The M.O.D. Squad: Merchants of Death

Merchants of Death by Mabel Dwight

President of the United States (and five-star general during World War II) Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Farewell Address to the Nation on January 17, 1961:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist….We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

According to Safire’s Political Dictionary, merchants of death was a byname given in the U.S. in the 1930s to industries and banks who supplied and funded the Great War, World War I by another name. The term was the title of a expose and originated in 1934 with H.C. Engelbrecht and F.C. Hanighen. The phrase became popular in anti-war circles on the left and right, and was used extensively regarding the Senate hearings in 1936 by the Nye Committee. The United States Senate Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, chaired by Senator Gerald P. Nye (R-ND), lasted from September 4, 1934 to February 24, 1936 and gained front page attention across the country. The committee was formed solely for this hearing as revived reports surfaced almost 16 years after World War I claiming that America’s leading munition companies had influenced the United States into World War I killing 53,000 Americans thus leading to their infamous nickname. The Democratic Party saw this hearing as a way to nationalize America’s munition industry as they controlled the Senate at the time and organized the hearing. The Democrats chose a Republican who was strongly antiwar and in favor of such policies, Senator Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota, to head the hearing even though he did not believe that America should be involved in any foreign wars. Nye at the opening declared, “when the Senate investigation is over, we shall see that war and preparation for war is not a matter of national honor and national defense, but a matter of profit for the few.” Over the next 18 months, the Nye Committee had 93 hearings and questioned more than 200 witness including J.P. Morgan Jr. and Pierre duPont. The committee found little evidence of a conspiracy between arms makers, however the panel did little to sway public opinion against “greedy munitions interests.” In early 1936, the hearings came to an end when Chairman Nye incited the Democratic caucus into cutting off funding by attacking former Democratic President Woodrow Wilson claiming he had withheld essential information from Congress when considering a declaration of war. Democratic leaders, Appropriations Committee Chairman Carter Glass of Virginia especially, responded with anger against Nye for “dirt daubing the sepulcher of Woodrow Wilson.” Glass slammed his fist against a desk in protest until blood dripped from his knuckles leading the Democratic caucus to withhold all funding for further hearings. Although the committee failed to nationalize the arms industry, it inspire three congressional Neutrality Acts in the mid 1930s showing the overwhelming American opposition to overseas involvement.

There are many examples throughout history of these so called Merchants of Death, but the best examples, especially in the present day media rich environment, can now be seen in everyday life on television, print and even the movies. One of my all time favorite examples has to be the 2006 comedy, Thank You for Smoking, which takes a satirical look at the machinations of Big Tabacco’s chief spokesman, Nick Naylor, who spins on behalf of cigarettes and tries to remain a role model for his 12 year old son. The book by the same title is by Christopher Buckley which tells the story of Nick Naylor, a tobacco lobbyist during the 1990s. Naylor is the chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, a tobacco industry lobbying firm that promotes the benefits of cigarettes. He used high profile media events and intentionally provocative propaganda to highlight what his clients see as an unfair crusade against tobacco and nicotine products. He might be called “a mass murderer, blood sucker, pimp, profiteer and yuppie mephistopheles,” but with a smile he wins over cancer patients and scores points against his ant-smoking nemesis, a Vermont Senator played by William H. Macy. A great scene in the movie happens when Naylor goes to meet his only friends, lobbyists for firearms and alcohol, lovingly referred to as the M.O.D. Squad, “Merchants of Death.” Naylor’s informal associations with these lobbyists from other industries is due to the fact they are all subject to routine vilification in the media e.g. Polly Bailey, a lobbyist for the alcohol/spirits industry, and Bobby Jay Bliss, who represents the firearms industry. Taking a break from his morally questionable job, him and his friends engage in a heated conversation about whose product has killed the most consumers holding fast to their own rationale that “we all have a mortgage to pay.” His impressionable young son who is along for ride tries to absorb the finer points of spin, framing the discussion and lying without losing his moral bearings. The only fiction it seems in this movie is the fact that the “Merchants of Death” unlike the real spinmeisters are hobbled by their conscience. Another great scene in the movie happens when Naylor is kidnapped by a group who attempts to kill him by covering him with nicotine patches. By the end of this wild ride, Naylor changes the way he thinks about himself in a new way in large part because of his son. In short, he proves to be the middleman between cigarette companies and the public and government. His life encompasses the idea of taking one for the team form participating in anti-smoking debates on television to arguing for pro-smoking in jury courts without giving the slightest inkling that he is for against anti-smoking. Thank You For Smoking gives great incite into the lives of these spin doctors, the truth they almost filter, the corporations that depend on them and the people and situations they tackle in their everyday lives. Nick Naylor said it best:

  • “After watching the footage of the Kent State shootings, Bobby Jay, then seventeen, signed up for the National Guard so that he too could shoot college students.”
  • “How many alcohol related deaths a year? 100,000? That’s, what, 270 a day? Tragedy. How many firearms related deaths a year? 11,000? That comes out to a measly 30 a day!”
  • “I don’t have an M.D. or Law degree. I have a bachelors in kicking ass and taking names.”
  • “I front an organization that kills 1,200 people a day.”
  • “The message Hollywood needs to send out is that smoking is cool. We can put the sex back into cigarettes.”
  • “Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk. Everyone has a talent.”

Final notes from the M.O.D. Squad: [All voice-overs reading the newspaper article]

  • Nick: “Nick Naylor, the lead spokesman for big tobacco, would have you believe he thinks cigarettes are harmless, but really he’s doing it for the mortgage.”
  • Polly: “The “M.O.D. Squad”—meaning, of course, “Merchants of Death”—is comprised of Polly Bailey, of the Moderation Council, and Bobby Jay Bliss, of the gun business’s own advisory group, S.A.F.E.T.Y.”
  • Bobby: “As explained by Naylor, the sole purpose of their meetings is to compete for the highest death toll as they compare strategies on how to dupe the American people.”
  • Jeff: “The film, Message from Sector Six, would emphasize the sex appeal of cigarettes in a way that only floating, nude, copulating Hollywood stars could.”
  • Lorne: “This did not stop Nick from bribing the dying man with a suitcase of cash to keep quiet on the subject of his recent lung cancer diagnosis.”

While the movie makes several great points about the big three, the real Merchants of Death are not so endearing. George H. Russell, Merchants of Death, explains that these grim reapers of sorts come in many forms and guises taking the form of corporate executives, lobbyists, board members and major shareholder. Some provoke well-deserved contempt, while other more destructive “Merchants of Death” are considered heroes and honored in our culture. His list provided below cover the obvious and some surprise as many live in the finest neighborhoods, are invites to all the right parties, eat in the most expensive restaurants, drive the most luxurious cars and sit at the right hand of elected officials who protect them.

“1. The huge international junk food industry that entices children to become addicted to foods which will not only make them prematurely obese but eventually lead them early graves.

2. The tobacco industry that entices children to become addicted to the terrible drug, nicotine, which will cause hundreds of thousands of them to die horrible and premature deaths from lung cancer and other diseases.

3. The clear-cutting industry that is destroying the last vestiges of our planet’s original forests which causes land-slides, erosion, flooding, extinction of species, and desertification. Millions of children have been negatively impacted by clear-cutting and thousands have died.

4. The chemical pesticide industry that entices people into believing that the only good insect is a dead insect thus not only killing our song birds but exposing children to dangerous cancer-causing chemicals which have destroyed the lives of thousands of children and adults.

5. The arms manufacturers and dealers who sell weapons to whoever can pay their price regardless of the future use of the weapons. These ‘Merchants of Death’ have sold weapons of great destruction to dictatorships and terrorist groups around the world and as a result thousands of innocent people have died.

6. The drug dealers, both legal and illegal who make their fortunes hooking innocent people on both street drugs and prescription drugs. It doesn’t matter if people become addicted to legal or illegal drugs because both are promoted to them. Just because a huge pharmaceutical company has a license to sell drugs does not mean that they are oftentimes also ‘Merchants of Death.'”

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting and the dozens that followed, schools and non-governmental groups are taking on a broader strategy targeting not just sellers, but the $12 billion a year gun industry including those who finance, manufacture and sell guns and ammunition. According to  Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen, Shut Down the Merchants of Death, a group of high school students in Pasadena, California has taken on Walmart which sells assault weapons by starting an online petition asking their local school board to stop buying supplies at this retailer. A sophomore at Pasadena High School, 15 year old Roxana Honowitz, that this to say, “We can say we support change and gun control, but it’s hypocritical if we also support places that sell guns by buying supplies from them.” The campaign is similar to previous efforts made to put pressure on business practices by mobilizing shareholders, consumers and investors. After World War I, critics of munitions manufacturers, as previously mentioned, used the phrase “merchants of death” to attack corporations who profit from the sales of military weapons and currently have grown due to powerful lobbies which some argue helped push the nation into war. Today, these companies still profit from making and selling military style weapons and ammo to civilians. Due to this fact, Dreier and Cohen believe that the businesses and investors who benefit from the sale are partially responsible for the nation’s epidemic of violence including the 30 gun deaths each day exclusive of suicides. Both call for a complete end to production, distribution and sales of weapons to civilians that are made for military use or based on military design. Walmart, the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition, removed the Bushmaster AR-15 style assault rifle from their website and continues to sell the assault weapon in their stores. This is the same gun used by Adam Lanza to kill 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown. In mid-January, President Obama announced a plan to curb the increase in gun violence including a ban on military style weapons and high capacity ammunition clips and more comprehensive background checks on potential buyers even those who purchase at gun shows and online. Fortunately, many states already have such bans in place such as New York who recently strengthened them.

However, some cities, states and universities do not want to wait for government action and have decided to push gun makers and retailers to end production and sale of these weapons. Within days of the Newtown massacre, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CALSTRS) began to question directed at Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm that owns Freedom Group, the gun manufacturer that made the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle. The pension fund has $750 million invested with the group causing Stephen Feinberg, Cerberus’s owner, to announce the selling of Freedom Group. California Treasurer Bill Lockyer called for the state’s pension funds including California Public Employees’ Retirement System and CALSTRS to be “scrubbed clean” not only of Freedom Group but any investment in military style assault weapons and other guns that are illegal in the state “and expose our communities to violence and death.” Thomas DiNapoli, the New York comptroller, wanted a review as well of the $150 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund’s investment in firearms makers including the $50 million invested with Cerberus, while Massachusetts Treasurer Steve Grossman asked his state’s pension fund to audit it to see if any investments were made in the firearms industry. In January of 2013, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent a letter to the City’s pension funds asking them to divest from companies that manufacture firearms, ammunition or high capacity ammunition magazines. Even more cities stepped forward, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on the city pension and retirement funds to divest shares in assault weapons manufacturers leading to the Chicago Municipal Employee Annuity and Benefit Fund shifting $1 million from the assault rifle manufacturer Freedom Group, Smith and Wesson and Sturm Ruger and Co. In addition, Emanuel wrote to the CEOs of Bank of America and TD  Bank to stop lending to gun makers in order to pressure the industry to support stronger gun laws. According to Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen, Shut Down the Merchants of Death, Bill de Blasio, New York City’s public advocate revealed his ranking of New York based financial firms ,including hedge funds, banks, investment firms and an insurance company known as the “Dirty Dozen,” by the size of their gun holding at a press conference. The second highest ranked firm with $346 million invested, BlackRock, decided the day after the press conference to now offer clients investments excluding gun manufacturers. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter outlined the “Sandy Hook Principles” that the city would use to decide where to invest its pension fund money and whether a firm is tied to the manufacturing or sale of assault weapons. Lawrence Schall of Oglethorpe University and Elizabeth Kiss of Agnes Scott College in Georgia, with the backing of 300 other colleges and university presidents now on board, wrote an open letter to President Obama and other elected officials to stop gun violence and implement a federal ban on assault weapons. In addition, another letter wrote to President Obama by Emerson College President M. Lee Pelton gatherer more than 160 university presidents within a week as well as Dreier and Cohen reveal. At Princeston University, which has a $17 billion endowment, faculty have petitioned President Shirley Tilghman to renounce “current or future investments in companies involved in the manufacture and distribution of multiple, rapid-firing semiautomatic assault weapons, and the bullets that equip them.” As a result, students and faculty at other colleges want to look into possible links between their endowments and the gun industry.

However, Cerberus and Walmart have done less than they can to remove assault weapons that pose a danger to people on the street, movie theaters and schoolhouses across the country, as Dreier and Cohen point out. By selling Freedom Group, instead of ending production of assault weapons for civilian use, Cerberus guarantees the selling of these weapons will continue at stores, gun shows and over the internet even the underground market. In 2006, seven years after the Columbine shooting, Cerberus acquired Bushmaster Firearms and then acquired several other gun companies resulting in the formation of Freedom Group. According to Dreier and Cohen, Cerberus’s public statement makes it clear that the selling of Freedom Group isn’t for ethical reasons instead “as a firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers. It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators.” The company in the statement also notes: “We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so.” Unfortunately, Cerberus is not the only gun peddler on Wall Street and cannot wash their hands of the nation’s epidemic of mass shooting through the sale of Freedom Group. Some other gun peddlers worthy of mention and equally responsible include:

 “Colt Defense is jointly owned by Sciens Capital Management, a fund advised by the Blackstone Group and another fund run by Credit Suisse.  MidOcean Partners, a private equity firm that once owned the diet company Jenny Craig, now controls Bushnell Outdoor Products, which makes equipment such as rifle scopes, night-vision headgear and laser rangefinders for both the hunting and ‘tactical’ markets. Longpoint Capital tripled its holdings in Savage Sports, a rifle manufacturer, when it sold the company in January 2012 in a takeover financed by Norwest Equity Partners. These investors shouldn’t just sell the gun companies they own. They should use their leverage to stop the manufacture and sale of military-style weapons to the general public.”

As far as Walmart and the national gun debate, the company holds tremendous clout with gun makers as its purchasing power is enough to make them listen. Walmart in 2011 accounted for 15 percent of Freedom Group’s total sales. The companies did pull the AR-15 style assault rifle from their website, however it still sells 400 other guns in 1,750 stores across the country including a semiautomatic Colt M4 Ops .22 rifle with a thirty round magazine and a Sig Sauer M400 assault rifle advertised on Walmart’s website as “designed for use in law enforcement, military operations…as well as competitive shooting.” An online petition gathered over 122,000 names demanding that Walmart stop selling assault rifles entirely as Daily Kos and Courage Campaign are escalating the campaign to put pressure on Walmart to comply with the request.

Besides Walmart who sells these weapons of mass destruction, many other governmental and non-governmental groups should use their clout as well to pressure the removal of assault weapons from the civilian arena. A large part of the gun industry revenue, about 40 percent, comes from federal, state and local governments. Mayors, governors and police chiefs who have battled the NRA over the proliferation of assault weapons and gun controls should used their pension and buying clout to force the gun industry to stop selling military style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Sate and local police department should stop supporting companies that sell these weapons to the general public. Video game makers, a $78.5 billion industry, should not advertise for gun manufacturers and reject licensing arrangements with gun makers to use real world gun models in their games. Guns are a large part of American culture with millions of Americans enjoying the sport of hunting and few object to the sale of rifles for hunting. According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, nearly half of gun owners support a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons. President Obama and The Department of Justice should take a similar stance on the subject of assault weapons.

This leads to the overall gun control debate as the United States is the largest arms exporter and major contributor to the problem, therefore a big part of the solution in the international arena where diplomats at the United Nations are trying to come to a consensus about the Arms Trade Treaty that would close several holes in international arms controls. The following are several stories that have made national and international headlines regarding the international arms trade and the need for closing many loopholes, titled Merchants of Death published in The Morningside Post:

“…a Thai court considers whether to extradite a Russian arms dealer named Viktor Bout to the United States. Bout, whose alleged exploits were an inspiration for Orlov’s character, is suspected of flying weapons to armed groups in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.  Hefaces federal charges for allegedly offering to sell military hardware to U.S. agents posing as representatives of a Colombian rebel group. Unfortunately,the odds are stacked in Bout’s favor, as successful prosecutions of illegal arms traffickers are rare.  National and international laws are so weak that even the most notorious gun runners go free.In 2002, for example, the Italian supreme court ruled that the Ukrainian-Israeli arms dealer Leonid Minin, arrested in Milan, could not be prosecuted for violating a U.N. arms embargo on Liberia. The court found that Minin could not be prosecuted in Italy because his cargo did not enter Italian territory.  For all practical purposes Minin was free to ship Ukraine’s Cold War stockpiles of AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades to the child soldiers mowing each other down in West Africa’s civil wars. This is not an isolated case.  In 2006, Amnesty International found that every U.N. arms embargo in the preceding 10 years had been systematically undermined.  Many countries, like Italy, have not even made violating a U.N. arms embargo a crime under their domestic laws.”

An important part of this negotiation is the fact that there should be no loophole for so called “civilian” fire arms especially for the United States as thousands of American assault rifles end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. This fact alone demonstrates that these weapons should be included in the treaty. However, American gun rights groups want them to be exempt for concern that international regulations could lead to domestic restrictions. Another issue up for discussion should be states taking responsibility for preventing every form of arms smuggling activity within their jurisdiction e.g. Minin flew guns on the plane of a British company and kept his money in a New York bank. In addition, countries need to agree not to export weapons to an state or armed group that will be used in gross human rights violations by the recipient or the party to whom receives the arms. One major issue that had to be addressed is the prevention of dissenting nations from blocking an effective treaty. However, when the Obama administration agreed to participate in the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in 2009, it insisted it be done by consensus which became problematic as individual states including the United States objected to some of the restrictions on arms deals they and other countries conduct. Pakistan’s representative felt that state primacy should be upheld at all costs, so in order to ensure states have legitimate reasons to buy and sell arms, Article 51 of the U.N. Charter recognizes the state’s right to self-defense. Unfortunately, this has not been the case as lawless militias terrorize villages in the eastern Congo along with several other groups dispersed throughout the world have no such right and neither do the merchants of death that supply them. The problem is not a one nation problem, but a global issue concerning human rights, global responsibility and accountability which all must be taken into account within the individual states and as a world people.

While the world debates gun control, back in the United States, statistical data shows the devastation these weapons of mass destruction cause each year at home. According to the Center for Disease Control in 2006 estimated that a total of 30,896 gun related incidences occurred which included 642 accidental, 16,883 were suicides, 12,791 were homicides, 220 were undetermined and 360 by legal intervention, while in the same year 43,664 were killed in motor vehicle accidents, 37,286 died from poisoning and 20,823 died from unintentional falls. Gun violence has always been a hot topic of debate in the political arena in the United States as most gun related violence happens in poor urban areas and frequently associated with gang violence involving male juveniles or young male adults. High profile mass shooting have contributed to the increase in outcry for gun policies even though these event are considered rare. In 2010 there were 358 murders involving rifles, 6,009 murders involving handguns and 1,939 murders involving firearm types unreported. High profile assassinations such as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the Beltway sniper attacks involved rifles with telescopic signs from concealed locations. Hand guns figure in the Virginia Tech shootings, Binghamton massacre, Fort Hood massacre, Oikos University shooting and 2011 Tuscon shooting. Assailants with multiple weapons committed the Aurora theater shooting and the Columbine High School massacre. In 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that 69.9% of all homicides in the United States were perpetrated using a firearm with 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries during 2000. Two thirds of all gun related deaths in the United States were suicides. In 2010, there were 19,392 firearms related suicide deaths and 14,078 firearm related homicide deaths in the United Sates.

Policies at the federal, state and local levels have tried to address gun violence through various methods including restricting firearms purchases by youths and other “at risk” populations, setting waiting periods for firearm purchases, establishing gun “buy-back” programs, law enforcement and policing strategies, stiff sentencing of gun law violators, education programs for parents and children, and community-outreach programs. Unfortunately, federal legislation has handicapped the prevention of weapons sales to criminals domestically and insurgents abroad by prohibiting the ATF and local law enforcement from tracing the place of sale for weapons recovered at crimes scenes due to limited or no access to digital databases. Gun policies are heavily influenced by interpretation of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution which has been heavily debated over the years until 2008 when the Supreme Court tried to clarify the meaning of this amendment. In District of Columbia v. Heller case, which led to the invalidation of a firearm ban in Washington, D.C. state, the high court decided that the second amendment protects an individual’s rights to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense in the home and within federal enclaves. As of June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of McDonald v. Chicago that this protection extends to the states. In 2009, the Congressional Research Service estimated that there were 310 million firearms in the United States not including weapons owed by the military and of these, 114 million were handguns, 110 million were rifles and 86 million were shotguns. The same year, the Census bureau revealed that the population was 305,529, 237 people in America. Analysis of the crime gun databases showed that 70% of guns recovered at crime scenes in Virginia were purchased within one year of the crime following the logic that in some cases guns are purchased with the intent to commit a crime or murder. Some more fatal and often discouraging statistic include (from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website, Gun Violence Statistics):

  • “In 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings.  This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than 3 deaths each hour.
  • 73,505 Americans were treated in hospital emergency departments for non-fatal gunshot wounds in 2010.
  • Firearms were the third-leading cause of injury-related deaths nationwide in 2010, following poisoning and motor vehicle accidents.
  • Between 1955 and 1975, the Vietnam War killed over 58,000 American soldiers – less than the number of civilians killed with guns in the U.S. in an average two-year period.
  • In the first seven years of the U.S.-Iraq War, over 4,400 American soldiers were killed. Almost as many civilians are killed with guns in the U.S., however, every seven weeks.”

Homicide

  • “Guns were used in 11,078 homicides in the U.S. in 2010, comprising almost 35% of all gun deaths, and over 68% of all homicides.
  • On average, 33 gun homicides were committed each day for the years 2005-2010.
  • Regions and states with higher rates of gun ownership have significantly higher rates of homicide than states with lower rates of gun ownership.
  • Where guns are prevalent, there are significantly more homicides, particularly gun homicides.”

Suicide

  • “Firearms were used in 19,392 suicides in the U.S. in 2010, constituting almost 62% of all gun deaths.
  • Over 50% of all suicides are committed with a firearm.
  • On average, 49 gun suicides were committed each day for the years 2005-2010.
  • White males, about 40% of the U.S. population, accounted for over 80% of firearm suicides in 2010.
  • A study of California handgun purchasers found that in the first year after the purchase of a handgun, suicide was the leading cause of death among the purchasers.
  • Firearms were used in nearly 44% of suicide deaths among persons under age 25 in 2010.
  • More than 75% of guns used in suicide attempts and unintentional injuries of 0-19 year-olds were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative, or a friend.
  • The risk of suicide increases in homes where guns are kept loaded and/or unlocked.”

Unintentional Deaths and Injuries

  • “In 2010, unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people.
  • From 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings.
  • Over 1,300 victims of unintentional shootings for the period 2005–2010 were under 25 years of age.
  • People of all age groups are significantly more likely to die from unintentional firearm injuries when they live in states with more guns, relative to states with fewer guns. On average, states with the highest gun levels had nine times the rate of unintentional firearms deaths compared to states with the lowest gun levels.
  • A federal government study of unintentional shootings found that 8% of such shooting deaths resulted from shots fired by children under the age of six.
  • The U.S. General Accounting Office has estimated that 31% of unintentional deaths caused by firearms might be prevented by the addition of two devices: a child-proof safety lock (8%) and a loading indicator (23%).”

As states struggle to deal with the increase in gun violence and easy access, the world deals with a much more sinister character than just corrupt governments and home grown radical militias. The arms industry by far is a global phenomenon as guns, ammunition and other large weaponry have become big business all over the world. With this, comes a host of shady and corrupt characters looking to capitalize on the underground market. The men mentioned on the Business Pundit website, 10 Most Notorious Arms Dealers in Modern History by Julian published on December 14, 2011, gives the public a descriptive rundown of the most notorious arms dealers in modern history.  These men operate in the shadows and travel the world trafficking and distributing arms for a hefty fee while evading and eluding the authorities and their business rivals. In the words of Julian, who wrote the article, here is the top ten with number one not so surprising to be honest:

  • 10. Adnan Khashoggi – “Adnan Khashoggi is an extremely successful Saudi Arabian businessman. He also happens to have been a hugely prominent arms dealer. Regarded as the richest man in the world during the 1980s, the American-educated Khashoggi, now 76, began his arms trading career in the 1960s, brokering deals between US companies and the Saudi government. Amongst Khashoggi’s most famous clients were Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin), who during the early 1970s paid him $106 million in commissions. He concealed his financial dealings by setting up front companies in tax havens such as Switzerland. Caught up (along with Imelda Marcos, the widow of exiled Philippine president, Ferdinand) in the Iran-Contra affair, Khashoggi was arrested in 1988 but was acquitted two years later. He currently resides in Monaco, where his services as a facilitator are apparently still occasionally called upon — most recently in 2003, when he allegedly met with American political advisor Richard Perle right before the invasion of Iraq.”
  • 9. Dale Stoffel – “Dale Stoffel was an arms dealer who was heavily involved with the reconstruction efforts established in the wake of the Iraq War. Known for chomping a cigar and routinely having a machine-gun slung across his back — the popular image of a mercenary — Stoffel was killed while on his way to Baghdad in 2004. In 2003, his company, Wye Oak Technology, was awarded one of the first contracts from the newly established Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and in the end the value of his contracts with the nascent Iraqi government totaled over $40 million. During the year leading up to his death, the goatee-bearded Stoffel became an outspoken critic of irregularities in the Iraqis’ methods of payment for his efforts, and those of others like him, with allegations that corruption was rampant. Shortly before his death Stoffel was owed $24.7 million. His widow Barbara sued the Iraqi government for $25 million in 2009.”
  • 8. Dr. Moosa Bin Shamsher – “Dr. Moosa Bin Shamsher is a Bangladeshi business tycoon known for being a major player in international arms trading during the 1970s and 1980s (as well as for many other business ventures). Affectionately dubbed ‘Prince Moosa’ by the South Asian press, this high-profile figure is, notwithstanding, known for dealings with other shady big name arms dealers on this list such as Adnan Khashoggi and Sarkis Soghanalian. It is also alleged that Shamsher has had Swiss bank accounts worth $7 million frozen because of ‘irregular’ transactions. Formed in 1974, Shamsher’s business, DATCO, deals in global weaponry, including tanks, fighter planes and ballistic missiles. Almost as renowned as Shamsher’s arms dealings is his love of excess: he owns a fleet of a hundred private cars that includes Rolls-Royce models and limousines and wears diamond-encrusted shoes valued at $3 million.”
  • 7. Samuel Cummings – “Samuel Cummings was an American arms dealer and founder of the International Armament Corporation — a company that grew to all but monopolize the global market in private arms sales. Cummings died in 1998 at the age of 71 following a series of strokes but has been called (by The New York Times) the ‘undisputed philosopher-king of the arms trade.’ Recruited as a weapons expert by the CIA in 1950, he spent the rest of the early 50s traveling Europe buying up large amounts of excess WWII weaponry. This led Cummings to start up the arms dealing business Interarmco, which would come to dominate the small arms market of 1950s and ’60s America. He also dealt with many famous international leaders, including Fidel Castro, to whom he sold a consignment of AR-10 rifles — much to the ire of General Rafael Trujillo, leader of the Dominican Republic, where Cummings was later doing business.”
  • 6. Fares Mana’a“Said to be Yemen’s most infamous arms dealer, the official occupation of Sheikh Fares Mohammed Mana’a is Governor of Sa’dah, a city in north-western Yemen. Despite such standing, Mana’a’s more illicit activities have been noted by the United Nations Security Council, who added his name to a list of people accused of dealing arms to the Somali insurgents known as Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahedeen — a notorious group suspected of having links to Al-Qaeda. Mana’a has also been accused of spying for the late Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi in return for millions in funds. In March 2011, Mana’a was installed as the new governor of Sa’dah following a battle between pro-government tribesmen and the Mana’a-supported Houthi rebels, to whom he is also accused of supplying arms.”
  • 5. Sarkis Soghanalian – “When Florida-based private arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian died recently, on October 5, 2011, an extraordinary life ended. Born in 1929, Soghanalian— nicknamed the ‘Merchant of Death’ — established himself during the Cold War, becoming the leading arms merchant during that time of political conflict. He was also infamous for being the foremost seller of weapons to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. With the full knowledge and backing of the CIA, Soghanalian sold arms to Iraq in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War. He also sold weaponry to militia groups during the Lebanese Civil War, as well as to Ecuador and Nicaragua, and to Argentina during the Falklands War. Following the first Gulf war with Iraq, Soghanalian was jailed for six years for possession of arms and the intent to sell to Iraq. His sentence was reduced to two years, however, after he supplied the US with intelligence.”
  • 4. Monzer al-Kassar – “Syrian-born Monzer al-Kassar — also known by the glamorous title, the ‘Prince of Marbella’ — is an international arms dealer of some notoriety. Currently incarcerated, al-Kassar began his career in trading weapons in the early 1970s when, by his own account, the Yemeni government requested that he buy arms for them from Poland. He lived in London from from around 1972 until 1984, at which point he was thrown out of the country by the British government for arms and drug trafficking. From London al-Kassar moved to Marbella, where he gained his extravagant nickname. Further allegations of arms dealing followed — including that he sold arms to and helped the hijackers of cruise ship the Achille Lauro. He also pocketed millions making sales to Croatia, Bosnia and Somalia when there was a UN arms embargo with the three countries. Al-Kassar was caught and convicted thanks to an elaborate DEA sting that began in 2006 and proceeded to his arrest in Madrid in 2007 and extradition to the US a year later.”
  • 3. Jean-Bernard Lasnaud – “When the French-born Jean-Bernard Lasnaud was arrested in 2002 in Switzerland, it ended almost three years of arrest requests from Argentinian courts and Interpol. Despite this, together with accusations from European courts on counts of arms smuggling and fraud, amazingly Lasnaud was allowed to live peacefully in South Florida for more than ten years before his past finally caught up with him. Lasnaud was in the business of selling arms from his luxurious gated community to anyone interested, with China and Somalia just two of the suspected client countries. According to his own estimates, Lasnaud’s Caribbean Group of Companies sold between $1 and $2.5 million in weapons every year. Accused of brokering thousands of tons worth of Argentinian weaponry to Croatia and Ecuador between 1992 and 1995, Lasnaud even boasted his own website to aid with his transactions. He is caught up in a complex web of corruption and scandals the true extent of which may never be known.”
  • 2. Leonid Minin “Leonid Minin, a Ukrainian by birth, is a notorious international arms dealer. Born in 1947, he moved to Israel in the 1970s. He  was arrested by the German authorities later in the same decade for using false identification as well as under suspicion of art theft. His customers in the arms trade have allegedly included the Liberian dictator Charles Taylor as well as the Revolutionary United Front group which operated in Sierra Leone. The weapons that Minin dealt in are held to have had their origins in the Russian arms company Aviatrend, a group also involved in money laundering connected with toppled Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević. Arrested by Italian authorities in 2000 for illegal arms dealings, Minin was sentenced to two years. Nicolas Cage’s character in the 2005 movie Lord of War is partly based on Minin, as well as Sarkis Soghanalian and our number one, Viktor Bout.”
  • 1. Viktor Bout “Viktor Anatolyevich Bout, the most notorious arms smuggler on this list, currently faces seeing out the rest of his life behind bars. Extradited from Thailand to America in 2010 following a five-year operation by the DEA, the Russian national stands accused of illegally arming the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in their operations against US forces. The jury found him guilty and he will receive sentencing in early 2012, when he could stand to receive a life sentence. Bout is reported to have made substantial amounts of money shipping goods in Africa and the Middle East in the 1990s and 2000s, and the former military translator for the Soviet Union may well have fed the flames of various African civil wars by supplying vast quantities of arms during the Nineties. He has also been dubbed a ‘sanctions buster’ because of allegations that he violated UN arms embargoes in trading with Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Congo during the same decade. In 2001 Bout was furthermore implicated in the movement of gold and cash out of Afghanistan. The charges against him make Bout’s future prospects fairly grim indeed.”

According to Victor Thorn, Inside the Murky World of International Arms Smuggling, as the world goes through tough economic times, the global weapons trade is booming with U.S. corporations beings some of the biggest peddlers. The global arms market can be split up into three sectors:  the legal sales where governments buy from corporations, sales on the black market and the legally grey area where governments, militaries and intelligence agencies work with shady or corrupt dealers in order to carry out covert agendas such as regime changes and assassinations. Richard Norton Taylor, reporter for the Guardian, explained on March 2 of 2012 that “sales of weapons and military services exceeded $400B in 2010 . . . [and] the top 10 arms producing companies account for 56% of total arms sales.” In a recent article entitled America: Arms Dealer to the World, William Astore revealed, “From 2006 to 2010, the U.S. accounted for nearly 1/3 of the world’s arms exports.” However, in 2010, Astore claimed that, in spite of a recessionary downswing, “The U.S. increased its market share to a whopping 53%”  shipping weapons to 62 different countries. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, of the top 20 global arms dealers, 16 are U.S. corporations which include (1) Lockheed Martin, (2) Boeing, (3) Northrop Grumman, (4) General Dynamics and (5) Raytheon. Together with Russia, Germany, France, Britain and China, these countries supply more than 80% of total weaponry. The number one weapon importer by far was India followed by South Korea, Pakistan, China and Singapore accounting for 30% of all international arms imports, Agence France-Presse reported on March 19,2012.

In another article by Victor Thorn, Biggest Arms Dealer Tied to United States, talks about the United Sates ties to the world’s biggest arms dealer, Viktor Bout, who in March 2008 was arrested by DEA officials in Thailand. On April 5 of 2012, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison for “conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and delivering anti-aircraft missiles to a terrorist organization.” However in a November 9, 2011 interview with talk show host Kojo Nnamdi and Andrew Feinstein, author of The Shadow World, Bout claimed that “between the years 2003 and 2005, while there was an international arrest warrant out for Viktor Bout’s arrest, the United States was using him to transport equipment, weaponry and ammunition into Iraq.” Bout has moved arms around the world for at least two decades to rebels in the Congo, the Taliban and armies in numerous war zones, Thorn reports. The U.S. protection of this arms dealer for hire became so apparent in 2003, after Interpol issued an arrest warrant, U.S. intelligence agents erased his plane from radar screens so he could avoid detection before landing in Greece. The U.S. military has a vested interest in his safety due to the fact his cargo plan delivered weapons to Iraq after the 2003 invasion with Bout owning many of them. In addition, mercenaries affiliated with the U.S. government channeled $60 million to Bout to jeep his planes flying to Iraq, according to Thorn. Bout continued to work for the Department of Defense until 2007, when like Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Barry Seal, the partnerships was dissolved.

The National Gun Victims Action Council website, Illegal gun trafficking arms criminals & youth, reports: ” On an average day in the U.S., guns are used to kill more than 80 people, injure almost 300 more, and commit approximately 3,000 crimes. Since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, more Americans have been shot and killed on our own soil than in all the 20th-century wars combined.” Another astonishing fact and a lesser known fact is a vast majority of the 12,000 annual gun murders and 66,000 non-fatal shootings are committed by people who have no legal right to a gun. The high efficient, organized and profitable business of gun trafficking has resulted in the moving of guns from legal gun manufacturers to dealers to criminals and young people who cannot buy them legally. According to the site, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or ATF points to three common ways guns move from legal to illegal channels:

  • “Corrupt federally licensed gun dealers: Federally licensed gun dealers send more guns to the criminal market than any other single source. Nearly 60% of the guns used in crime are traced back to a small number—just 1.2%—of crooked gun dealers. Corrupt dealers frequently have high numbers of missing guns, in many cases because they’re selling guns ‘off the books’ to private sellers and criminals. In 2005, the ATF examined 3,083 gun dealers and found 12,274 ‘missing’ firearms.
  • Straw purchasing: Straw purchasing is the most common way criminals get guns, accounting for almost 50% of trafficking investigations. A straw purchaser is someone with a clean record who buys guns on behalf of someone legally prohibited from possessing guns. Straw purchasers are often the friends, relatives, spouses or girlfriends of prohibited purchasers. The two Columbine High School shooters recruited friends to buy guns for them at Colorado gun shows. One of the buyers admitted she would not have bought the guns if she had been required to submit to a background check.
  • Gun Shows and private gun sales: Gun shows have been called ‘Tupperware parties for criminals’ because they attract large numbers of prohibited buyers. A loophole in federal law allows unlicensed or ‘private’ sellers, many of whom work out of gun shows, to lawfully sell or transfer guns without conducting a criminal background check. Gun show dealers have been known to advertise to criminals with signs that read ‘no background checks required here.'”

Due to the policies and laws passed by Congress in recent years, law enforcement has had a difficult time going after traffickers making it easier for traffickers and others to access guns. Three policies have significantly impeded law enforcement efforts in prosecuting traffickers:

  • “Keeping crime gun trace information secret: Until 2002, the ATF released aggregate crime gun trace reports to local police departments, researchers, policymakers and public safety advocates. The reports revealed for the first time that 1.2% of federally licensed gun dealers supply 57% of the guns used in crime. But, bowing to pressure from the gun lobby, Congress voted to restrict police access to crime gun trace data and cut off public access altogether. These restrictions, known as the Tiahrt Amendments (named for the Kansas Congressman who sponsored the bill), have passed in every Department of Justice budget since 2003, despite the fact that prominent law enforcement associations oppose them as a serious threat to public safety.
  • Handcuffing the ATF: The ATF, the sole government agency charged with enforcing federal gun laws, has operated without a permanent director since the Bush Administration, and operates with just 1,800 agents to monitor approximately 77,000 gun dealers. Given these constraints, it would take ATF 22 years to inspect all federally licensed gun dealers. Even if the ATF had the manpower to inspect most gun dealers, federal law limits the agency to a single unannounced inspection of a dealer in any 12-month period. Congress has made it increasingly difficult for the ATF to revoke licenses of crooked gun dealers.
  • An absence of records: It is impossible for law enforcement to know the whereabouts of millions of firearms in circulation today because Federal law explicitly bars the ATF from establishing a database of retail firearms sales, and private gun sellers are not required to keep a paper trail of transactions. Prior to 2001, federal authorities maintained criminal background check records for up to six months. Under President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed this policy and ordered the destruction of all criminal background check records within 24 hours. Even though the General Accounting Office found that destroying these records endangers public safety, the policy remains in effect.”

A big part of the M.O.D. squad’s success can be attributed to the influence of their biggest supports and spinmeisters, the lobbyist. Lobbying is defined as the act of attempting to influence decision made by officials in the governments mostly legislators or regulatory agency members. The act of lobbying is done by many different groups and people including private sector, corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or advocacy groups and interest groups. Professional lobbyists are people whose business it is to influence legislation on behalf of a group or individual that hired them, while its the government’s job to regulate and define organized lobbying as these groups have become very powerful in Washington. As seen in the movie, Thank You for Smoking, the ethics and morality of lobbying are double edge swords as many speak of it with contempt due to the belief that people with inordinate socioeconomic power are corrupting or twisting the law in order to serve their own purpose. However on the flip side, lobbying also serves the purpose of making sure that others’ interests are duly defended against corruption or to make sure the minority interest is heard and protected against the tyranny of the majority. It is difficult to draw the lines between the good and bad lobbyists as the issue is quite complicated when lobbyist or their clients employ clever tactics to argue that they are the good guys. The arguments follow a wide range of motives in order to influence legislation in this power struggle including predation, self-defense and fighting for justice. Unfortunately, the lines are hard to keep separate and often become blurred due to rationalization.

Within the United States, the agency mainly responsible for the M.O.D.s is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a federal law enforcement organization within the Department of Justice. Its responsibilities include the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture and possession of firearms and explosives, acts of arson and bombings and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products. The ATF also regulates the licensing of the sale, possession and transportation of firearms, ammunition and explosives in interstate commerce. The agency also works with task forces made up of state and local law enforcement officers such as Project Safe Neighborhood. The agency is led by B. Todd Jones, Acting Director, and Thomas E. Brandon, Deputy Director, with 5,000 employees and an annual budget of $1.2 billion in 2012.  There are many problems the AtF are ill equipped to deal with due to a lack of resources and no permanent director for six years now, according to Sari Horwitz, ATF, charged with regulating guns, lacks resources and leadership. People who work for the agency believe that the nation’s gun industry they are supposed to regulate, especially where the gun industry is concerned, is actually running the ATF. Horwitz explains that the gun lobby has taken steps to limit the resources available to the ATF and prevent the agency from having a strong leader as many former and current officials note. The National Rifle Association for years has blocked attempts to computerize gun sale records arguing against any kind of national registry of firearms ownership. Despite the growth in the gun industry and population, ATF has few agents than four decades ago at fewer than 2,500. The former ATF assistant director, Michael Bouchard, had this to say, “If the administration and Congress are serious about addressing this problem, they need to fund the gun police, the agency charged with administering the firearms regulations. Unless they are going to do this completely, simply passing some form of gun legislation is only part of the solution.”  The man currently at the helm, B. Todd Jones, works part time at the agency and also as the U.S. attorney in Minnesota. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who spearheaded a congressional investigation into the agency’s botched gun investigation along the Mexican border, points out that  the “ATF has struggled to competently enforce the firearms laws already on the books. Posing a challenge to an agency needing consistent leadership, the acting director is currently working part time and out of Minneapolis.”

President Obama and President George W. Bush have nominated permanent directors, in the past, only to be shot down again and gain by the Senate. President Obama’s nominee for permanent director was Andrew Traver who oversees the bureau’s Chicago office, but his nomination has been stalled in the Senate for two years due to Taver’s comments about being anti-firearms according to the gun lobby. The NRA immediately opposed the nomination as Taver has been linked to gun control advocates and anti-gun activities in Chicago. As mentioned previously, no permanent director has been on the job for six years since Congress requires the position to be confirmed by the Senate. ATF officials see this attack as a way for the gun lobby to assert their position on Capitol Hill. According to Horwitz, Michael J. Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney from Boston nominated by President George W. Bush, could not get confirms as he was blocked by three senators who accuses him of hostility toward gun dealers. The problem again was that one senator was a member of the NRA’s board of directors. Past and current Justice Department officials have said that the gun lobby has happened the work of the ATF because of their move to block the government’s attempts to make gun ownership records more accessible to law enforcement through a computer database. When guns are used in crimes like those of Newtown, Conn. and Colorado theater shooting, the ATF must go through a very labor intensive process, done by hand to trace the firearms to the stores they were bought in. The agency with a $1.2 billion budget must investigate gun trafficking and regulate firearms sales, however it only has the ability to inspect only a fraction of the nation’s 60,000 retail gun dealers a year with as many as eight years between visits to stores, Horwitz reports. Officials from the NRA have said in past interviews with the Washington Post that the group’s work is designed to protect the constitutional rights of gun owners and denies hampering law enforcement. The botched gun operation known as “Fast and Furious” has hurt the ATF in recent years due to the fact 2,000 guns were lost when Phoenix agents allowed U.S. firearms to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers and two of the weapons found at the scene were part of a fatal shooting of a Border Patrol agent. The result was a major shake up including several officials forced to resign or retire, some reassignments and possible firings.

As the battle of legislation supremacy rages on between the gun industry and well everyone else, there is another silent killer that has been lurking for years causing a similar path of destruction. Alcohol consumption causes over 20,000 cancer-related deaths in America each year making it an important preventable risk factor for the disease. The World Health Organization classified alcohol as the third largest risk factor for disease burden globally, but its link with cancer is , according to Dr. Timothy Naimi of the Boston University School of Medicine, “not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasized even by physicians, Sy Mukherjee reports, Alcohol Causes 20,000 Cancer-Related Deaths In The U.S. Each Year. Mukherjee explains that the report’s authors hopes to combat the ignorance with their findings which found that alcohol causes as many as 3.7 percent of all American cancer related deaths annualy and drinking alcohol increases risk factors for “cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast:” The combined cost for lost of productivity from criminal justice proceeding, missed work and medical care related to drinking alcohol adds up to $223 billion in health expenditures each year. According to Mukherjee, the findings do not tackle the disproportionate toll that alcohol advertising targeting youth may have on the black population believing that alcohol advertising targets young, black Americans who are more susceptible to getting and dying of cancer than other racial demographics. Teens or youth who drink can be killed or injured when drinking for the first time. In fact, alcohol is linked to an estimated 5,000 deaths in people under age 21 each year which is more than illegal drugs combined. According to the article:

  • “Deadly car crashes. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in people aged 15 to 20. Deadly crashes involving alcohol are twice as common in teens compared with people 21 and older. That’s because teens are not as experienced with driving, and their judgment skills are harmed more by alcohol, even if they drink less than adults.
  • Drowning and other deaths. Mixing drinking with swimming or boating can be fatal. Four out of 10 teens who drown have been drinking alcohol. Underage drinking has also been linked with deaths and injuries from burns, falls, alcohol poisoning, and suicide.”

As the World Health Organization website points out, “the harmful use of alcohol is a global problem which compromises both individual and social development.” On the global scale, 2.5 million deaths occur each year and is the world’s third largest risk factor for premature mortality, disability and loss of health. It is the leading risk factor in the Western Pacific and the Americas, while in Europe it is the second largest. Alcohol has been associated with many serous social and developmental issues such as violence, child neglect and abuse and absenteeism at work. Drinkers not only cause harm to themselves, but the well being and health of the people around them through risk of traffic accidents or violent behavior or negatively affect co-workers, relatives, friends or strangers. According to the Center for Disease Control, Fact Sheets- Alcohol Use and Health, there are 80,000 deaths due to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. In 2006, there were more than 1.2 million emergency room visits and 2.7 million physician office visits due to excessive drinking. The standard measure of alcohol in the United States is any drink that contains 0.6 ounces or 14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to a 12-ounces of regular beer or wine cooler, 8-ounces of malt liquor, 5-ounces of wine or 1.5-ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g. gin, rum, vodka, whiskey). Excessive drinking, as defined by the CDC, includes heavy drinking, binge drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or underage youth. Binge drinking, the most common form, means for women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion, and for men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion, while heavy drinking means for women, more than 1 drink per day on average, and for men, more than 2 drinks per day on average. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. However, some groups that should never drink includes as recommended by the CDC:

  • “Pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
  • Taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that may cause harmful reactions when mixed with alcohol.
  • Younger than age 21.
  • Recovering from alcoholism or are unable to control the amount they drink.
  • Suffering from a medical condition that may be worsened by alcohol.
  • Driving, planning to drive, or participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness.”

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases, neurological impairments and social problems. These include but are not limited to:

  • “Neurological problems, including dementia, stroke and neuropathy.
  • Cardiovascular problems, including myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and hypertension.
  • Psychiatric problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicide.
  • Social problems, including unemployment, lost productivity, and family problems.
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast. In general, the risk of cancer increases with increasing amounts of alcohol.
  • Liver diseases, including alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, which is among the 15 leading causes of all deaths in the United States, and among persons with Hepatitis C virus, worsening of liver function and interference with medications used to treat this condition.
  • Other gastrointestinal problems, including pancreatitis and gastritis.”

To round the trio, the tobacco industry has also lived up to the name “Merchants of Death” as again it is one of the most preventable causes of disease, disability and death in the United States.  The Center for Disease Control estimates that each year 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, while another 8.6 million live with serious illness caused by smoking. Approximately 46.6 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes and ,even though smokeless tobacco, cigars, and pipes are seen as a better alternative, they have deadly consequences as well including lung, larynx, esophageal, and oral cancers. An estimated 88 million nonsmoking Americans of which 54% of children ages 3-11 years are exposed to secondhand smoke. With brief exposure, the danger is still high as nonsmokers inhale the same poisons as the smoker. Secondhand smoke exposure causes diseases and death including hear disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks in children. The CDC reports: “Each year, primarily because of exposure to secondhand smoke, an estimated 3,000 nonsmoking Americans die of lung cancer, more than 46,000 die of heart disease, and about 150,000–300,000 children younger than 18 months have lower respiratory tract infections.” Besides the enormous health toll, the economic burden of tobacco use has led to $96 billion a year in medial costs and $97 billion a year in lost productivity.

One method to reduce and control tobacco use has been to raise the price of tobacco leading to a decrease in prevalence among youth and young adults and increases in excise taxes would lead to significant long term improvements in the nation’s health, according to the Surgeon General and the CDC. A 100% increase in price is estimated to reduce consumption by nearly 4% among adults and the potential reduction in youth and low income populations is even higher. The Center for Disease Control provides the following stats on the issue:

“In 2009 and 2010, a total of 20 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government increased excise tax rates for cigarettes. During this period, the combined federal and average state cigarette excise tax increased from $1.57 to $2.45 a pack. Notably, South Carolina, which previously had the nation’s lowest cigarette excise tax, raised its tax in 2010 for the first time in 33 years—by 50 cents to $0.57 a pack. The state also allocated $5 million toward smoking prevention and cessation efforts. In addition, the U.S. territory of Guam increased its cigarette excise tax by 200%, raising the price of cigarettes on the island from $1 to $3 a pack. As of December 2010, the following five states had set excise tax rates of $3 or more per pack: New York ($4.35), Rhode Island ($3.46), Washington ($3.025), Connecticut ($3), and Hawaii ($3). According to estimates from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a $1 increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes in all states would reduce smoking-related disease and death and result in more than $52 billion in long-term health savings over 5 years.”

  • “The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States.
  • More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.
  • Smoking causes an estimated 90% of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80% of all lung cancer deaths in women.
  • An estimated 90% of all deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease are caused by smoking.”

Smoking and Increased Health Risks- Compared with nonsmokers, smoking is estimated to increase the risk of:

  • “coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times,
  • stroke by 2 to 4 times,
  • men developing lung cancer by 23 times,
  • women developing lung cancer by 13 times, and
  • dying from chronic obstructive lung diseases (such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema) by 12 to 13 times.”

Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease

  • “Smoking causes coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Cigarette smoking causes reduced circulation by narrowing the blood vessels (arteries) and puts smokers at risk of developing peripheral vascular disease (i.e., obstruction of the large arteries in the arms and legs that can cause a range of problems from pain to tissue loss or gangrene).
  • Smoking causes abdominal aortic aneurysm (i.e., a swelling or weakening of the main artery of the body—the aorta—where it runs through the abdomen).”

Smoking and Respiratory Disease

  • “Smoking causes lung cancer.
  • Smoking causes lung diseases (e.g., emphysema, bronchitis, chronic airway obstruction) by damaging the airways and alveoli (i.e., small air sacs) of the lungs.”

Smoking and Cancer- Smoking causes the following cancers: Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Bladder, cervix, esophagus, kidney, larynx (voice box), lung, oral cavity (mouth), pancreas, pharynx (throat) and stomach.

Smoking and Other Health Effects- Smoking has many adverse reproductive and early childhood effects, including increased risk for: “infertility, preterm delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).”

Smoking is associated with the following adverse health effects: “Postmenopausal women who smoke have lower bone density than women who never smoked. Women who smoke have an increased risk for hip fracture than women who never smoked.”

Examining global tobacco use provided by the World Health Organization, gives the general public even more insight into the effectiveness of this killer over the long term and why it earns its title as one of the “Merchants of death.” Globally:

  • “Tobacco kills up to half of its users.
  • Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year, of whom more than 5 million are from direct tobacco use and more than 600 000 are nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030.
  • Nearly 80% of the world’s one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Consumption of tobacco products is increasing globally, though it is decreasing in some high-income and upper middle-income countries.
  • Tobacco caused 100 million deaths in the 20th century. If current trends continue, it may cause about one billion deaths in the 21st century.
  • Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million per year by 2030. More than 80% of those deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Only fifty-nine countries, representing under half of the world’s population, monitor tobacco use by repeating nationally representative youth and adult surveys at least once every five years.
  • There are more than 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.
  • In adults, second-hand smoke causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer. In infants, it causes sudden death. In pregnant women, it causes low birth weight.
  • Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places.
  • Over 40% of children have at least one smoking parent.
  • Second-hand smoke causes more than 600 000 premature deaths per year.
  • In 2004, children accounted for 28% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke.
  • Under 11% of the world’s population are protected by comprehensive national smoke-free laws.
  • The number of people protected from second-hand smoke more than doubled to 739 million in 2010 from 354 million in 2008.
  • National comprehensive health-care services supporting cessation are available in only 19 countries, representing 14% of the world’s population.
  • There is no cessation assistance in 28% of low-income countries and 7% of middle-income countries.
  • Just 19 countries, representing 15% of the world’s population, meet the best practice for pictorial warnings, which includes the warnings in the local language and cover an average of at least half of the front and back of cigarette packs. No low-income country meets this best-practice level. Forty-two countries, representing 42% of the world’s population, mandate pictorial warnings.
  • More than 1.9 billion people, representing 28% of the world’s population, live in the 23 countries that have implemented at least one strong anti-tobacco mass media campaign within the last two years.
  • A comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by an average of about 7%, with some countries experiencing a decline in consumption of up to 16%.
  • Only 19 countries, representing 6% of the world’s population, have comprehensive national bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
  • Around 38% of countries have minimal or no restrictions at all on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
  •  A tax increase that increases tobacco prices by 10% decreases tobacco consumption by about 4% in high-income countries and by up to 8% in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Only 27 countries, representing less than 8% of the world’s population, have tobacco tax rates greater than 75% of the retail price.
  • Tobacco tax revenues are on average 154 times higher than spending on tobacco control, based on available data.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, this is the breakdown of U.S. adult smokers in 2010: “19.0% of all adults (43.8 million people), 31.5% non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native, 27.4% non-Hispanic multiple race, 20.6% non-Hispanic white, 19.4% non-Hispanic black, 12.9% Hispanic, 9.9% non-Hispanic Asian.”

Back to the biggest player of the trio, the arms industry is a global business which manufactures weapons and military technology and equipment consisting of the commercial industry involved in research, development, production, and service of military material, equipment and facilities. Arms producing companies or defense contractors or military industry produce arms for the armed forces in the United Sates, while departments of government also operate in the industry by buying and selling weapons, munitions and other military items. According to the Wikipedia article on the arms industry:

“It is estimated that yearly, over 1.5 trillion dollars are spent on military expenditures worldwide (2.7% of World GDP). This represents a decline from 1990 when military expenditures made up 4% of world GDP. Part of this goes to the procurement of military hardware and services from the military industry. The combined arms sales of the top 100 largest arms producing companies amounted to an estimated $315 billion in 2006. In 2004 over $30 billion were spent in the international arms trade (a figure that excludes domestic sales of arms. The arms trade has also been one of the sectors impacted by the credit crunch, with total deal value in the market halving from US$32.9bn to US$14.3bn in 2008. Many industrialized countries have a domestic arms industry to supply their own military forces. Some countries also have a substantial legal or illegal domestic trade in weapons for use by its citizens. An illegal trade in small arms is prevalent in many countries and regions affected by political instability.”

In the global game, the arms industry are master manipulators and stand to lose a lot if they lose their influence. According to Marc Pilisuk, Occupying the Merchants of Death, the global economy has been unable to tap into the increasing accumulation of wealth by this corporate elite therefore the government at all levels has to compensate other ways in order to provide essential human services. In the 2012 budget debate, the U.S. Congress was forced to adopted legislation requiring across the board cuts of all discretionary programs as they and the president could not come to a resolution themselves leading to the current sequester. According to the article: “With health care, libraries, nutrition programs and schools being pinched, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) announced that he would be unwilling to consider any reductions to U.S. nuclear weapons spending in order to avoid budget sequestration as mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act.” Nuclear armed nations spend over $100 billion each year on their weapons programs with some notable institutions heavily involved in financing these arms makers including Bank of America, BlackRock and JP Morgan Chase in the United States; BNP Paribas in France; Allianz and Deutsche Bank in Germany; Mistubishi UJF Financial in Japan; BBVA and Banco Santander in Spain; Credit Suisse and UBS in Switzerland; and Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland in Britain. Of the 322 financial institutions involved, about half are in the United States and a third in Europe. According to Pilisuk:

“The top 12 nuclear weapons contractors have thrown millions of dollars at what some have called the ‘Doomsday Caucus’ on Capitol Hill, with the biggest recipients including people like Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon (R-CA), the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), who is perhaps the biggest single advocate for the nuclear weapons complex in the entire Congress. He is chair of the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.”

The new venture within the arms industry comparable to the gun sector is the surveillance and bombing drones which has grown in popularity on Capitol Hill. The lead company in both areas is General Atomics which sold more than 430 Predator and Reaper drones to the Defense Department between 1994 and 2010 as Pilisuk explains. In 2006 the company led all other corporations in financing lavish trips for lawmakers, their families and staff to countries from Turkey to Australia where it wants the sales of its drones approved. According to the article, sales are approved throughout the world as well as local cities in the United States, however, General Atomics is not the only American defense contractor anxious to sell its wares to other eager governments. Pilisuk explains:

“Northrop Grumman and other companies continue to lobby Congress and the White House to ease export restrictions on drone sales. Such wide open sales could, of course, result in the drones ultimately ending up in the hands of regimes that would use the devices to harm American interests around the globe. AeroVironment, another California company, has grown rapidly with contracts for drones ranging from 5 and one half pounds to 13 pound backpack varieties, They work like unmanned Kamakazee fighters, detecting and then destroying targets. Raytheon has been pioneering a variety of weapons to be launched by drones.”

The drone caucus who is promoting this technology has become more significant in the nation’s capitol as the government looks to unmanned vehicles to save money on defense, better border patrols and provide new tools to U.S. law enforcement and civilians. The public mission of the caucus is to support policies and budgets that promote larger, more robust national security unmanned system capabilities and recognizes the urgent need to rapidly develop and deploy more unmanned systems in support of ongoing civil, military and law enforcement operations. Alex Bronstein-Moffly, analyst with First Street Research Group based in D.C. who analyzes lobbying data, said, “It’s definitely a powerful caucus. It’s probably up there in the more powerful caucuses that sort of is not talked about.” In addition, he noted the caucus members are well placed to influence government spending and regulation as Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) is the co-chair of the caucus. As previously mentioned, McKeon is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Another interesting fact about the caucus is the fact eight of its members are on the House Committee on Appropriations, the group that has influence and control over the federal government’s budget plan. Many of its members are financially supported by the industry they endorse, according to Bronstein-Moffly’s data, which shows that “the 58 drone caucus members received a total of $2.3 million in contributions from political action committees affiliated with drone manufacturers since 2011.” Furthermore, the Center fro Responsive Politics found information, analyzed by Fronteras Desk and Investigative Newsource, stating that: “21 members of the drone caucus represent border states. These congressmen received about $1 million in deposits to their campaign coffers from top large drone makers in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. As Pilisuk explains, “General Atomics is among the top three all-time campaign contributors to California Congressmen Brian Bilbray, Ken Calvert, Jerry Lewis, and Buck McKeon.”

The consequences for allowing these and other Merchants of Death to operate freely within and without the law has led to devastating consequences for the other 99 percent. If the world continues on this path of destruction led my the “Merchants of Death,” then the futures is looking pretty grim especially for children and their future. Something must be done now and not later as the world sinks further into the military industrial complex and reason or at lest common sense gets thrown to the way side. This greed has already led to corruption in the public and private sector as many people starve and the political and culture landscape changes drastically.

3 thoughts on “The M.O.D. Squad: Merchants of Death

  1. Burt Gasperi says:

    Read More

    I have observed that in the world of today, video games are the latest craze with children of all ages. There are times when it may be impossible to drag your kids away from the games. If you want the best of both worlds, there are many educational vid…

  2. Antone Cassette says:

    I believe you’re on to anything the following. Let’s begin the revolution!!!!!!…Tomorrow

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