This book gives a comprehensive and thorough history of the United States government’s plans for surviving a nuclear war. The book spans the Atomic Age, with detailed information from the Truman through Obama administrations, with occasional references to the comparatively primitive security measures under earlier presidents.
There are a number of interesting stories in the book, from the day that President Truman practically shut down Washington as he stepped out to go to the bank to the total chaos and confusion that reigned on 9/11, when the emergency procedures were implemented rather haphazardly.
For all the programs aimed at “continuity of government”, the ultimate conclusion of Presidents, generals, CEOs, and bureaucrats throughout the decades seems to invariably have been that in the event of a nuclear attack, the United States as we know it would cease to exist, and survivors—if any—would live under martial law at best for a considerable length of time.
And yet, the preparation proceeds anyway, as the government tries to figure out a way to survive the unsurvivable. In one memorable section, Graff discusses a secret bunker at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, complete with underground chambers for the House and Senate to convene, all maintained without the knowledge of even the CEO of the resort himself.
Throughout the book, I repeatedly thought of this exchange from the British political sitcom Yes, Minister:
Sir Humphrey: There has to be somewhere to carry on government, even if everything else stops.
Minister Hacker: Why?
Sir Humphrey: Well, government doesn’t stop just because the country’s been destroyed!
That really summarizes the absurdity of the whole enterprise. The book’s subtitle, “The story of the U.S. government’s secret plan to save itself–while the rest of us die” is a bit unnecessarily hysterical and sinister-sounding, (they can’t really be expected to save everyone, can they?) but it does underscore the inescapable problem of attempting to preserve a way of life that can’t exist in the unimaginably horrible new world that would be created after the bombs went off.
Graff did a lot of research for this book, but too often sacrificed readability in the interest of being thorough. There are plenty of paragraphs that bog down in the alphabet soup of government programs, plans and agency acronyms. (This is perhaps inevitable to some degree—the government loves acronyms.) Even more confusingly, information is sometimes poorly organized, and occasionally repeated in different sections. Once or twice this caused me to think I had accidentally gone back to a section I’d already read.
There’s also at least one flat-out error: on page 278 of the Kindle version, Graff asserts that “Reagan was the first president shot in nearly a century.” This is obviously not true, and probably the result of some kind of copy/paste error. That’s one that anybody would know is wrong, but it made me wonder what other, less-apparent-but-equally-serious errors the editors might have missed.
So, should you read it? Alot of the negative reviews say things like “I could have gotten all this from Wikipedia”. Which is true, but also raises the question, “Then why didn’t you?” A journalist like Graff isn’t required to discover new information—compiling and correlating existing information into one convenient book is also useful.
Unfortunately, Raven Rock isn’t as convenient as it could have been. A bit more editing and condensing would have improved the book a great deal. As it is, though, there’s a wealth of information for those willing to slog through and find out what secret projects the government has been spending our taxes on in the hopes of surviving Armageddon.
On CNN this morning they were talking about the fact that Trump has been golfing far more than previous Presidents. What makes this especially ironic is that before he ran for office, he tweeted all sorts of insults at then-President Obama for how much time he spent golfing. And before that, Democrats criticized George W. Bush for this:
(Bush quit golfing shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.)
As I’ve discussed in the past, I don’t actually mind that Presidents (or other executives) play golf. Their jobs mostly involve giving people orders, and as long as they have working communications equipment, that can be done from a golf course.
The problem with Trump’s golfing is that he plays at courses he owns, which means his company charges his government support staff for the use of equipment and facilities while they are there to provide security and other support to Trump.
This is a massive conflict of interest, but seemingly no one in government can be bothered to make Trump stop doing it and go play on a course he doesn’t own instead. The press should focus more on that and less on the raw amount of time that Trump spends golfing.
What I expected to happen in the 2016 election was that Clinton would win, but Trump would do better than most people expected, and it would scare the political establishment into making some concessions to the nationalist movement that had propelled Trump to the nomination.
My assumption was that it would be similar to what happened in the 1990s when Ross Perot ran a highly successful campaign based on reducing the budget deficit. He didn’t win, but his support was sufficient to convince both parties they needed to balance the budget. (At least for a while.)
I figured that the Republicans and Democrats would realize they had to do something to appease the fury Trump had awakened.
Looking back, I think this might have been a better outcome for the nationalist faction than the Trump victory has been.
“Over the past 48 hours, the outsider politician who pledged to upend Washington has:
— Abandoned his vow to label China a currency manipulator.
— Rethought his hands-off assessment of the Syrian conflict — and ordered a missile attack.
— Turned his warm approach toward Vladimir Putin decidedly chilly and declared U.S.-Russia relations “may be at an all-time low.”
— Decided NATO isn’t actually obsolete, as he had claimed.
— Realized the U.S. Export-Import Bank is worth keeping around.”
In the aftermath of Bannon’s fall from… well, not “grace” exactly, but you know what I mean–Trump has abandoned many of the nationalist ideas he campaigned on.
I’ve often thought that even if I supported nationalist policies, Trump is one of the last people I would want advancing the cause. As I wrote back in October:
Trump himself, the de facto nationalist candidate, has even less interest in the merits of globalism vs. nationalism. His decision to promote nationalist policies is purely pragmatic. He adopted it when he discovered it would enable him to win the Republican nomination. I think that the only reason he won’t abandon it now is because, for a host of reasons, only ardent nationalists will support him at this point. If he drops nationalism, he is left with nothing.
Well, things have changed since then. Now, instead of nothing, Trump’s potential reward for abandoning nationalism is the adulation of the Washington establishment, the political press, and most of the government.
Also, it means he gets to put the most powerful military on earth to work destroying stuff on his command.
Given this, combined with everything we know about Trump’s personality, it’s easy to see why Trump now refuses to, as the expression goes, “dance with the one that brought him”.
It’s not a coincidence that Bannon got removed from the NSC and two days later, Trump orders missile strikes that Bannon and his “alt-right”/”America First” crowd oppose.
My question is: did Trump simply become outraged because he saw the pictures coming out of Syria, and decided he didn’t care what Bannon said? Or is this the result of Trump’s long-term dissatisfaction at the series of apparent failures spearheaded by Bannon?
Or is it that Trump is now listening more to his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner than he is to Bannon? (Possibly as a result of said Bannon-led failures?)
There are a number of different explanations, all of which suggest that Trump is pretty impulsive and won’t hesitate to radically change his mind in short order.
But of course, that goes both ways. If Bannon can get thrown in the doghouse this easily, he can get pulled back out just as quickly. And that’s the main takeaway for me: Trump acts quickly–some would say decisively, others would say recklessly. Even his apparent friendly relations with Russia couldn’t quell his desire to take action in Syria. It must have really been important to him, because it meant reversing one of his core campaign positions, and losing a lot of his most zealous supporters.
I remember an episode of The McLaughlin Group from years ago, in which John McLaughlin asked Pat Buchanan “Who won the week?” Buchanan hesitated, and McLaughlin pressed him harder: “Come on, Pat! Someone’s got to win the week!”
Buchanan finally answered that nobody had won the week–“It was a draw,” he explained. McLaughlin let it go after that, though he didn’t seem happy about it.
McLaughlin was a pioneer in this entertaining-but-superficial style of political reporting. But as is so often the case, those who followed the trail have mimicked all of his flaws while picking up none of his entertaining virtues.
And so the political press covers everything with a fast-paced and myopic focus on which groups happen to be winning or losing at the moment. In general, the extent of one side’s win or loss is over-hyped, giving an impression of a more permanent victory or defeat than is warranted.
For instance, remember a month ago when President Trump was winning in the headlines because the press liked his address to Congress? That seems like ancient history now, because all the headlines are about the defeat Trump suffered when his health care bill couldn’t pass the House.
It’s sort of like coverage of a sporting event, except that unlike sports analysts, political pundits tend to assume that whichever team happens to be winning at the moment will continue to do so forever, even if the lead is extremely small.
The real problem with this is not just that leads to absurdly hyperbolic analysis, or even “we have always been at war with Eastasia“-style retconning in the way journalists re-phrase narratives to make them appear consistent.
We take the existence of political parties as a given. Even dictatorships usually have one party, which is strange if you think about it–a bit like having a sports league with only one team. Why do you need a party if it doesn’t have to compete with any other party?
Nevertheless, political parties are everywhere. They are clearly very popular. And yet, when you think about it, there is no obvious need for parties in a functioning democracy.
To run for office, you just need to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot in relevant districts. After that, you need to get your message out somehow–usually through press interviews, ads, campaign rallies and speeches. And you don’t need a party to do any of that.
Once you are in office, you have even less need for a party because, well… you are in office. Now you just need to use the office to accomplish your goals. Periodically, you need to campaign for re-election, but as we just saw, that can be accomplished without a party.
The obvious point is that you need money in order to run for office, and parties are a convenient way of raising money and in general providing the infrastructure for a successful campaign.
But there are other ways of raising money. If you’re a really effective and charismatic speaker–a major asset in politics–that in itself can be a fundraising mechanism. And if you are already wealthy, you may be able to self-finance campaigns for some offices. The super-richwant to controlpolitics anyway; why don’t they just cut out the middleman and do it themselves?
Also, the rise of mass media means that it’s cheaper to get the word out than it used to be. Donald Trump famously got billions of dollars worth of “free advertising” for his campaign by dominating both mainstream press and social media headlines.
So, what are political parties for?
One thing they obviously do is provide a way of associating oneself with certain goals, policies and philosophies. If someone is a Democrat, you can generally guess where they stand on most issues. That can save a candidate a lot of time–you know you’re guaranteed a certain number votes just from your party affiliation. More on that later…
Parties also provide a framework for running campaigns. This is also a time-saving function. Everyone knows the Republicans and Democrats are both going to field some candidate in the race for state governor, for example. So they have some campaign infrastructure already in place–they just need to sort out who the candidate will be.
In this respect, political parties have surreptitiously taken over the political process simply by virtue of providing candidates with credibility.
It works like this: the press knows that either the Republican or the Democrat is going to win, and so they focus their coverage on them. Similarly, donors know the same fact, and so donate primarily to one of the two candidates.
Thus, while it’s not apparent why you need a party apparatus, it is clear that once you have one, it’s hard to get rid of it.
Politicians have tried to challenge various parties over the years, and some have succeeded in radically changing what a given party’s platform is, or even in creating an entirely new party. But to my knowledge, nobody has ever challenged the party infrastructure itself.
Even Trump, much as he tried to play the role of Outsider Underdog taking on the Establishment Machine, didn’t truly challenge that parties from outside. Instead, he played divide and conquer, first taking over the Republicans and turning their infrastructure to serve him in defeating the Democrats.
The core Republican party system remained (and remains) in place; Trump just took charge of it and directed how it should be used.
If you define a party–as I suggested above–as a team of people interested in accomplishing some set of goals, it makes it hard to understand how this type of takeover is possible. There was a sizeable anti-Trump faction in the party, but most of them ended up supporting Trump anyway. You would expect that parties would be more fluid if they were truly about political philosophies.
Parties are much more tribal things–akin to supporting a sports team. Being a member of a given party is more a matter of one’s cultural values and upbringing than it is any specific political agenda. Just as someone will cheer for their team even if the players and coaches are bad, they will support their party even if the candidate is bad.
People wonder why politicians are, in general, so ineffective. There are a couple reasons for this, but I suspect one is that they are tremendously insulated from constituent pressure thanks to the power of the party system. Once you have support of the party machinery, the job gets a lot easier because a certain number of people will support you just because you are from their party.
People always try to fix this problem by mounting primary challenges. Which is great, except that it has only two possible outcomes:
The challenger loses. This is usually what happens; it’s called the incumbent advantage.
The challenger wins, and then enjoys all the same benefits of the party machinery that his or her predecessor did, thus turning them into another cog in the machine.
The only office that doesn’t work like this is President, because the President has more power to shape the party’s agenda.
And this puts us hot on the trail of figuring out what a political party actually is: it is a means of simplifying the complex business of government into a more understandable form. Namely, it turns a complicated system of numerous offices into a very simple hierarchy with one ultimate executive.
This explains what a political party is and, incidentally, explains why they have them even in dictatorships. Political parties are what produce dictators.
That sounds like a pretty wild idea, doesn’t it? It does to me. I was surprised when I realized it as I was thinking about this. However, some other people in history have come to the same conclusion regarding political parties. For example:
“All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities… serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests…
[…]I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”
Purely as a piece of rhetoric, I liked his Inaugural Address more. For one thing, it was shorter. In general, the fewer words you use to make your point, the better.
That said, the pundit class that this speech was clearly designed to impress obviously prefers long speeches that cover too many topics to have any punch to them.
I suspect Bannon wrote most of it. It sounds like him.
I have never liked the “Free Trade / Fair Trade” line, which Democrats have often used in the past and which Trump used here. “Fair Trade” in this context is a meaningless phrase that can be used to justify virtually any tariff or other protectionist measure, whether warranted or not.
Of course, I’m sure it will play great with the “Reagan Democrats” (or now, I guess, “Trump Democrats”) who are the linchpin of his coalition.
It was woefully short on specifics, but no one expects that out of these anymore. They are just glorified performances of political theater, and have been as long as I can remember. (And Trump excels at theater.)
I am not sure why the Press is so surprised by the style of the speech. I guess they were expecting him to do his usual rambling and improvisational monologue. I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting more or less what we got.
Moreover, this is not the first time Trump has done something like this. He gave “normal” speeches both at the convention and in his victory speech on election night. Trump has never had an issue acting like a normal politician for brief periods of time–it’s just that he’s never sustained it. And there’s mounting evidence to suggest he doesn’t need to.
Well, it’s been about 8 days since Donald Trump officially became President. Here are some facts that have jumped out to me about his administration:
1. Trump is influenced heavily by what he sees on TV, especially CNN and Fox News.
Starting with the crowd size kerfuffle, it’s clear that image matters a lot to President Trump. He was upset when he saw reports on CNN comparing his smaller crowd with the one at the Inauguration of President Obama in 2009. He was so incensed that he sent his newly-minted spokesman out to argue with the Press Corps about it. This was widely seen as a huge disaster, since it was done in such haste and with such lack of preparation, and was ultimately a losing argument anyway.
That has been a pattern throughout the week: Trump reacts to what he sees on television. Perhaps the most striking example was this:
14 minutes apart: Fox says “ungrateful traitor,” Trump says “ungrateful traitor,” Fox says “weak leader,” Trump says “weak leader.” pic.twitter.com/f7urTOUG1L
Bottom line: Trump watches the news, and responds to what he sees. This is interesting because it inadvertently makes Fox News and CNN way more powerful than they already were, since they are clearly influencing the opinions of the most powerful man in the world.
If I were an executive at either network, I’d be delighted by this. It means that their reports now carry unprecedented weight. This could be used to shape the President’s agenda in a variety of ways.
2. Stephen Bannon is the driving force behind the administration’s actions.
Not really a surprise, but good to have it confirmed. Bannon’s hand was obvious in Trump’s inaugural address, and all subsequent actions have conformed to Bannon’s pro-nationalist, anti-globalist philosophy.
Clearly, Bannon is the main guy Trump listens to. What is not yet clear is whether Trump’s other advisors are ok with this, or if they are disagreeing with Bannon and being overruled. I suspect, based on the leaks that have occurred so far, that at least some of them are not satisfied with this state of affairs.
There appear to be two distinct lines of command that go as follows:
Note which one of these branches is tasked with crafting substantive action, and which one was used for a pointless and unwinnable argument with the press.
Do you care more about the process or about getting results?
I suspect most people would say “results”. Maybe not everyone, but my feeling is that most people care about the bottom line. I could be wrong, though.
In theory, these two things should be complementary. If you have a good process, it will generate good results. Most processes get created for the purpose of getting better results. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Except sometimes–especially in large, bureaucratic organizations–process takes precedence over results. This is especially true in government, because the organization doesn’t have to worry about making money. In that setting, people will start to focus on implementing new processes mindlessly–just because it gives them something to do.
If you focus only on results, on the other hand, you can sometimes get extreme cases where people are willing to do anything to get results. This can include doing illegal things. (This is why you see cheating in highly competitive fields–anything to get an edge.) In fact, from a certain perspective, morality is a sort of process that people follow by social or religious custom, and that some people (criminals/politicians) ignore in order to achieve results.
Bottom line: in a good organization, processes exist and are followed, but only with the goal of ensuring good results. Good organizations do not implement new processes for their own sake; but only with the intention of getting better results.