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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

News of Interest 9/4/07

Yet again, we have the ugly face of imperialism hidden behind a facade of human rights. The heat ray will be more humane, we are told. A more humane way for the elite to impose their will on the world? I'm not buying it and every day the new weapon is kept out of the hands of soldiers, the better. Note that some officers have "asked for the system as part of a broader weapons package on wheels, one that could shoot bullets as well as the non-lethal beam."
Pentagon Nixes Ray Gun Weapon in Iraq
In October 2004, the commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force "enthusiastically" endorsed Natonski's request. Lt. Gen. James Amos said it was "critical" for Marines in Iraq to have the system.

Senior officers in Iraq have continued to make the case. One December 2006 request noted that as U.S. forces are drawn down, the non-lethal weapon "will provide excellent means for economy of force."

The main reason the tool has been missing in action is public perception. With memories of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal still fresh, the Pentagon is reluctant to give troops a space-age device that could be misconstrued as a torture machine.
More "non-lethal" tech deployed, this time against kids in the seat of the empire.
Now police are told they can use Taser guns on children
Police have been given the go-ahead to use Taser stun guns against children. The relaxing of restrictions on the use of the weapons comes despite warnings that they could trigger a heart attack in youngsters. Until now, Tasers - which emit a 50,000-volt electric shock - have been used only by specialist officers as a "non lethal" alternative to firearms.
When First World fuel tanks compete with Third World stomaches, we know who's going to lose.
The looming food crisis
But the surge in demand for agrofuels such as ethanol is hitting the poor and the environment the hardest. The UN World Food Programme, which feeds about 90m people mostly with US maize, reckons that 850m people around the world are already undernourished. There will soon be more because the price of food aid has increased 20% in just a year. Meanwhile, Indian food prices have risen 11% in a year, the price of the staple tortilla quadrupled in Mexico in February and crowds of 75,000 people came on to the streets in protest. South Africa has seen food-price rises of nearly 17%, and China was forced to halt all new planting of corn for ethanol after staple foods such as pork soared by 42% last year.

In the US, where nearly 40 million people are below the official poverty line, the Department of Agriculture recently predicted a 10% rise in the price of chicken. The prices of bread, beef, eggs and milk rose 7.5 % in July, the highest monthly rise in 25 years.

"The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists, who want to maintain their mobility, and its two billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive, is emerging as an epic issue," says Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute thinktank, and author of the book Who Will Feed China?

It is not going to get any better, says Brown. The UN's World Food Organisation predicts that demand for biofuels will grow by 170% in the next three years. A separate report from the OECD, the club of the world's 30 richest countries, suggested food-price rises of between 20% and 50% over the next decade, and the head of Nestlé, the world's largest food processor, said prices would remain high as far as anyone could see ahead.

A "perfect storm" of ecological and social factors appears to be gathering force, threatening vast numbers of people with food shortages and price rises. Even as the world's big farmers are pulling out of producing food for people and animals, the global population is rising by 87 million people a year; developing countries such as China and India are switching to meat-based diets that need more land; and climate change is starting to hit food producers hard. Recent reports in the journals Science and Nature suggest that one-third of ocean fisheries are in collapse, two-thirds will be in collapse by 2025, and all major ocean fisheries may be virtually gone by 2048. "Global grain supplies will drop to their lowest levels on record this year. Outside of wartime, they have not been this low in a century, perhaps longer," says the US Department of Agriculture.

In seven of the past eight years the world has actually grown less grain than it consumed, says Brown. World stocks of grain - that is, the food held in reserve for times of emergency - are now sufficient for just over 50 days. According to experts, we are in "the post- food-surplus era".
Note that the threat is not just limited to the frozen northern reaches...
Global Warming Might Spur Earthquakes and Volcanoes
Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and landslides are some of the additional catastrophes that climate change and its rising sea levels and melting glaciers could bring, a geologist says.

The impact of human-induced global warming on Earth's ice and oceans is already noticeable: Greenland's glaciers are melting at an increasing rate, and sea level rose by a little more than half a foot (0.17 meters) globally in the 20th century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

With these trends in ice cover and sea level only expected to continue and likely worsen if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, they could alter the stresses and forces fighting for balance in the ground under our feet—changes that are well-documented in studies of past climate change, but which are just beginning to be studied as possible consequences of the current state of global warming.
As the US steadily marches towards war - potentially nuclear war - with Iran, it's worth considering the fates of others that have fallen under the shadow of the mushroom cloud.
Inside the nuclear underworld: Deformity and fear
Decades of Soviet nuclear testing unleashed a plague of birth defects. When the Soviet Union tested its nuclear devices, it chose eastern Kazakhstan, one of its remotest, most desolate areas. But no one bothered to evacuate the people living there.

The testing began in 1949 at a site known as Polygon and continued until 1989. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, there were 456 tests, including 116 nuclear bombs tested above ground. The Polygon site officially closed on August 29, 1991 -- 16 years ago this week.
Here's something to keep you up at night: What if the accidental launch of a nuclear missile triggered an automatic nuclear holocaust in retaliation?
The Return of the Doomsday Machine?
And even back then, the "doomsday machine" was regarded as a scary conjectural fiction. Not impossible to create—the physics and mechanics of it were first spelled out by U.S. nuclear scientist Leo Szilard—but never actually created, having a real existence only in such apocalyptic nightmares as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.

In Strangelove, the doomsday machine was a Soviet system that automatically detonated some 50 cobalt-jacketed hydrogen bombs pre-positioned around the planet if the doomsday system's sensors detected a nuclear attack on Russian soil. Thus, even an accidental or (as in Strangelove) an unauthorized U.S. nuclear bomb could set off the doomsday machine bombs, releasing enough deadly cobalt fallout to make the Earth uninhabitable for the human species for 93 years. No human hand could stop the fully automated apocalypse.

An extreme fantasy, yes. But according to a new book called Doomsday Men and several papers on the subject by U.S. analysts, it may not have been merely a fantasy. According to these accounts, the Soviets built and activated a variation of a doomsday machine in the mid-'80s. And there is no evidence Putin's Russia has deactivated the system.

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