Thursday, January 15, 2004


Let me say this right off the bat. I'm all for NASA. NASA is not an ideological issue (for me, at least, but don't tell Grover Norquist I said that). I'm all for the government funding serious research and development in aerospace. Absent an explicit industrial policy, the US economy benefits greatly from scientific advances acheived by NASA researchers, take for example the US aerospace, telecommunications and microcomputing industries. Real people benefit, too, as these technological advances are adapted by private industry and disseminated throughout society--from satellite TV and Gore-tex to advances in medicine and astronaut ice cream (and, for my old high school friend KH, a shout out to the ball point space pen). Consider that some people now have more technology embedded in their coffee maker than was used to land a space ship on the moon.

However, it is with much reservation that I receive Bush's ambitious announcement of an expanded space program with the goals of establishing a colony on the moon and landing humans on Mars. At face value, it sounds pretty cool. But once we apply the cynic's lens what at first seems visionary, is tainted as more Quixotic and duplicitous.

Right Idea, Wrong Goals
So the space program is a great venture in which for our government to engage. Call me crazy, but I think that NASA scientists and others active in the community of scholars are better suited to determine an agenda for scientific research and space exploration than some politician who, throughout his life, has demonstrated a flacid intellectual curiousity for the world around him.

Think back to the unfortunate accident that ended the space shuttle Challenger and its crew's service in March 2002. All the talking heads, science pundits and pocket-protector-wearing experts were telling us that--in this day and age of computers, robotics and telecommunications technology--manned space flight was a thing of the past. Far more could be learned at far less cost and risk through unmanned space exploration. So why campaign for renewed manned space exploration and why now? (And oddly, why shun international cooperation in space by abandonning our partners in the international space station?)

Wag the Dog
No question the proposition of man's conquest of Mars carries a lot of razzle-dazzle that will enamor Joe Voter and shift the media focus away from Bush's ever-deteriorating operation in Iraq and his failure to do anything about the woeful jobs situation and economic insecurity faced by most Americans.

Bush also would like to fill all the news holes with distractions from the democratic process by which Americans will choose the man (I can say this now that Carol Mosely-Braun, the screed, has dropped out) to lead the challenge to the Bush regime in 2004. This is pretty simple: the less media attention they get, the less opportunity Democratic candidates get to highlight Bush's failures as President, the more Bush is in the spotlight.

Unspoken Long-term Agenda
There is a tinge of the military-industrial complex enshrouding the whole space program and its lucrative contracts. But this remains the same whether the space agenda is manned or unmanned. The proposed mission to Mars is merely a trojan horse; the real prize here is an openning for Bush to pursue an agenda of militarizing space "to control the destiny of the entire Earth" and the gobs of military contracts for Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Haliburton, and Raytheon that go along with a space defense system--you know, the one that is designed to protect us from the threat that no longer exists. WAKE UP CHENEY AND RUMSFELD, WE ARE NO LONGER FIGHTING THE RUSKIES. On the other had, a space defense system will some day protect us from the inter-continental ballistic missiles that Bush's defense hawks will some day sell to Al Qaeda when they are run out of office and return to private industry.

The second unspoken agenda is that of bankrupting the American government so that it becomes so emaciated Grover Norquist can realize his wet dream of drowning it in the bath tub, no doubt while rubbing hand lotion all over his body (I know it sounds gross, but check out the link earlier in this posting). This has been dubbed the "Starving the Beast" strategy, which underlies the crux of the Bush administration's domestic agenda.

Essentially, STB is driven by ideological anarchists like Norquist who think governments should do nothing but defend the property of rich people and consists of creating crises (or sometimes the appearance of crises) in every facet of society (public education, health care, social security, and so on) so that the Right has an excuse to kill or privatize government programs. President Bush, with his budget-busting upper class tax giveaways, is delivering these Right-wing anarchists the covetted prize of bankrupting the federal government. A mission to Mars will add billions to NASA's already $86 billion five year budget, which is a tad under 0.1% of GDP. Not a huge cost, but not insignificant--and every additional buck pushes the government ever closer to starving the beast until the government becomes insolvent.

C'est tous.


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