17 April 2008

Obama’s modest proposal: no hue, no cry?

Obama’s modest proposal: no hue, no cry?

by Greg Zsidisin
Monday, April 7, 2008
[Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a three-part article.]

If elected President, Senator Barack Obama plans to delay Project Constellation for at least five years, putting the saved money into a new $10-billion-a-year education program that would, in essence, nationalize early-education for children under five years old to prepare them for the rigors of kindergarten and beyond.

Why single out the space budget to cut for this program? “NASA is no longer associated with inspiration,” Obama told a campaign rally audience in March. The silence from space advocacy groups in response to this policy, made public in November, has been deafening. As I have discovered in recent weeks, Obama is personally adamant about this approach, if the details of its implementation remain hazy.

The proposal
Obama’s education platform document, released last November, ends with the following paragraph (emphasis added):

Barack Obama’s early education and K-12 plan package costs about $18 billion per year. He will maintain fiscal responsibility and prevent any increase in the deficit by offsetting cuts and revenue sources in other parts of the government. The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years, using purchase cards and the negotiating power of the government to reduce costs of standardized procurement, auctioning surplus federal property, and reducing the erroneous payments identified by the Government Accountability Office, and closing the CEO pay deductibility loophole. The rest of the plan will be funded using a small portion of the savings associated with fighting the war in Iraq.

The trouble is, it’s not really clear exactly what part(s) of the NASA budget Obama would cut to pay for getting the under-four set into pre-K programs.
The “early education plan” in question is a proposed “Zero to Five Plan” aimed at nationalizing an Obama-supported program in Illinois. This plan would create a “Presidential Early Learning Council”, fund and expand state funded pre-K programs, encourage universal pre-school in all states, and even “expand evidence-based home visiting programs to all low-income, first-time mothers” to “help improve the mental and physical health of the family.” Existing pre-K efforts aren’t good enough: “Pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds is important, but it is not enough to ensure children will arrive at school ready to learn.”

The trouble is, it’s not really clear exactly what part(s) of the NASA budget Obama would cut to pay for getting the under-four set into pre-K programs. Obama’s separately released quasi-official space policy does indeed leave out any mention of the Moon or Mars, Constellation’s intended ultimate destinations. However, it states support for development of the Ares 1 rocket and Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). “As president, Obama will support the development of this vital new platform to ensure that the United States’ reliance on foreign space capabilities is limited to the minimum possible time period. The CEV will be the backbone of future missions, and is being designed with technology that is already proven and available.”

Since Constellation is focused in its early years on Ares 1 and CEV development, what exactly will be deleted? Specific lunar exploration planning? Downstream work on the Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket? These aren’t specified, but in any event cutting them will provide no real benefit in the earlier years of an Obama administration.

It is probably fair to point out here that there are two other presidential candidates, and both have refreshingly provided specific – if not precise – statements on space.

In a short page on his campaign website, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain says he is “proud to have sponsored legislation authorizing funding consistent with the President’s vision for the space program, which includes a return of astronauts to the Moon in preparation for a manned mission to Mars.” This convoluted statement, which seems to imply that he wants us to continue to work on Constellation’s Moon/Mars goals, falls under the airy lead quote attributed to McCain: “Let us now embark upon this great journey into the stars to find whatever may await us.”

Clinton, meanwhile, in a science policy statement issued on Sputnik’s 50th anniversary, said she wants “a balanced strategy of robust human spaceflight, expanded robotic spaceflight, and enhanced space science activities.” While she hasn’t endorsed Moon/Mars, she has spoken of the need to develop the Ares launch vehicle. Her policy does imply that she might seek a reorienting of NASA priorities, in that it specifically calls for more money for Earth monitoring, climate change studies, and aeronautics.

Obama in Wyoming
As fate would have it, I had the chance to ask Obama about his policy at a recent town hall meeting in Wyoming. In an unlikely scenario, both he and Clinton were stumping through this lightly populated, heavily Republican state in their tight battle for convention delegates. While Clinton did not take questions at her Casper rally, Obama did.

It was clear to me that, at least as of early March 2008, Barack Obama is vocally insistent that we should forget about the Moon or Mars.
Frankly, Obama showed himself to be eloquent, forthright, smart, and engaging. Watching him in person, it was easy to see why he has become the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Personally, I now have no doubt he would be a formidable opponent to John McCain in the general election.

Mine was the third question after his short speech, after one off-mike query that I think was an autograph request, and another about the plight of Native American children on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation.

After a brief summary of the policy, I asked, “Why are you specifically pitting the space program against education, and where’s the vision in shutting down the [human] space program?”

My question, and Senator Obama’s response, were included in several newspaper accounts. As recounted by John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune:

During the question-and-answer portion of an event at a recreational center here, Obama was asked about the nation's space program.

“I grew up on Star Trek,” Obama said. “I believe in the final frontier.”

But Obama said he does not agree with the way the space program is now being run and thinks funding should be trimmed until the mission is clearer.

“NASA has lost focus and is no longer associated with inspiration,” he said. “I don't think our kids are watching the space shuttle launches. It used to be a remarkable thing. It doesn't even pass for news anymore.”

Obama seemed to resent my question. A little later, he addressed another on energy, and spoke of the need for an alternative energy effort. He concluded by turning to my direction and saying pointedly, “And that, sir, is what our next Apollo Program should be.”

It was clear to me that, at least as of early March 2008, Barack Obama is vocally insistent that we should forget about the Moon or Mars, and use the money to fund part of his Zero-to-Five Plan.

Where is everybody?
Even if this policy were merely election-year posturing, even if Congress would squelch such a plan, the space community faces a good possibility of having four or eight years under an antagonistic President who considers space little more than a budget target.

If enacted, of course, it would have a significant impact on the future of space, especially coming as it does with the scheduled end of the shuttle in 2010, concerns over a space workforce “brain drain” akin to that after Apollo, and uncertainty over the future course of space exploration.

Wouldn’t spaceflight advocates at least respond to the notion that exploration is superfluous enough to be de-funded to pay a fraction of the cost of a pre-K education initiative?

Wouldn’t those inclined to see the current Moon/Mars effort scrapped for something else, such as a “better” space effort, or a movement towards more commercial spaceflight, use this as an opportunity to advocate their visions?

For a variety of reasons, the answer appears to be basically “No.” I decided to find out why, and that will be the subject of Part 2 of this article.

Greg Zsidisin organized a number grassroots space demonstrations and rallies for the National Space Society, including one outside the 1992 Democratic National Convention in Manhattan. The views expressed here are strictly his own.

Stage Set for Transfer of CIA Records to National Archives

A memorandum of understanding (pdf) signed this month by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Archivist is expected to enable the transfer of many permanently valuable historical CIA records that are 50 years old or older to the custody of the National Archives (NARA), officials of both agencies said today.

Up to now, “we haven’t had a framework” for such transfers, said Joe Lambert, the new CIA chief information officer. And so, with few exceptions, “we haven’t transferred anything [to the Archives] in the past.” (Exceptions include certain CIA records related to the JFK assassination, Nazi war crimes, and a few other topics, as well as translations of foreign news reports.)

The new memorandum “lays the groundwork for routine transfer of CIA records” to the National Archives once they become 50 years old, said Assistant Archivist Michael J. Kurtz. “This will institutionalize the process.”

The memorandum itself does not seem very promising. It imposes a number of binding requirements on NARA officials, including referral to CIA of any request for records that have not already been approved for public release. No binding requirements are imposed on CIA, beyond an open-ended commitment to “review” any such requests.

But Allen Weinstein, the Archivist of the United States, said the memorandum would pave the way for regular transfers of CIA records to the Archives, and would ultimately result in improved public access to those records.

“Access is a multi-step process,” said Gary M. Stern, General Counsel at the National Archives. “Getting the records into the Archives is the first step.”

Having “listened carefully to the words and the music, I was convinced that this [agreement] would serve the public interest,” said Dr. Weinstein. “I wouldn’t have signed it otherwise.”

The memorandum’s words, at least, can be found here: fas.org/sgp/othergov/intel/nara-cia.pdf

CIA is expected to provide to NARA an index of records subject to transfer in the next few weeks, with actual transfers to follow sometime thereafter.

A March 2000 National Archives evaluation of “Records Management in the Central Intelligence Agency” provided some detailed insight into the subject.

At that time, NARA held that “CIA retention of permanent files for 50 years is no longer appropriate” and should be reduced to something closer to 30 years. But by default and inaction, 50 year retention of records by CIA has now become the goal that the agencies are striving for.

13 April 2008

Behind Obama and Clinton

For some time I have been trying to find out "who's on the team" of the Presidential candidates. Trying to determine who influences the candidates positions. The following is some of what I have found:

Behind Obama and Clinton
Thu, 07 Feb 2008 09:34:24 -0600
By Stephen Zunes
Who's whispering in their ears says a lot
Voters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are rightly disappointed by the similarity of the foreign policy positions of the two remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. However, there are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people.
As a result, the kind of people the next president appoints to top positions in national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs is critical. Such officials usually emerge from among a presidential candidate’s team of foreign policy advisors. So, analyzing who these two finalists for the Democratic presidential nomination have brought in to advise them on international affairs can be an important barometer for determining what kind for foreign policies they would pursue as president. For instance, in the case of the Bush administration, officials like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle played a major role in the fateful decision to invade Iraq by convincing the president that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat and that American forces would be treated as liberators.
The leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves with people likely to encourage the next president to follow down a similarly disastrous path. But what about Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Who have they picked to help them deal with Iraq war and the other immensely difficult foreign policy decisions that they’ll be likely to face as president?
Contrasting Teams
Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors tend to be veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, most notably former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Her most influential advisor – and her likely choice for Secretary of State – is Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke served in a number of key roles in her husband’s administration, including U.S. ambassador to the UN and member of the cabinet, special emissary to the Balkans, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and U.S. ambassador to Germany. He also served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state for East Asia in propping up Marcos in the Philippines, supporting Suharto’s repression in East Timor, and backing the generals behind the Kwangju massacre in South Korea.
Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, who on average tend to be younger than those of the former first lady, include mainstream strategic analysts who have worked with previous Democratic administrations, such as former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice, and former navy secretary Richard Danzig. They have also included some of the more enlightened and creative members of the Democratic Party establishment, such as Joseph Cirincione and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. His team also includes the noted human rights scholar and international law advocate Samantha Power – author of a recent New Yorker article on U.S. manipulation of the UN in post-invasion Iraq – and other liberal academics. Some of his advisors, however, have particularly poor records on human rights and international law, such as retired General Merrill McPeak, a backer of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and Dennis Ross, a supporter of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Contrasting Issues
While some of Obama’s key advisors, like Larry Korb, have expressed concern at the enormous waste from excess military spending, Clinton’s advisors have been strong supporters of increased resources for the military.
While Obama advisors Susan Rice and Samantha Power have stressed the importance of U.S. multilateral engagement, Albright allies herself with the jingoism of the Bush administration, taking the attitude that “If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”
While Susan Rice has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism and has stressed the importance of bottom-up anti-poverty programs, Berger and Albright have been outspoken supporters of globalization on the current top-down neo-liberal lines.
Obama advisors like Joseph Cirincione have emphasized a policy toward Iraq based on containment and engagement and have downplayed the supposed threat from Iran. Clinton advisor Holbrooke, meanwhile, insists that “the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States,” the country is “the most pressing problem nation,” and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like Hitler.
Iraq as Key Indicator
Perhaps the most important difference between the two foreign policy teams concerns Iraq. Given the similarities in the proposed Iraq policies of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, Obama’s supporters have emphasized that their candidate had the better judgment in opposing the invasion beforehand. Indeed, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, Obama openly challenged the Bush administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat and presciently warned that a war would lead to an increase in Islamic extremism, terrorism, and regional instability, as well as a decline in America’s standing in the world.
Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was repeating as fact the administration’s false claims of an imminent Iraqi threat. She voted to authorize President Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his own choosing and confidently predicted success. Despite this record and Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her war authorization vote, however, her supporters argue that it no longer relevant and voters need to focus on the present and future.
Indeed, whatever choices the next president makes with regard to Iraq are going to be problematic, and there are no clear answers at this point. Yet one’s position regarding the invasion of Iraq at that time says a lot about how a future president would address such questions as the use of force, international law, relations with allies, and the use of intelligence information.
As a result, it may be significant that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors, many of whom are veterans of her husband’s administration, were virtually all strong supporters of President George W. Bush’s call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. By contrast, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team was opposed to a U.S. invasion.
Pre-War Positions
During the lead-up to the war, Obama’s advisors were suspicious of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq somehow threatened U.S. national security to the extent that it required a U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. For example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter administration, argued that public support for war “should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy.”
By contrast, Clinton’s top advisor and her likely pick for secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained “a clear and present danger at all times.”
Brzezinski warned that the international community would view the invasion of a country that was no threat to the United States as an illegitimate an act of aggression. Noting that it would also threaten America’s leadership, Brzezinski said that “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Holbrooke, rejecting the broad international legal consensus against offensive wars, insisted that it was perfectly legitimate for the United States to invade Iraq and that the European governments and anti-war demonstrators who objected “undoubtedly encouraged” Saddam Hussein.
Another key Obama advisor, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment, argued that the goal of containing the potential threat from Iraq had been achieved, noting that “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression. Inside Iraq, the inspection teams preclude any significant advance in WMD capabilities. The status quo is safe for the American people.”
By contrast, Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband’s national security advisor, insisted that “even a contained Saddam” was “harmful to stability and to positive change in the region,” and therefore the United States had to engage in “regime change” in order to “fight terror, avert regional conflict, promote peace, and protect the security of our friends and allies.”
Meanwhile, other future Obama advisors, such as Larry Korb, raised concerns about the human and material costs of invading and occupying a heavily populated country in the Middle East and the risks of chaos and a lengthy counter-insurgency war.
And other top advisors to Senator Clinton – such as her husband’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq. Such confidence in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush’s troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack, and Michael O’Hanlon. Perhaps that was one reason that, during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.
These differences in the key circles of foreign policy specialists surrounding these two candidates are consistent with their diametrically opposed views in the lead-up to the war.
National Security
Not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a hawk. Her team also includes some centrist opponents of the war, including retired General Wesley Clark and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before reacting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.
Progressive Democrats do have reason to be disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. At the same time, as The Nation magazine noted, members of Obama’s foreign policy team are “more likely to stress ’soft power’ issues like human rights, global development and the dangers of failed states.” As a result, “Obama may be more open to challenging old Washington assumptions and crafting new approaches.”
And new approaches are definitely needed.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco and an analyst at Foreign Policy In Focus, where this article was republished from with permission.