Guest Post From Cheryl Rofer: The Department of Energy, What Does it Do? 🤔

(Not Cheryl Rofer!)

Fails Dancing With The Stars, Wins Nuke Prize

by Cheryl Rofer

According to the New York Times, Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, presidential aspirant, and now Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy, um, didn’t know what the Department of Energy does when he accepted Trump’s nomination. “Sure I’ll be Ambassador for Oil and Gas,” he said. Twitter is meeting this revelation with humor and “We’re all going to die.”

In a better world, like the one we’ve been living in the past eight years, Cabinet secretaries actually know something about the organizations they are leading. It’s time to disrupt that fusty idea. We have Betsy DeVos, who wants to eliminate public education, as Education Secretary, a fast-food executive as Labor Secretary, and so on. Rick Perry has advocated eliminating the Department of Energy, so he was the natural pick.

Does that mean we are all going to die? That’s not so much the purview of the Energy Secretary. The President has a military guy who carries around the “football,” which is the most immediate starter of nuclear wars. As far as policy goes, the Secretaries of State and Defense have much more to say about starting wars nuclear and conventional. And, surprisingly for this administration, they actually seem to have responsible views on nuclear weapons. Here are excerpts from James Mattis’s and Rex Tillerson’s testimony to Congress. They are quite different from what Donald Trump has tweeted, and much more like the policies that Obama has followed.

Mattis almost says something that the arms control community has wanted to hear from the president:

the role of nuclear weapons is “[t]o deter nuclear war and to serve as last resort weapons of self-defense.”

Change that to

the only role of nuclear weapons is “[t]o deter nuclear war and to serve as last resort weapons of self-defense.”

and a lot of arms-controllers would be very happy.

The Secretary of Energy is in charge of building and maintaining nuclear weapons, so there is some concern about accidents and such, but fortunately it will not be Rick Perry handling the wrenches or working the gloveboxes. A big downside of someone like Perry is that there is no way he can play the role Ernie Moniz did in developing the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Now the question is how much influence Mattis and Tillerson will have on their boss.

56 replies
  1. 1
    amk says:

    peter must be ruing the day he spelt out his principle.

  2. 2
    rikyrah says:

    josie duffy rice ‏@jduffyrice 4h4 hours ago

    just heard that the senate is surprised they aren’t getting more calls about jeff sessions. NOT GOOD. CALL YOUR SENATORS.

  3. 3
    aangus says:



    Makes my happy that I`m up here in Canuckistan and you`re down there in Road Island. (sic). ;)

  4. 4
    Yarrow says:

    My favorite part of the article:

    If approved by the Senate, he will take over from a secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, who was chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department and directed the linear accelerator at M.I.T.’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Before Mr. Moniz, the job belonged to Steven Chu, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize.

    For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University

    He was also terrible on Dancing with the Stars.

  5. 5
    lurker dean says:

    i’m glad to hear tillerson is not so amped up to drop a bomb. and i appreciate that mattis seems to be sacrificing himself to be a bulwark against trump military insanity. but as a friend said, “it’s a little unnerving that we have to rely on a guy nicknamed ‘mad dog’ to keep trump from nuking the world.” i have a bad feeling trump wants to drop a nuke somewhere, anywhere, to prove how tough he is. and that the resulting outrage will be a perfect excuse for martial law.

  6. 6
    Mnemosyne says:

    @lurker dean:

    Unlike Trump, I’m pretty sure that Tillerson is aware that radioactive oil can’t be sold and is trying to protect the only thing he cares about: that sweet, sweet Middle Eastern crude oil.

  7. 7
    danielx says:

    Now the question is how much influence Mattis and Tillerson will have on their boss.

    From everything I have read about him, the only people he listens to – repeat, only – are those in his inner circle, including Ivanka and Jared Kushner. Everything will end up being filtered through them. Trump is convinced he already knows everything he needs to know about everything, and doesn’t need input from anybody.

  8. 8
    Another Scott says:

    In October Putin suspended a 2013 nuclear R&D agreement, apparently in response to the Crimea sanctions. Presumably Vlad would be more amenable to starting that up again with Donnie on a short leash. But is that necessary or worthwhile? What should the US give up or promise to give Vlad if he wants something in return for resuming this work? Is this the “nuclear agreement” that Donnie was talking about in exchange for lifting the sanctions?

    Will Gov. Goodhair be asked about this at his hearing tomorrow?



  9. 9
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    T’s uncle (John Trump) was, by all accounts, an extremely accomplished engineer, inventor, and physicist, on the faculty at M.I.T., and especially knowledgeable about “the nuclear.” On several occasions during the campaign, T mentioned his uncle with pride. (Of course, given his narcissism and his apparent belief that knowledge and information can be transmitted genetically, or by osmosis, he probably invoked his uncle’s name only to establish his own scientific bona fides. But still.)

    I like to think that on news of the Rick Perry nomination, Uncle John started spinning in his grave sufficiently fast to generate a new source of energy.

  10. 10

    So we put Homer Simpson in charge of the power plant.

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Mattis isn’t an idiot; Perry is.

  12. 12

    @danielx: This is pretty much my understanding too, as much as any of us understand anything about Trump. Nikki Haley, in her hearing today to be US Ambassador to the United Nations, made some reasonable statements, and when questioned about her divergence from what Trump has said, replied that she and others in the Cabinet hope to convince Trump of their views.

    For whatever that’s worth.

  13. 13
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    Perry, the dumbest man in the GOP and Donny picks him, just fucking wow.

  14. 14
    amk says:

    @Major Major Major Major: heh, but it will all be burn it to the ground fun stuff that we all love so much.

  15. 15
    momus says:

    Wasn’t Energy the department Rick couldn’t remember in 2012?

  16. 16
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    Perry, the dumbest man in the GOP

    Lou Gohmert would like to contest that title.

  17. 17
    dm says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Pence is reported to be a competitor, too, isn’t he?

  18. 18
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @dm: It’s a tight race.

  19. 19
    🌷 Martin says:

    The only way this story makes any sense is if you conclude that Trump had the same misunderstanding about the agency when he chose Perry.

    But you have to admit that it’s impressive that Perry ran twice for president, denigrating the agency the entire time, and couldn’t be bothered to read the wikipedia page about it, have someone summarize it in 2-3 sentences, or even just have an idle thought about Moniz’s role in the Iran talks and why he was involved.

    One of the biggest crises in education is the notable decline in critical thinking among students stemming from NCLB. We’re electing a president and cabinet that has effectively zero critical thinking skills. It’s astounding – I really thought that Idiocracy was a bit further out in the future.

  20. 20
    Another Scott says:

    @momus: Education, Commerce, … Ooops.

    (Yup, it was Energy.)

    Irony is such an outdated concept.


  21. 21
    Kristine says:

    @dm: IIRC, his nickname was “Mike Dense.”

    Part of me wishes that T would be impeached immediately and that Dense would take over, but I fear he would be even more the automatic signature that Grover Norquist etc want in a president than T would be.

  22. 22

    @Another Scott: In the Times of London interview, Trump said something something sanctions something something nuclear reductions, which reporters have tried to bend into something coherent. I have not yet managed to find a coherent meaning. Arms control agreements are reductions for reductions, not reductions for sanctions. In any case, it wasn’t clear whose reductions Trump was talking about or reductions of what. The sanctions are for Russia’s seizure of Crimea and attack on eastern Ukraine. To remove them in return for something else is to give up Ukraine to Putin. Not a good idea.

    Also in that interview, Trump said he really wants to reduce nuke numbers. Last week he said let an arms race rip. Hard to tell what that means.

    On that reactor research agreement, Putin ripped that one up along with the plutonium disposition agreement last fall. The conditions he stated for re-upping the plutonium disposition agreement were 1) Removal of all sanctions; 2) Withdrawal of NATO to pre-1991 boundaries, and there was a third that isn’t going to happen either and I don’t recall just now. The point had nothing to do with negotiations and everything to do with asserting Russian will.

    Here is a list of questions that the American Association for the Advancement of Science recommends for Perry. I think they’re pretty good.

  23. 23
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    To remove them in return for something else is to give up Ukraine to Putin. Not a good idea.

    And yet, here we are.

  24. 24

    @Omnes Omnibus: It’s not at all clear that was what he was offering. The words, they do not track.

  25. 25
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: The problem is that the interpretation you offered is out there. Trump is a mountain of fail.

  26. 26
    Brachiator says:

    Trump picking Perry for Energy makes Bush picking Michael “Brownie” Brown to head FEMA look like the wisdom of Solomon.

    The collection of idiots, idiot aristocrats, and oligarchs in training really makes you wonder how an occasional good choice like Mattis slip through.

    ETA: Mattis’ “Mad Dog” moniker seems more to indicate dogged focus, not cavalier insanity. He’s also known as the “Warrior Monk.” Maybe Trump didn’t understand what he was getting when he selected him.

  27. 27
    Another Scott says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I appreciate your comments.

    That is indeed an excellent list of questions, too. DOE is very important for lots of reasons, and could be a very important player in helping to advance energy technologies in the US and the world. Having a buffoon like Perry run it is a travesty.



  28. 28
    MomSense says:

    This is embarrassing. These idiots have no idea how completely unprepared and unqualified they all are.

  29. 29
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Brachiator: That’s not actually his nickname. His actual nickname is The Warrior Monk. Warrior because he’s a very good warfighter. Monk because he’s very studious and well read and because he’s never married. He’s also occasionally referred to by his call sign from his last operational assignment “Chaos 6”.

  30. 30
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: “Chaos 6” is so much better than “Gator 23” which was my last call sign.

  31. 31

    You can listen to the hearing tomorrow morning from a link here.

    9:30 EST

  32. 32
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Just 36 hours now.

  33. 33
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: You were in 2-6 IN?

  34. 34
    Seth Owen says:

    @🌷 Martin: Sadly, the steepest decline in critical thinking skills seems to be among my generation of boomers and older — and we had ‘traditional’ education. I don’t think NCLB can be blamed for Trump.

  35. 35
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Alpha Battery often uses Gator.

    ETA: I wasn’t infantry. Artillery lends dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl.

  36. 36
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Tracking. Ours didn’t because one of our maneuver battalions was using it. Given we were (and despite what 1HBCT/4ID thinks still are) the Iron Brigade I always wanted Bravo Company, 4/27 FA to use the historic Battery B. When I brought this up people looked at me funny. Would awareness of the Gettysburg campaign have been too much to ask for? Apparently yes.

  37. 37
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I know you weren’t, but you have to remember I am used to the modular Army. So an Armor or Heavy Brigade Combat Team will include armor, infantry, field artillery, cav, engineering, etc battalions. A lot of the BCT Commanders than modularize the battalions so that they are combined arms modular: one infantry, one armor/armor cav, and one field artillery company each.

  38. 38
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: 4/27 FA was at Wertheim, when I was on the brigade staff. they were an MLRS unit by then.

  39. 39
    SWMBO says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Don’t start a drinking game while watching the clock. You’ll die of alcohol poisoning before we get there.

  40. 40

    @SiubhanDuinne: Apropos of nothing in particular, and meaning no disrespect to you, every now and then I feel I must jump on the “spinning in the grave”.

    The original expression is “turn over in (his or her) grave” – i.e., they’re turning their back on you, in disgust, yes, EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE DEAD, that’s how disgusted they are. Then there were additional expressions regarding how *violently* they would turn over in the graves. Soon, the motion was believed to be the key, and now we’re at spinning in graves.

    Language evolves, and usage evolves, and the expression is meaningless in any event – if a corpse ever turns over in its grave, it’s probably due to an earthquake or some similar shifting of the local ground. There’s nothing wrong with the expression as it stands, and certainly nothing wrong with using it.

    Nevertheless, I sometimes feel the compelling urge to make a pointless statement on the INTERNET of all places.

    There was going to be a punchline when I started all this, but I think it was beaten to death by phraseological pedantry.

  41. 41
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    one field artillery company

    Blasphemy. It is a battery. The equivalent in a Cav unit is a troop.

  42. 42
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: They’re at Bliss now with the rest of the 2BCT/1AD.

  43. 43
    rikyrah says:

    I love that section of the article

  44. 44
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Poor bastards. Wertheim had a very nice strawberry fest and Bliss is in TX.

  45. 45
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: sorry, its late. Long day, I’m getting ready to sign off. I’m physically and mentally pooped!

  46. 46
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: My BCT Commander is now the 1AD Commander. Which is a well deserved assignment for him.

  47. 47
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Silver Star, Wings, and a Ranger tab. Okay.

  48. 48
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Okay.

  49. 49
    g says:

    For Mr. Moniz, …he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

    Hey, I spent my early years at SLAC (well Summers in College), so I’m actually more qualified than Perry. Also hearing the panic when talking to a current SLAC employee the other day says no matter who is in charge things don’t look good.

  50. 50
    Marmot says:

    Thanks Cheryl! You write well.

  51. 51
  52. 52

    […] This post also appears at Balloon Juice. […]

  53. 53
    Snarki, child of Loki says:

    With luck, it’ll take four years for Perry to:

    (a) remember which Department he was supposed to be running

    (b) figure out how to get to its HQ.

    I, for one, look forward to Rick Perry wandering the streets of DC in a confused daze.

  54. 54
    evodevo says:

    @g: Yes. He is right to panic. With the troglodyte (no offense to cavemen) Repub Congress in charge, there will be no funding unless it directly contributes to the “war” on cancer, improving corn yields, or a DARPA project. Not only Amurrica, but Science is f$%ked too.

  55. 55
    manyakitty says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques: That was a prerequisite for VP, too, ya know.

  56. 56
    artem1s says:

    The Energy Department plays an important and multifaceted role in protecting national security. In addition to our work to increase nuclear nonproliferation and ensure the security of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, we manage the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, invest in protections against cyber and physical attacks on U.S. energy infrastructure, conduct programs to ensure worker health and safety, provide training tools and procedures for emergency response and preparedness, and fight the effects of climate change.

    Russian hackers all over the election and now the power grid. This is Brownie overseeing FEMA x10,000. Expect massive power outages, gas shortages, oil spillages, theft of plutonium, etc, etc, etc… We are all dead.

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