Should we applaud that a woman is likely to be nominated for president?

The Thinker by Rodin

Is it remarkable that a woman will finally be leading a presidential ticket in this election? Yes it is, primarily because it took so long for it to happen. This makes Hillary Clinton’s status of the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party something of an embarrassment too. It might have happened eight years ago but of course Barack Obama narrowly won that nomination, which was also historic for transgressing the color barrier. So while this one took some time, it does say something that it was the Democratic Party that managed to pull two such historic nominations in eight years. Alan Keyes, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina never really had much of a chance within their parties. As for Hillary, I noted eight years ago that a woman’s time was likely to come soon.

Still, it is somewhat disappointing that of all the women out there that Hillary Clinton would be the first to get the nod. I am not one of those Hillary haters and I will happily vote for her in November. She was one of our better secretaries of state but was only a so-so senator from New York. Of course as first lady she had the opportunity to understand how the White House works and that’s one of my disappointments. Hillary was the opposite of an outsider. Her success came from being an insider and having the support of powerful people, particularly her husband Bill. Yes, some of her success due to being effective (but sometime catastrophically wrong) in office, but mostly it’s due to opportunity. Not many women can be married to a president of the United States. Her path to senator was smoothed over due to Bill’s connections. Her most distinguished role is really as secretary of state. In this she was a surprise pick and turned out to be a good choice. Obama had every reason to throw her to the wolves, but did not.

Maybe that’s how it has to go for our first female presidential nominee. Maybe it would be too daunting to have happened any other way right now. I say this not because I think that women don’t have these skills, but connections and establishment trust are imperatives, at least within the Democratic Party, and those are harder for women politicians as they are fewer in number and tend to have been in office for shorter periods of time compared with male politicians. Certainly she broke a glass ceiling, but not alone. Bill and friends of Bill did a lot of the pushing for her.

Hillary has high negatives that I frankly don’t get. I certainly have concerns about her judgment. Setting up a private email server was quite stupid and a more astute politician would have not ignored these red flags. While stupid, it was forgivable. It’s understandable that Republicans want to make hay over the killing of our Libyan ambassador and two others, but it’s quite clear from all the evidence that what happened was not her fault. She was hardly a perfect secretary of state, but she was a competent one and navigated that fine line quite handily between being empowered and following direction from the president.

Of course our foreign policy could have been handled better during her tenure, but the same is true of every secretary of state. We cannot control foreign events. All any president and secretary of state can do it position military and diplomatic forces effectively to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Diplomacy is tough and it rarely makes headlines. It involves creating and maintaining effective international collations. Radical change in foreign policy such as Trump would implement tends to not really be a good option. You must deal with the realities across the globe in all their enduring messiness. You should strategically move resources to reduce the messiness if possible. This can be done through long-term proactive strategies and the limited short-term application of military and diplomatic muscle when they can be effectively leveraged, such as with Iran.

Regardless, our next president will be either her or Donald Trump. While the choice is pretty obvious to me it’s apparently not obvious to plenty of voters. Voters need someone else to look at to help in their decisions, which is why who Hillary picks as her running mate may actually matter for a change. I don’t expect her to pick Sanders; they temperamentally too different as Hillary is a pragmatist and Bernie is an idealist. To me her choice is obvious: my senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren is frankly a far better speaker and communicator than Hillary is. Like Sanders she has a gift of connecting viscerally with voters. It’s unclear if Warren would accept this offer, although she had not ruled it out. Party insiders expect someone more milquetoast to get the nod. Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown are names being bandied about. A prominent Latina would make a lot of sense but at the moment there is no one aside from Warren that would really be ideal.

I pity the fool Trump picks as his running mate and it’s unclear how many would accept. Newt Gingrich is not so secretly running for the position, but perhaps is less in the running since he has overtly criticized Trump over his racist remarks about the Judge Curiel, who overseeing the Trump University case. My bet is that he chooses New Jersey governor Chris Christie, because they are both temperamentally the same (bullies) and are both from the northeast. It would not surprise me at all if both the vice presidential nominees come from the northeast, which would be quite surprising as my area of the country is hardly representative of the rest of the country. Of course, time will tell.

I don’t worry too much about Sanders voters ultimately voting for Trump for the same reason that pissed off Clinton voters ultimately came around and voted for Obama in 2008. Wounds tend to heal given some time and there are five months until the election. In addition, pretty much all Democrats like and trust Obama. As long as the economy doesn’t implode, his opinions will carry a lot of weight. Obama endorsed Hillary today and will go on the stump with her next week. There is no downside for Obama: his legacy depends on having a Democrat succeed him. As this is a very rare occurrence (it hasn’t happen after two or more full terms since Harry S Truman) pulling it off would be another feather in his cap.

I also don’t worry about Trump finding a “presidential” footing. Like a leopard, there’s no way to change his spots. He may be a bit more cautious about putting his foot in his mouth but it’s not hard to predict he’ll do more of that than not in the months ahead. It really felt like with the latest reactions to his comments on Judge Curiel, he has finally jumped the shark. His hardcore supports won’t waver, but he has made it infinitely harder to bring in those with any doubts.

Barring some major external event and even given Hillary’s negatives, I don’t worry too much about the election either. She hardly has it in the bag, but she is intelligent and focused. Trump shows no inclination to be strategic, to raise serious money, to support fellow candidates or to act presidential. He’s effectively thrown his dice already and given the velocity and the angle it’s not too hard to predict he’ll land snake eyes.

The game is now truly afoot.

Mankind is not going to the stars

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m something of a space geek. It helps to have grown up during the space race. I still find the exploration of outer space fascinating. Our knowledge of the universe is growing by leaps and bounds. Hundreds of planets have been discovered, so many that it no longer makes news to announce new ones. Many of these planets look like they might support human life, although it’s hard to say from such a fantastic distance away. Some of us are waiting expectantly for someone to discover the warp drive, so we can go visit and colonize these distant worlds. Maybe it will be just like Star Trek!

It fires my imagination too and it excites the popular press as well. It all sounds so exotic, fascinating and Buck Roger-ish. The only problem is that almost certainly none of this will happen. We might be able to put men on Mars, but colonizing the planet looks quite iffy. Even colonizing the moon, as I suggested when Newt Gingrich was promoting the idea during his last presidential campaign, is probably cost prohibitive. Which means we need to keep our dreams of visiting strange new worlds in check. It won’t be us, it won’t be our children or grandchildren and it probably won’t happen at all. To the extent we visit them it will occur virtually, using space probes.

I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news but hear me out. We probably won’t colonize the moon permanently because it will be too costly to sustain it. It’s one thing to land a man on the moon, which America did rather successfully. It’s much more costly to stay there. For a sizeable group of humans, say ten thousand or so, to live self sufficiently on the moon is probably impossible. If it can be done it will take a capital investment in the trillions of dollars. My guess is that it would take tens of trillions of dollars, if not hundreds of trillions of dollars. It’s unlikely the moon has enough water that we could mine but if it does it’s likely very inefficient to process as it is wrapped up in moon dust. Otherwise water would have to be imported from earth at ruinous costs. In fact, colonists would have to import pretty much everything. Even if citizens of the moon could grow their own food and recycle their own water, manufacturing is likely to be limited. We might have a small scientific colony on the moon, like we do at the International Space Station. It probably won’t amount to more than a dozen men or women, and it’s likely to cost at least ten times as much as the international space station cost, since you have to move equipment and men a much further distance.

What about man colonizing Mars? It doesn’t seem out of reach. When the orbits are working just right, a spacecraft can transit each way in about six months. The cost of getting a pound of matter to Mars is likely ten to a hundred times the cost of getting it to the moon, which is probably cost prohibitive in itself. The journey there and back though looks chancy. It’s not just the possibility that some critical system will fail on the long journey; it’s the cosmic rays. Our astronauts are going to absorb a heap of radiation, the equivalent of 10,000 chest X-rays. It looks though that this is probably manageable. What of man living on Mars itself?

The good news is that humans could live on Mars, providing they don’t mind living underground. The atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s, it is much colder on Mars than on the Earth in general and you can’t breathe the air and live. It’s true that by essentially burying our houses in Martian soil humans could be safe from much of it. Slapping on some SPF-50 sunscreen though won’t do the job. Anyone on the surface will have to wear spacesuits. So far we haven’t found a reliable source of water on Mars either. Colonizing Mars is within the realm of probability, but it is fairly low. Frankly, it’s a very remote, cold and arid place with nothing compelling to it other than a lot of empty mountains and valleys and swirling Martian dust, almost always in a pink or orange haze.

Colonizing distant moons and asteroids have similar problems: no suitable conditions for sustaining life as we know it, insufficient gravity, toxic radiation, frequently toxic chemicals and cold of the sort that most of us simply cannot comprehend it. Both Venus and Mercury are simply too hot to inhabit, and Venus is probably as close to hell as you will find on a planet in our solar system.

What about colonizing planets around other solar systems? Here’s where we need to fire up the warp drive of our imaginations because as much as physicists try to find exceptions around Einstein’s theories of relativity, they can’t. The closer you get to the speed of light the more energy it takes. It’s like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain. To get a spacecraft with people in it to even 10% of the speed of light looks impossible with any technology we have or can reasonably infer. The closest star is three light years away, so even if this speed could be achieved it would take thirty years to get to the closest star. But it can’t be achieved. In fact, we’d be lucky to get to 1% of the speed of light, which would make a journey to Proxima Centauri a voyage of 300 years. Moreover, if some generations could make the journey, it is likely that our closest star is not inhabitable.

Perhaps we could freeze ourselves and wake up millions of years later at our destination. Maybe that would work. Obviously, we don’t have technology to do anything like this now. And given the laws of entropy, it’s hard to imagine any spacecraft that could survive a voyage of that duration intact.

What we need is a warp drive and a starship. But what we will really need is an escape clause from the theories of relativity and the technology that will allow humans to utilize it: a spacecraft that can slip through a wormhole or something. It’s not that this is impossible, but with what we know it looks impossible for us and will always be impossible. In any event there doesn’t appear to be any wormholes conveniently near Earth.

In short, we are stuck to the planet Earth. We’d best enjoy what we have and stop squandering the planet on which all human life depends. So far we are doing a terrible job of it.

Dealing with political bullies

The Thinker by Rodin

In April I discussed how Republicans win through intimidation. I said in a future post that I would give my thoughts on how to deal with their bullying. Today I finally get around providing my thoughts on the question.

This is a tough problem for Democrats because, with a few exceptions like Howard Dean, we haven’t learned to fight in a way that sways. Thus, Republicans have a natural advantage. They are used to having their way and they generally get their way through a lot of intimidation, bullying and money, which they have aplenty. Meanwhile, Democrats tend to be civilized people. We think it is impolite to shout and figure everyone has the right to be heard. We like to believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that Republicans have a better and pluralistic nature. And so pretty much every time we debate, we avoid going for the jugular. We don’t want to be seen as one of them, which in our minds is worse than winning.

All bullies understand one thing very well: to wield power over someone, you must connect with someone emotionally, not logically. Chances were that when you encountered a bully in school, one encounter was enough. The bully never tried to reason with you. Instead, he went straight for the jugular and used every weapon is his well-stocked arsenal: physical, emotional and mental. You quickly learned to avoid the bully because man, this dude is a loose cannon. If encountered, you found it pragmatic to give them what they wanted to avoid retribution. Why does this work? It is because for most people it takes about ten logical propositions (or more) to overwhelm one emotional proposition.

To really beat a political bully, it helps to have cut a few of them down to size. This come from standing up to bullies, which few of us have tried. Oddly enough, most bullies, when confronted by an opponent with determination, will give way. This will happen particularly if they sense from those around them that by standing up, many others will find the courage to stand up as well. This is because a crowd against you has more power than any bully by himself.

One way bullies deal with this uncomfortable fact is to have more bullies stand up with them. This way you become something of a gang, and a gang is more powerful than a single person. Yet the powerful bully actually walks a fine line. He must be seen as powerful and intimidating, but not so powerful that it behooves those they are intimidating to join ranks. Success often comes from being very loud, carrying a big stick but wielding it selectively.

In fact, this is pretty much how the Confederates managed to dominate the first half of The Civil War. It helped that Union generals tended to be wimps and ineffectual while Confederate generals like Stonewall Jackson were brilliant tacticians. (The Union started winning when soldiers like Grant proved they would not allow their armies to be intimidated.) The “rebel yell” was very effective for the Confederate Army, and involved them forming a line, pointing rifles and sabers forward then running forward en masse, often in sync, yelling and whooping the whole time. Union soldiers found the rebel yell unnerving because it was, well, crazy, and often gave way. It was a great tactic while it worked, and it stopped working when the Union Army found its courage. Today’s Republican bullies may be channeling the spirit of their rebellious forefathers. Using sabers against political opponents is not a good idea, but yelling is still politically acceptable, as is charging en masse, which today means honing a finely tuned and simple message and broadcasting it repeatedly everywhere.

See these tactics at work with attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It’s amazing that they get away with it. The Affordable Care Act, after all, is the law of the land. Civilized people of course respect the law, even when they disagree with it. If they don’t like it, they will work to repeal the law. That’s not good enough for these new Confederates. The law must be killed through all means, fair and unfair. This includes deliberate foot dragging from red states, outright refusal to begin the process of setting up health care exchanges (despite The Supremacy Clause), and filing endless legal challenges, mostly with friendly courts. Some of their tactics give new meaning to the word chutzpah, such as refusing to fund the law that was already enacted. Make it a law in name only. Whatever works, fair or foul, is okay. Civilized people, of course, retch at these tactics, but if you are a bully it is just one item in your bag of tricks.

Curiously, the very best Democrats at fighting Republican bullies come from deeply red states, in particular Texas. This becomes less curious when you consider this behavior forms part of the culture of the state. Former (now deceased) Texas Governor Ann Richards had mastered the art, as has Jim Hightower. Many of these luminaries worked for The Texas Observer, a monthly magazine principally about Texas politics with a Democratic bent that was widely read. The late Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower both worked for or contributed to The Texas Observer, as did Larry L. King, who is perhaps best known as the author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Democrats trying to counter these Republican bullies would be wise to study and emulate their tactics.

Their success comes down to two main factors. First, they learned the art of mean-mouthing other politicians in a way that called into question their lack of character. Barack Obama, responding to one of Mitt Romney’s crazier talking points, will give a polite and academic reply, maybe with a hint of sarcasm. Molly Ivins, if she were still alive, would not only lampoon the argument with innumerable logical holes, but would not be afraid, after providing many examples, to publicly state the logical conclusion in personal and emotional terms. If she were alive, I imagine her response to Romney’s proposal to keep cutting taxes for the rich as a solution for reducing the deficit would include a colorful metaphor. (“He wants to take money out of his little daughter’s piggy bank so he can go binge drinking at the saloon down the street.”) Metaphors like this are hard to excise from your head, particularly when they ring true. It’s even harder when it defies common sense and you can tie the allusion to an ordinary experience.

The truth, if it can be turned to an issue that a common person finds of concern, can be devastatingly effective politically, provided it is given with the right emotional punch. If is doesn’t move you, then it won’t work. A political ad on Haiti policy, for example, might concern the one percent of voters who care about Haiti, but most don’t, so the money on such advertisements is largely wasted.

Perhaps the most devastating political ad of all time was the Daisy ad that Lyndon Johnson used against Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. Why did it work? It worked because it combined a powerful truth with the inescapably devastating emotional consequences for everyone. Johnson portrayed himself as the sane person in the room who would avoid nuclear war. He didn’t even have to reference Barry Goldwater because the implication was obvious. Goldwater was on record as being trigger happy with the nation’s nuclear weapons.

What do people really care about most today? Principally they want a good paying job, but also a hopeful future. Issues like gay marriage animates a fringe, but only a fringe of the electorate. What will make independent voters’ spines shiver will be simple and concrete ads showing Mitt Romney’s disdain for the working class. There is plenty of material on the record to work with, including his statements that he hoped General Motors would go bankrupt. His work while leading Bain Capital is also rife with examples of working people being laid off or having their wages cut, such as at Staples, to line his pockets. Find a couple of indisputable examples, tie them to working people who experienced the wrath of his decisions, and such an ad is bound to hit the double whammy of both logical and have strong emotional impact.

Ultimately, bullies only hold power as long as the crowd lets them wield it. Political bullies are rendered powerless when they are ignored. It happened to Glenn Beck, it is happening to Rush Limbaugh and it happened most recently to Newt Gingrich, in most cases because they traversed a serious line or became a parody of themselves. Mitt Romney will use mostly surrogates for his bullying of President Obama. He will likely disclaim actions of surrogates when politically dangerous, such as a recent attempt by a PAC to resurrect the Jeremiah Wright controversy.

Democrats should concentrate forces on a half dozen or less key distinguishing issues that are emotionally charged and that appeal to swing voters. The Republican War on Woman, one of the few frames Democrats created that actually stuck, is one example. Why did it stick? It stuck because it was so obviously true and it is also helpful because the majority of voters in this country are female. The frames that will be effective must connect a candidate with a concern or fear that Middle America will find deeply disturbing and undeniably true.

Do this and the bully is rendered harmless.

Election 2012: It’s looking like 1964

The Thinker by Rodin

This is the year when because of the bad economy Republicans are supposed to be shoe-ins for election. When the president is floundering due to a bad economy and high unemployment (so the theory goes) the alternative, no matter how poor a choice, should coast to election.

Elections tend to be fickle events and often turn on last minute happenings. Still, when one projects the current state of politics forward to November, conventional wisdom seems likely to lose. If I were President Obama, I would not spend too much time worrying about his reelection. Instead, I would spend more time working to elect a Congress that will work with him during a second term. Trends suggest this election will resemble the Election of 1964. In that election, President Lyndon Johnson cruised to an easy election. (He assumed the presidency on the death of President Kennedy.) Democrats also picked up thirty-four House seats and two Senate seats.

Back in 1964, the Republican Party was about as confused a party as they are today. The conventional wisdom forty-eight years ago was that New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller would cruise to his party’s nomination. Rockefeller though had some Newt Gingrich in him. He was not the bombastic, bomb-throwing Republican like Newt. That dubious honor went to Senator Barry Goldwater (Arizona). Rockefeller was an establishment Republican. He spent much of his time as governor building highways, not fretting about cutting taxes. Rockefeller modeled Gingrich in that his personal life left much to be desired. In 1963, he divorced his wife and married a woman fifteen years his younger on the rebound. In the divorce settlement, his new wife’s ex-husband was granted custody of her children. This fed rumors of adultery, which became a serious liability for Rockefeller, and helped drive the candidacy of the bombastic Barry Goldwater.

For those pining for a true conservative, Goldwater more than delivered. He wanted a much more aggressive war in Vietnam than Johnson had delivered, and was fanatically anticommunist. His rhetoric suggested that preemptive use of nuclear weapons was okay, which greatly alarmed most Americans. Despite this, Goldwater was successful in achieving the nomination, in part due to Rockefeller’s marital missteps. He even narrowly won the California primary, which largely sealed his nomination. The contrast could hardly have been sharper in the 1964 election: a true conservative vs. a Texas Democrat who was part redneck but doggedly in favor of civil rights. Goldwater won only six states and accumulated only 52 electoral votes.

Contrast Rockefeller and Goldwater with the current field of Republican presidential candidates. No matter who is eventually nominated, they will be (to quote Mitt Romney) “severely conservative”, or at least be forced to run as one. With the possible exception of Mitt Romney, each is as at least as alarming as Barry Goldwater was in 1964. There is nothing the least bit moderate about any of them, at least judging by their rhetoric. Moreover, each carries “severe” baggage. Romney is the flip flopper to end all flip floppers, willing to say virtually anything for a vote. Gingrich has a history with Americans that conjures up nastiness and revulsion. Ron Paul wants to go back on the gold standard, favors a policy of isolationism, plus wants to cut the government roughly in half. Rick Santorum thinks birth control should not even be covered by insurance plans. This is borne out in polls where each candidate is polled against President Obama in a hypothetical election. Talking Points Memo keeps a list of these head to head matchups. In the best of them for Republicans, Obama leads Romney by seven points. If the election were held today, he would trounce Gingrich by thirteen points, Ron Paul by ten points and Santorum by seven points.

As I said, dynamics can change as the campaigns get underway. However, it’s already understood that Republicans are underwhelmed with their candidates this year. This is evidenced by substantially lower rates of participation by Republicans in primaries and caucuses to date compared with recent years. Unless their nominee can subsequently animate Republicans in a way they so far haven’t, this trend is likely to continue through the election, giving Democrats an enthusiasm advantage. Surprisingly, Democrats appear to be rallying behind Obama in this election, and their enthusiasm level seems quite high, in spite of the fact that Obama has governed the country more like a 1970s establishment Republican than a Democrat.

Of course, the biggest factor determining this election the state will be of the economy. It remains to be seen how it will play out, but the recovery seems to be becoming tangible to ordinary Americans at last, with the unemployment rate likely to be below eight percent in a month or two. This is a rate that is still too high, but the unemployment rate seems to be steadily dropping rather than holding steady. As a trend, it suggests whatever Obama is doing is working, at least belatedly. Independents would be hard-pressed to choose an unknown commodity over a known one that is delivering, particularly when the choice may affect their job prospects and bank balances.

Will all this good economic news make the public more forgiving toward their Congress? There is little evidence of this, with approval ratings of Congress hovering in the 10 to 13 percent range. What’s hard to figure out is how much of this disgust will translate into “throw my representative out of Congress too”. If so will it be bipartisan, or partisan? Given the likely higher enthusiasm from Democrats in this election, it seems likely that Democrats will benefit from these dynamics rather than Republicans. Republicans have two small factors in their favor: voter ID laws likely to reduce votes from minorities and completion of redistricting, making Republicans more likely to retain seats than lose them.

There are a lot of retiring Democratic senators this year, so Democrats will be fighting headwinds trying to retain their narrow control of the Senate. 2010 turned out to be a change election in favor of House Republicans. Two years though of a Tea Party dominated House have left most Americans infuriated with their obstructionism and unwillingness to compromise. Disapproval of Congress is today higher than it was prior to the 2010 election. Given that many Republicans are likely to sit out this election, it’s not unreasonable to think that Democrats will regain control of the House. I think the odds are at least 50/50 Democrats will succeed.

I do suspect that barring any great surprises that Obama will cruise to an easy reelection. This will be for no other reason that he is a defender of the status quo, and Americans like their Social Security and Medicare. The Senate is likelier than not to switch to Republican control, but only narrowly if it occurs. The means that Democrats can keep the Senate as bollixed up as Republicans have done. If I had to bet, I’d bet that Democrats will regain the House, marginally lose the Senate and retain the White House.

In the election’s aftermath, Republicans will have to look at the wreckage. The sober ones will have to ask how much of it was self-inflicted by moving even further to the right. As Barry Goldwater put it in the 1964 election, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Maybe not, but extremism by nominees for a political party is likely to be a vote loser. After much moaning and groaning, this may open a welcome space for centrist Republicans again. They are likely to find plenty of independents that were reluctantly voting for Democrats only because there was no centrist Republicans.

Speaker Moon Colony

The Thinker by Rodin

In case you missed the news, former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich jumped the shark last week. While pandering for votes near Cape Canaveral, Gingrich said that by the end of his second term the United States would have established a colony on the moon. Even better for potential colonists, when the colony reaches 13,000 people they can apply for statehood!

It’s all part of Gingrich’s wanting to distinguish himself as a different, big picture kind of candidate. While the unemployed aerospace workers near the space center were enthusiastic, the other remaining candidates quickly realized that his proposal was ridiculous. Mitt Romney was quick to capitalize on it by criticizing his proposal at the next debate. Perhaps as a result, Mitt Romney now appears to be outpolling likely Republican voters in Florida, who vote Tuesday in the state’s primary.

Gingrich’s proposal is technically feasible. We obviously know how to get to the moon, as we have done it many times before. One thing we have learned since the days of Apollo, and has been reinforced through decades of space shuttle flights, is that while we know how to get man into space, we have failed to figure out a way to do it cost efficiently. The space shuttle was originally envisioned as a means for getting cargo into space for as low as $118 a pound (in 1972 dollars). It seemed sort of plausible when it was first launched. Subsequently we discovered it cost a lot more than that. In 2010 dollars, each shuttle mission cost about $1.5 billion dollars, if you divide the cost of the program in constant dollars by the number of flights. The last space shuttle flight was estimated to have cost about $40,000 per pound of payload.

That’s $40,000 to get one pound of payload into a low earth orbit. The moon of course is much further away. To really build permanent colonies on the moon all sorts of heavy equipment would need to be transported there, requiring spacecraft with relatively large cargo bays, something we don’t yet possess. While there is some hope that water can be harvested from the moon, it would certainly be neither easy nor cheap to acquire. For the foreseeable future, water would have to be imported from Earth. A gallon of water weighs about 8.35 pounds. Assuming we find some very efficient way of transporting cargo to the moon, say at a cost of $10,000 a pound, it would cost about $100,000 to move just a gallon of water from the earth to the moon. A hundred gallons would cost a million dollars to transport. Bear in mind that my cost is artificially low and it would likely cost much more like $100,000 a pound. It doesn’t take much back of the envelope calculating to discover that creating a colony on the moon, at least with current technology, would be ruinously expensive.

But when you are a big picture guy like Newt Gingrich, apparently these minor problems can be ignored. It’s unclear how such a major endeavor would be funded. Gingrich after all is a candidate famous for wanting to reduce taxes, not raise them. Based on his proposals, don’t expect a Gingrich administration to touch defense spending, except to increase it. From his belligerent talk it sounds like we might be fighting dual wars with Iran and North Korea too if he were elected president. But even if the money could be found, is it even technically possible in just eight years to have a sustained human colony on the moon? It seems unlikely, as we do not possess at the moment the launch vehicles needed to do the job, as the Saturn V rocket has long been retired. So not only is the proposal cost prohibitive, it appears technically impossible to accomplish as well, at least within eight short years.

Perhaps it could happen if Gingrich were to rescope the mission. Perhaps the goal should be to colonize the moon with a self-sustaining colony of gerbils instead of humans. We could probably do that for $100 billion or so, and chances are the gerbils would do a much better job adapting to the moon that we would. In any event, his proposal should be greeted with derision. Once the costs are understood this by itself should make him unqualified for president.

Governor Jerry Brown in his first term as California governor was famously called “Governor Moonbeam” for the sin of being New Agey. If I were Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul, I would be attaching a “Speaker Moon Colony” label to Gingrich then let him twist slowly, slowly in the wind.

The Mormon, the serial adulterer, the zealot and the crackpot

The Thinker by Rodin

Get out the popcorn! Thanks to Newt Gingrich’s surprising win in the South Carolina Republican primary yesterday, it looks like those of us who enjoy political theater have many more weeks or months of it to revel in. One thing is clear: Republican primary voters are having a hard time choosing from their crop of candidates. You get the feeling Bob Forehead would win if he were on the ballot. (Mitt Romney does remind me a lot of Bob Forehead. It must be coincidence.)

At least it is now down to four: the Mormon, the serial adulterer, the zealot and the crackpot. A number of other crackpots have already exited stage right, including Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Jon Huntsman posed as the moderate candidate in the race, although his tax policies were anything but moderate. Anyhow, they are gone and I for one will miss Bachmann, Cain and Perry for their circus sideshow qualities. It’s hard to lampoon candidates who are already crazy parodies of candidates but simply do not know it.

We are learning some things as these primaries drag on. First, it’s a bad idea to entrust vote counting to the Iowa Republican Party. They must not have excelled in math in school, and they lost votes altogether for some precincts. Mitt Romney won Iowa by eight votes, then some weeks later he lost it, but no one can really say for sure because they also lost precinct votes. Doing all that vote counting at an undisclosed location is hardly a way to instill confidence in the process either. Call it a tie, maybe, between the Mormon and the zealot.

Second, Republicans simply refuse to nominate a moderate. In today’s Republican Party, Ronald Reagan would be castigated as a flaming liberal. Even Jon Huntsman tilted much further to the right than Ronald Reagan ever did. Being angry is considered an asset; being statesman-like means you are a pussy. At least anecdotally, South Carolina Republicans picked serial philanderer Newt Gingrich not because of his family values, but because he was the best of the four of them at articulating their rage. It takes balls to tell an African American to their face their problem is they don’t work hard enough.

Third, for a party supposedly centered on liberty and freedom, they sure don’t want to hand much of it out. In fact, they want to take away a lot of freedoms. One freedom they can all agree on: the right to own lots and lots of increasingly lethal weapons, with no pesky laws to get in the way of you and your paranoia. But on many other freedoms, they would gladly rescind them. The freedom to have an abortion? Perish the thought. The freedom to marry someone you love who happens to be of the same sex? It’s immoral and hence must be outlawed. The freedom of a 17-year old girl to buy a Plan B “after the fact” contraceptive over the counter, which is clinically proven both safe and effective? Not for you, you little harlot. The freedom to vote without having an officially blessed form of state-issued identification? Sorry, no, at least in many of these Republican states which recently passed onerous voter ID laws.

Freedom, as Republicans like to tell us, is not free, which is another way of saying freedom has to be purchased, i.e. it’s sort of like buying emancipation. If you cannot afford to buy it, well that’s just tough. If you want the freedom to vote, then trek down to your local DMV and get an official ID and pay for it with your own money, and do it on your own time. (This is not, they tell us, a poll tax. Go figure.) You have the freedom to eat as much food as you can afford to buy, and if you cannot afford any you are free to starve. The same goes with your health, your employment and your choice of abode. You have the freedom to call a cardboard box home rather than pay rent. Freedom means never getting a handout. Freedom essentially means that those with the means get to have a whole lot more freedom than you do. Also it is an essential part of the government’s mission to remove any possibility that society might help the poor climb the social ladder. As Herman Cain informed us, if you are poor it’s your own damn fault. You just aren’t trying hard enough.

You can see why it would be confusing to Republican primary voters to choose a nominee, although right now anger seems to be a vote getter. In conservative family-values South Carolina of all places you would think that a serial philanderer would have a hard time getting votes. But voters seem more interested in a candidate who can express their anger than one who is consistent with family values. So they cheered Gingrich on in a recent debate when moderator John King asked Gingrich to comment on his ex-wife Marianne’s allegation that he petitioned her for an open marriage. Gingrich turned the inevitable question into a personal attack and the audience roared approval. Perhaps all this family value talk is just talk, as red states have higher divorce rates than blue states anyhow.

Then there is the question: can a true Christian pull the lever for a Mormon? New Hampshire Republicans had no problem, but they are suspiciously secular up there. In God-fearing South Carolina, if your candidate is not a real Christian, he doesn’t share your values, so you cannot vote for him. Instead, pick Gingrich, the faux-Christian instead. You would think his Catholicism would be a stroke against him in a deeply Protestant state, but it’s Christian enough apparently. Besides, Gingrich is about as Christian in temperament as Attila the Hun was a humanitarian, which in fact resembles most so-called Christians that I know.

Which leaves the zealot and the crackpot. The zealot, a.k.a. as Rick Santorum, is so incredibly monogamous he won’t even sit on a sofa with another woman not his wife. He was a huge failure as a U.S. senator but apparently did not get the message, even when he lost his reelection bid by seventeen points. Santorum says he is the only true conservative in the race. Maybe so, but he is conservative in a nasty Fred Rogers sort of way, although he looks great in a sweater vest. This is a guy who is so far to the right that even obvious right-wingers avoid him. His proposal to limit the National Weather Service to issuing severe long-range weather forecasts only was so bizarre and unworldly that not a single other senator signed on as a cosponsor. Santorum is a true conservative indeed. Even I have to give him credit for this.

Then there is the crackpot. Doubtless I risk the ire of legions of Ron Paul fans out there by calling him a crackpot, but he is one. Anyone who refuses to ever make an exception to move outside his or her ideology is a crackpot. One way I can tell a true crackpot is I tend to agree with some of their positions. I agree with Paul that we should be out of Afghanistan, for example. It’s all that other weird stuff he believes in where it’s hard to stifle derisive laughter. He wants to eliminate much of the government including essential agencies like the EPA, kill the Federal Reserve Board, go on the gold standard, and withdraw from the UN and WTO. And for a pro-freedom kind of guy, freedom apparently doesn’t extend to a woman’s right to have an abortion, or the right to have consensual sodomy, since granted to us by a conservative Supreme Court. Calling Ron Paul a crackpot is actually to diminish him with faint praise. Nonetheless, a significant portion of the Republican electorate apparently agrees with this guy. Fortunately, his anti-foreign-policy stand makes it impossible for him to win the nomination. His candidacy does beg the question: who is freakier: the fetishly clean Rick Santorum or the obsessively and ideologically weird Ron Paul? This is the kind of question I could debate with friends all night, and we could never agree on, but it would still be a fun debate.

I plan to stock up on popcorn and hope this nominating process goes all the way to a brokered convention.

Philanderers for president!

The Thinker by Rodin

Are you a better person for being married only once? That’s what I was wondering today as I read this article in the Washington Post. Mitt Romney, currently polling second among Republicans in the run for the party’s presidential nomination, doesn’t have a string of broken marriages to point to. Gosh, he’s been married to the same woman for more than forty years! He likes to draw attention to the fact because it shows you just how much he believes in marriage. You might say he’s a marriage pro. First time up and he hits a home run. Thus, as your president, he’ll hit them all out of the park because his eye is keen and his stroke is true.

You can’t say the same thing about Newt Gingrich, currently the top choice in most polls of Republicans for the same nomination. Twice divorced, he is now on wife number three (Camilla), who he apparently bedded while still married to wife number two (Marianne). Marianne should have seen it coming though because Newt apparently bedded her while still married to wife number one (Jackie). All these are mistakes in Newt’s past that he candidly acknowledges and says he regrets. To show that he has had a change of heart, he has signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge that he will faithfully work for a constitutional amendment defining marriage nationally as the union between one man and one woman. Curiously, the pledge does not require him to be faithful to Camilla, which may be good for Newt given his track record. Not to worry, Newt has said pledged publicly that he will be faithful to her. If this were truly a concern of Camilla’s (and I have my doubts), I’d make him wear a chastity belt and keep the only key.

Anyhow, congratulations to Mitt and wife Ann and forty-two years of perfect fidelity! The great thing about Mitt is I can look at him and know he never cheated on Ann. This is in part because Mormons seem to have some sort of secret inoculation (I think it’s the Terminal Guilt Vaccine), but also because you can see it in Mitt’s eyes: he’s just not the philandering type. He’s just a simple and kind of goofy guy. If he were a horse, he’d insist he wear blinders. Mitt too has signed the NOM pledge, which suggests he wants the rest of us to wear blinders too. It’s just like those monkeys on Captain Kangaroo: hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil. It’s that simple folks, married folks. Except of course for the sinful and chronic philanderers like Newt Gingrich and countless other politicians who don’t measure up to his high moral stature.

Should you vote for Mitt because he is a faithful guy? That should be a strike in his favor if you are a conservative, because true conservatives want to go back as far as possible into the past and relive those glory days. And back in, say, the 18th century, divorce was simply unavailable in the United States. Back then you might as well have connected husband and wife together with a ball and chain. In any event, if found guilty of adultery it was likely a crime and, channeling Nathaniel Hawthorne, fallen women like Hester Prynne might be forced to go around with a big scarlet A on their bodices.

Even if you are a conservative, you might want to give the virtue of fidelity as a reason for voting for someone a second thought. Curiously, Newt did some of his best work as a conservative while cheating on Marianne. Working with Bill Clinton, another fellow philanderer (perhaps that’s why they got on so well), welfare benefits were fundamentally changed and the federal budget actually got balanced. Perhaps it was all that testosterone surging through him due to Camilla’s womanly charms, but he managed to affect change on a magnitude that even Saint Ronald Reagan could not pull off. Remember the episode “Mirror, Mirror” in the original Star Trek’s second season, where an alternate Captain Kirk keeps a convenient captain’s whore in his quarters? If I wanted to further conservative values and Newt became our next president, I’d be chipping in to get Newt a presidential concubine. She might do her best work underneath the desk in the Oval Office.

What amazing accomplishments can the faithful Mitt Romney claim as governor? Well, there was that Massachusetts health care plan, which Democrats modeled in the Affordable Care Act. Now, of course, conservatives revile the ACA for being allegedly socialist. More importantly, it’s reviled because Democrats passed it and that Black-Muslim-Kenyan-socialist-apostate President Obama signed it. In short, all that faithfulness was not only unhelpful to conservative causes; it actually was a detriment. It appears to have interfered with clear conservative thinking.

Curiously, chronic philanderers Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton rate among our most productive politicians. Nice faithful guys like Mitt Romney get one term as governor. Even slimeballs like Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois recently sentenced to 14 years in a federal prison, got two terms as governor. Americans were generally peeved that Clinton was brought up on impeachment charges, and figuratively cried when he left office, giving him approval ratings in the sixties.

Of course, if you are trying to throw sand into the gears of government, maybe a true conservative is what you want. Maybe you should vote for Ron Paul, another candidate whose faithfulness I cannot question. (This is due, in part, to suffering through this movie.) If Ron Paul had his way, our federal government would be largely a shell of what it is today. People like Newt Gingrich though tend to enlarge government because exercising power is not about diminishing power. Think about it: if you diminish your power, you can’t exercise it at some later time. Having power is about making your enemies pay and giving their horde to your friends. Only a die-hard idealist like Ron Paul might actually succeed in shrinking government. To do this, at your center, you have to be ideology centered rather than ego driven.

Unsurprisingly, this is not true of any of the other Republican candidates. They are all drooling from the corners of their mouths because they want to exercise power. If power is diminished, that means everyone has less of it. And where’s the fun in that? It might mean, for example, no constitutional amendment to declare marriage as between only one man and one woman, because you sure don’t want to spend tax money enforcing it. And that might mean deciding defining what a marriage is becomes a matter for each state and keeping the federal government’s hands off the whole issue. That’s not cool. You cannot enforce an ideology that way.

If I actually wanted a politician to get something done and have to pick between a faithful politician and a philandering one, I’ll pick the philandering one. After all, having an illicit affair is not a simple matter. It requires complex skills, surreptitious behavior and high stakes. That sounds kind of what we need in a pragmatic president.

So I say: philanderers for president! And, “Go Newt!”