Privatizing Space Flight

Ending NASA’s control of manned American space flight and moving these responsibilities to private contractors sounds like as bad idea as is possible in the early twenty-first century. NASA has been successfully putting Americans into space for research and exploration for over half a century. Why would companies who are just beginning to experiment with manned orbital flight do a better job than the scientists, researchers, and engineers who’ve put men on the moon?

Speaking at a news conference in Israel on Wednesday, Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., the NASA administrator, gave hints of the new direction. “What NASA will focus on is facilitating the success of — I like to use the term ‘entrepreneurial interests,’ ” General Bolden said.

Turning NASA into a pass-through organization responsible for cutting checks to Boeing & LockheedMartin is an embarrassing idea, better suited for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney than the Obama administration. This is the worst kind of American corporatism.

Shorter Obama Administration: Privatized manned space flight: Because, hey, Blackwater has worked out pretty well.

State of the Union

I wasn’t particularly impressed with President Obama’s speech last night. I thought it was lacking in big ideas and failed to push hard for Congress (and the Senate in particular) to get things done. It was an opportunity for Obama to really chastise Democratic leaders for failing to get legislation done and highlight the role Nelson, Lieberman, Lincoln and Landrieu have played in slowing reform. Not like that was very likely.

My guess is his speech will give him a solid bump. He retreated to a lot of familiar turns of phrase that served him well in the campaign and I’m sure the public will reward him for that in increasingly his already high approval numbers. But I highly doubt Obama’s speech will move the needle up one inch for Democrats in Congress who are up for re-election this year. His speech did nothing to help Democrats maintain their majorities the House and Senate. And I think he and his advisors will live to regret that in hindsight.

Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times, an entertainment reporter with a horrible history of covering political events, has a passable story today that includes a very apt line:

The adage says that in a democracy, people get the government they deserve. Mr. Obama used his time before Congress to posit that, actually, the American people deserve a better legislative branch.

This is undeniably true. While Obama has not displayed the leadership I had hoped he would on key issues like health care reform and labor reform, the fecklessness of Democrats in the Senate (and to a lesser extent, leaders in the House) has been a massive shortcoming during the first year of this administration. I believe President Obama could have done a great deal to change the outcomes in Congress, but at the end of the day, Congress has to do the work too…and they haven’t.

Epic Stupid

Anti-ACORN hit man James O’Keefe was arrested by the FBI yesterday with three other individuals for trying to tamper with the phones in Senator Mary Landrieu’s office, presumably with the intention of wiretapping the phone lines. Of note is one of the other people arrested, Robert Flanagan, is the son of the US Attorney in Louisiana. I find it hard to believe that the son of a US Attorney isn’t being pressured by his family to come clean about the full extent of the conspiracy surrounding tapping US Senators’ phones. And that’s where the real interesting stuff should start to come out.

O’Keefe has been employed by right wing publisher & wingnut welfare patron Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart put out this bizarre and specific statement in response to O’Keefe’s felony arrest.

“We have no knowledge about or connection to any alleged acts and events involving James O’Keefe at Senator Mary Landrieu’s office,” said Breitbart. “We only just learned about the alleged incident this afternoon. We have no information other than what has been reported publicly by the press. Accordingly, we simply are not in a position to make any further comment.”

The questions that emerge from this are:

  • Did Breitbart know about O’Keefe visiting other Senators’ offices?
  • Did Breitbart know about other wiretapping incidents?
  • Did Breitbart fund O’Keefe’s alleged felony in any way beyond salary?

I have to imagine that there is a very good chance that Breitbart or other members of his staff were party to this conspiracy to wiretap a US Senator. And that is some serious, serious trouble. At minimum, O’Keefe and Breitbart’s attacks on ACORN should be viewed as fully discredited (as if they weren’t already).

How Frozen Is It?

Jed Lewison:

Based on what Bernstein said about the freeze proposal, it appears the destructive policy impact of the plan may not be as great as many, including yours truly, initially feared. Seven-eighths of Federal spending won’t be impacted by the freeze, and within the one-eighth that will be impacted by the freeze, only the total level of spending will be frozen. Individual programs can grow as long as that growth is offset by cuts in other programs. Moreover, the freeze won’t apply to the stimulus plan and if a second stimulus is required, it would be considered outside the freeze.

So the good news is that it doesn’t sound like the proposal will really be a calamitous disaster for the economy. The bad news is that not being a calamitous disaster is probably the best thing you can say about this. And for this economy to recover, we need more than not a disaster.

In a way, Bernstein’s argument is that the freeze isn’t really that much of a freeze. But if that’s the case, why do it all? It runs the risk of looking like a political gimmick, and even if it is a narrowly crafted as Bernstein argues, isn’t it hard to square the spending freeze proposal with the need to pass the health care bill? And isn’t the administration making it harder than ever to request the kind of funding that we’ll need to invest in rebuilding our energy economy? Perhaps more than anything else, this is intended to be a signal that with the stimulus under its belt and health care almost on its way, the administration is done thinking big.

OK, then. Aren’t we marching towards a situation that looks something like Poor Americans Thunder Dome, where decision makers pit one group of poor, working people against another to determine what sort of program survives and what programs are cut?

As Jed says, we need big thinking and this is most definitely not it. Even as a gimmick, it makes good Democratic policy ideas in other areas even harder to implement.  It undermines the abilities of Democrats to tell a persuasive story about what they believe and why they should become reality.

Obama’s Bizarre Moves to the Right

Earlier this morning, I tweeted: “Someone needs to tell Obama that he’s allowed to break McCain’s campaign promises.”

John McCain proposed an excise tax on health care benefits as a means of paying for health care reform legislation. Obama campaigned against this. And yet, the current health care legislation in the Senate and the version supported by the President include taxes on health care benefits. In some cases, this tax may hit CEOs’ plans that include coverage for plastic surgery. But most of the time, the excise tax will hurt working, middle class Americans who have collectively bargained for health care benefits in lieu of wages. Coincidentally, Obama also pledged no tax increases on the American middle class.

To put this a different way, Obama is going to look a lot like George H.W. Bush who campaigned on a pledge of no new taxes (if you read his lips), but did increase taxes anyway.

John McCain also campaigned on a federal spending freeze in response to the economic crisis. Obama, wisely, opposed McCain’s proposed spending freeze.  And now we see Obama proposing a three year spending freeze on discretionary spending. Naturally it will be more limited in scope than what McCain proposed, but that doesn’t make the idea any better.

Stopping federal spending growth during an economic crisis is a tried and true recipe for prolonged economic crisis. The most natural comparison and the one that Obama will most likely seen his move drawn to is Herbert Hoover. But Jed Lewison points out that FDR made the same mistake — and it is universally regarded as a mistake — of cutting federal stimulus programs and thus crashing the US economy again.

I don’t know why Obama thinks pulling out John McCain’s playbook is a good idea. Nor do I get why Obama and his administration think replaying the moves of George H.W. Bush and Herbert Hoover, two one-term Republican presidents, is a good idea. Because from where I sit, these moves make zero sense from either a policy sense or a political sense. And if I look really closely, it looks like Obama is triangulating against the Democratic base in an effort to prove that liberal ideas, Democratic ideas are bad during times of crisis. And thus a three year spending freeze doesn’t look that different from a three year freeze on the Obama administration identifying itself as Democratic.

Justice Stevens

The New York Times has a profile piece of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. It’s worth a read, as Stevens will likely go down as one of the great jurists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

The article closes with a line from Stevens’ dissent in Citizens United. The last line, in fact. I went back and looked at the full Stevens’ dissent closing and thought the Times’ reporter actually shortchanged Stevens’ brilliance by taking only the closing line. Here’s a thicker cut:

At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the com­mon sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self­ government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.