Friday, September 16, 2005

Failure Options
The Mrs. and I watched Apollo 13 again last weekend, the 1995 movie about the 1970 accident aboard the moon-bound spacecraft and how NASA got the astronauts home safely. One of the most heroic aspects of the space program was the way it showed Americans tackling the nearly impossible with the calm expectation that we'd find a way to do it. That spirit is epitomized in the film by an exchange between a NASA official and flight officer Gene Kranz, played by Ed Harris. Waiting out the spacecraft's reentry, the NASA official says, "This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever faced." To which Kranz responds, "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour." As Kranz says elsewhere in the film (and as he titled a book he wrote about his experiences), "Failure is not an option." In Gemini and Apollo days, people joked that the spacecraft and its systems were built by the lowest bidder--but nobody believed that the workmanship was actually shoddy or that the marketing of the product was better planned than its actual performance. NASA had the best-qualified companies building their stuff, the smartest guys they could get running their missions, and the best-qualified pilots flying them. So why not expect to do the impossible? If anyone in the world was going to be able to do it, it was those guys.

Thirty-five years later, do we still honestly believe that Americans can do whatever we set out to do, no matter how difficult? We still talk the game, but there's talk, and then there's action. If the NASA guys who brought Apollo 13 home had talked about doing it as much as the Bush Admininstration talks about the six impossible things it's trying to do at any given moment, the astronauts' frozen corpses would still be in orbit. And as far as Bush's commitment to hiring the best-qualified people to run the missions, two words: Michael Brown.

So when Bush ladles out the rhetoric about the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, you have to wonder if it will happen the way he says it will. Can we really make it a better and more prosperous place than ever before? We could, maybe--if that were the real goal of the project. Rebuilding is going to happen, but it's almost certainly secondary to the real goal--restoring the political prestige of Bush and the Republicans. That's because Karl Rove is heading the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast.

Karl Rove? Bush is kidding, right? God, this is awful. The reconstruction was already going to be another opportunity for Bush cronies to profit, just like Iraq--only now the patronage is going to be handed out with an eye toward spinning it for maximum political gain. And if it's handled as effectively as Iraq has been, well, hey, there you go.

I'm late on mentioning this post, originally put up late Wednesday night by Josh Marshall, but it's right on:
If there's nothing else this decade has taught us it is that there was never and never could have been any Iraq War separated from the goals and intentions of those with their foot on the accelerator. Anything else is just a sad delusion. That's why the whole mess is as it is now: fruit of the poison tree.

Same here.

Maybe you want to spend $200 billion on rebuilding the Delta region too. Fine. Something like that will probably be necessary. But don't fool yourself into thinking that what's coming is just a matter of a different chef making the same meal. This will be Iraq all over again, with the same fetid mix of graft, zeal and hubris. Cronyism like you wouldn't believe. Money blown on ideological fantasies and half-baked test-cases.

You could come up with a hundred reasons why that's true. But at root intentions drive all. You'll never separate this operation or its results from the fact that the people in charge see it as a political operation. The use of this money for political purposes, for what amounts to a political campaign, tells you everything you need to know about what's coming.
And that was before Rove was put in charge of it.

Although Democrats are trying to hold the administration accountable for what it should have done but didn't in responding to Katrina, that story is now officially old news. The reconstruction effort is now the story, and the Democrats are screwed into an extremely bad knot politically where it's concerned. Criticize the effort in any way and be characterized as not caring about the fate of the Gulf Coast. Never mind if it balloons the deficit. Never mind if it further lines the pockets of Halliburton. Criticize it, and you hate the victims, and furthermore, you have Lost Faith in America. You watch.

One of the saddest things I've learned about my country in the last 35 years is that the same place that once could land men on the moon is now sorely challenged by running a one-car funeral. And when something bigger happens, well, it's Katrina bar-the-door.

Quote of the Day: Found on the way to something else, from science-fiction writer Terry Goodkind: "Reason is a choice. Wishes and whims are not facts, nor are they a means to discovering them. Reason is our only way of grasping reality; it is our basic tool of survival. We are free to evade the effort of thinking, to reject reason, but we are not free to avoid the penalty of the abyss we refuse to see."

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