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Can a Nuclear War Really Be Launched in Haste? And By Who?

Journalist Eric Schlosser reports that the president isn’t actually the only American who can launch a nuclear attack all by himself or with one other person.

Not for sending tweets (WŁODI)


With the transition from the exceptionally restrained Barack Obama to the mercurial Donald Trump, a lot of people have been thinking about the big red button at a president’s disposal. Is launching a nuclear war is as easy to do on impulse as sending out a 3 am tweet? No. And there is no big red button. It’s a matter of entering codes identifying the Commander in Chief — hey, that is kinda the 140 characters of a tweet — found in the nuclear “football,” a briefcase kept near the president at all times. But a president absolutely can make the decision all by himself, with no checks and balances, to launch a nuclear attack. And so—we think—can a handful of other people in the U.S. government.

The details are understandably a matter of tremendous secrecy, so it’s impossible to know with certainty if the system described by Eric Schlosser is still in place. But it may well be: It’s been reported that the main reason David Petraeus had to resign his position as CIA director after the discovery of his extramarital affair was because he’d violated rules of conduct he’d sworn to uphold when he was pre-delegated with the power to launch a nuclear attack. 

About the football, and where its odd name comes from. Smithsonian Magazine explains that, according to 1960s Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, an early nuclear war plan had the code name “Dropkick,” and you can’t have a dropkick without a football.

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?

Videos
  • From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
  • "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
  • Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.

Better reskilling can future-proof jobs in the age of automation. Enter SkillUp's new coalition.

Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.

Image: metamorworks / Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
  • More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
  • SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.
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