More On Mecca In Space

From Charles Lane:

Last time I checked, the Constitution expressly forbid the establishment of religion. How can it be consistent with that mandate and the deeply held political and cultural values that it expresses for the U.S. government to “reach out” to another government because the people it rules are mostly of a particular faith?

To be sure, the U.S. government has an interest in good relations with all the people of the world, regardless of their religion. We have, perhaps, a particular interest in combating hostility toward our country and its people among the Muslim faithful, because much terrorism is rooted in extreme Islamist ideology.

But does it follow that the U.S. government should seek cooperation on space projects with the government of a particular country explicitly because its people are mostly Muslim?
Doesn’t this put us in the position of categorizing nations by religion as opposed to other characteristics, such as whether they are democratic? We did not pursue space partnerships with Europe because it was “Christian” or Israel because it was Jewish, did we?

There are two risks here. The first is to encourage Islamic identity politics in states that already consider themselves Islamic — Pakistan comes to mind. The second is to discourage those prospective space partners that do not accept the label of “Muslim” or “Muslim-majority” that the administration seems so eager to pin on them.

And Charles Krauthammer:

Obama is not the first president with a large streak of narcissism. But the others had equally expansive feelings about their country. Obama’s modesty about America would be more understandable if he treated himself with the same reserve. What is odd is to have a president so convinced of his own magnificence — yet not of his own country’s.

This was such a stupid completely unforced error, driven by moronic political correctness in the White House. They can’t utter the word “Muslim” when one shoots up an Army base while calling himself a soldier of Allah, but they can pervert NASA in its name. It’s a tragedy that one of the smartest space policies we’ve ever had has come from one of the most idiotic and incompetent administrations, poisoning the well for it. Lori Garver, Bobby Braun and others have to be pulling their hair in frustration.

The Catastrophic Response

The nation is being run by looters and vandals:

As more and more startling facts emerge we are finding almost criminal ineptness by Washington compounded by BP’s almost criminal negligence. As with many crises, Washington’s reactions cause greater damage than the event itself. Yet lurking in the mess are the extreme environmentalists staffing the Obama Administration with their declared agenda of shutting down all offshore oil drilling. The Sierra Club has bragged about how it helped shut down all new coal generating electricity plants. Other environmentalists are still happy that the Three Mile Island crisis succeeded in ending all new nuclear-generating power plants. Preventing new offshore oil drilling in Alaska is another of their primary objectives.

Now CNN reports that almost all new drilling activity has been suspended for over two months. This includes shallow wells in less than 500 feet of water—despite Obama’s statement that such wells would not be affected by his orders to cease all deep-water (over 1,000 feet) drilling. After thousands of deep-water wells have been drilled successfully without spills, the Interior Department, under Secretary Ken Salazar, has so delayed permitting and continuing operations as to possibly bring financial ruin to countless smaller companies. It would be similar to shutting down all airlines after a single crash. It may be that Salazar and his gang are just so ignorant of business that they think the government can simply shut down the super-sophisticated flow of supplies and men and then later restart it like flipping an electric light switch. It’s already estimated that it will take two years or longer to get Gulf production back to its pre-suspension levels. Meanwhile, deep-water drilling rigs—which cost over half a million dollars per day to operate—are being sent away from the Gulf to work in Africa and Asia where they are wanted. It will take months, if not years, to bring them back. Some 100,000 high-paying jobs are now at risk. Already the number of deep-water rigs has dropped from 42 to 19.

But they’ll blame “deregulation.” And George Bush.

It’s Not Just Voter Intimidation

More lawlessness at the (In)Justice Department:

In November 2009, the entire Voting Section was invited to a meeting with Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes, a political employee serving at the pleasure of the attorney general. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Motor Voter enforcement decisions.

The room was packed with dozens of Voting Section employees when she made her announcement regarding the provisions related to voter list integrity:

We have no interest in enforcing this provision of the law. It has nothing to do with increasing turnout, and we are just not going to do it.

Jaws dropped around the room.

Well, I’m not surprised. I’m not sure that this administration is capable of surprising me any more.

Jonathan Chait

versus reality.

We can’t do anything about the White House for another two years, but I’ll bet that a Speaker of the House other than Nancy Pelosi would be a huge shot in the arm for business confidence.

[Update a while later]

The Lady Gaga economy:

Right now, there’s lots of demand for Lady Gaga, say; but maybe too many houses, cars for sale, and hokey Internet startups.

Economic recovery requires massive spending cuts, deregulation, privatization, tax-cutting, avoidance of monetary inflation, and elimination of government-granted monopolies and favors. But, more importantly, economic recovery requires allowing prices and wages to adjust to market clearing levels. Politicians don’t allow that, so downturn is deliberate policy in a sense. Politicians instead stimulate demand in random, whim-driven ways that create new distortions that harm us later (when they’re out of office, or their earlier misdeeds are forgotten or forgiven).

Such policy prescriptions foster political ends that have little to do with actual economic recovery. Recession is already inevitable if government does not perform its core function of preventing the interest group manipulation that distorts smooth economic enterprise. It’s doubly so when politicians deliberately distort the economy’s workings.

Beyond performing its “classical” functions of maintaining order and thwarting contrived scarcity, government can only serve as a transfer mechanism. Inherently limited in what it can contribute to the real economy, it can certainly subtract a lot.

And it certainly has.

[Update a while later]

The Money Honey weighs in:

You are seeing businesses follow the growth outside of the United States. But absolutely – that is the positive. The reason that they’re not hiring right now is because there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty. And that has everything to do with the policies coming out of this administration. Higher taxes in 2011, higher expenses as a result of health care costs. That’s why they’re not hiring.”

Well, duh.

On The Fence

Bob Zimmerman likes the new space policy, but doesn’t trust the administration to execute it. Well, neither do I. But that’s no reason to oppose the policy itself. As I wrote in April:

Many don’t trust President Obama to execute this policy along these lines. Neither do I, necessarily. But I’d rather have good policy poorly executed than poor policy well executed. The execution can always be improved later. Do I believe that Obama really cares as much about human spaceflight as he said in his speech at the Cape? No, and I think that’s a good thing. I think he sees NASA as a problem he inherited from George W. Bush, and in that, he is right for once. He assigned to the problem people who do care about getting humans into space and, like Bush, he now wants to move on to other matters. Really, we should fear the day he gets interested in spaceflight; that will be the day that private enterprise is no longer trusted to conduct it. Let’s hope that day never comes. In the meantime, remember that when government does the right thing, it doesn’t matter whether it’s done for the wrong reason. Whatever the motivations behind it, this is a much more visionary space policy than we’ve ever had before.

Nothing has happened in the interim to cause me to change my mind.

And Bob is unrealistic here:

From a political perspective, I might have believed the sincerity of the Obama administration proposal, including the decision to cancel Constellation, had they simultaneously announced that they would extend the shuttle program a few years until the new private companies could get up to speed. Such a compromise would have gone over well in Congress, as it would have eased the job losses. It would have eliminated the need to rely on the Russians to reach orbit. It would eased the transition from the government manned program to the private manned program. And it would have demonstrated that the administration really does consider manned space exploration important. The result: the administration would have probably had little problem selling the proposal to Congress, thereby increasing the chances that the money would have been there to fund the development of the new private rockets and spacecraft.

It’s no longer possible to “extend” the Shuttle program. The last ET was rolled out of the plant in Michaud this week, and it would take years and billions to resurrect the second- and third-tier contractors for the parts needed to continue to fly. Not to mention the risk of losing another orbiter, at which point you’ve invested billions to keep it flying when the fleet is no longer of a viable size.

As Clark says, there was a reason that Mike Griffin wanted to get rid of the Shuttle and ISS — they eat up all the available budget. Even if you could continue to fly at a reasonable cost, Congress doesn’t give a damn about private rockets — they just want their pork. If they could keep Shuttle going, and ISS, they’d be happy to just continue making no progress, because they just don’t care, as long as the jobs and symbolism remained intact.

I have to say, though, that I’m still skeptical that Congress will even get an authorization bill out this year, regardless of what the Gray Lady says. The House has yet to speak, and they have to reconcile in conference. And I think that on the south side of the Hill, Dana Rohrabacher may have some influence on doing something sensible. Gabby Giffords wants to save Ares/Orion, but that’s not in the cards, and I think there’s a good chance that they won’t be able to compromise with the Senate. I don’t think that there will be any serious space policy making until next calendar year, when the new Congress comes in (very likely a Republican House). We have to be doing battleground preparation for that now.

[Update early afternoon]

Clark Lindsey has the budget numbers:

As you can see for 2010, Space Shuttle took up about a third of that $10B. Now that it has slipped into 2011, that category rises from about a billion back to around three billion. There will be about four billion for the HLV, Orion, commercial cargo, commercial crew, flagship technology demos, etc. (There are some HSF related tech projects in the Space Technology category (pdf).) If the Senate forces a full scale HLV and Orion programs, that leaves nothing much for those initiatives that will lead to lower cost spaceflight for NASA in the future.

And remember, these are just authorizers. Even if they want to up the budget, they can’t — that happens in appropriations, and that number is already pretty much set. So if they persist in this, all they’re doing is eating the seed corn, and locking us into continued high costs, and no progress, for years.

[Update a few minutes later]

Jeff Foust has more on the Senate authorization activity. As “Major Tom” points out in comments, those hoping for a Restoration don’t realize how weak authorization committees are:

he devil is in the details. I doubt the authorization language would require any real programmatic changes to NASA’s FY11 budget. For example, it’s hard to see the authorization bill specifying a particular HLV design or heritage or a particular level of HLV design decision in 2011. In response to authorization language dictating an HLV design decision in 2011, NASA could simply state that the HLV will employ a LOX/kerosene engine and have at least 50mT of lift and leave the level of specificity at that until more informed and detailed decisions can be made in a few years. Similarly, with authorization language dictating a deep space Orion variant, NASA could argue that it is pursuing such a “Block 1″ variant by developing the “Block 0″ CRV. Or use the language as justification to recompete Orion to create something more affordable within the resources provided by the appropriators, who didn’t provide additional funding for Constellation, ESMD, or NASA overall. (The devil is also in the budget.)

Of course, unlike appropriations bills, which combine NASA’s budget with funding for other departments and agencies, it’s easy to derail or veto standalone authorization bills. If the Administration doesn’t like what it sees in the authorization bill, it’s relatively easy for NASA legislative affairs to raise issue after isse until the bill dies in subcommittee or committee, and the appropriators are forced to act. Or for the White House to simply veto the bill outright if it gets that far.


Actually, given the incompetence of this administration, I supposed they could get rolled by the Congress. Then I remember that we’re talking about people like Bill Nelson, here.

Et Tu, Cal?

The latest foolishness about the new space policy from an ostensible conservative comes from Cal Thomas. The nonsense begins with almost the opening sentence:

Silly me. I thought America’s unparalleled space program (before the present administration began dismantling it) was a triumph of American ingenuity, technology, vision and boldness.

If you thought that, you weren’t paying attention. There was nothing “ingenious,” “visionary” or “bold” about Constellation and Apollo on Steroids. It was warmed-over technology from decades in the past, and it was obscenely expensive. If it were the only way to do the job, it might have been worth the money, but I don’t think so, even then. The new policy is much more innovative and visionary, and yes, bold, than the old one, regardless of one’s opinion of the president.

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