Oh, My Goodness, It Could Never Happen, Could It?

Annie Jacobsen’s new book on the possibility of a nuclear armageddon, Nuclear War: A Scenario, is causing quite a stir. But who thinks much about nuclear war anymore? (When I was growing up in Nashville in the early 1950s, I remember atomic bomb war drills in grammar school when we kids crawled under our desks. In the 1960s, my younger brother brought home from the navy a sign that read, “In the event of nuclear war, extinguish all cigarettes.”) Afterall, atomic bombs and nuclear weapons have been around for almost 80 years and “only” used twice. In fact, while we know that large arsenals of these weapons still exist, the theory of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) has worked well so far, so why worry? Besides, what can anyone do about it?  Don’t we have enough to worry about already as many in our country alarmingly are supporting a candidate for president, who is sounding more and more like a fascist?

I have not read the book yet but have listened to a three-hour-long interview on the Lex Fridman podcast and viewed a YouTube video interview with Jacobsen of about the same length. Go to the internet and view or listen to these interviews. However, be forewarned: It will scare the bejesus out of you.

Jacobsen is an investigative reporter for The New York Times who has covered military and national security issues for many years. For this book she interviewed hundreds of experts and uncovered formerly classified material. She says that the reason that she wrote the book is that she believes the world at large has accepted the fact that thousands of nuclear warheads exist, albeit with a shrug and ho-hum attitude that MAD seems to be working just fine. She raises the question, “But what if it doesn’t?”

If it doesn’t, according to Jacobsen, and if a full scale nuclear war happened, it could mean the end of human and animal life on the planet. She describes in her book a scenario where we are attacked by North Korea, a rogue nation which now has an estimated 50 nuclear weapons. We counterattack sending dozens of nukes toward them. Because of the way our nuclear silos are set up, aiming toward the east, not the west, to hit North Korea the nukes must fly over Russia. When the Russians pick up the signal of missiles headed toward them, they think we are hitting them and retaliate with even more missiles unleashed toward the U.S. Then we respond with missiles headed to Russia. And all this happens in less than an hour. Then other nuclear nations join the fray. The planet Earth is forever changed.

Since the main target for the nukes from Russia is the Pentagon, this would mean that every building within a 20-mile radius would be instantly destroyed, and all the inhabitants instantly killed. But we in Washington would be the lucky ones. Our demise would be swift. What would follow would be even worse for those who survived as governments collapsed around the world and lawlessness prevailed. Food supplies would vanish and within hours the soot and debris would begin to block the sun resulting in a twilight lasting for years, decades, or longer. Temperatures would drop  20 or more degrees and without light plants would die and agriculture would cease.  Nuclear winter would set in, and the Planet Earth would join the other desolate planets in our solar system. Game over.

What struck me most about this doomsday scenario is that it tracks with the five mass extinctions that have already occurred on our planet, roughly every 130-150 million years. Each mass extinction wiped out between 85-95 percent of all plant and animal life. The last mass extinction happened about 130 million years ago when the dinosaurs got wiped out when a huge asteroid hit the Yucatan in Mexico. It turns out that according to scientists who keep track of this sort of thing, that technically the Earth is already entering the Sixth Mass Extinction due mainly to the destruction of animal habitats by us humans.  Should the unthinkable happen, this would complete the Sixth Mass Extinction.

Good heavens!  Nothing like this could happen—not to us—could it? Jacobsen is scaring the living daylights out of us for no reason since there is nothing we can do about it. But I suppose that is her point. We must figure out a way to assure that it won’t happen. That would mean getting rid of the thousands of nuclear weapons now stockpiled in nine countries and to make them illegal forever. But what are the chances that will happen? She would argue that it must happen if life on the planet is to survive. The nuclear holocaust may not happen in our lifetime, or our children’s or our grandchildren’s, but odds makers say that the chances are close to 100 percent that if we humans have these weapons, eventually we will use them again. It is only a matter of time.



The Times We Are In


This morning (May 14, 2024) there were several articles about the 2024 presidential election, which to a bleeding heart Democrat like me are unsettling. The latest New York Times, Siena College and the Philadelphia Inquirer poll shows Trump leading in five of the six key battleground states—Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Biden is ahead only in Wisconsin where he leads by a mere two percent. There was another article in the Times about Robert F Kennedy Jr. who is polling at nine percent with his popularity rising. The gist of that article was that while Kennedy is pulling voters from both Biden and Trump, his candidacy is hurting Biden the most and could well be the spoiler that hands the presidency to Trump. And when these polls were taken, the New York trial of Trump in the Stormy Daniels coverup was well underway, and the tawdry actions of the former president were common knowledge. There was also another interesting article about how inflation was hurting lower income households far more than higher income households because a much higher percentage have credit card and student loan debt, which translates to having to pay more for interest and being priced out of the home buying market. Many–including Black and Hispanic voters–are blaming Biden and turning to Trump, cutting into the traditional Democratic base. If all this is not enough to cause discomfort to a Democrat, a third poll this week showed that while a majority of voters were dissatisfied with both candidates, the electorate clearly wants a change from the status quo. A majority also answers the polling question about the economy that Trump did a better job during his term than Biden is doing now.

What? Are we Americans nuts? Unemployment remains close to historic lows, for the first time in decades wages are rising faster than inflation, and massive infrastructure projects are underway in every state. Furthermore, a majority of respondents to recent polls about the economy say that while they believe the country is worse off economically under Biden, their own financial situation is the same or better than it was several years ago. Go figure.

And these troubling findings are on the domestic front. It may turn out that the international front may be even more unsettling due mainly to the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza. Biden initially supported Netanyahu’s retribution actions in Gaza, which have left over 35,000 Gazans dead, mostly women and children, and over 1.9 million homeless—over 85 percent of the population. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars in aiding Israel and supplying weapons, some of which presumably have been used in destroying thousands in of homes in Gaza and killing innocent civilians. We see on the evening news every night the inconceivable destruction that has happened, the weeping mothers and dying children. It is heartbreaking.  Now our policies seem to be changing, but the “Final Battle” in Rafah is just beginning. Will Biden’s actions be a case of too little too late?

Biden finds himself in a no win situation.  By limiting support for Israel, Biden will likely lose votes from those who support Israel, but by supporting Israel he will lose votes from the Progressives, who may choose to stay home on election day. And what about all the protests on college campuses? These remind me of the 1968 demonstrations when Embry and I were living in New York’s Upper West Side across from the Columbia campus, except they are more violent and involve students fighting students and more aggressive police interventions. It is likely that Trump will use these demonstrations to make the case that America needs a strongman like him, not a wimp like Biden, to quash the disturbances and bring “law and order” back to the country. If Progressives disrupt the Democratic convention as they say they are going to do, it would add more fuel to the fire for the Republicans. That was tried in 1968 and resulted in a victory for Nixon. Been there, done that. Not a happy outcome.

And the trial of New York versus Donald J Trump continues, with three other trials waiting in the wings but not likely to happen before the election. If convicted, would it make a difference? The polls tell us that for between 70 and 80 percent of Republicans the answer is no. (According to a 2023 CNN poll this is the same percentage that believe the 2020 election was stolen.) It appears that there is nothing that Trump could do to earn their disfavor. Some continue to believe that he represents the Second Coming of Jesus. But that leaves a healthy number of moderates, who might change their minds. However, most pundits think that the Stormy Daniels case is the least serious of the charges and if Trump is convicted, it won’t matter that much.

Has there ever been a time post Civil War when the country was more divided, the stakes higher, or the outcome more uncertain? And there are still almost six months left to go. Lots of water left to flow under the bridge. What more surprises are out there that could change the trajectory one way or another? Fasten your seatbelts. These are the times we are in.



Project 2025

If you want something to alarm you even more than you already are about a Trump victory, Google “Project 2025” and read the various articles that are posted on the internet about this effort, which has been quietly going on behind the scenes for years. The Heritage Foundation and other right wing, so called “think tanks” have been working during most of Biden’s term on a playbook for Trump’s hoped-for reelection this year. This effort has produced a 900+ page manual listing all the actions that should happen when and if Trump gets reelected. Here is what we can expect to happen if a second term President Trump follows Project 2025:

  • Trump will announce in his inaugural speech that he is invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows the president to deploy the military to act as police to arrest and jail “insurrectionists,” which Trump will define as any group or individual he does not like. If there are any protestors at the inauguration, expect them to be arrested and jailed. Anyone involved in college campus protests regarding Gaza can also expect the slammer. Trump has already said that any general or military commander who does not follow his orders will be executed.
  • He will announce that he is reclassifying high level civil servants as political appointees and will fire the ones on the Project 2025 enemies list, to be replaced by right wing sycophants, which the Heritage Foundation has been screening and recruiting for months. All of Trump’s top level advisors will be sycophants this time around. The guardrails will disappear.
  • He will announce that beginning immediately, he will order the military to round up all undocumented immigrants and deport them, beginning with the “Dreamers.” This will take some time since they are estimated to number over 10 million, the vast majority hard working and committed citizens. Huge, guarded tent encampments will be constructed in Texas and border states to imprison the immigrants while the deportation process is underway, and which could take years.
  • Project 2025 spells out the process for slashing funding for the Department of Justice, dismantling the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security , gutting environmental and climate change regulations in favor of fossil fuel production, eliminating the departments of Education and Commerce, and ending the independence of various federal agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.
  • The plan calls for making virtually all abortions illegal including the use of all abortion pills that are accessed through the mail.
  • Project 2025 directs the government to recognize only heterosexual men and women, rescind anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals, and eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion provisions from federal legislation.

And this is just the beginning. The goal is for Trump to have complete autocracy in all matters. The United States will become a dictatorship flying under the banner of Christian nationalism. Term limits for the president would likely disappear, and the only consolation is that Trump probably would not be alive or healthy enough to seek a third term. There is not much in the plan regarding foreign policy but surely one of Trump’s first acts would be to get out of NATO and abandon Ukraine, maybe even get out of the UN. Russia would likely become an ally.

Of course, he will never be able to get away with all this. Afterall, we have three branches of government and a constitution. Our resilient democracy will fight back and withstand the onslaught. There is no way that a wannabe dictator like Trump could possibly pull this off. It could never happen, never.

Or could it?

Check out all the stuff on the internet about Project 2025 and fix yourself a stiff drink. You will need it.




How Worried Should We Be?

I confess to being an old codger and chances are that at least some of you reading this are too.  Hey, don’t apologize. Those of us who have passed 80 or are close to passing that milestone are survivors. At 82 I have outlived by six years my life expectancy of 76 when I was born in 1942. I know that life spans are also affected by gender, lifestyle, stress, genes, parenting, health, social class, race, where you were born, and plain luck. And I know that bad things happen to good people. More than half the people born in 1942 in the United States have already died. I know that I am among the lucky ones.

And just think about over the past 82 years the strides we have made and the changes for the better that have happened. We in the U.S. got rid of Jim Crow laws in the South where I grew up and have made strides in racial and gender equality and acceptance of  sexuality diversity. We have had an African American President, and women now head up major companies, as do people of color.  We have made progress by providing stronger social safety nets. In 1942 Medicare and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act did not exist, nor did food stamps (now SNAP) or Housing Choice Vouchers or the earned income tax credit. The Allies defeated Hitler and the Axis powers in World War II and Soviet Union fell as did Maoist Communist China. For a while democracy was on the rise around the world.

And look at what we humans have invented. When I was born there were no widescreen, high definition television sets. In fact, there were no television sets. There were no jet airplanes, no cellphones, no internet, no space stations, no giant telescopes, no satellites, no EVs, and not that many cures for infectious or life threatening diseases.

Of course, the years during my lifetime have hardly been perfect. In the U.S. we made huge mistakes by getting involved in the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. Afghanistan turned out to be a disaster. Inequality and racism have persisted. The divide between the superrich and everyone else has widened. The gap between developed nations and nations with emerging economies is still large. In the U.S. life has not gotten a whole lot easier for a lot of people especially those who live from paycheck to paycheck. Gun violence and mass shootings continue. Deaths from drug overdoses are rising. Mental illness persists. Homelessness is on the rise.  We suffered through the Covid pandemic with many thousands losing loved ones. Our country has never been more divided since the Civil War. Throughout the world there is so much suffering and hateful atrocities. Think about what is happening today in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, and, of course, Gaza.

Also, when I was born there were no nuclear weapons, no drones, no artificial intelligence, and no threats about global warming due to man-made greenhouse gases. And the population of the world in 1942 was only a tad above two billion. Today it has passed eight billion.

Given how much our country and our world have changed over the last 82 years, is there anyone reading this blog who believes that we Homo sapiens on the Planet Earth will merrily go along indefinitely without a change of course?

The course we are on is unsustainable.

Some may argue that we codgers need not worry since we won’t be around to see how this movie ends. I looked up the life expectancy of someone my age—just over seven years. You could argue that we codgers have gotten off easy.  But what about our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, and great great…. At what point does the reckoning happen?

In my recent studies of the cosmos (for a presentation that I did at our neighborhood church), I learned that over the course of the four billion years our solar system has been around, the lonely planet Earth has experienced five mass extinctions of almost all animal and plant life. These have happened about every 130-150 million years. The last mass extinction on our planet happened about 130 million years ago. According to scientists who keep track of these things we are now officially in the early stages of the Sixth Great Mass Extinction—so far mainly wildlife due to us humans destroying animal habitats. The existential question is this: Will we humans survive the Sixth Great Mass Extinction on the Planet Earth.