Friday, November 02, 2007

Nuclear Missiles Mistakenly Flown Across US.- Left Alone on Tarmac

Nuclear missiles mistakenly flown across US.- Left Alone on Tarmac

By Megan Levy and agencies21/10/2007The US Air Force has disciplined 70 airmen after a B-52 bomber armed with nuclear missiles was mistakenly flown across the US.
Nuclear warheads were mounted on the B-52's wingThe Air Force acknowledged an unprecedented breakdown in procedures that led to the August 29-30 incident, in which the bomber was flown from Minot, near the Canadian border, to Barksdale in Louisiana.Six cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads were loaded onto the B-52 before it sat overnight at Minot.

The bomber flew the next morning to Louisiana, where it sat on a tarmac for hours before anyone noticed the nuclear warheads.The missiles were supposed to have been taken to Louisiana but the warheads should have been removed beforehand.

The crew flying the plane was unaware nuclear warheads were on its wing.The incident was so serious that President George W. Bush and Defence Secretary Robert Gates were informed immediately.Among those disciplined were four officers who were relieved of their commands following an investigation that found widespread disregard for the rules on handling weapons.

Announcing the results of the six-week probe into the incident, Maj. Gen. Richard Newton, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, said the flight resulted from an "unprecedented string of procedural errors."The errors began with a failure by airmen to conduct a required inspection of the missiles before they were loaded aboard the B-52 bomber at Minot, he said.advertisement"There has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base," he said.

Among the officers who were relieved of their commands this week was the 5th Bomb Wing commander at Minot, while some 65 airmen have been decertified from handling nuclear weapons.The certification process looks at a person's psychological profile, any medications they are taking and other factors in determining a person's reliability to handle weapons.An official said that security was increased as soon as the nuclear warheads were discovered.

The Air Combat Command ordered a command-wide stand-down to set aside time for personnel to review procedures, officials said.Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said it was an unacceptable mistake and a "clear deviation from our exacting standards".
"We hold ourselves accountable to the American people and want to ensure proper corrective action has been taken."Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairwoman of the House of Representatives Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said she believed the Air Force had done a thorough investigation, but the findings were "a warning sign that there has been degradation" of attitudes toward the handling of the weapons.
"These are not just rules that people dreamed up ... just so they could check off the boxes," she said. "This is fundamentally important to the security of the country and the world."
The weapon involved was the Advanced Cruise Missile, a "stealth" weapon developed in the 1980s with the ability to evade detection by Soviet radar.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The War on Pot: America's $42 Billion Annual Boondoggle

By Rob Kampia, AlterNet

What would you buy if you had an extra $42 billion to spend every year? What might our government buy if it suddenly had that much money dropped onto its lap every year?

For one thing, it might pay for the entire $7 billion annual increase in the State Children's Health Insurance Program that President Bush is threatening to veto because of its cost -- and there'd still be $35 billion left over.

Or perhaps you'd hire 880,000 schoolteachers at the average U.S. teacher salary of $47,602 per year.

Or give every one of our current teachers a 30 percent raise (at a cost of $15 billion, according to the American Federation of Teachers) and use what's left to take a $27 billion whack out of the federal deficit.

Or use all $42 billion for a massive tax cut that would put an extra $140 in the pockets of every person in the country -- $560 for a family of four.

The mind reels at the ways such a massive sum of money could be put to use.

Why $42 billion? Because that's what our current marijuana laws cost American taxpayers each year, according to a new study by researcher Jon Gettman, Ph.D. -- $10.7 billion in direct law enforcement costs, and $31.1 billion in lost tax revenues. And that may be an underestimate, at least on the law enforcement side, since Gettman made his calculations before the FBI released its latest arrest statistics in late September. The new FBI stats show an all-time record 829,627 marijuana arrests in 2006, 43,000 more than in 2005.

That's like arresting every man, woman and child in the state of North Dakota plus every man, woman, and child in Des Moines, Iowa on marijuana charges ... every year. Arrests for marijuana possession -- not sales or trafficking, just possession -- totaled 738,916. By comparison, there were 611,523 arrests last year for all violent crimes combined.

Basing his calculations mainly on U.S. government statistics, Gettman concludes that marijuana in the U.S. is a $113 billion dollar business. That's a huge chunk of economic activity that is unregulated and untaxed because it's almost entirely off the books.

Of course, the cost of our marijuana laws goes far beyond lost tax revenues and money spent on law enforcement. By consigning a very popular product -- one that's been used by about 100 million Americans, according to government surveys -- to the criminal underground, we've effectively cut legitimate businesspeople out of the market and handed a monopoly to criminals and gangs.

Strangely, government officials love to warn us that some unsavory characters profit off of marijuana sales, while ignoring the obvious: Our prohibitionist laws handed them the marijuana business in the first place, effectively giving marijuana dealers a $113 billion free ride.

All this might make some sense if marijuana were so terribly dangerous that it needed to be banned at all costs, but science long ago came to precisely the opposite conclusion. Compared to alcohol, for example, marijuana is astonishingly safe. For one thing, marijuana is much less addictive than alcohol, with just nine percent of users becoming dependent, as opposed to 15 percent for booze. And marijuana is much less toxic. Heavy drinking is well-documented to damage the brain and liver, and to increase the risk of many types of cancer. Marijuana, on the other hand, has never caused a medically documented overdose death, and scientists are still debating whether even heavy marijuana use causes any permanent harm at all. And then there's violence. Again, the scientific findings are overwhelming: Booze incites violence and aggression; marijuana doesn't.

Despite all that, we now arrest one American every 38 seconds on marijuana charges. And we do so at a staggering cost in law enforcement expenses, lost tax revenues, and staggering profits for criminal gangs.

The alternative is clear: Regulate marijuana just as we do beer, wine, and liquor. The only thing lacking is the political will.