Twenty Years, Three Minutes: Time to Ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


The "Baker" explosion, part of Opera...
The “Baker” explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on july 25th 1946. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 16, 1945, the United States conducted its first test detonation, dubbed “Trinity,” of an atomic weapon. The following month the US became the first (and, to this day, the only) nation to use atomic or nuclear weapons in war. All in all, the US detonated more than 1,100 nukes in the 47 years between Trinity and Julin, its final nuclear test series, in 1992. The technology, it seems, has been thoroughly explored and then some.

Four years after the Julin tests, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. US president Bill Clinton welcomed and signed the pact, but 20 years later the US Senate has yet to ratify it.

Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

The US has a half-century testing head start on any future would-be nuclear powers. Why wouldn’t foreign policy hawks in the Senate want to stop the clock with that advantage on the scoreboard and with a UN mandate for keeping it stopped? These are the same politicians who in the past have gleefully turned to alleged violations of such pacts as the excuse for sanctions and war.

On the dove side, such as it is, the charms of a test ban treaty are even more obvious. The world is awash in nuclear weapons — between the  world’s eight or nine nuclear powers (Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and almost certainly Israel), more than 15,000 of them. Ending development of new weapons seems like a good first step toward getting rid of the existing ones.

As the Cold War wound down, those of us who grew up in the shadow of potential nuclear holocaust began to breathe easier. The hands on the “Doomsday Clock” maintained by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists were rolled back: Seventeen whole minutes to midnight! No more “duck and cover,” no more “missile gap” propaganda, no more Cuba crises. Peace seemed to be just over the horizon.

Today the Doomsday Clock shows three minutes to midnight. Russia and the US still have thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at each other and available for immediate launch. We’re still one unforeseen incident and one itchy trigger finger away from possible extinction or something close to it.

On September 23, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution renewing the call for all UN member states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. I second the motion.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”

1958 Lincoln-Douglass Debates postage stamp (source: Wikipedia)
1958 Lincoln-Douglass Debates postage stamp (source: Wikipedia)


Q: How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg?

A: Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

That riddle, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, comes to mind when I think of the upcoming series of “debates” between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The two are scheduled to lock horns for the first time on September 26 at Hempstead, New York’s Hofstra University.

The idea of a “debate” presupposes reasoned arguments for and against specific propositions. The Hofstra event and its followups won’t be debates. They’ll be combination beauty contests, “professional wrestling” matches, and campaign commercials.

The only proposition either candidate will support will be “I should be president.”

The closest thing to an argument either one will put forward will be “because I am not the other person on this stage.”

At the end of the evening, the audience will have no more clue what, other than personal style, differentiates one candidate from the other than we did at the beginning — for the perfectly good reason that the answer is pretty much nothing.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The Commission on Presidential Debates could invite several candidates — perhaps all five who appear on state ballots adding up to more than the 270 electoral votes required to win the election outright (Trump, Clinton, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, and Constitution Party nominee Darrell Castle).

Instead we’ll only be shown the two establishment-approved candidates. Speaking if which, the Federal Elections Commission really should take notice that due to those exclusionary criteria, the events constitute illegally large (by several orders of magnitude) in-kind campaign contributions to the Clinton and Trump campaigns.

The moderator, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, could put the candidates on the spot with detailed policy questions on important issues, testing their knowledge,  probing their competence, allowing them to distinguish themselves one from the other.

Instead, if history is any guide, the questions and answers will make the interview round of Mr. Trump’s old stomping ground, the Miss Universe pageant, look like a doctoral thesis defense in nuclear physics. Fortunately this “debate” format skips the swimsuit and evening gown competitions.

This cycle’s presidential “debates” will almost certainly put off enough heat to measurably impact global warming statistics, while shedding little if any light at all on the applicants for the most powerful position in the world.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Lies, Damned Lies, and Hewlett-Packard Printers

HP cartridge (56, 57, 58)
HP cartridge (56, 57, 58) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

September 13 was an unlucky day for an unknown number of Hewlett-Packard printer owners. Instead of going dutifully to work, their printers displayed the error message “One or more cartridges appear to be damaged. Remove them and replace them with new cartridges.”

The cartridges weren’t damaged, though. The printers had been sabotaged with, for all intents and purposes, malware. And the saboteur was Hewlett-Packard itself. The company built a digital time bomb into its firmware to stop owners of HP printers from using ink cartridges sold by third parties.

The company brazenly claims responsibility for the cyber attack, saying it bricked its customers’ printers to  “protect innovation and intellectual property, but also to improve the safety of products for customers.”

There’s a word for that claim, but I can’t use it in a family-friendly column. HP is “protecting” and “improving” only one thing: Its profits from the sale of ink cartridges. A full refill (black and color) using HP-manufactured cartridges can cost about as much as some of the lower-end printers themselves; third party manufacturers sell compatible cartridges for less than half that.

I’ve heard it said that some printers are sold at, or even for less, than manufacturing cost as “loss leaders.” Part One: Cheap printer. Part two: Expensive ink. But of course that only works if you can force the buyer to stick with you through Part Two.

HP has a long record of trying to fool its customers into this kind of bait and switch scam. From patent infringement lawsuits against cartridge competitors to “Digital Rights Management” schemes in its hardware and software (former HP CEO and failed presidential candidate Carly Fiorina announced a “DRM in every product” policy at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show), the upshot is “you don’t really own that thing you thought you bought from us.”

But this is the first time I’m aware of that HP has resorted to cyber attacks on its own customers to stop them from patronizing other businesses. It joins Sony BMG, which got caught using music CDs to install “rootkit” malware in 2005, on a list of companies which can’t be trusted to not screw over customers.

The extinction of state-conferred “intellectual property” monopolies became inevitable with the digital age when information reproduction costs fell to nearly zero. Which is exactly where the profit margins of companies like Hewlett-Packard are headed if they don’t knock this kind of thing off.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.