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I heard it but couldn’t believe it. I had to whip out my phone and start surfing the web for information about it. Surely the quote was taken out of context. He must have been misquoted…but alas, no. I looked at the links Google had returned, selected one and started reading.

Apparently NASA, whose historic mission was to promote and help lead research and development in the field of science, math, and engineering in the US and to develop America’s space capabilities has now been charged with a new mission – to reach out to Muslim (and predominantly Muslim) nations – to help them “feel good” about their contributions to math, science and engineering – to “boldly” go where no one has gone before!

I read it and just about fell off my chair. What kind of nonsense is this? I figured that perhaps the writer of the column must have gotten it wrong. He must have misunderstood. Sadly…no. I heard it from the proverbial “horse’s mouth”:

Yep…you heard it right. Apparently President Obama charged NASA’s administrator, Charles Bolden, with a new mission for NASA. No longer was space exploration (either manned or unmanned) it’s primary goal. No longer was research into aeronautics and astronautics a goal. No…the new goals are:

  1. Help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math,
  2. Expand America’s international relationships, and
  3. Reach out to the Muslim world

Ok…#1 and #2 — that makes sense. When I heard #3 my brain did a quick double take to make sure I understood what I had just heard and read. #1 and #2 fit in with NASA’s historic missions of science, math, and engineering research and development as well as our cooperative efforts in space exploration with other countries. But #3? Now, NASA is supposed to “reach out to the Muslim world”? And not just reach out to the Muslim world (as well as the “dominantly Muslim nations”) but to “help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.” You know, I’m sorry if they don’t “feel good” about themselves or their past contributions to science, math and engineering…but is that really America’s fault? I mean come on, yes, Islam did make very significant contributions to math, science, and engineering but that ended centuries ago. Since the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 Islam’s advances in sciences has been on the decline and has continued to do so due to a wide variety of factors. But why does the American taxpayer have to pay for NASA to reach out to the Muslim world in order to make them “feel good” about those contributions? That is not what NASA’s mission ever was or should be.

And why does this administration single out Muslim and “dominantly Muslim” nations as a focus for this effort? Why not reach out to the Indians? Or the Congolese? Or the Zulu? Why the Muslims? As Charles Lane of the Washington Post put it:

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?

Lane, Charles, “NASA: Mission to Mecca“, Washington Post, July 7, 2010

This is one of the most ridiculous re-visioning of NASA’s mission that I have ever seen. First, President Obama says that we can’t get anywhere beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) without international help (hmmm….let me see…aren’t we still the only country who has landed a man on the moon and returned him safely to earth – even now…40 years after the accomplishment was made?) and now he wants NASA to become some sort of outreach organization to help Muslims feel good about their past accomplishments. If the Muslims want to feel good about their past accomplishments they can certainly do so without our help. On top of that it seems that this administration policy may well be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. As Charles Lane of the Washington Post continues:

[T]he Constitution expressly forbid[s] 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?

Lane, Charles, “NASA: Mission to Mecca“, Washington Post, July 7, 2010

This has to be one of the worst ideas to come out of this administration. It is a waste of NASA talent, a waste of American taxpayer money, and it certainly doesn’t make sense…to me as well as to many other people. As Charles Krauthammer said in an interview on Fox News: “This is a new height in fatuousness…this idea to feel good about their past scientific achievements is the worst combination of group therapy, psycho-babble, imperial condescension, and adolescent diplomacy. If I didn’t know that Obama had told this I’d demand the firing of Charles Bolden.” Amen to that Mr. Krauthammer…Amen to that!

President Obama is planning on delivering a speech to public school students. As the Department of Education website notes

During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

A very commendable message indeed…except that some on the right have labeled it as an attempt to promote socialist ideals. In their report, Some Parents Oppose Obama School Speech, the New York Times quotes a parent in Pearland, TX

“The thing that concerned me most about it was it seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child,” said Brett Curtiss, an engineer from Pearland, Tex., who said he would keep his three children home.

“I don’t want our schools turned over to some socialist movement.”

(McKinley, James, Some Parents Oppose Obama School Speech, The New York Times, September 3, 2009)

Conservative talk shows and Conservative politicians like Oklahoma State Senator Steve Russell are all ablaze claiming that Obama is trying to create a cult of personality around himself in a similar manner to Kim Jung-il of North Korea and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. The Republican party chair of Florida even claimed that the speech is politically motivated and he “was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology” (McKinley, James, Some Parents Oppose Obama School Speech, The New York Times, September 3, 2009).

What has happened to the Republican part of Ronald Reagan? Where has political discourse gone in the past 25 years? The fault is not just the Republicans — the Democrats are also very much to blame for the erosion of thoughtful, meaningful political discourse in today’s society. But the level to which these two sides will stoop appalls me. When I was a child we all listened to a speech given by the President of the United States. The man elected President was President of ALL Americans — not just liberals or conservatives — not just Republicans or Democrats — ALL Americans.

It is one thing to speak up in dissent of governmental policy or action (or inaction) – some consider that to be a form of patriotism (although the actual phrase is inaccurately attributed to Thomas Jefferson) and it is definitely free speech. But the politicization of even the simplest speech by the leader of our country and inaccurately portraying it as an attempt to promote a “socialist” or “liberal” agenda is shameful. Left wing pundits did it during the Bush administration and now the right wing pundits are doing their part during the Obama administration.

What has happened to civil discourse in this country? We need to find it again…or we, as a country, are lost and may well be doomed to repeat the Civil War some day.

I recently came across an MSN article that was published recently on how a bill is currently winding its way through the halls of Congress that is essentially a “cash for clunkers” concept to encourage Americans to trade in their old vehicles and buy new ones. The general concept, on the whole, is not bad — American car buyers will get rid of their old, gas-guzzling vehicles and buy more fuel efficient (and hopefully less polluting) cars to replace them. The upshot is that theoretically America’s car fleet will, on the whole, go up in fuel efficiency which means that our gas consumption should, theoretically, go down and therefore our reliance on oil will, theoretically, go down.

On pure face value this is absolutely a “good thing”. However, the way the government is approaching this (and how the interests in Congress are shaping this bill) worries me. The government will offer consumers a $4500 voucher if the vehicle that they purchase gets 10 miles per gallon (mpg) more than the vehicle they are scrapping. If the new vehicle only gets 4 to 9 mpg more then the old one then the voucher is only worth $3500. And that’s just for cars. For light trucks the mileage gain would only have to be 5 mpg and 2 mpg for the respective vouchers.

Ok, yes, it’s an incentive (just like the incentive that sales tax on new vehicles purchased this year between February 17, 2009 and the end of the year will be deductible on your income taxes next year). The idea is to spur the American consumer to go out and “shop” (sound familiar?) and spend money they may not even have on a big ticket item (i.e. durable goods). In theory, Americans buy vehicles, old gas guzzlers are scrapped, car sales — which are about as anemic as they come — are boosted, and the automakers get a bit of a reprieve from the recession.

The problem is that this is money that the American government doesn’t have. Yes, we could just print more money and, voila!, we’ll have the money for this program. But to do so we must tread carefully. We are already seeing the effects of printing more money as the value of the U.S. dollar is declining with respect to other currencies. Other governments are becoming increasingly concerned about their investments (i.e. U.S. Treasury Notes) in the United States and may slow down or stop buying them altogether. With increased dollar circulation we are diluting the value of the dollar and driving inflation. This is what happened in the mid- to late-late 70s and early 80s and it took the Fed quite a bit of time to take enough dollars out of circulation to help stem the tide.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of deficit spending in order to help pull us out of this economic deep dive but I tend to be a fiscal conservative in my overall outlook. Yes, in my opinion, we need to spend on health care and on infrastructure but I see this bill as another congressional way of throwing a lifeline to the auto industry when already two out of the “Big 3” (i.e. G.M. and Chrysler) have already received a huge amount of bailout money and have both declared bankruptcy. The difference here is that this is something that Washington doesn’t have to do. Already the auto makers are doing an enormous amount to try and spur sagging sales. I recently traded in my 1997 Nissan Maxima for a 2009 Toyota Prius because Toyota was offering 0% financing on 2009 Toyota Prius models (the car that just 8 months ago dealers couldn’t even keep on the lots because they were such a hot item). I did it without a government voucher and got a great deal.

There were many other great offers from Toyota as well…I just happened to be in the market for a Prius. And that’s where this bill won’t do much. In the article “Cash in on your gas guzzler” on MSN Catherine Holahan notes

Even if it passes as now written, the bill might not affect sales much. In a recent Kelley Blue Book survey, nearly 40% of car buyers said that the bill wouldn’t spur them to purchase a new vehicle. Only 13% of survey respondents said that they would be “highly motivated” to buy a new car, if the bill passed.

(Holahan, Catherine, “Cash for your gas guzzler“, MSN, May 19, 2009)

And as for environmental impact — in the current form of this bill (it was originally calling for vouchers for new vehicles that “got at least 28 mpg and new SUVs that saw 23 mpg or more.” (Holahan, Catherine, “Cash for your gas guzzler“, MSN, May 19, 2009)) this bill will do little since it has been watered down.

“This will not benefit the environment, but it will help sell a new pickup truck,” said Ann Mesnikoff, the director of green transportation with the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental protection group. “They are trying to make it possible to sell anything under this bill.”

(Holahan, Catherine, “Cash for your gas guzzler“, MSN, May 19, 2009)

The clear winners in this bill are the auto dealers and the auto manufacturers (which is not a bad thing for the auto dealers given the way that G.M. and Chrysler will be cutting thousands of them off in their bankruptcy proceedings). Even the aftermarket parts industry will lose (and so will many Americans who cannot or choose not to buy a new car at this time) as the parts from older vehicles that typically get refurbished and reconditioned for replacement parts are destined for the scrap heap under this bill. Repairing older cars will become more expensive as parts become scarce. The clear losers in this bill are the American taxpayers — both present and future who will have to pay back this additional debt.

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