Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Oh, Man, Not Another Sputnik Moment …

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House. Read More

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House.

Third, and most basically, I sometimes get the sense that the left doesn’t realize that 1890-2010 has already happened. A rule of life is that you can only do things for the first time once. We’ve tried the Progressive, administrative state, and have been trying it for years: its deficiencies are not going to be fixed by pretending in an “Ah ha!” moment that what we need is more administration. We’ve been trying Keynesianism almost continuously since the 1940s and even before the recession were at levels of government spending that Keynes experienced only during World War II: the idea that Keynes offers some sort of untried miracle cure is, to be nice about it, a fantasy. Since 1970, as Andrew Coulson points out, federal spending adjusted for inflation has increased by 190 percent, with no gains in reading, math, or science scores to show for it. None of these ideas are new. On the contrary: they are very, very old.

Leaving all this aside, I have to ask — does the proclamation of a new “Sputnik moment” work even as rhetoric? It certainly leaves me cold. The reason for that is, partly, because it’s not great history. But, more fundamentally, it’s because it’s so obviously instrumental. The president wants to look like he’s cutting the budget but also wants to spend more money. So he grabs at the NASA argument, the Sputnik analogy, the Internet analogy, and anything else that comes to hand. Rhetoric that’s shaped by this kind of desperation comes across as insincere. It might be more effective for the president to simply state his belief that we need to spend more money on education. He’d be wrong on the merits, but at least he wouldn’t be compounding the error with dubious grab-bag analogies.

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Sputnik Sputter

Twitter is abuzz with this leaked excerpt from tonight’s State of the Union address:

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist.

But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.

So, naturally, Obama is dramatically shrinking our ambitions for space exploration.

Twitter is abuzz with this leaked excerpt from tonight’s State of the Union address:

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist.

But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.

So, naturally, Obama is dramatically shrinking our ambitions for space exploration.

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RE: Krugman in High Dudgeon

John, one of the biggest problems with federal pay scales is that there is no differentiation in pay between federal departments. A GS 15 with a B.A. in education at the Department of Education will make the same pay as a GS 15 supervisory aerospace engineer at NASA. In the private sector, we realize that people in some fields make more — much more — than those in others. But not so in government. Instead, we underpay government employees in highly technical, sought-after fields and overpay them in others.

But the real problem with the federal workforce is job security. It is nearly impossible to fire someone after his probationary period is over. Most federal managers deal with problem employees by moving them into jobs where they can do little harm — even if it means promoting them. When I was the director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Reagan era, I managed to fire one employee (he had been accused of stealing money from the agency, repeatedly). And I had to go through a lengthy formal appeals and arbitration process that took nearly a year. Until federal workers can be fired for poor performance, we will continue to have a bloated federal workforce.

John, one of the biggest problems with federal pay scales is that there is no differentiation in pay between federal departments. A GS 15 with a B.A. in education at the Department of Education will make the same pay as a GS 15 supervisory aerospace engineer at NASA. In the private sector, we realize that people in some fields make more — much more — than those in others. But not so in government. Instead, we underpay government employees in highly technical, sought-after fields and overpay them in others.

But the real problem with the federal workforce is job security. It is nearly impossible to fire someone after his probationary period is over. Most federal managers deal with problem employees by moving them into jobs where they can do little harm — even if it means promoting them. When I was the director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Reagan era, I managed to fire one employee (he had been accused of stealing money from the agency, repeatedly). And I had to go through a lengthy formal appeals and arbitration process that took nearly a year. Until federal workers can be fired for poor performance, we will continue to have a bloated federal workforce.

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Congress Treats NASA Like a Local Jobs Program

President Obama’s announcement last April of plans to trash the Bush administration’s plans to return to the moon by 2020 in favor of planning for missions that might not take place until decades from now went largely without notice. That proposal was modified slightly by Congress to preserve a heavy-lift rocket. Although it is billed as something that will preserve manned space flight, as Robert Zubrin wrote in COMMENTARY last June (behind our pay wall), “it will be useful only as a lifeboat for bringing astronauts down from the space station, not as a craft capable of providing a ride up to orbit.” With the space shuttle being phased out by NASA, as Zubrin warned, “what this means is that the only way Americans will be able to reach even low Earth orbit will be as passengers on Russian launchers.”

But rather than worrying about why the government was scrapping practical manned flight plans in favor of building a largely useless rocket, it appears that Congress is mainly worried about the possibility that NASA might seek to preserve its options or even find a less expensive or more effective rocket. As the New York Times reported, at a Senate hearing held on Wednesday, senators of both parties berated NASA administrators about the agency’s perceived reluctance to follow this foolish course and warned them that any foot dragging about building the rocket would not be tolerated. In particular, “Congressional members from Utah, where Alliant builds the solid rocket motors, have also expressed worries that NASA is looking for a way around the law.” That is to say, they are upset about the possibility that a way will be found to stop this boondoggle. For most members of the House and the Senate, NASA-related projects are simply government jobs programs and nothing else.

We’ve come a long way since a bipartisan congressional consensus paved the way for Americans to land on the moon. Political logrolling has always played a role in the space program (Lyndon Johnson’s influence ensured that the program would shift from Florida to Texas in the 1960s), but Obama has essentially deep-sixed any chances for a return to manned flight in the foreseeable future. It’s a shame that the only interest that anyone in Congress seems to have in what was once America’s most innovative and glorious enterprise is merely a matter of patronage.

President Obama’s announcement last April of plans to trash the Bush administration’s plans to return to the moon by 2020 in favor of planning for missions that might not take place until decades from now went largely without notice. That proposal was modified slightly by Congress to preserve a heavy-lift rocket. Although it is billed as something that will preserve manned space flight, as Robert Zubrin wrote in COMMENTARY last June (behind our pay wall), “it will be useful only as a lifeboat for bringing astronauts down from the space station, not as a craft capable of providing a ride up to orbit.” With the space shuttle being phased out by NASA, as Zubrin warned, “what this means is that the only way Americans will be able to reach even low Earth orbit will be as passengers on Russian launchers.”

But rather than worrying about why the government was scrapping practical manned flight plans in favor of building a largely useless rocket, it appears that Congress is mainly worried about the possibility that NASA might seek to preserve its options or even find a less expensive or more effective rocket. As the New York Times reported, at a Senate hearing held on Wednesday, senators of both parties berated NASA administrators about the agency’s perceived reluctance to follow this foolish course and warned them that any foot dragging about building the rocket would not be tolerated. In particular, “Congressional members from Utah, where Alliant builds the solid rocket motors, have also expressed worries that NASA is looking for a way around the law.” That is to say, they are upset about the possibility that a way will be found to stop this boondoggle. For most members of the House and the Senate, NASA-related projects are simply government jobs programs and nothing else.

We’ve come a long way since a bipartisan congressional consensus paved the way for Americans to land on the moon. Political logrolling has always played a role in the space program (Lyndon Johnson’s influence ensured that the program would shift from Florida to Texas in the 1960s), but Obama has essentially deep-sixed any chances for a return to manned flight in the foreseeable future. It’s a shame that the only interest that anyone in Congress seems to have in what was once America’s most innovative and glorious enterprise is merely a matter of patronage.

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A Change, Literally, in the Meaning of the Word “Life”

And so, as we go on in our daily lives and politicians wrangle in Washington, NASA announces what may be the most important news not only of the year, but of the young century:

NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth….They have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same But not this one. This one is completely different. Discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California, this bacteria is made of arsenic, something that was thought to be completely impossible.

A thousand years from now, this may be the only thing people will know about the year 2010.

And so, as we go on in our daily lives and politicians wrangle in Washington, NASA announces what may be the most important news not only of the year, but of the young century:

NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn’t share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth….They have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same But not this one. This one is completely different. Discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California, this bacteria is made of arsenic, something that was thought to be completely impossible.

A thousand years from now, this may be the only thing people will know about the year 2010.

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Internet Revelations

Muslim youth glued to the computer screen. 60 percent Internet penetration. The literacy rate (not computer, but what’s on the page) is over 90 percent. Where is this outpost of modernity and intellectual freedom? Gaza. Yes, the supposed “hell hole” of the Middle East — the alleged virtual prison — is doing quite a bit better than its Arab neighbors. And the oppressors whom the people must outwit are not the Israelis but Hamas:

One of our first meetings in Gaza was with a Palestinian student group begun by an NGO called Mercy Corps to encourage youth to get involved in their community. These students began using the Internet to organize their activities and broadcast their charitable mission. They posted short films, for example, about their campaign to bring food to poor areas. The group grew from 10 to over a thousand in just a few months.

Although the group was not overtly political, Hamas nevertheless deemed it a threat and demanded that it stop meeting. But these students were already connecting through the Internet in ways that Hamas cannot track. During our meeting, the discussion centered on how they protect themselves online using “tunneling software” and other techniques that prevent Hamas from identifying and targeting them.

And, oh by the way, one reason for the high level of Internet usage in Gaza is “the proximity of the Palestinian territories to Israel, which is the region’s leader in Internet development.” No need for esteem-building NASA programs for them.

To put it differently, Israel’s alleged “eyesore” puts to shame the rest of the “Muslim World.” Imagine how much better off Gazans would be if their fascistic Hamas jailers disappeared. The anti-Israel left have always gotten it wrong (on many counts, but one particularly relevant here). They want to “free” the territories from Israel? That, at this point, would be a disaster for Palestinians and Israelis alike. It’s Hamas that needs to be ousted. I bet those computer geeks would be happy about that.

Muslim youth glued to the computer screen. 60 percent Internet penetration. The literacy rate (not computer, but what’s on the page) is over 90 percent. Where is this outpost of modernity and intellectual freedom? Gaza. Yes, the supposed “hell hole” of the Middle East — the alleged virtual prison — is doing quite a bit better than its Arab neighbors. And the oppressors whom the people must outwit are not the Israelis but Hamas:

One of our first meetings in Gaza was with a Palestinian student group begun by an NGO called Mercy Corps to encourage youth to get involved in their community. These students began using the Internet to organize their activities and broadcast their charitable mission. They posted short films, for example, about their campaign to bring food to poor areas. The group grew from 10 to over a thousand in just a few months.

Although the group was not overtly political, Hamas nevertheless deemed it a threat and demanded that it stop meeting. But these students were already connecting through the Internet in ways that Hamas cannot track. During our meeting, the discussion centered on how they protect themselves online using “tunneling software” and other techniques that prevent Hamas from identifying and targeting them.

And, oh by the way, one reason for the high level of Internet usage in Gaza is “the proximity of the Palestinian territories to Israel, which is the region’s leader in Internet development.” No need for esteem-building NASA programs for them.

To put it differently, Israel’s alleged “eyesore” puts to shame the rest of the “Muslim World.” Imagine how much better off Gazans would be if their fascistic Hamas jailers disappeared. The anti-Israel left have always gotten it wrong (on many counts, but one particularly relevant here). They want to “free” the territories from Israel? That, at this point, would be a disaster for Palestinians and Israelis alike. It’s Hamas that needs to be ousted. I bet those computer geeks would be happy about that.

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Obama’s Whiplash Diplomacy

The executive director of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, writes that the Obama-Netanyahu press conference last week gave him “a bad case of whiplash”:

I had fair warning that this visit would be different than the last, reportedly testy, encounter between these two leaders. And so I should have been prepared for the fact that tough love would be replaced by just plain love. I just wasn’t prepared for how much love. And so I confess that I found the apparent public pass Netanyahu received on settlements, the U.S. threat to boycott a summit on Middle East non-proliferation, and all the “unwaverings” and “unbreakables” to be a bit too much to ingest.

Wait until Zogby finds out that the “testy” meeting last March (the one held after-hours, with no photos and no press, with Netanyahu leaving the White House unescorted late at night, having been ambushed by Obama) was actually a “terrific” meeting. That is the description Obama used in his interview with Israeli TV last week — the first he has given to Israeli media in the 18 months of his administration.

It is in fact all a bit whiplash-producing and somewhat reminiscent of the old saying about history in the Soviet Union — there the future was always known; it was the past that kept changing. In Obama’s new narrative, relations with Netanyahu are not only currently excellent but retroactively terrific as well.

Obama’s “unwavering commitments” are becoming the new “let me be clear.” They include his “unwavering” commitments to comprehensive immigration reform (which left Lindsey Graham unconvinced); to NASA (after he slashed its budget); to the gay community (in response to their growing impatience); and to Afghanistan (at least until next July). After canceling the U.S. commitment to build an anti-missile shield in Poland, Obama sent Joe Biden to tell the Poles: “Make no mistake about it: our commitment to Poland is unwavering.” This is the same message Biden delivered to Georgia, even as Russian troops continue their occupation while Obama’s reset proceeds apace. It is the rhetorical response of choice after Obama’s actions or inaction call into question one of his commitments.

After a year of sending signals to the international community that the U.S. commitment to Israel was wavering, it is good that it is unwavering again. But after November 2, whiplash may strike again. It would not be the first time.

The executive director of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, writes that the Obama-Netanyahu press conference last week gave him “a bad case of whiplash”:

I had fair warning that this visit would be different than the last, reportedly testy, encounter between these two leaders. And so I should have been prepared for the fact that tough love would be replaced by just plain love. I just wasn’t prepared for how much love. And so I confess that I found the apparent public pass Netanyahu received on settlements, the U.S. threat to boycott a summit on Middle East non-proliferation, and all the “unwaverings” and “unbreakables” to be a bit too much to ingest.

Wait until Zogby finds out that the “testy” meeting last March (the one held after-hours, with no photos and no press, with Netanyahu leaving the White House unescorted late at night, having been ambushed by Obama) was actually a “terrific” meeting. That is the description Obama used in his interview with Israeli TV last week — the first he has given to Israeli media in the 18 months of his administration.

It is in fact all a bit whiplash-producing and somewhat reminiscent of the old saying about history in the Soviet Union — there the future was always known; it was the past that kept changing. In Obama’s new narrative, relations with Netanyahu are not only currently excellent but retroactively terrific as well.

Obama’s “unwavering commitments” are becoming the new “let me be clear.” They include his “unwavering” commitments to comprehensive immigration reform (which left Lindsey Graham unconvinced); to NASA (after he slashed its budget); to the gay community (in response to their growing impatience); and to Afghanistan (at least until next July). After canceling the U.S. commitment to build an anti-missile shield in Poland, Obama sent Joe Biden to tell the Poles: “Make no mistake about it: our commitment to Poland is unwavering.” This is the same message Biden delivered to Georgia, even as Russian troops continue their occupation while Obama’s reset proceeds apace. It is the rhetorical response of choice after Obama’s actions or inaction call into question one of his commitments.

After a year of sending signals to the international community that the U.S. commitment to Israel was wavering, it is good that it is unwavering again. But after November 2, whiplash may strike again. It would not be the first time.

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Why Uganda?

Yesterday’s double terrorist bombing in Kampala is both a heart wrenching tragedy and a clarifying moment. Why would Islamists target an international sporting event in Uganda? After all, we’ve been told by our most thoughtful analysts and academics that terrorism is a response to insensitive Western policy. Earlier in the same day that bombs killed scores of soccer fans, the Center for American Progress’s Larry Korb told the Washington Times, “Once you attach a religious thing, you’re basically saying somehow or other this [terrorism] is caused by the religion. Most Muslims are not that way.” Surely there is a rational explanation for yesterday’s attack that avoids our “attaching a religious thing” to it, right?

“Uganda is a major infidel country supporting the so-called government of Somalia,” said  Sheikh Yusuf Isse of the Islamist al-Shabaab group. “We know Uganda is against Islam and so we are very happy at what has happened in Kampala. That is the best news we ever heard.”

He means to tell us that the secular man-made-disaster organization al-Shabaab allegedly killed innocent sports fans because Uganda is an infidel country? This sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush’s claim that we were attacked on September 11 because of our defining freedoms. And every enlightened Westerner knows that’s just a bunch of simplistic jingoism, right?

Well, you tell me what’s more simplistic and obtuse: a nuanced policy which maintains, as Bush put it, “terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics,” or a White House-directed terrorism policy whereby the word “Islam” is literally banned for fear of being mean to those who brag of killing infidels.

Which attitude speaks more to a sense of decadent Western denial: one which acknowledges the very reasons being given by Islamists for the bombing of two bars in Africa or one in which America is assumed to earn its Islamist enemies ultimately because of its Israel policies?

The cutest part of Barack Obama’s no-Islam policy is that it’s reversed in every area outside of terrorism. NASA now exists to point out Islamic achievements. Iran is to be talked out of a nuclear weapon specifically because of the soundness of its great Islamic heritage. Obama holds an “Entrepreneurship Summit” in Washington in order to “bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.”

What a great turn it would be if our president could actually learn what Islamists are trying so hard to teach us.

Yesterday’s double terrorist bombing in Kampala is both a heart wrenching tragedy and a clarifying moment. Why would Islamists target an international sporting event in Uganda? After all, we’ve been told by our most thoughtful analysts and academics that terrorism is a response to insensitive Western policy. Earlier in the same day that bombs killed scores of soccer fans, the Center for American Progress’s Larry Korb told the Washington Times, “Once you attach a religious thing, you’re basically saying somehow or other this [terrorism] is caused by the religion. Most Muslims are not that way.” Surely there is a rational explanation for yesterday’s attack that avoids our “attaching a religious thing” to it, right?

“Uganda is a major infidel country supporting the so-called government of Somalia,” said  Sheikh Yusuf Isse of the Islamist al-Shabaab group. “We know Uganda is against Islam and so we are very happy at what has happened in Kampala. That is the best news we ever heard.”

He means to tell us that the secular man-made-disaster organization al-Shabaab allegedly killed innocent sports fans because Uganda is an infidel country? This sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush’s claim that we were attacked on September 11 because of our defining freedoms. And every enlightened Westerner knows that’s just a bunch of simplistic jingoism, right?

Well, you tell me what’s more simplistic and obtuse: a nuanced policy which maintains, as Bush put it, “terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics,” or a White House-directed terrorism policy whereby the word “Islam” is literally banned for fear of being mean to those who brag of killing infidels.

Which attitude speaks more to a sense of decadent Western denial: one which acknowledges the very reasons being given by Islamists for the bombing of two bars in Africa or one in which America is assumed to earn its Islamist enemies ultimately because of its Israel policies?

The cutest part of Barack Obama’s no-Islam policy is that it’s reversed in every area outside of terrorism. NASA now exists to point out Islamic achievements. Iran is to be talked out of a nuclear weapon specifically because of the soundness of its great Islamic heritage. Obama holds an “Entrepreneurship Summit” in Washington in order to “bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.”

What a great turn it would be if our president could actually learn what Islamists are trying so hard to teach us.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Even Max Baucus is criticizing Obama’s latest recess appointment, Donald Berwick, who is to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Baucus said he was “‘troubled’ that Obama chose to install Berwich without a formal confirmation process. ‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ Baucus said in a statement.”

Even CNN can’t employ an editor (Octavia Nasr) who bemoans the death of Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The New York Times dryly reports: “Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.’ Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah.”

Even Obama has figured out that direct negotiations are the only viable way to proceed with his “peace process.” The Palestinians are now miffed that their patron is starting to wise up. PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat: “I hope [Obama’s deadline] is not an attempt to pressure the Palestinians that if they don’t move to the direct talks, there will be a resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.”

Even the “international community” will find it difficult to dispute the IDF’s evidence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It won’t do anything about it, of course.

Even Democrats must realize that this is not the most transparent administration in history: “The website used to track stimulus spending does not meet the transparency requirements laid out by the administration last year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

Even Jewish cheerleaders for Obama have to be a little miffed that he — shocking, I know — isn’t going to Israel anytime soon: “President Barack Obama left the impression he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon. During Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Netanyahu said, ‘It’s about time.’ Obama replied that he looked forward to it.”

Even the ACLU should be upset about the NASA flap. The administrator said of Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Charles Lane asked, “[S]ince when is it U.S. government policy to offer or refuse cooperation with various nations based on the religion their people practice? 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?” A good reason to abolish the ambassadorship to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Even Max Baucus is criticizing Obama’s latest recess appointment, Donald Berwick, who is to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Baucus said he was “‘troubled’ that Obama chose to install Berwich without a formal confirmation process. ‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ Baucus said in a statement.”

Even CNN can’t employ an editor (Octavia Nasr) who bemoans the death of Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The New York Times dryly reports: “Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.’ Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah.”

Even Obama has figured out that direct negotiations are the only viable way to proceed with his “peace process.” The Palestinians are now miffed that their patron is starting to wise up. PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat: “I hope [Obama’s deadline] is not an attempt to pressure the Palestinians that if they don’t move to the direct talks, there will be a resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.”

Even the “international community” will find it difficult to dispute the IDF’s evidence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It won’t do anything about it, of course.

Even Democrats must realize that this is not the most transparent administration in history: “The website used to track stimulus spending does not meet the transparency requirements laid out by the administration last year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

Even Jewish cheerleaders for Obama have to be a little miffed that he — shocking, I know — isn’t going to Israel anytime soon: “President Barack Obama left the impression he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon. During Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Netanyahu said, ‘It’s about time.’ Obama replied that he looked forward to it.”

Even the ACLU should be upset about the NASA flap. The administrator said of Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Charles Lane asked, “[S]ince when is it U.S. government policy to offer or refuse cooperation with various nations based on the religion their people practice? 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?” A good reason to abolish the ambassadorship to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

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It’s One Small Step for Man. Full Stop.

So even Neil Armstrong has a beef with the president:

The first man on the Moon has teamed up with the last man, Gene Cernan, to confront President Obama over his “devastating” plans for Nasa’s $108 billion (£70 billion) Constellation programme. Mr Obama wants to scrap Constellation, which was meant to develop new space ships to replace the shuttle, take astronauts back to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

The death of the project would set America’s space programme on a “long downhill slide to mediocrity”, Armstrong declared yesterday. “It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to re-create the equivalent of what we will have discarded,” he said in a statement.

Gizmodo, the fantabulously popular tech site, has a longish piece mourning the death of JFK’s dream (language alert — some people are very passionate about this).

NASA was the very first place I ever dreamed of working for. When I was a kid, the sci-fi of Star Trek was quickly becoming the sci-nonfi of July 21, 1969 — and I wanted to design spacecraft. In elementary school I could name all the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions before I could name all the states’ capitals. (And I still get Oregon’s wrong.)

This generation of kids, however, will have to dream of working for the government in other capacities, like used-GM-car salesman, or perhaps branch out into the expanding field of debt-consolidation advocacy.

I’m almost tempted to say, “Save us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.” Almost.

So even Neil Armstrong has a beef with the president:

The first man on the Moon has teamed up with the last man, Gene Cernan, to confront President Obama over his “devastating” plans for Nasa’s $108 billion (£70 billion) Constellation programme. Mr Obama wants to scrap Constellation, which was meant to develop new space ships to replace the shuttle, take astronauts back to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

The death of the project would set America’s space programme on a “long downhill slide to mediocrity”, Armstrong declared yesterday. “It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to re-create the equivalent of what we will have discarded,” he said in a statement.

Gizmodo, the fantabulously popular tech site, has a longish piece mourning the death of JFK’s dream (language alert — some people are very passionate about this).

NASA was the very first place I ever dreamed of working for. When I was a kid, the sci-fi of Star Trek was quickly becoming the sci-nonfi of July 21, 1969 — and I wanted to design spacecraft. In elementary school I could name all the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions before I could name all the states’ capitals. (And I still get Oregon’s wrong.)

This generation of kids, however, will have to dream of working for the government in other capacities, like used-GM-car salesman, or perhaps branch out into the expanding field of debt-consolidation advocacy.

I’m almost tempted to say, “Save us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.” Almost.

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Spacedrip

Charles Krauthammer points out that, come 2011, “for the first time since John Glenn flew in 1962, the U.S. will have no access of its own for humans into space — and no prospect of getting there in the foreseeable future.” Barack Obama’s budget kills NASA’s Constellation program, the successor to the Shuttle.

It is not only the space enthusiasts who will suffer. We hear constantly about the desperate need for new American technologies, a trend of innovation to make us the world’s undisputed forerunner in new fields, and eventually leading to vastly more efficient energy consumption. The idea on the Left is to throw giant sums of money at some amorphous wonder-concept called sustainable energy. Why anyone believes that state-imposed, centrally planned “innovation” will fare any better than state-imposed, centrally planned anything else is a mystery. Technological advances usually take a far more circuitous route to the marketplace. A first stop for countless innovations has been NASA. Everything from long-distance communication to cosmetic dentistry has benefited from the intellectual dynamo that is America’s space program.

China – as the New York Times columnists never tire of telling us — is leading the world in electric bicycles, solar panels, and speed trains. It has been suggested that the next man on the Moon will be Chinese.  The truth is, electric bicycles, solar panels, speed trains, and even Moon travel are decades-old novelties — the kind of stuff that a country desperate to be seen as a great innovator would love to tout. But real innovation won’t come from obscurantist autocracies. It will come from parties living in free countries.  It will come from sources like the Ad Astra Rocket Company of Webster, Texas, which recently developed the most powerful plasma engine in the world; it gets as hot as the surface of the sun. As it happens, the head of Ad Astra is a former NASA astronaut with the beautifully American name, Franklin Chang-Diaz.

We can keep our fingers crossed and hope for the perpetual-motion machine of fuel sources to spontaneously appear, or we can continue to fund and support the programs that have projected American imagination beyond the heavens and back.

Charles Krauthammer points out that, come 2011, “for the first time since John Glenn flew in 1962, the U.S. will have no access of its own for humans into space — and no prospect of getting there in the foreseeable future.” Barack Obama’s budget kills NASA’s Constellation program, the successor to the Shuttle.

It is not only the space enthusiasts who will suffer. We hear constantly about the desperate need for new American technologies, a trend of innovation to make us the world’s undisputed forerunner in new fields, and eventually leading to vastly more efficient energy consumption. The idea on the Left is to throw giant sums of money at some amorphous wonder-concept called sustainable energy. Why anyone believes that state-imposed, centrally planned “innovation” will fare any better than state-imposed, centrally planned anything else is a mystery. Technological advances usually take a far more circuitous route to the marketplace. A first stop for countless innovations has been NASA. Everything from long-distance communication to cosmetic dentistry has benefited from the intellectual dynamo that is America’s space program.

China – as the New York Times columnists never tire of telling us — is leading the world in electric bicycles, solar panels, and speed trains. It has been suggested that the next man on the Moon will be Chinese.  The truth is, electric bicycles, solar panels, speed trains, and even Moon travel are decades-old novelties — the kind of stuff that a country desperate to be seen as a great innovator would love to tout. But real innovation won’t come from obscurantist autocracies. It will come from parties living in free countries.  It will come from sources like the Ad Astra Rocket Company of Webster, Texas, which recently developed the most powerful plasma engine in the world; it gets as hot as the surface of the sun. As it happens, the head of Ad Astra is a former NASA astronaut with the beautifully American name, Franklin Chang-Diaz.

We can keep our fingers crossed and hope for the perpetual-motion machine of fuel sources to spontaneously appear, or we can continue to fund and support the programs that have projected American imagination beyond the heavens and back.

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Democrats Seek Distance from Obama

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year? Read More

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year?

Well those incumbent Democrats struggling for their political lives don’t seem to be so confused. We’ve seen a steady drumbeat of criticism from Democrats on Obama’s anti-terrorism policies. We see that Democratic lawmakers are flexing their muscles, trying to put some daylight between themselves and the Obama-Reid-Pelosi ultra-liberal domestic agenda as well. As this report notes:

A Democratic Senate candidate in Missouri denounced the budget’s sky-high deficit. A Florida Democrat whose congressional district includes the Kennedy Space Center hit the roof over NASA budget cuts. And a headline on the 2010 campaign website of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) blares her opposition to Obama’s farm budget: “Blanche stands up for Arkansas farm families.”

And at least in the days following Scott Brown’s win, we heard a raft of Democrats suggest that maybe now it was time to move on from health-care reform to something voters actually like, maybe some pro-job measures.

The tension between the Reid-Pelosi-Obama trio, fueled by ideological determination and the fear of offending their base, and those Democrats who think that a good deal of the problem they face stems from the very agenda set out by Reid-Pelosi-Obama will, I suspect, increase throughout the year. Obama wants to “punch through” on health care; Red State Democrats want to run for their lives. Obama is touting a massive budget; Sen. Kent Conrad is already throwing cold water on it. And so it will go. The more the leadership pushes to the Left, the greater the risk for those members nervously watching the polls. And the result may well be legislative gridlock. But if the alternative is more big-government power grabs, that might not be a bad thing for at-risk Democrats.

Moreover, there is a growing realization among Democrats that the White House is vamping it — that it lacks a plan to achieve much of anything. The Hill reports that after the TV cameras left, the Democratic senators pounced on the White House aides:

Democrats expressed their frustration with the lack of a clear plan for passing healthcare reform, according to one person in the room. One Democratic senator even grew heated in his remarks, according to the source. “It wasn’t a discussion about how to get from Point A to Point B; it was a discussion about the lack of a plan to get from Point A to Point B,” said a person who attended the meeting. “Many of the members were frustrated, but one person really expressed his frustration.” Senators did not want to press Obama on healthcare reform in front of television cameras for fear of putting him in an awkward spot. “There was a vigorous discussion about that afterward with some of his top advisers and others,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said regarding the healthcare discussion.

Not unlike the debacle in Copenhagen (the first one mostly, but really both), the Democrats are coming to see that the White House lacks a game plan. It is not merely ideologically out of step with the country; it is also incapable of governing, and of leading the party. And that will make already skittish incumbents more likely to make their own political judgments, quite apart from whatever suggestions Obama doles out.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #6: Bad Apples and Basic Questions

Large organizations have difficulty keeping poor performers and misfits out of their ranks. This is often true even in their most mission-critical jobs. There are numerous cases of airline pilots, even on the major airlines, showing up at the cockpit drunk. A NASA astronaut who had won the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal allegedly wore space-flight diapers to drive hundreds of miles non-stop in order to menace or kidnap or murder another astronaut who was a rival in a love triangle.

The CIA has not been exempt from such difficulties. Here is an excerpt from a report by the agency’s Inspector General concerning the case of the Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who steadily rose through the ranks of the mission-critical Soviet division despite some significant performance issues:

Read More

Large organizations have difficulty keeping poor performers and misfits out of their ranks. This is often true even in their most mission-critical jobs. There are numerous cases of airline pilots, even on the major airlines, showing up at the cockpit drunk. A NASA astronaut who had won the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal allegedly wore space-flight diapers to drive hundreds of miles non-stop in order to menace or kidnap or murder another astronaut who was a rival in a love triangle.

The CIA has not been exempt from such difficulties. Here is an excerpt from a report by the agency’s Inspector General concerning the case of the Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who steadily rose through the ranks of the mission-critical Soviet division despite some significant performance issues:

[W]e have uncovered a vast quantity of information about Ames’s professional sloppiness, his failure to file accountings, contact reports and requests for foreign travel on time or at all. We have found that Ames was oblivious to issues of personal security both professionally–he left classified files on a subway train–and in his espionage–he carried incriminating documents and large amounts of cash in his airline luggage; he carried classified documents out of CIA facilities in shopping bags; and he openly walked into the Soviet embassy in the United States and a Soviet compound in Rome. We have noted that Ames’s abuse of alcohol, while not constant throughout his career, was chronic and interfered with his judgment and the performance of his duties. . . . By and large his professional weaknesses were observed by Ames’s colleagues and supervisors and were tolerated by many who did not consider them highly unusual for Directorate of Operations officers on the “not going anywhere” promotion track.

Michael Scheuer was also for a time in charge of a mission-critical assignment in the CIA, running the group in charge of countering Osama bin Laden. I have written about his sub-par performance, most recently in The CIA Examines Itself.

How bad apples make their way through organizations large and small is a question that has long fascinated me. And Michael Scheuer is a particularly fascinating case, especially because he responds to my questions, even while seldom if ever answering them.

There are many dots about his life and career that I still intend to connect. And in the interests of piecing together the story, and using the Internet as a form of collaborative journalism, I have been wondering about some basic facts regarding his biography. I hope readers, if they have information, will assist me.

Some questions for today:

1. Wikipedia states that Scheuer resigned from the CIA in 2004 after a 22-year career. Is Wikipedia accurate on this point? If accurate, it would mean that Scheuer began his career in the agency in 1982.

2. But Scheuer earned a Ph.D. degree from the University of Manitoba in May 1986. Did he accomplish this while associated with the CIA? Was he stationed at Langley during this period, or was he based in that hotbed of international intrigue, Winnipeg, Canada?

3. Why did Scheuer choose to attend the University of Manitoba? That, too, seems interesting, and I admit that so far I’m stumped.

I have many more questions, but those are enough unconnected dots for today. If you can help me connect them, write to letters@commentarymagazine.com and put Michael Scheuer Watch in the subject line. Confidentiality is guaranteed. (But see my Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law to understand exactly how far I would go in protecting your identity.)

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

 

 

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It’s Only a Chinese Moon

“I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are,” said NASA administrator Michael Griffin, in Washington to mark the organization’s October 1 anniversary. “I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.”

In 2004, President Bush set 2020 as the goal for returning to the moon. His sixteen-year schedule is twice as long as it took after President Kennedy proposed the challenge in 1961. Although optimistic projections indicate we might return by 2019, the Chinese will still be there to greet us. Beijing has detailed and well-funded plans to reach the moon by 2017. The Chinese have a schedule of preparatory moon landings, while America appears to be going through the motions.

“The U.S. has to get over this feeling that it has to be a competition,” says John Marburger, the White House science adviser. If there is anything we have to get over, it is a sentiment like Marburger’s. China has plans, announced in August, to map every inch of the moon. As far back as 2005, Beijing discussed its intentions to mine it for minerals. By the time we get there, it may really be just a sliver.

Americans once dreamed big. Now, evidently, we’re too mature to do that. At this moment, we’re the leading spacefaring nation; it looks like we will soon be living under the light of a Chinese moon.

“I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are,” said NASA administrator Michael Griffin, in Washington to mark the organization’s October 1 anniversary. “I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.”

In 2004, President Bush set 2020 as the goal for returning to the moon. His sixteen-year schedule is twice as long as it took after President Kennedy proposed the challenge in 1961. Although optimistic projections indicate we might return by 2019, the Chinese will still be there to greet us. Beijing has detailed and well-funded plans to reach the moon by 2017. The Chinese have a schedule of preparatory moon landings, while America appears to be going through the motions.

“The U.S. has to get over this feeling that it has to be a competition,” says John Marburger, the White House science adviser. If there is anything we have to get over, it is a sentiment like Marburger’s. China has plans, announced in August, to map every inch of the moon. As far back as 2005, Beijing discussed its intentions to mine it for minerals. By the time we get there, it may really be just a sliver.

Americans once dreamed big. Now, evidently, we’re too mature to do that. At this moment, we’re the leading spacefaring nation; it looks like we will soon be living under the light of a Chinese moon.

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