease Death in War

James FoleyJournalists and medical staff have special access in war zones and should not receive harm. Many conventions have been developed to protect them. One of the lessons in war, odd though it may be, is the least harm you do, the more compassion you show the less hatred towards the oppressors. Since war is usually a divided issue, even within the country committing war, showing some sort of humanity indicates reluctance to just kill everyone period. It’s an odd dichotomy to be sure as some have said war is war. Yet, most are repugnant at shooting unarmed civilians, women, children, medical staff, and POWs. And journalists.

The Kurds have well utilized women as soldiers and Hamas has used civilian buildings and people to shield military personnel and weapons. Israel has used excessive force to sway the genocide sworn to them. In Japan, in WW II, from 100 to 200 thousand people died from nuclear bombs, and any other living thing that happened to be in the way, proving the US to also be ready to do what it takes with desperate and fearful abandon. Japan, fearing land evasion had begun filling its sea coastal caves with small boats carrying bombs, using citizens as suicide pilots.

Terrorists transgress humanity, long before the situation seems desperate, in the hopes they will shock people to compliance or scare others to stay away.

Hemingway wrote how grand it was to report on the Spanish war but since then the plethora of journalists risking their lives for a story has escalated dramatically. In 2001 Geraldo Rivera startled journalists by carrying a rifle in a war zone where 8 reporters had already died. His claim that he was in a dangerous place sounds ridiculous as how does carrying weapons make it less dangerous? Especially since modern war is not a place where you see your shooter and can shoot back like some face-to-face western. The best choice is to stay hidden or not be there, More radically it clouds the issue of whether a reporter is a combatant or not.

That journalists are not trained to fight in war makes it more difficult to understand why they would carry weapons or even be in war zones. When they are in danger, the military must decide whether to defend them and risk their own men or allow them the freedom to commit what can essentially be called passive suicide. It may seem reasonable that journalists should be allowed to make their own choices about engagement but they have a special privilege. The military does not allow sincere and willing citizens to catch a plane and join in combat or be bystanders to combat scenes.

The American desire for sensationalistic news and the rising competitiveness of young journalists to make a name in a difficult field encourages doing more and more dangerous activities. The old reporter who waits until the bullets lesson misses the story and photo that make the evening news. New reporters laugh at the old journalists still alive that wait at hotels having drinks until it’s safe to go out. It’s not quite like that but it is true that journalists are willing to take more risks than ever before.

65 journalists have died in Syria in 2012. 151 journalists died in Iraq. From 1992 to 2011 880 US journalists have died in war. Was the gripping photo worth it? Was receiving some news a little more early essential for the public’s assessment of what’s going on?

54 journalist died in World War II. A war that caused the death of between 50 and 80 million people, 20 to 25 million soldiers. It is an impossible comparison as no war since has begun to have that kind of death toll. By proportion the number is small.

The Islamic State has certainly capitalized on the capture and beheading of James Foley as yet another horror. They certainly must feel more important as the media blazes with anger and indignation.

The importance of getting the most immediate photos and story of war is balanced against a drama that elevates the status of terrorists to greater terror. Terrorists who were always willing to kill anything in their way.

Has it been worth it? Has the public benefited from the 1,000 deaths of journalists during the last 20 years? Do you feel better informed, more certain of the horrors of war, and more likely to make good decisions about any given war? For me, I would rather see them alive, returning  home, and continuing to support their families and society.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Ferguson, a Different Day

ferguson highway patrolIt took a crazy week of photo’s, tweets, and ground-up response to get people to realize the situation, and create response to it. The result was the county police were replaced by the highway patrol (typically better trained); the military and police weapons were left in their lockers; and an ad hoc person-of-color police chief walked with the protestors.

Witnesses described how the entire attitude changed from rage, fear, and loathing to a block-party atmosphere where people were taking selflies with cops and the police looked relaxed and even participatory in their fulfillment to allow people to protest peacefully.

With at least three most-likely unjustified killings of people in a week this was a welcome change. Those of us who followed along on social media could finally sleep. Was my rest justified? I am not sure. Will this create change or be lost?

Racism is so systemic it’s hard to acknowledge baby steps as useful. I have to be grateful for what does happen to the positive? I have to replace my cynicism that it was peaceful because citizens were near ecstatic to be free from teargas and tanks coming their way they’d just about do anything? I have to think that community organization, peacemaking skills, and activities of respect and care were genuine, not tactical and temporary?

While libertarians were pathetically silent for a week, when they did finally raise their pundit heads they too spoke against militarization and excessive government interference in protests. Finally, except for those too racist or authoritarian  to care, there was a collective demand for change. The president spoke in whispers but nevertheless expressed his position towards legal, constitutional, and humane ways of dealing with protesting people. People who were justifiably angry at the police recalcitrance to be transparent about their activities, much less show concern to the reaction.

I have written how modern Euro-American slavery and racism were different from the past. In short. Until the advent of colonialism slavery was of conquered people, most often women and children, and not based on color of the skin. The commonality of a Greek or Persian enslaving another person of the same color was more easy to remediate; it still took a coupled thousand of years. No doubt this racism of skin color was very much encouraged (caused?) by the patriarchal, authoritarian, and xenophobic positions of Abrahamic religions. This makes it very difficult to eliminate racism.

But I am getting distracted. What can we learn from this.

Racism is alive and well in America. If you don’t get this… hmm … I am not posting statistics and recounts of extreme and everyday examples. Let Ferguson be the example for now.

Protesting is a positive tradition in America. From the individualist Thoreau’s Conscientious Civil Disobedience, to the union Homestead Steel Strike, to activist Rosa Parks our history is filled with protesting on all levels. Indeed, the very fabric of this began with stealing and tossing tea into the ocean, (an act the Tea party has stolen and misused.)

For those who allow oppressive responses because of looting, remember our country was founded on acts of looting. From John Smith capturing Native Americans to make them provide them food to modern corporations stealing labor value.

Taxation without representation is wrong. The incredible disparity between those who pay taxes and appropriate representation is astounding. What I mean is every political office should have equal representation of taxpayers.

Civil protests are not war. The ease with which humans can turn on each other is astounding. It has been tempting to say this has been for economics but invasions have often occurred for ego, greed, and blind aggression. A civil protest is not an invasion. Protestors are your family, your friends, and your citizens, who seek change, not destruction. We are all equal brothers and sisters in our democracy.

Tear gas, illegal in war, and militarization of the police is not only counterproductive and inhumane, it is illegal–war can only be declared by the president or the congress.

A republic representative represents its constituents. Representatives must be mindful of helping their members understand constitutionality, law, and due process (a triple redundancy.) Local governments follow suit with administration reflecting the demographics of their jurisdiction.

US constitutional democracy protects the rights and participation of the people. Martin Luther King reflected that every refrigerator should display the Bill of Rights. This is the glorious balance against tyranny of the majority and tyranny of the minority. These rights and philosophies insist on equality of representation regardless. The constitution is boring in its detail of voting process to ensure equality. Adjustment has been needed as racism and other inequities have slipped through its cracks. An example of this is gerrymandering where voting districts do not represent the people within.

In Ferguson, there were 53 police, three of whom were people of color. The mayor and police chief were white. Ferguson is 70% people of color, 50% women.

Both Senators are white. One of them is a woman. Missouri is 83% white and 51% female. However, since minority rights are protected and to be represented, even on the state level, concern and even deference must be made to nonwhites. It would seem obvious the goal of  50% of politicians over all levels should be women and one of five nonwhite.

Political education, including gender and minority, is essential. An uninformed public cannot vote effectively. The government cannot demand that all senators and congressmen be 50% women or 12% POC, to reflect demographics, education must inculcate, yes I mean inculcate, the foundational thinking of our governance. It would seem obvious but since it is not there must be education and if necessary adjustments to balance. Equal Opportunity tried to do this, and the Equal Rights Amendment failed for all the wrong reasons.

Yes, equal divisions may not wish to run for office. This is not a wall but an indication of the ongoing need to structure politics and education to ensure representation.

These are political basics. Drilling down to political and human ethics there are several social and psychological processes we can learn from Ferguson.

Use no more police force than necessary. The overwhelming display of power and force by the Ferguson police created a pushback that could not possibly be equal except by theft and violence. Thank goodness more protesters were not armed, or chose to leave them at home. Raising hands was a brilliant display of cool headedness to demonstrate the desire for peaceful protest. If the police had responded likewise Ferguson might have been diffused.

Part of force is psychological. Had the police immediately suspended the offending officer, revealed his name, or admitted they might have done something wrong, or displayed efforts to remediation, the people might have trusted what justice could be done in a still racist society.

Understanding and countering the biases and prejudices in people helps clarify positions and create agreement.

Peacemaking skills are essential to police training and conflict resolution.

At the end of the week what prevented more deaths in Ferguson was the protestors stuck with peacefulness and the police began to use peacemaking skills. That along with a lot of outside pissed people demanding change.

As anger and retaliation escalates the appropriate response is to yield, find common ground, and demonstrate respect and care. The goal always is to lower levels of anger to create paths of communication and empathy both ways, towards change.

While weaponry may be essential it is the absolute last response. A person seeing a weapon aimed at them may see they have nothing left to lose to gain freedom and respond the only way they can, creating harm for themselves and others. Far better to not trap people and provide an exit.

This respect includes the trust that one person is not superior to another. By showing this, people will return respect. Was saving the face of a police officer worth the response? The officer involved expressed regret early on but this was hidden. In restorative justice, versus the too typical punitive justice, immediate communication and action to concern, care, and compassion gains valuable time and immediate response to concerns.

Understanding that long felt prejudices, whether you understand them or not, create hostility and what may seem inappropriate responses, shows willingness to listen and negotiate. Enfranchising people and empowering discourse creates a sense of safety that calms everyone down and allows all to participate.

Understanding that citizens are not trying to destroy their country lends tolerance of protesting and conscientious civil disobedience. The need for change and its expression is not always pleasant. Escalating that to a fear for public safety shutdowns all communication but the expressions of anger and violent demands for change.

Peacemaking skills acknowledge there will be disagreements, strong disagreements, and even, potentially, civil war. Peacemaking skills do not deny the importance of the disagreement and its passion but seek to create an environment of trust and care where both parties can communicate effectively towards a mutual goal or process.

This does not mean whitewashing or shoving issues under the table which can result in even greater pushback. It means providing some immediate satisfaction while working to long term solutions. It means allowing people to express themselves, taking the time to listen.

A common example of this, consider you have a car accident and kill someone. The one side feels you have killed a family member. You may have done it by accident or negligence. The common way is to not communicate and let the police and courts decide. A better way would be to immediately show remorse, empathy, support, and help participate in remediation long before the court dates where rage and defensiveness have festered, often for months, creating an entrenched view that will last a lifetime. Maybe help to pay for the funeral or other expenses. Stay away if that’s requested.

Since this process is difficult without intervention, the police, firemen, and rescue staff must be trained in interpersonal communication and effective negotiation. Community leaders can act as liaisons and facilitators.

That this failed in Ferguson is evidenced by the overwhelming response by many military and policemen that what went down was the worst possible response.

For myself, I am glad more people didn’t die. I encourage all of you to continue to fight racism on all levels, including, at least, everyday actions like eye contact, courtesy, and criticism of racist talk and actions.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

The Grand, New, American Police State

riot_policeIn case you wondered how the police got militarized, they didn’t ask the people if they wanted it. They took Homeland Security and other terrorist-war funds, and bipartisan fear, as permission to arm themselves for war at home. Vets have commented the police are now better armed than they were in Iraq or Afghanistan. Now, instead of selling our weapons to other allies or hopeful allies, they just send them home. Wonder what will happen when an open-carry advocate becomes president and decides to wear a weapon to press club?

Do you feel safe? Safe from whom? This is a protestor not a terrorist!



This should help.

police militarization

They used to show up at your door like the left. Now they check for liquor licenses like the right.


I feel really safe now.



You think we would have figured it out from the Occupy protest. The police did not prosecute most protestors but put them on probation with automatic jail time if they protested again. It made the police look better but ensured protestors would not chance protesting again.


Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

The Three Myths: PostSexism, PostRacism & PostPoverty

fergusonThe desire to consider humanity has progressed feeds a blindness to issues remaining. Worse, this blindness makes people halt what progress there has been to a stasis of status quo complacency. If we are going to continue progress to allow freedom, equality, and food for all, we’re going to have to admit improvement can still be made; not spend our time talking about how worse it used to be to justify current ills.

Postsexism is the idea that things are pretty much better for both genders; we have eliminated the big issues with gender. Now that women can vote, get a credit card without a husband’s signature, and maybe even run for president things seem so much better. Now that men can be Mr Mommy, work fewer hours away from home, and share combat duty with women, things seem less male oriented.

The problem is this is like baking a cake halfway, maybe a quarter, and saying it’s done. In blind obliviousness we see the liquid mix and switch to a spoon as if it were the natural way to eat cake. Women having children really does break up a career flow and selfjustifies companies seeking unattached men, women, whether married or not. Men really do want to work excessively and competitively in order to make more money and gain fame. Women competing for this are still held accountable for their body and gender issues that could be overcome to the benefit of all.

Women need to toughen their skin and be ready for anything just as men used to in those rough and tumble times of the Old West when even a farmer was supposed to carry a rifle in the fields, and women shouldn’t open the door to a stranger. We lock our cars so they won’t get stolen, why not make women dress less provocatively to prevent assault, or keep them out of view like the jewel in the safe? Men are naturally aggressive to deal with the horrors of war, and this must be allowed during peace or they lose the easy ability to bloodlust; why make pacifists when there will be war?

This genderism runs so deep that some feminists, young and old, spend horrendous amounts of time discussing whether a trangender person is appropriating the female body, and most stupidly which bathroom should they use. We are so progressive we can’t even get over the viewing of another’s body.

It all sounds ridiculous when phrased this way but when you look at the current statistics of gender inequality, inherent male-centeredness, and the constant lack of equal numbers, this parody of current equality and destruction of male rule is hollow. We really have a long way to go.  That we don’t beat women in public or empower men to beat women in public, to show they have authority, is no excuse to say we’ve made it, and dismiss those who insist there must be more.

With a POC president we must have entered postracism? There are so many more POC in the country their mere presence makes it seem like they have power. Yet, a POC president doesn’t mean a huge group of people don’t wish him dead or call him mongrel with sincerity; a president who has received more death threats than any other; who has had to supress press attendance to avoid constant atopical attack.

The recent murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson shows how well the police have learned from race riots of the past. Trained by the military, weaponized by the military, and loaded with the fear of terrorism, police now are para commandos, dropping in from nowhere and treating everyone like an embedded terrorist. Terrorists have no rights and are not entitled to due process. The fear of terrorists causes us to suspect everyone as a mole or possible insurgent. We cannot even let our kids play in the streets anymore. Mothers who leave kids in a park are arrested for negligence. If this isn’t a hidden and tolerated police state what is?

With only 3 of 53 police being black in Ferguson you would hope Americans would remember the American mantra of “no taxation without representation” as it applies to societal involvement. Yeah, Ferguson with 70% POC and a white mayor and police chief.

POC get it the worst. Postcivil war sentimentality and angst justifies a blind anger at both the North and POC. The so called flooding of border crossings lends the aura of being attacked by another welfare-ready group of dependents. Never mind that immigrants tend to be more productive than natives; never mind that we have often opened and closed the borders in a whimsical tumult of desire and discard for decades.

How easy to blame women and POC for not leaning in, not having grit, and guilty of behavioral entitlement. Just look, the performance isn’t there. If this poor black person can make it so can everyone. The “can do” motivation of optimist bias helps and hinders. It encourages those who want a push but it blames those who can’t benefit from mind warp. A white man or woman with grit who leans in is going to have a far better chance of success because of the situation and not because he or she has better motivation. Emphasizing the opposite anchors the debate in politics of gumption where the individual is at fault for lack of success.

My daughter is watching “Ella Enchanted” now. Supposedly a good movie with social commentary on the idea of women and obedience that can be extrapolated to all of us, if we are imaginative. Yet, the evil one who places a curse on her is a POC woman, the only POC in the movie. These subtle (not so subtle) messages reinforce racism in deep ways that few can express as source when confronted.

Postpoverty advocates state we are so wealthy now no one dies from starvation. Poor kids wear $300 sneakers and bright bling. Almost every home has a TV–with its constant messaging of buy more. Welfare means they won’t starve. That no one sees this as the opposite shows how we have hidden the ugly realities from view. Vagrancy laws, loitering laws, and constant harassment for minor public infringements ensure that we don’t see how people really live. People look at children in India remarking how clever they are to mine junk heaps and repurpose crap as if it were something to emulate here, not realizing it is totally illegal and is enforced here.

We don’t want to see the poor on the street. It leads to more crime and makes us look bad. If we allowed open begging, sleeping, and residence on the streets we too would look more honest. Getting the ugly out of sight makes it so much nicer for those who have it. Using the rubric of safety makes it common sense, sufficient and necessary.

The largest disparity of income in history seems to create a sense of awe and desire rather than a deep distaste for unfairness. The poor blames themselves for not making it. They want the dream of wishing to win the capitalist lottery rather than dealing with their near permanent entrenchment and disability to change it. Tearing down the wealthy feels like eliminating the road to wealth. The poor fight back on the trivial front of saying they should have the freedom to work for $5 an hour if they chose, as if it were some basic freedom that would allow them to rise out of poverty.

That the rich think they are entitled to all funds capitalized off the backs of the many shows a far deeper entitlement than the so called lackadaisical attitude of those who really can’t get more without assistance, and soon get used to it because there are no opportunities on the horizon. There must be more.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Can Atheist Corp’s Exclude Religious Offenses?

supreme-court-corporate-interestCourts have used two measures in the past to deal with religious exclusions. Sincerity and tradition. Atheists would need to show proof of sincerity and a history of action to that end. The concern has always been (is) that people can make claims of sincerity without real history to gain exclusions. Eg, just because I join a pothead church online doesn’t mean I get a tax break or I can smoke pot as excluded sacrament.

What corporations are not in place to do is create world-view position statements that consolidate directors, but what about stockholders, and prove the company has a religious position. The separation of stockholders as economically interested only, continues the separation of owners to liability which was the original reason for corp’s.

Once the company can have assertive rather than protective positions the company has effectively become a union, lobbying for the best wishes of owners.

Wealth capitalists have effectively castrated or eliminated the vast majority of labor unions and have shown great progress in making a corporation not just a person but a union man, where union is of owners. Just another name for empire.

It used to be assumed that corp’s thought they had sufficient might as to not need unions but rather conquest through trusts. In fear that wealth is at end, corp’s now hoard all capital such as to endure times they can’t compete for better profit margins.

When product sales fail, corp’s gain power by coalescing across product boundaries to gain support for growing antipathy to system by people.

Corp’s become balkanized simply as protection against rabble even as rabble loses power. The feedback is concern that as rabble retreats they eventually revolt ending game. Push to powerlessness and legal disenfranchisement but tension is how far to push.

As soon as a corp has identity and brand name then survival becomes its prime directive as the corp as individual doesn’t ever wish to lose autonomy. Or one penny of its wealth with excuse that it is shareholder’s.

The push to preserve profit margin will always foster survival mode mentality in corp’s, sooner or later.

In the old world atheists have had to show sincerity and tradition. Now, who knows? Well, but for the rabid Catholicism of the Roberts Five.

The current need to show western civilization as arising because of Abraham means their sense of history, tradition and sincerity, will be just that.

The intersection of this new world with the old world will become the proverbial clusterfuck.

With the women of the court clucking loudly in brilliant dissent and stating that it is a gender issue, echoing support to Elliot Rodger as logical misogynist zealot, in everyday sexism made SCOTUS, there is more proof that numbers count even when so called cooler heads prevail.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com

Biggest Threat of Nuclear Blast, Pakistan

Inuclear_explosiont’s been a long time since I was in school and had to practice nuclear bomb preparedness. Hiding under a desk didn’t seem to have much point when everyone knew if the blast didn’t get you the radiation would. I guess doing nothing as something gave a sense of involvement and control.

My grandfather an avid historian would argue with the family about how many societies before thought they were on the existential cusp, with various diseases, droughts, and warfare involving new and exciting means of destroying more for less. But in this modern case it seemed like we really knew the planet was finite and that it could be sterilized. Countering, he said that geographic boundaries were often considered absolute. A people literally did not know there was a world beyond. Somehow it seemed more comforting more real that we really knew that this was it and we had to make it not happen.

The thing about the bomb was its indiscriminate ability to kill. The blast killed; the radiation killed; the drifting winds of radiation killed; radiated contaminants killed. There was just no end to the horrors. It was like a chess board move that just blew up half the board with no one knowing for sure who would be killed. A desperate move that would escalate to planetary suicide since no one would get out alive.

If there hand’t been the images of the bomb blasts going off over and over I doubt if people would have ever believed that such power was possible. Sadly Christians did relate to it as evidence of a possible armageddon. If a human bomb could be so vast imagine what god could do.

The fear then was Russia and that there could be some newly invented bomb that was more focused with large, dangerous radioactively. While the bomb was inevitably dirty many thought it could be controlled and time was of the essence. On the other side, a bit later, it would be the neutron bomb, which was ingenuously a shock bomb of short length radiation that killed life forms but left buildings and infrastructures intact. It was too ghoulish an image for society to take and that path was never chosen.

My aunt who worked at Los Alamos as a Phd neutron physicist always regretted that political decision. A bomb that didn’t spread radiation for centuries was an improvement as was the preservation of infrastructure. The point in war after all was not to destroy everything but only the military with just enough force and no more. While Americans were more than willing to use children and women, civilians, in war the US had a mercenary, class view of war where only soldiers fought and killing civilians was grounds for court martial. Yet, civilians were trained to fight and participate should a ground attack occur.

It was assumed that war would happen. There is no long time in history when it hasn’t.

The defeated and impossible Star Wars idea wasn’t really much better with its space-sided missile and laser launchers that supposedly had precision accuracy. The so called “peace—” weapons, an ode to George Orwell’s use of war as peace propaganda in “1984″ was felt true by conservatives, making you wonder whether they were asleep in English or Civics class.

The Berlin wall came down and all of those nuclear weapons languished. Movies came and went about theft of plutonium, the ease of making a bomb, a mistaken triggering, and the too easy possibility of some nutso finding the right button and pushing it.

Until Iran and Korea decided they wanted bombs. Now to a peacenik it would seem crazy to allow anyone to make any more bombs, elevating the general tension of nuclear threat. Yet, some world leaders thought Iran having the bomb would make peace more secure as their inferiority complex was sated and they no longer had to prove themselves to be world players. Sigh. Sometimes you don’t want the bomb to use but just to have a talking point of equality in power. It’s sick though.

With tension only escalating in both religious fervor and economic desperation it’s not hard to see nuclear annihilation as a still too-present gloom that hovers over us at all times. Nohm Chomsky poses environmental catastrophe and nuclear war as the the two greatest threats today and further that the most powerful societies are the least interested in resolution.

“These are issues that seriously threaten the possibility of decent human survival. One of them is the growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice, and the other is the threat of nuclear war, which has not declined, in fact it’s very serious and in many respects is growing,” Chomsky said.

He added that these threats are emanating from world’s most power countries while indigenous societies are trying to avoid them.

“It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards.”

“It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it,” he went on to add.

The banality of this threat made me wonder if I were to take bets on where a nuclear bomb would go  off first? I posed this to Taslima Nazreen who said write about it so here I am doing it after long intro.

The NTI Nuclear Threat Initiative mostly covers reducing danger or increasing safety. There is a danger in discussing the most dangerous nuclear country as it can provoke a variety of counterproductive reactions. Part of unilateral treaties is making every party feel equally powerful and thus hesitant to want more. However, you can be sure that nuclear strategists have careful actuarials of  nuclear scenarios. NTI’s take on understanding nuclear threats.

While it has been more than twenty years since the end of the Cold War, the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons continues to pose a serious global threat. The likelihood of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia has decreased, but the continued presence of large stockpiles makes the accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons a persistent risk. Many of the countries with smaller nuclear arsenals, such as India and Pakistan, are actively engaged in regional conflicts, making the possibility of regional nuclear war a concern. North Korea illicitly acquired nuclear weapons, and other countries, including Iran and Syria, have violated their nuclear safeguards commitments and are suspected of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities. In the post-9/11 world, the potential for catastrophic nuclear terrorism is also a serious threat. A number of efforts by governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations are underway to attempt to mitigate the nuclear threat—but significantly reducing the risk of nuclear weapons use will require the sustained long-term commitment of the entire international community.

NTI lists country profiles with overviews of biological, chemical, nuclear, and missile weapons. While these profiles have lots of information they don’t really compare and contrast dangers though one could infer them.

The number of nuclear weapons around, and their age, makes it statistically significant that accidents will occur. That 95% of these weapons are American or Russian wags a rather long finger. Robert Dodge and Ira Helfand

That said, the greatest imminent existential threat to human survival is potential of global nuclear war. We have long known that the consequences of large scale nuclear war could effectively end human existence on the planet. Yet there are more than 17,000 nuclear warheads in the world today with over 95% controlled by the U.S. and Russia. The international community is intent on preventing Iran from developing even a single nuclear weapon. And while appropriate to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, there is precious little effort being spent on the much larger and more critical problem of these arsenals.

Helfand in an opinion piece for CNN notes the possible extent of catastrophe.

In fact, the humanitarian consequences of even a limited nuclear war, such as a conflict in South Asia between India and Pakistan, involving just 100 Hiroshima-size bombs — less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal — would put 2 billion people’s lives and well-being at risk.

The local effects would be devastating. More than 20 million people would be dead in a week from the explosions, firestorms and immediate radiation effects. But the global consequences would be far worse.

The firestorms caused by this war would loft 5 million tons of soot high into the atmosphere, blocking out sunlight and dropping temperatures across the planet. This climate disruption would cause a sharp, worldwide decline in food production. There would be a 12% decline in U.S. corn production and a 15% decline in Chinese rice production, both lasting for a full decade. A staggering 31% decline in Chinese winter wheat production would also last for 10 years.

The resulting global famine would put at risk 870 million people in the developing world who are already malnourished today, and 300 million people living in countries dependent on food imports.

In addition, the huge shortfalls in Chinese food production would threaten another 1.3 billion people within China. At the very least there would be a decade of social and economic chaos in the largest country in the world, home to the world’s second largest and most dynamic economy and a large nuclear arsenal of its own.

A nuclear war of comparable size anywhere in the world would produce the same global impact. By way of comparison, each U.S. Trident submarine commonly carries 96 warheads, each of which is 10 to 30 times more powerful than the weapons used in the South Asia scenario. That means a single submarine can cause the devastation of a nuclear famine many times over.

Basically, any accident or intention is just too horrifying to bear. The fact that a few arms are enough counters the notion that a nuclear blast will be started as an act of specific war by large or well populated countries. For the most part they will have confidence that trade agreement, politics, and land wars will be sufficient. What could happen though is the age of the system could cause a device to trigger or allow for a terrorist to access old weapons poorly controlled. There is plenty of missing plutonium to worry about quickly made bombs. The only thing that makes it inherently more safe is the poisonous nature of radioactivity making it difficult to transport, and control, over the long term.

The other protection of large countries is their ability to spy and prevent nuclear weapon movements. For example, New York, Manhattan, since it is a prime target, has many radiation sensors able to detect weapons.

Since 2007, the Department of Homeland Security has poured more than $118 million into the NYPD-led Securing the Cities nuclear detection program.

The program pays for sensors — some stationary, some so small they are worn by first responders — that can detect unusual radiation as far as 150 miles from midtown Manhattan.

The sensors target both Hiroshima-style nuclear devices as well as “dirty” bombs — which use traditional explosives to spread radioactive material.

While GOP types and others like to banter Iran as a world threat, Iran or North Korea may not be the big threat.

A recent CNN poll revealed that more than three-quarters of the American public sees Iran and North Korea as “serious” threats while only 44 percent feels the same way about Russia. Indeed, fear of the Iranian threat in the United States is more widespread today than fear of the Soviet threat was in 1985, even though at that time the Soviet Union possessed the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and today Iran doesn’t have a single nuclear weapon.

The Foreign Policy Group created the NAT index (Nuclear Annihilation Threat) to try to assess the danger.

Our NAT Index is a relational metric that draws on four factors in determining the existential threats that nuclear-armed countries pose to one another: 1) the potential damage a country’s nuclear arsenal could cause to a target’s population; 2) the ability of a country to strike a target with ballistic missiles; 3) the presence of a strategic rivalry between the two countries; and 4) the risk of state failure in the country that is hypothetically attacking a target. The NAT Index can also be used to identify which nuclear-armed countries pose the greatest existential threats overall and which are the most vulnerable.

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, for example, is capable of inflicting higher levels of proportional damage to a country the size of Israel than a country the size of China because of geographic and demographic differences. Countries that are rivals of North Korea and are within range of its ballistic missiles face a greater existential threat from Pyongyang than those that are not. We factor in the risk of state failure because an unstable country’s leaders and governmental policies can change on a dime and destabilized regimes can lose command and control of their nuclear weapons, exposing the arms to theft or unauthorized use.

What’s interesting here is the emphasis on the stability of a country. The more desperate, the more revolutionary, or the more engaged in conflict, the more likely the use of nuclear weapons. It’s not just a possibility of an accident but a desperate measure when a people feel they have nothing left to lose. Nor did they discount the possible shifting of allies.

While our index accounts for the heightened existential risks created by rivalries, we do not assume that nuclear-armed allies pose no risks to one another. From a realist perspective, the military power of other states can never be safely ignored — especially with respect to weapons that possess such uniquely destructive power. Beyond realism’s admonishment that today’s allies could become tomorrow’s rivals, the risks of nuclear weapons accidents and misuse exist between both rivals and allies. While it may appear odd to consider Britain as a potential nuclear threat to the United States, remember that Pakistan is also a U.S. ally. In accounting for the threats that even allies’ nuclear weapons pose, our analysis reflects the view that all nuclear weapons — no matter who possesses them — present a grave international security threat.

America is not immune from making idiotic attempts to use nuclear weapons.

Nuclear terrorism is yet another problem. Terrorists can’t make a nuke. But they do know how to pit countries and eventually provoke them to an inadequate response. There’s no lacking of short-sighted politicians who can take that last step, for instance Republican Senator Steve Buyer who nudged the government after 9/11 to nuke Tora Bora caves, instead of sending a task force to Afghanistan.

The largest nuclear threat to the US is China and Russia simply because they have long range capability with the most weapons. As does France. Here a hijacked weapon could trigger an automatic response.

us nuclear threat


Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund maintains it’s the numbers and ease of escalation.


“The biggest nuclear threat to the American people might well be a Russian accidental or unauthorized attack or one in response to a false warning of a U.S. attack,” she said before mentioning the long-range missiles both countries have aimed at one another. “This posture is very risky because it allows each country to launch on warning of an incoming attack—and there could be a false warning. High alert levels also make an accidental or unauthorized attack more likely. If something goes wrong—and things do go wrong—the result could be a large U.S. or Russia attack on the other nation.”

She added, “By maintaining its weapons on high alert, the United States encourages Russia to do so as well. We are risking the destruction of our society by clinging to this cold war policy. The U.S. should change its policy and encourage Russia to follow suit.”

Pakistan comes on top though if you look at the world’s nuclear threat.

world nuclear threat

Pakistan is the most dangerous because of its combination of closeness to enemies, ally to China, and its failed state status.

In Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index, Pakistan is ranked 12th in terms of the risk of state failure and is the only nuclear-armed country labeled in “critical” condition. One recent Nuclear Threat Initiative study noted that the country faces “immense threats, both from insiders who may be corrupt or sympathetic to terrorists and from large-scale attacks by outsiders.”

While China, US and Russia are still dangerous, the volatility of Pakistan should make it our greatest current concern and not Iran or North Korea. Granted we should be concerned by all nuclear weapons.

Pakistan and India are in a collision course of prolonged enmity. Conservative publications will print warnings about Pakistan and then follow them up with exaggerated fears of Iran.

Today there is effective parity between India and Pakistan. The latter has more weapons, the former more advanced weapons. But the Pakistanis are engaged in a headlong rush to supersede the nuclear capability of their neighbour and present India with a fearsome nuclear threat. Pakistan is now as close to being a failed state as is possible without tipping over the edge. Politically it is chaotic. Economically it is in crisis. Socially it is imploding.

If Pakistan and India go to war, it is likely that China will partner with its ally Pakistan. This would prevent the US from interfering other than severing ties with Pakistan and perhaps China.

The American Thinker, a conservative group, has posted an opposing view of NAT saying it is too simple and conjecturing its political purpose is to support New START, a nuclear limit treaty. This again shows how much conservative Americans still view nuclear weapons in extent and scope as essential to diplomatic viability rather than seeking a means of eliminating them. In their minds it is also not true when Obama says we need not fear Iran as much as we do. Many believe a limited nuclear war is a possible response. This travesty of reason emphasizes just how important it is to get both information and desire for cooperation back in the media.

For some time the discussion of eliminating nuclear weapons has been stymied by the ease of making them. While modern weapons are more complicated, simple, dirty bombs of devastating effect can be made easily with the only issue being access to radioactive materials. In the 70′s it was a joke that any college student could make a bomb. The Smithsonian lists top 10 of the some 419 thefts gone wrong. But how many have gone right, how easy can it be?

“The elements of a perfect storm are gathering,” said former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, founder of the Washington- based Nuclear Threat Initiative, in an e-mail. “There is a large supply of plutonium and highly enriched uranium-weapons- usable nuclear materials spread across hundreds of sites in 32 countries, too much of it poorly secured. There is also greater know-how to build a bomb widely available, and there are terrorist organizations determined to do it.”

Greenpeace, the anti-nuclear environmental group, has shown the ease with which intruders could breach security at Electricite de France SA reactors. Activists on Dec. 5 exposed lapses at EDF nuclear reactors near Paris and in southern France, hiding inside one for 14 hours and unfurling a banner reading “Safe Nuclear Doesn’t Exist” on the roof of another.

While countries may align to treaties, small terrorist groups do not and need only find a few Kgs of fuel.

Because a terrorist needs only about 25 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium or 8 kilograms of plutonium to improvise a bomb, the margin of error for material accounting is small. There are at least 2 million kilograms (4.4 million pounds) of stockpiled weapons-grade nuclear material left over from decommissioned bombs and atomic-fuel plants, according to the International Panel on Fissile Materials, a nonprofit Princeton, New Jersey research institute that tracks nuclear material.

It is hard for me not to have the overall intuition that the money is on Pakistan.

Worse are the ideologies of religions that foment such great fear and hatred as to make their use seem important. As if any horror here is justifiable because of a book, or because they seek reward in the next world. If religions would let go of their need to control people’s lives on all levels there would be less willingness to destroy them when they disappoint.

Jim Newman, bright and well www.frontiersofreason.com