The Mars Delusion

Mars OneAs some of you no doubt know, I’m not keen on manned space exploration. A part of that is just selfish: it makes me anxious to see humans put themselves in such peril. But the bigger issue is that that unmanned space exploration works really well. And when we are talking about anything further away than the moon, manned missions don’t work very well. It would take about nine months to get to Mars, but you couldn’t just come right back. You’d have to hang around for three months until the Earth and Mars are properly aligned. That’s not really practical, and so that is why some “brilliant” minds came up with Mars One: the idea of sending people to Mars to die.

On Monday, Ed Regis wrote a great article with a title that completely sums up my position, Let’s Not Move to Mars. He puts a real damper on the idea of this trip before the people even get there. I hadn’t even considered this part of the problem. Mars One wants to send four people in a tiny spacecraft — with far less space than the international space station — for nine months (although Mars One seems to think it can do it in seven months). Regis summed up the situation well:

Every source of interpersonal conflict, and emotional and psychological stress that we experience in ordinary, day-to-day life on Earth will be magnified exponentially by restriction to a tiny, hermetically sealed, pressure-cooker capsule hurtling through deep space.

He went on to talk about various problems with life on Mars — specifically, getting water and air. And of course, it could be done — in theory. Exactly how well it could be done will only become apparent after the four adventurers get there. What I wonder is what kind of life that would be. For humans on Earth, the idea of living on Mars sounds sexy and romantic. But the reality would be tedious and back breaking. And then there is the issue of illness and the fact that you would likely spend the rest of your life with those three other people. That’s the best case scenario.

What I suspect would happen is one of two things. First: things would go very wrong, very fast, and the entire world would watch as these four people died. The other is that they would struggle along and we would have to be sending them many more supplies much faster than planned. There would be no real colonization: we would just be taking pity of these people and providing for them until they died.

Regardless, Regis is right: it is too soon to be doing this. And it doesn’t make sense. There is lots that we could do on the Moon first. You really have to wonder, “Why not a Moon colony first?” And I think the answer is clear and very telling: we’ve already been to the Moon. So this really isn’t about expanding out into space. It is about some kind of conquest: we put a human on Mars! Hooray! Now we can all get bored and move onto putting someone on Pluto.

The Propagandistic Middle East Narrative

Glenn GreenwaldThe close US/Saudi alliance and the massive amount of weapons and intelligence lavished on the regime in Riyadh by the West is one of the great unmentionables in Western discourse…

It’s not hard to understand why so many of the elite sectors of the West want everyone to avert their eyes from this deep and close relationship with the Saudis. It’s because that alliance single-handedly destroys almost every propagandistic narrative told to the Western public about that region.

As the always-expanding “War on Terror” enters its 14th year, the ostensible target — radical, violent versions of Islam — is fueled far more by the US’s closest allies than any of the countries the US has been fighting under the “War on Terror” banner. Beyond that, the alliance proves the complete absurdity of believing that the US and UK’s foreign policies, let alone their various wars, have anything to do with protecting human rights or subverting tyranny and fanaticism. And it renders a complete laughingstock any attempts to depict the US government as some sort of crusader for freedom and democracy or whatever other pretty goals are regularly attributed to it by its helpful press.

—Glenn Greenwald
US State Department “Welcomes” News That Saudi Arabia Will Head UN Human Rights Panel

The Next Speaker Will Be Like John Boehner

John BoehnerAccording to The New York Times, John Boehner Will Resign From Congress. The weird thing is that when I first heard it, I though, “Oh, no!” And that just shows how crazy things have gotten with the Republicans. In the first sentence of the Times article, it mentions that Boehner is “under intense pressure from conservatives in his party.” From conservatives?! Because here’s the thing: Boehner is as conservative as it gets. He came to power during the whole Newt Gingrich takeover of the House. He was one of the architects of the ridiculous focus-grouped “Contract with America.” You don’t get more conservative than John Boehner.

But you do get more stupid. You do get more infantile. You do get more useless. And over half of the Republicans in the House certainly fall into those categories. I’ve mentioned it a lot, but it always bears repeating: the difference between the “extreme” and “moderate” Republican is almost exclusively rhetoric. I just wrote about this, The Postmodern Theory That Marco Rubio Will Appeal to Latinos: the ultimate symbol of Republican “moderation,” claims we have to wait at least a decade before we even talk about normalizing the more than ten million undocumented residents.

“Garbage men get used to the smell of bad garbage. Prisoners learn how to become prisoners, all right?” —John Boehner

Right before the announcement, Jonathan Bernstein wrote, Stop the Shutdown Before It Starts. His argument was simple: the shutdown will fail and the Republicans will be harmed. All the hard-line, Ted Cruz types will claim that Obama was just about to blink, and blame Boehner (and McConnell) for finally okaying a deal. So since Boehner would be blamed regardless, he ought to take the blame now and stop the shutdown. Why? Because it is his job to protect his caucus. Now, according to The Washington Post, “House Republicans said there was agreement to pass a clean spending bill to keep the government open.”

According to Ezra Klein, Boehner was facing “House conservatives [who] want to use an unusual parliamentary maneuver to launch a coup against [him].” And that was far more likely, regardless of how this went down. Again: a lot of House Republicans are infantile — they think if they just hold their breath long enough, they will get all the toys they’ve demanded. And you have to believe that managing these people is a total drag. After all, what the loons want is the same thing that Boehner wants. But they won’t even let him take a course that will move them in that direction. In a recent interview, Boehner claimed that he didn’t mind the job in a way that clearly indicated that he did, “Garbage men get used to the smell of bad garbage. Prisoners learn how to become prisoners, all right?”

Then, after Macro Rubio announced to the Values Voter Summit that Boehner was retiring, there was a “HUGE ovation.” Do these people really think that it was John Boehner who was stopping them from getting all their grandest wishes fulfilled? Apparently so. At Crooks & Liars this morning, Karoli reported, Limbaugh’s Latest Conspiracy Theory: Obama Hijacked All The Conservatives! On his list is, of course, John Boehner. It also includes John Roberts. This has long been a thing among conservatives: there are certain opinions and everyone must share them. I noticed in the mid-1980s that a conservative’s definition of “liberal” was simply “not conservative.”

The question is, what do all those cheering “values voters” think they are going to get now? The problem with John Boehner was not that he wasn’t conservative enough; the problem was reality. We don’t live in a dictatorship. And if we did, it is unlikely that the dictator would be ideologically pure enough for these loons anyway. The next Speaker will run into the same reality that Boehner did, and the usual suspects will soon be claiming that he is a squish and a RINO.

The Postmodern Theory That Marco Rubio Will Appeal to Latinos

Marco RubioBehold the postmodern nature of the Republican Party! On Tuesday, Jonathan Chait wrote, Marco Rubio Won’t Even Consider Path to Citizenship During His Presidency. It was a short article and that headline captures its contents perfectly. What’s more: there is no question but that Chait is right. Rubio said that we shouldn’t even be talking about a path to citizenship for 10 to 12 years. He said it in his book and he said it recently to Sean Hannity. In as much as we know anything, we know that this means exactly what Chait said: Rubio won’t consider a path to citizenship for his presidential term — and then some.

But Rubio’s communications director, Alex Conant, was upset at Chait, claiming, “Your piece about immigration misunderstands his position.” And then Conant goes on to say, “Marco has repeatedly stated — and did so again last night — that he is open to green cards after 10 years and he has outlined a specific idea on how to do that.” In other words, Conant is repeating exactly what Chait wrote. But the Rubio campaign was apparently unhappy that Chait was complaining about it. It’s roughly tribal: you were right on the facts but you don’t understand; it’s Rubio and so therefore it is good!

Chait’s larger point is that Rubio’s position on this matter undercuts his primary selling point. He was supposed to be the guy who would reach out to Latino and Asian American voters with a positive message. But instead, because of criticism he got the moment he took the smallest of steps toward that, he is pushing a line that is in no important way different from Donald Trump’s. Think about that. It shouldn’t be hard, because for at least the last decade, the only real difference between the far right and the “moderate” right has been rhetoric.

There really is a fundamental problem with the Republican Party when it comes to national politics. All the elites stand around hoping for a savior: someone who will come along and not be so absolutely terrifying to anyone but the Republican base. And then, in order to actually win a majority of Republican votes, that candidate has to become terrifying. And I think this is why the national Republican Party seems so much like it is treading water. Eventually, they seem to think, they will luck out and get someone in because the economics are right or the voting machines are wrong or whatever. (Sadly, they are correct to assume this.)

The one thing that is most clear is that the Republican Party is not willing to do anything to reach out to minority voters. It’s actually pretty funny. I wrote about this a lot after their loss in 2012. The attitude — Among the elites! The supposed adults in the party! — was, “All right: we’ll pass immigration reform but that’s it! After we do this one thing for you, we don’t wanna hear anymore whining!” It’s like something I heard from a number of conservatives after same sex marriage became the law of the land, “I wonder what they’ll want next?!” (Perhaps the right not to be fired for being gay?!)

The Republican Party will never be able to “reach out” to Latinos as long as they think of Latinos as people who they have to reach out to. The big problem that the Republicans have is that Latinos tend to be poor. Republicans do not propose policies that will help the poor get ahead. So any “reach out” campaign is doomed anyway. It is just that the obvious hatred that Republicans have for all minority groups doesn’t help. But I don’t think that the Republican elites really care. They are are like Alex Conant: postmodern thinkers who define their own reality.

Anniversary Post: Bill of Rights

James MadisonOn this day in 1789, the US Congress passed what would become known as the Bill of Rights. It would take another two years for them to be ratified. What I find constantly amazing about them is how simple minded people are about them. It is hard to speak of myself in the present tense, but when I was an ignorant libertarian, I had the Tenth Amendment all wrong. And there is now a name for such people: Tenthers — although I like to think that I thought a bit more deeply than these people do.

The Tenth Amendment says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Tenthers normally cram the word “expressly” right before “delegated.” If that were what the Constitution said, then it would indeed put ridiculous limits on the federal government. But it doesn’t say that for a very good reason: that was what the Articles of Confederation said, “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” And it created a wholly ungovernable country!

The truth is that the Tenthers are mostly a bunch of pretenders. They generally are all for the federal government running roughshod over state and local rights. It’s just a question of what the issue is. Is it drug law? Then its okay! Is it same sex marriage? Then it’s a violation of the Constitution! And we are not just talking about loons here. There was quite a bit of discussion of the issue at the last Republican debate. It’s silly and dangerous.

But I don’t want we liberals to get off easy here. In general, I have a very big problem with the way that both conservatives and liberals talk about the Second Amendment. When I hear conservatives talking about how the Second Amendment is all about stopping government tyranny, I just want to gouge my eyes out. That was not the intent. In fact, it makes no sense: if you were living under a tyrant, she wouldn’t abide by the people’s rights. The whole point of the Constitution is to create a federal government strong enough to protect your rights!

At the same time, the liberal view that the Second Amendment is all about militias and nothing more is not true. We as liberals — more than anyone else — must understand that the Constitution is a living document. We can’t be locked into what a bunch of rich men thought two centuries ago. Over time, the Bill of Rights has been interpreted and we have learned new things about it. And for well over a century, the Second Amendment has been interpreted as a right to individual gun ownership. So it really doesn’t mean anything to whip out a pocket Constitution and read, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This is a good day to go and read the Bill of Rights. The truth is that most people who talk about the Constitution and Bill of Rights have never actually read it. It’s something that they think they just “know” — as though Americans are born with it just like HP laptops are “born” with McAfee Antivirus software. But we aren’t. And so the Constitution becomes something like magical text that proves that each of us is right about all of our prejudices.