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Mars Needs Dim Republicans Dubya dons a shiny spacesuit, dreams of spending billions to meet little green men. The nation cringes.
by Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
January 14, 2004

Oh right like this is exactly what we need.

Let us imagine the discussion: "Boys, the nation's in massive reeling record-breaking debt and morale's at an all-time low and disposable American soldiers are dying brutal horrific deaths every day over nothing at all except our greed and flagrant cronyism and corporate petrochemical profiteering.

"Our cities are gasping and health care is a joke and we've mauled Medicare beyond recognition, and we're plundering the living hell out of Social Security, the last remaining stable and sound fund left, to try and shore up our rapacious and gluttonous spending.

"There are no WMDs and our former allies openly resent us and the poll ratings are slipping and the big glops of warmongering lies are drying like blood stains into a carpet. And it's an election year. Damn.

"What's to be done? What could rally a wary country during its time of humiliated need and force-fed ignorance? What could turn this troubled nation around in the face of oily corporate war and fiscal gluttony and environmental savagery?

"Why, neato space stations on the moon, and sending men to Mars, that's what!"

Yes indeed. Leave it to BushCo to try and slap an astronomically expensive, useless balm on the nation's gaping wounds by vainly attempting to recapture some of that droning faux-'50s and -'60s nostalgia no one really asked for.

Remember that time? The "greatest generation"? A time when white-bread repressed often unhappily married segregationist America gathered 'round the ol' black-and-white to gaze in passionate wonder at the images beamed back from the Apollo landings?

What a time it was. Don't you want some of that sense of desperate hopefulness back? Of course you do. Got $500 billion to pay for it? Hey, that was the cost estimate for a similar man-on-Mars scheme when Dubya Sr. proposed it in 1989, just before he was promptly laughed off the fiscal stage.

Of course, like every obscene BushCo proposal, there was never a mention of how NASA could ever possibly pay for such a venture, and no mention of how BushCo could rape the Treasury that much further to fund random exercises in ridiculous excess. Oh well.

Look at it this way. Dubya will, by every account, go down as the worst environmental president in American history. He will also be remembered as the most blindly warmongering president and the least articulate president and the most corporate-shilling president and the most flagrantly fraudulent and borderline treasonous president.

And, hence, you can bet your big snakeskin Texas cowboy boots he wants this "big ol' Mars thingy" to be some sort of, you know, legacy. He wants his name in the history books as the one who decided to meet the little green men. He wants to stick a flag in the rusty planet and claim it in the name of, you know, Ronald Reagan.

This from a man who never cared a whit for space exploration in his entire spoon-fed career, a man who never even once visited the famed Johnson Space Center in Houston while serving as Texas governor. And you just know half the impulse for this inane new idea is so Shrub can get himself flown to the space-shuttle launch pad and have his picture taken in a shiny spacesuit. How cute.

It's got that reek. It's got that reek of typical macho Republican election-year BS, the sort of hollow grandiose chest thumping that stains so many BushCo PR stunts, all war and guns and rockets and oil and big slabs of chemically blasted hormone injected semirancid Texas beef (hey, it's what's for dinner).

Look. NASA is wonderful. Space exploration is magnificent and essential and we learn enormous amounts about ourselves in the process. The Spirit rover on Mars right now? Breathtaking.

Astounding new technologies are developed during major NASA missions, ideas that trickle down into the cultural mainstream and make life, if not easier, then at least more interesting, or lighter, or thinner, or edible at temperatures down to minus 450 degrees with a battery pack that lasts 127 hours and a new infrared extrasensory ink that can be read by blind comatose monkeys. Space is good.

But look again. Our schools are desperate. The Wal-Mart/SUV mentality is a national cancer. Basic services nationwide are being starved and shut down as cities scramble for fiscal scraps. John Ashcroft still has a job.

The national treasury has been looted and plundered like never before in American history, toppling from a record surplus to a record deficit in a little over three years, with 3.1 million newly unemployed Americans as a bitter kicker. That tiny blip of an economic "recovery" you keep reading about? Tell that to your unemployed neighbors.

And it's just shy of appalling that BushCo is suddenly all atwitter over a massive, impossible, ridiculously expensive scheme to send a manned mission to Mars, when any 5-year-old could come up with roughly 2,323 more vital and needful areas where such huge sums of money could be spent. Can you think of five, just off the top of your head, as you step around that homeless person? Damn right you can.

Do we need to recall that sucker-punch $87 bil BushCo reamed through Congress to help pay for our continued occupation of Iraq, a nation that doesn't want us and was never a threat to us and that is now equaling Vietnam in costs, both fiscal and humanitarian? Does Mars mean we get to bring our troops home and save those budget-gutting billions and redirect them toward something progressive? One guess.

Maybe we should just shrug it off. Just dismiss it as yet another a silly exercise in political ego and bogus machismo. After all, it's all about big dumb gesture, all about trying to cover up appalling atrocities and insulting policy in an election year -- much like suddenly pretending to care about immigrants, or health care, or gay rights, when your party defines itself as the world headquarters of homophobic pro-corporate isolationism.

This is what it boils down to, really: a big joke. There will be no men on Mars in 2020. There will be no massive, super-keen space station on the moon anytime soon. Even BushCo's own financial advisers openly cringe when the Mumbly One tosses up such an obvious and impossibly costly PR stunt, one so clearly designed to instill a false sense of hope and "America rules!" faux patriotism in a country heavily drugged on fear and false righteousness.

All well and good, right? All just silly politics as usual, really, just so much election-year flatulence from the administration that brought you the New Vietnam.

That is, until you realize who the joke is on.

Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF Gate, unless it appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which it never does. He also writes the Morning Fix, a deeply skewed thrice-weekly e-mail column and newsletter. Subscribe at sfgate.com/newsletters.

Posted: January 16, 2004


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