The Nuclear Chain of Command

Donald Trump has been musing about nuclear war since the 1980s, and now he’s bringing our fears to life with his tweets against North Korea. Also, playing the role of a decisive and serious executive, he told the military back in July that he wanted to increase the US’s arsenal of nuclear weapons back to the maximum we had during the Cold War. That seems to have been the trigger for Rex Tillerson to call him a moron. Tillerson wasn’t wrong.

As always with Trump, it’s a good idea to have the facts before us. So here are some.

A president launches nuclear missiles via an electronic briefcase (“the football”) that is always at his side, carried by a service member at the O4-O5 level. That’s a major – lieutenant colonel or lieutenant commander – commander. The services rotate, and both male and female service members have been in this role. One of them made the news back in the spring of this year when he allowed Mar-a-Lago patrons to take selfies with him. Their role is to be unobtrusive and to follow orders.

Some of us have been discussing the chain of command since the election. This article contains a nice graphic that explains how a president would order a nuclear strike. Unfortunately, it’s too big to steal and insert into this post. One of the questions we had was whether the Secretary of Defense is a necessary part of the decision chain. Alex Wellerstein found documents that clearly say no: the President is the sole decider, although he may consult with others. Read more



Not the Onion: signing statement edition

Read it and bang your head into the wall until the darkness engulfs and silence descends.

Open thread



Shame as a limiting constraint

It is always worthwhile to read through the back archives of the now defunct Kung Fu Monkey.

Today’s relevant post is on shame as a constraint. It was written in 2007 responding to the US Attorney firing scandal as they weren’t willing to railroad people for non-existent voter fraud. I think it is a relevant structural analysis today as well:

This just hammers home my realization of what the Cheney Administration — and yes, damn you this is the first time I’ve indulged in that neologism, and the first time I think it perfectly appropriate — what the Cheney Administration has discovered. They have found the “exploit” within the United States Government. As I watched Congressmen and Senators stumble and fumble and thrash, unable to bring to heel men and women who were plainly lying to them under oath, unable to eject from public office toadies of a boot-licking expertise unseen since Versailles, it struck me. The sheer, simple elegance of it. The “exploit”.

The exploit is shame.

Our representatives — and to a great degree we as a culture — are completely buffaloed by shamelessness. You reveal a man’s corrupt, or lying, or incompetent, and what does he do? He resigns. He attempts to escape attention, often to aid in his escape of legal pursuit. Public shame has up to now been the silver bullet of American political life. But people who are willing to just do the wrong thing and wait you out, to be publicly guilty … dammmnnnn.

We are faced with utterly shameless men. Cheney and the rest are looking our representatives right in the eye and saying “You don’t have the balls to take down a government. You don’t have the sheer testicular fortitude to call us lying sonuvabitches when we lie, to stop us from kicking the rule of law and the Constitution in the ass. You just don’t. What’s beyond that abyss — what that would do to our government and our identity as a nation — terrifies you too much. So get the fuck out of our way.”



If I ever tell you about Maxine

I’m not very expert about what is and what isn’t an impeachable offense. I know that consensual sex with interns is an impeachable offense but that’s about all I know. So I haven’t followed the impeach Trump stuff very carefully til now.

Maxine Waters has been talking about impeachment for a while now. And today I saw a couple more Democrats in Congress talking about it.

So what’s the deal? If Trump fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation, is that an impeachable offense? Views from lawyers would be welcome here.