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

Everyone Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep: All is Well. Sort of. Maybe…

As they say in the Ranger Regiment: “That’s a technique!”

Edited for Clarification:

It is important to remember that Sherman is relating what he has been told by a senior Republican in DC about what that individual believes to knows the discussions have been. But that people are speculating that this might happen is an important indicator of just how bad the problem is.

I got nothing!

You haven’t done nothing

A great summary of the scam Mitch McConnell ran on media establishment stooges:

His failure to log even a single major achievement is without precedent in recent American history. It’s not like he hasn’t had the opportunity: Not only has McConnell enjoyed 250 days of unified Republican control in 2017, he also led a GOP majority in the Senate for the previous two years, paired with a solid Republican majority in the House. But under McConnell’s leadership, even bills backed by strong bipartisan support, tagged as likely to pass by seasoned Hill observers and likely to be signed by Obama, languished.


So where does the Myth of McConnell come from?

The Myth is manufactured out of a deeply cynical but highly effective public relations insight that McConnell exploited to maximum effect: If he simply labeled everything Obama and Democrats tried to do as “partisan,” regardless of the merits, then invented institutionalist-sounding reasons for his opposition, and conveyed those reasons in polished speeches delivered from the Senate floor in his rolling Kentucky drawl, the news media and the commentators would eat it up. He realized that he didn’t have to be a bipartisanship-seeking institutionalist—he could just play one on TV, giving him cover to push partisanship to the hilt in private.

All that said, at least we don’t have to hear about his piercing blue eyes and P90X workouts all the damn time.

We Have a Winner in the GOP Senatorial Runoff in Alabama

Here he is:

Ooops, sorry, that’s Mike TeaVee from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Here he is:

Your Alabama GOP senatorial runoff winner is cowboy cosplayer and teeny weeny wheel gun aficionado Judge Roy Moore – the Last Law West of Ashkelon.


Open thread!

I Just Called My Reps Again- Did You?

I don’t know if it makes a difference, but when I call my reps and talk to their staffers, I try to drag it out a little bit and be as polite as possible. After they answer, I ask them by the name they have just provided how they are doing and hope all is going well. Then I usually start with “My name is John Cole, and I am constituent of Rep. McKinley/Sen. Manchin/Sen. Capito and I live in Bethany, West Virginia. I was calling to ask where Rep./Sen. stood on the current Graham/Cassidy bill.”

Capito and McKinley’s reps would not tell me because they “did not know,” while Manchin’s staff t old me he was against it. With the latter, I said “Well that’s great to hear, and I would like to add my name to the list because I think it is a terrible bill and will hurt West Virginia and West Virginians,” and then give them my address and phone number in case they would like to reach me.

With Capito and McKinley, I said that “I would like to urge them to both reject the bill and vote no, because I think it is bad for West Virginia and West Virginians, and it is unfair and will hurt our people, who already have a tough go of it.” I then chatted with the McKinley rep about how weird it was to have him as my rep because I actually went to undergrad with his daughter and worked on her campaign to get her elected to the student board of governor’s (she won), and with the Capito rep talked about how my dad and I had both met her father Arch Moore on several occasions because my dad had been mayor for 25 years here and we went to Charleston a lot when I was a kid for grants.

And then at the end, to all of them, I tell them “I am sure you have had an awful couple of weeks, with a lot of angry people calling, so I hope you have a nice day and I really hope that your boss comes out opposed to the bill.”

I don’t know if it works, but I use my calm adult voice (the one that doesn’t say fuck every other word) and just try to be nice and to make it personal. I also insist that they take my address and phone number, so I can’t just be written off as a random but as an actual person who votes in their district. I know not everyone feels comfortable doing that, but I do, so I do it.

I’m going to try to figure out how to fax them all from my printer, because for some reason I have it in my head that those matter more. Also, I recommend writing down the staffer name and keeping it in a file so when you call back and get someone else, you can namedrop the staffer you spoke to and it will let them know you are concerned about the issue, have called before, and aren’t going away.

I also wore my fuck trump t-shirt while calling, but they don’t need to know that.

How do you all do it?

Fuck Him

Fuck the Emmys for having him, and fuck the NY Times for this handjob:

During his surprise comedy skit at the Emmys on Sunday, Sean Spicer may have made light of his six-month tenure as the White House press secretary, but a message was also embedded in his performance.

In an interview on Monday morning, Mr. Spicer said he now regrets one of his most infamous moments as press secretary: his decision to charge into the White House briefing room in January and criticize accurate news reports that Barack Obama’s inauguration crowd was bigger than President Donald J. Trump’s.

“Of course I do, absolutely,” Mr. Spicer said.

I’ll just outsource this to Jay Smooth:

Eat a bag of dicks, Spciey.

What A Continuing Resolution Means For The People Who Do The Work

President Donald Trump has agreed with Democratic Congressional leaders to extend a continuing budget resolution for three months. I can hear the federally-funded program managers:


It’s better than a government shutdown, but not much.

Once upon a time, Congress passed budgets in March. That allowed agencies like the Department of Energy to work through any changes that Congress made in their requested budgets and to inform the various facilities and contractors what their budgets would be for the fiscal year starting in October. Yes, it really worked that way in the dim past.

Even that regularity had its difficulties, including some fiddling with budgets at levels from the DOE down and the problem of being sure of only one year’s funding at a time. But in the mid-nineties, Newt Gingrich got the bright idea of holding the government hostage by budget in order to enact measures wanted by a minority.

I managed programs at Los Alamos through the eighties and into the nineties. There always were ups and downs, but continuing resolutions introduced a wnole new level of chaos.

A continuing resolution is Congress’s way to kick the budget can down the road. If a budget is not agreed by September, they have to do something to allow the government to continue operations after October 1. A continuing resolution says “You may spend as much money as your budget had last year.” This has a number of problems.

One of the projects I managed was cleanup of contaminated sites at Los Alamos. This is an oversimplified look at how a continuing resolution might affect a cleanup.

  • Year 1: Evaluation of data, take samples, do analysis of samples to define cleanup.
  • Year 2: Do cleanup.
  • Year 3: Take samples, evaluate cleanup, write report.

The budget for Year 1 is mostly for people, and in-house services, relatively small. The budget for Year 2 is much larger and mostly for contracts to companies that use earthmoving equipment. The budget for Year 3 looks a lot like that of Year 1.

Under a continuing resolution, there will not be enough money for Year 2. Congress has been micromanaging in more and more detail over the years, so project money is specified for people or equipment or contracts. Even though there may be plenty of funding under a continuing resolution for Year 3, it will be in the wrong pocket.

The managers at DOE and the national laboratories have some ability to shift money among projects and pockets, but the level of shifting necessary may well be against the law. To my knowledge, nobody has been prosecuted for that kind of manipulation, but it makes people feel bad about their jobs.

And that’s not the whole story. As the year proceeds on a continuing resolution, money is spent. But the budget Congress eventually decides on may be different. There may be less funding for people. If you’ve paid six people for six months and your budget is cut to three people, all your people money is gone by the time you know what the budget is. Again, managers can shift things so that people who will be needed the next year don’t have to be fired, again unsatisfactory and possibly illegal.

Every project across the government faces this uproar under a continuing resolution. The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, FEMA, the border protection services, and, yes, the Department of Defense’s many operations. John McCain recognized this in a speech today.

I haven’t mentioned all the time that is wasted on rejiggering budgets, notifying people of changes, and all the other unnecessary work that goes into dealing with Congress’s budget antics. My guess is that it runs into billions of dollars.

Newt Gingrich found a way to hobble government and advance his political goals. Now the Democrats find political leverage in cutting down the continuing resolution to three months. If we want the government to work, this has to stop.


Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner