29 September 2016

Debate Anxiety

For days before the Big Debate, I engaged in a little debate--with myself. I threatened not to watch because I feared my candidate would be demolished by the name-calling bully and I would have to hide under the covers for the next four years. I am glad my glass-is-half-full brain won the debate with my glass-is-half-empty brain, and I watched. Whew. I know it’s not over until its over, and there is plenty of time for Hillary to screw it up, or The Donald to doff one of the faux less-obnoxious personalities he has hanging in his closet, and persuade enough Clinton-haters in FL and OH to pull off a victory, but at least I feel better today than I did a few days ago.

But for me it all comes down to a paramount issue: Who do you trust in the most important issue of our time.

A week ago, Pinks and I were having dinner with a dear friend from a swing state. She is a social liberal but a fiscal conservative, and is a Trump voter. Over the years, we have steered away from politics during our infrequent reunions. We know neither of us is going over to the other side, and we don’t try. But as the Great Debate approached, she surprised me and brought the subject up.  What did I think, she asked?

I said:

Alice, darling, for the moment, let’s put aside all the stuff about trade, the economy, jobs, immigration, wages, rudeness, bullying, racism, misogyny, trustworthiness, income tax returns, emails, etc. There is much to be said on each subject, some of which is arguable, some not, some important, some less so.  But you and I have discussed all that before.

But before you vote, please go to your computer and watch a September 18, 2016 edition of 60 Minutes. The middle segment consists of a series of interviews with the General in charge of our nuclear strike force, and one of our nuclear submarine commanders. While I thought I knew this stuff in general, I was startled by details.  Basically, here is the scheme:

We have the ability to detect a long-range missile attack on the United States. The time between detection and impact is eight minutes. We have thousands of nuclear tipped missiles. Our nuclear attack-submarines alone each carry 24 missiles, which are capable of delivering more than 200 nuclear weapons. We have ten such submarines, and when you add our land-based weapons, deliverable both by missile and aircraft, we possess enough nuclear weaponry to kill every living thing on our planet, several times over.

There is an elaborate process that must be followed before anybody launches a weapon--a series of procedures that progress up the line, ending with the President sending back down the codes authorizing the launch. The military commanders, asked what they would do if they disagreed with such a Presidential order, each say what you would expect a military person to say: “I am a soldier, I follow orders, I don’t question them. I do my job.”

Ironically, while the President needs Congressional authorization to invade even the smallest country, there is no Congressional Committee tasked to consider and authorize a retaliatory nuclear strike, no cabinet subgroup, no outside advisor whose consent is necessary. The pressure of the time frame eliminates all such oversight. There is only one person whose assent is necessary, and who has the unqualified power to authorize a nuclear launch and that is the President. The military commanders have no say in the matter. They have two functions: i) ascertain that the order actually comes from the President (and they say they have foolproof mechanisms to do this--I sure hope they are better than Yahoo’s procedures) and, ii) once they authenticate the order, to issue the command to launch.

The nuclear force Commanding General was asked if there ever had been a false alarm. I was stunned by his answer: Some years back, they came within four minutes of a launch! An officer had inserted a training tape into the system without the necessary safeguard, and the computers all showed that a missile attack on the United States was in progress. A skeptical general questioned the accuracy of what appeared to be happening, double-checked, and discovered the mistake. Four minutes!

So, Alice, my darling, while all the other stuff is debatable and  matters to a greater or lesser degree depending on your outlook, please consider who you want to have the power to issue that non-appealable final order in the event circumstances appear (to the President) to warrant pushing that button. There is no going back.

True story, except for Alice’s name.

I was happy to see Hillary make the point at the end of the debate.

In the next debate, we can get to the real important stuff: with whom did Bill have “sexual relations” in 1992.