Tag Archive: mark shuster hi4e


 

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The wave of teacher protests in recent weeks has shown no signs of slowing down.  School districts in Oklahoma and Kentucky were forced to close due to statewide teacher sickouts.  Thousands of Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers rallied Monday at their state capitals, demanding more education funding for students.  Many say they’ll keep fighting until lawmakers meet their demands.

The state of Oklahoma has the lowest average teacher salaries in the US with many teachers saying they have not received a pay raise in 10 years.  Many say that the lack of funding and low wages keep new teachers out of their districts which have seen classroom sizes swell to 40 kids because of teacher shortages.

The Oklahoma teachers union wants $10,000 raises for teachers, $5,000 raises for support staff such as janitors and cafeteria workers and $200 million in education funding.  Ultimately, the governor signed legislation last week granting teachers’ pay raises of about $6,100, raises of $1,250 for support staff and $50 million in education funding.  The state’s two largest school districts, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, announced that schools would be closed Monday as the strike enters its second week.

In an effort to produce for state revenue so more can be allocated to education funding, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), working in collaboration with lawmakers, is seeking to end the strike by Tuesday following Friday’s passage of a revenue and tax bill that is expected to raise $20 million from an internet sales tax and $24 million from the legalization of “ball and dice” gambling in the state.  The union praised the senate’s action on Friday and called for two additional measures of removing capital gains exemptions, saying that this would add an additional $100 million in revenue, and for Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to veto the repeal of a tax on guests at hotels and motels—another regressive measure.

Meanwhile, more than 30 Kentucky school districts had schools close after massive teacher call outs.   Educators were furious after the state Legislature approved changes to their pension the day before.  Kentucky teachers have opposed changes to their pension, which was in Senate Bill 1 that proposed reducing benefits.  But in a surprise move, elements of Senate Bill 1 were tucked into another bill, Senate Bill 151, which had been about sewage services.  The nearly 300-page Senate Bill 151 passed both the state House and Senate on Thursday.

The Kentucky Education Association, which represents teachers and other education professionals, slammed the maneuver as a “classic legislative bait and switch.”  “It stripped all the ‘local provision of wastewater services’ language out of SB151 and replaced it with many of the harmful provisions of SB1,” the association stated.

Under the new pension bill, new hires will have to use a hybrid cash balance plan, rather than a traditional pension, which will drive new teachers to leave the state.  Other elements of the bill include limiting the number of sick days teachers can put toward their retirement and no changes to the annual cost of living adjustments, which will remain 1.5%.

Gov. Matt Bevin supports reforming the system and says it’s critical to fix the pension crisis, which ranks as one of the worst in the US. He said a wider demonstration like a teacher strike would be “illegal.”  “I would not advise that,” Bevin said during a Capitol news conference. “I really wouldn’t. I think that would be a mistake.”  In Kentucky, public employees are prohibited from striking.

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French police officer Arnaud Beltrame has died from his injuries after he offered to exchange himself for one of the female hostages being held inside the Super U supermarket in Trèbes.  The violence unfolded Friday morning when the attacker, identified as Radouane Lakdim, stole a car, killing the passenger and gravely wounding the driver.  Lakdim then drove towards military and police barracks where he shot at four National Police officers who were jogging before trying to run them down.  One of the officers was wounded.

The gunman proceeded to the Super U market armed with a gun, knife and explosives.  He began shooting as he walked inside shouting that he was a soldier from Isis.  Two people were killed and several others wounded.  Christian Medves, 50, a butcher in charge of the meat counter was shot first and Hervé Sosna, 65, a shopper was then killed while 16 others were wounded.

Around 50 terrified shoppers and staff managed to escape but several were taken as hostages.  Witnesses said about 20 people in the supermarket found refuge in its cold storage room.  Police found the car, and SWAT teams surrounded the market, at around 11am, beginning the three hour standoff. “They managed to get some of the people out,” said Interior Minister Collomb, but the attacker kept one woman hostage to use as a human shield. Officer Arnaud Beltrame, offered to take the place of the woman.  The lieutenant colonel had his phone on so police could hear his interactions with the gunman.  Collomb said that at one point the National Police lieutenant colonel shot the gunman.  After hearing shots, police stormed the supermarket where Lakdim had been left holding only Beltrame. Lakdim was killed and Officer Beltrame, who had been shot and stabbed, later died from his injuries.

Lakdim, 25, a small-time drug-dealer who had French nationality and was born in Morocco, left a handwritten letter at his home pledging allegiance to Isis.  He was known to authorities for petty crimes, but had been under surveillance by security services in 2016-2017 for links to the radical Salafist movement, said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, who is leading the investigation.  One neighbour told a news reporter that the suspect was a pleasant young man who was “calm, friendly, and always had a nice word to say.”  He reportedly lived in an apartment block with his parents and sisters, and would take the youngest child to school every day.

Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said that he believed Lakdim had acted alone and that the gunman also brought homemade explosives into the supermarket.  Police continue to question a 17-year-old and Lakdim’s 18-year-old girlfriend. Collomb said the gunman had demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam – the prime surviving suspect in Islamic State suicide bombing and mass shooting attacks on a sports stadium, concert hall and restaurants that killed 130 people in Paris in 2015.  Abdeslam, a French citizen born and raised in Brussels, went on trial in Belgium last month.

President Macron hailed the fallen officer as a hero saying of the officer. “He saved lives and honoured his colleagues and his country,”

 

 

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Investigators searching for a potential motive for Austin Bomber Mark Anthony Conditt’s actions are no closer to answering the question of why he carried out a nearly three-week-long bombing spree that left two people dead.  Conditt blew himself up inside his SUV early Wednesday, shortly after a SWAT team performed a tactical maneuver to force him to stop the SUV.

Conditt went to a FedEx store south of Austin on Sunday and made the mistake of parking within view of a surveillance camera that captured the vehicle’s license plates on his red SUV.  Surveillance photos from the mail delivery office showed Conditt wearing a baseball cap, blond wig and pink gloves as he brought two packages to the store.  Investigators used cellphone technology to track him down on Wednesday and to confirm that he had been to all of the bombing locations.

The early morning confrontation started after his SUV was located in a parking lot of a hotel in Round Rock.  As plainclothes officers and unmarked vehicles descended on the area while a ballistics and SWAT team were enroute.  The officers then followed Conditt as he pulled out of the parking lot and onto Interstate 35 where he ultimately detonated a bomb as officers approached his vehicle.

Investigators say they are no closer to understanding a motive and are relying on Mark Anthony Conditt’s own words from a 25-minute recording he made hours before he was confronted by the SWAT team.  In the cellphone recording, Conditt, 23, refers to himself as a “psychopath” and showed no remorse for carrying out the deadly bombings and spreading fear across the city.  Federal agents searched Conditt’s home in Pflugerville for almost two days, removing explosive materials and looking for clues that could point to a reason for the bombings.  Two of Conditt’s roommates were detained and questioned by police. One of them was released hours after Conditt’s death and the other was released the next afternoon, police said.  Neither was arrested or publicly identified.

Investigators found components for making similar bombs to the ones that exploded in the past few weeks, but no finished bombs were found, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  A law enforcement source said the devices that exploded in Austin and near San Antonio were pipe bombs with batteries and smokeless powder and were constructed with materials found in a hardware or sporting goods store. The bombs had distinctive shrapnel inside with some using “mousetrap” switches and others using “clothespin” switches.  Chief Brian Manley of the Austin Police Department said that Mr. Conditt had made a 25-minute recording in which he discussed the bombs and how he had made them. The recording, Chief Manley said, was “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.”

According to friends and neighbors, Conditt was an intense, socially awkward loner, who was the oldest child in a tight-knit, devout Christian family that held Bible study groups in their home.  Conditt was unemployed and had no criminal history.  He had worked for a local manufacturer, Crux Manufacturing, for about four years until he was fired this past August after he failed to meet job expectations, according to a statement from the company.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the city’s “collective fear and anxiety” was growing as the bomber carried out the string of attacks.  “There was feeling that there was not much that we could do. There was a collective helplessness, our community was beginning to fray,” Adler said at a City Council meeting.  He added that it appeared that Mr. Conditt had acted alone, but authorities had not definitively ruled out whether he had any accomplices.

 

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The serial bomber, now identified as Mark Anthony Conditt, 23, killed himself with an explosive device as police were closing in on him.  After a fifth explosion happened early Tuesday at a FedEx sorting facility near San Antonio, investigators used video surveillance images of a man dropping off two packages Sunday at a FedEx store south of Austin to identify Conditt.  Another unexploded package bomb was discovered at another FedEx facility near Austin.

Officials say they tracked him to a hotel in Round Rock, about 20 miles north of Austin, after reportedly identifying him using receipts, internet searches, witness sketches and the surveillance video.  Authorities were outside the hotel Wednesday morning when Conditt left the hotel.  They followed him until he was forced into a ditch on the side of Interstate 35 where he detonated a bomb inside his vehicle, killing himself and injuring a SWAT officer.  Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Conditt sensed that authorities were closing in on him on Tuesday night and recorded a 25-minute video confessing to building the explosive devices — but didn’t explain why he targeted his victims or a motive for his actions.

After the fourth explosion occurred over the weekend, authorities in Austin, Texas, warned the public that the series of package explosions are connected.  None of the packages were mailed, instead they were placed near the individuals’ homes.  They warned civilians to not open suspicious packages and to call the police.  Over 500 agents from the FBI and ATF were assisting the Austin Police Department in the investigation.

The explosions started on March 2, 2018, when 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House was killed while opening an apparent package bomb at his home.  On March 12th, two more explosions occurred within hours of one another at two separate residences.  The first killed 17-year-old bassist Draylen Mason and injured his mother.  The second explosion that day, severely injured a 75 year old woman.  Authorities say those two bombs were triggered upon being picked up.

A third explosion on March 18th injured two men in a residential neighborhood.  The two men, a 22 year old and 23 year old, suffered serious although not life-threatening injuries from an apparently tripwire-activated parcel bomb left on the side of the road.  After the last explosion, authorities warned the public of a “serial bomber” possessing “a higher level of sophistication, a higher level of skill” than initially thought.  Frederick Milanowski, special agent in charge for the ATF said that the bomb was anchored to a metal sign near a hiking trail and triggered by a wire as thin as fishing line that would’ve been incredibly difficult to see.

Authorities first offered a reward of $65,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the bomber or bombers but later raised the reward to $115,000.  Police were looking at surveillance video in the neighborhoods in hopes of being able to identify a suspect.  At a news conference, interim police Chief Brian Manley said the pair were walking on either the sidewalk or the median when the device was triggered by a trip wire.  “That changes things,” he said, “Our safety message to this point has been involving the handling of packages, and telling this community, ‘Do not handle packages, do not pick up packages, do not disturb packages.”  “We now need to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device, whether it be a package, a bag, a backpack — anything that looks out of place — and please do not approach it.”

 

 

 

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Authorities say six people have died after a 960-ton span of a pedestrian bridge collapsed on Thursday, onto a busy street below, killing six motorists under an avalanche of concrete and metal.  At least nine others were injured in the collapse of the nearly 200-foot-long bridge, which was under construction near the campus of Florida International University.  The bridge, which was still being installed at the time of the collapse, was built to connect Florida International University with downtown Sweetwater, where many students live.  The bridge was not scheduled to open until 2019.

Senator Marco Rubio said suspension cables on the bridge “were being tightened when it collapsed.”  Police are enlisting the help of engineers as they investigate the cause of the collapse.  The National Transportation Safety Board, Miami-Dade homicide detectives and prosecutors are focusing on the government agencies and two contractors — Munilla Construction Management, which was building the structure, and FIGG Bridge Group, which engineered and designed the span.

A lead engineer with the private contractor FIGG Bridge Engineers -who constructed the bridge, left a voice mail for a state transportation official warning of “some cracking observed on the north end of the span” two days before the structure collapsed.  In the message, which was not retrieved until Friday, the engineer said he did not consider the crack a safety issue.  The Florida Department of Transportation official to whom the voice mail was directed was out of the office on assignment.  Footage of the collapse, taken from a vehicle dashcam, suggests the concrete came apart on the north end — the same area that the bridge’s design engineer spoke about in the message.

On Thursday, shortly before the bridge collapsed, a meeting was held regarding the crack that appeared on the structure.  The university said that the meeting was convened by FIGG and Munilla Construction Management (MCM), which built the bridge.  “The FIGG engineer of record delivered a technical presentation regarding the crack and concluded that there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge,” the university said in a statement, adding that representatives of the school and the state Department of Transportation attended the session, which lasted two hours.

News outlets speculating over the cause of the collapse have focused on the cracks reported but experts say other factors, including the tensioning work going on at the bridge’s north end are of more concern.  They say cracking in new concrete is not uncommon and not necessarily a sign of failure.  Tightening of steel cables, or tendons, that run through concrete structural elements is a delicate operation, and over-tightening can cause concrete pieces to twist and break apart, experts say.

Rescue workers dug through the rubble nonstop for two days, pulling out crushed vehicles in search of victims.  All six victims were identified by Saturday morning as Florida International University student Alexa Duran, 18; Brandon Brownfield, a tower crane technician, husband and father of three; Rolando Fraga Hernandez, 60, was a systems technician at ITG Communications; Osvaldo González, 57 and Alberto Arias, 54.  Navarro Brown, 37, an employee with Structural Technologies VSL, died at a hospital shortly after the accident.  Two other employees of the company were hospitalized at Kendall Regional Medical Center in Miami in stable condition.

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Missouri’s Governor Eric Greitens was arrested after a grand jury indicted him on charges of felony invasion of privacy stemming from an extramarital affair in 2015. The indictment accuses Greitens of blindfolding and tying up a woman with whom he was having a consensual affair, and then taking her picture without her consent—and threatening to release the naked photograph if she ever spoke publicly about the affair. Greitens was arraigned and later released on his own recognizance. He has acknowledged the affair but denies any criminal behavior including allegations of abusing or threatening the woman. Greitens remained defiant amid calls for resignation and impeachment less than 24 hours after a St. Louis grand jury indicted him for felony invasion of privacy.
Greitens is a former U.S. Navy SEAL who was elected in 2016 after he ran on a pro-gun, anti-Obama platform. After news of the affair broke in early January 2017, Greitens and his wife, Sheena, released a joint statement after a number of inquiries from the news media about the relationship. The couple revealed that there “was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage.” “This was a deeply personal mistake,” the Greitens, who have two young children, said in the statement. “Eric took responsibility and we dealt with this together honestly and privately.”
The accusations were relayed by the woman’s ex-husband, but she has not commented. The identified but still unnamed woman is a St. Louis area hairstylist. She told her ex-husband that she’d had an affair in 2015 with Eric Greitens — then philanthropist, now governor — and that he had tied her to home exercise equipment, taken a photo of her naked and threatened to publicly release it if she ever told anyone about him. She said Greitens later apologized and said he’d deleted the photo. She also told her ex-husband that Greitens had slapped her against her will, after she told Greitens she had had sex with her husband. The conversation was part of a therapeutic exercise but was recorded without her knowledge. The man filed for divorce in 2015, a few months after the affair.)
Behind the scenes, many state political figures and journalists had been aware of rumors about Greitens’ affair since September 2016. Journalists had held back from publication because the woman had not recorded the conversation herself or released it to the media, and she repeatedly declined to be interviewed on the record.
When Greitens was running for governor against Chris Koster, Roy Temple, an advisor to the Koster campaign, heard a rumor about the affair and contacted a mutual friend to him and the ex-husband. Temple said he met with the ex-husband to see whether he’d be interested in publicly telling his story, but the man, a prominent St. Louis entertainer, declined to proceed because he didn’t want his two children learning about the affair. The man only came forward in 2017 after a national reporter at another outlet called his 15-year-old about the allegations.

 

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Haiti has suspended the British charity Oxfam as it investigates reports that it tried to cover up sex crimes by senior aid workers in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. An internal Oxfam review concluded in 2011 that senior aid workers hired prostitutes at Oxfam properties in Haiti and then tried to cover it up. Prostitution is illegal in Haiti, but Oxfam refused to report the activity of its aid workers to Haitian police. Oxfam’s internal report also includes claims that three Oxfam staff members physically threatened a witness during the internal investigation.
The report confirms that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the country director in the Caribbean nation for Oxfam’s Great Britain arm, admitted to hiring prostitutes to his official residence. A news report revealed there had been at least one “Caligula orgy” with women dressed in Oxfam T-shirts. No public disclosures were made of the alleged abuse at the time, though the 2011 report shows that the director and six others were dismissed or resigned for misconduct, including three who did so because of “use of prostitutes.” All of the names in the document were redacted besides van Hauwermeiren. Oxfam said in a statement that the full un-redacted reports will be given to the Haitian government. The Charity Commission has said it was not told the full story when Oxfam first looked into the allegations in 2011.
The scandal around van Hauwermeiren, who also faced allegations about work in Chad in 2006 where he presided over an office with employees accused of hiring prostitutes. The history of alleged abuse, and the fact that he was allowed to go on to work for another charity in Bangladesh, prompted Oxfam to call for an independent review of itself by women’s rights groups.
An internal investigation by the charity into sexual exploitation, the downloading of pornography, bullying and intimidation is claimed to have found children may have been exploited by employees. The report also clarifies that the charity was aware of concerns about the conduct of two of men at the center of the Haiti allegations when they previously worked in Chad.
Oxfam has been hit with dozens more misconduct allegations involving a slew of countries, in the days since The Times of London revealed Oxfam tried to cover up the sex crimes by senior aid workers in Haiti. The charity now faces worries about funding from the British government and its ability to fundraise while multiple prominent ambassadors for the group have resigned.

 

 

 

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On February 11, 2018, a Russian commercial plane crashed near Moscow, killing all 71 people on board. Among the victims of the crash were 65 passengers including 3 children and 6 crew members. The cause of the crash is unknown. The Saratov Airlines flight 703, crashed shortly after take-off from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. The plane was headed to the city of Orsk on the Kazakhstan border and officials have said most of the passengers were from the eastern part of the Orenburg region which is on the southern end of the Ural Mountains.
Officials say the aircraft’s speed and altitude started to fluctuate soon after take-off. A preliminary analysis of the on-board flight recorder indicated the plane had problems two-and-a-half minutes after it took off, at an altitude of around 4,265ft. Moments before the crash, Flight 703 had gained an altitude of 5,900 feet. The 7 year old passenger jet then went into a steep decent until it disappeared from the radar at an altitude of around 3,000 feet.
The Russian Interstate Aviation Committee is investigating the crash. They said that faulty instruments could have given the pilots wrong speed data. The instruments began displaying different speed readings, probably because of iced speed sensors while their heating systems were shut off, the committee said. When the crew detected the issue, they switched off the plane’s autopilot. They eventually took the plane into a dive at 30-35 degrees.
Witnesses say the plane, an Antonov An-148 aircraft, was in flames as it fell from the sky. The crash was caught by a surveillance camera in a nearby house. The footage showed that the aircraft slammed into the ground and immediately burst into flames. The plane crashed near the village of Argunovo, about 50 miles south-east of Moscow. Wreckage and body parts are strewn over a large area of about 74 acres. More than 1,400 body parts and hundreds of plane fragments have been recovered from the crash site.

 
Rescue workers reached the site 2.5 hours after the crash. More than 700 people are involved in the search operation, struggling through deep snow. The emergencies ministry is collecting DNA samples from victims’ relatives as part of the identification process of the 65 passengers and 6 crew members. The wreckage of Flight 703 was scattered over a half mile wide area.
News outlets have reported that the pilot had declined to have the aircraft de-iced before the departure even though the weather at the time of departure included snow showers and −5°C temperature at Domodedovo Airport. The procedure is optional and the crew’s decision is based mainly on the weather conditions.

 

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Disturbing details have come to light in the scandal surrounding USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who has been accused by 265 women and girls of sexual abuse dating as far back as 1992. When the FBI began its investigation of Nassar in July 2015, no effort was made by USA Gymnastics officials to warn other potential victims of Nassar. At least 40 of the victims were abused after the FBI began its investigation. Many of his victims were sexually abused under the pretense of providing medical treatment but he has also been accused of molesting children of family friends.
Nassar was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University. For 15 years, he worked at the Karolyi Ranch, a gymnastics camp facility and the main training center for the United States women’s national gymnastics team. USA Gymnastics said that its executives first learned of “athlete concerns” regarding Nassar in June 2015. Following a five week investigation, he was fired and reported to the FBI in July 2015. They quietly cut ties with Nassar in July 2015, leaving him to continue to work at Michigan State-treating athletes and children at a university clinic until August 2016. Reports have revealed that USA Gymnastics (USAG) board members were aware of accusations against Nassar well before their initial claim in 2015.
Michigan State had first received a complaint against Nassar in 2014 but an investigation into the complaint found no violation of policy. Under an agreement, Nassar was allowed to continue treating patients under certain agreed upon restrictions but no monitoring was instituted. Michigan State fired him for violation of that agreement on September 20 2016 after another woman filed a complaint of sexual abuse.
In November 2016, Nassar was indicted on state charges of sexual assault of a child from 1998 to 2005. He was charged with 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with minors. Nassar was finally arrested by the FBI in December 2016 after agents found more than 37,000 images of child pornography and a video of Nassar molesting underage girls. On December 7, 2017, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography. On January 24th 2017, in Ingham County Circuit Court, he was sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of minors. On February 5, 2018 Eaton County Circuit Judge Janice Cunningham sentenced Nassar to 40 to 125 years in prison for the three counts of criminal sexual assault.
Since the scandal broke, all 18 members of the USAG Board of Directors has resigned amid accusations of negligence. In response to the scandal, USAG adopted reforms based on a June 2017 report by an investigator hired to review the organization’s policies and practices. One of the changes is a requirement that all USAG members report any suspected sexual misconduct to appropriate authorities and the US Center for SafeSport.

 

 

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The Department of Defense has revealed a new strategy for American nuclear policy focused on building up smaller nuclear weapons that are easier to use. The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is an effort to “look reality in the eye,” said Defense Secretary James Mattis, and “see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.” The new strategy involves spending at least $1.2 trillion to upgrade the United States’ nuclear arsenal, including developing a new nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile. The policy update calls for the introduction of “low-yield nukes” on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and the resumption of the nuclear-submarine-launched cruise missile (SLC-M) whose production stopped during the George W. Bush era and which Obama removed from the nuclear arsenal.
The “low yield” bombs the NPR focuses on can do damage similar to that of the U.S. nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The two bombings killed 140,000 people in the initial blast, most of whom were civilians. Thousands more died from the effects of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries in the two to four months following the bombings. The bombings remain the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare because of the devastating effects.
Russia, the only country whose nuclear arsenal rivals the United States’ stockpile, already has a large arsenal of weapons this size. U.S. and Russian strategies of nuclear development have differed, with the US favoring larger, longer-lasting weapons and Russia focusing on constantly updating a collection of smaller, more mobile bombs.
The new low-yield nukes are intended to answer any potential overseas attack by Russia. The Pentagon worries that Putin’s army could take control of a U.S. ally and detonate a small nuclear weapon to prevent U.S. troops from responding. Low-yield nukes would provide a proportionate method of response, forestalling a larger nuclear conflict or one with weaker weapons.
Anti-nuclear advocates have accused the Pentagon of lowering the bar for nuclear warfare. The new policy “calls for more usable nuclear weapons with low yields, and for their first use in response to cyber and conventional strikes on civilian infrastructure such as financial, transportation, energy and communications networks,” said Bruce Blair, co-founder of the anti-nuclear-weapons group Global Zero. “It makes nuclear war more likely, not less.” The new nuclear policy has alarmed arms control experts around the globe and been openly criticized by Iran, Russia and China.