The next time someone talks about cutting NASA’s budget either because we can’t afford it or we need to spend the money elsewhere, please show them this.
NASA’s Opportunity at 10: New Findings from Old Rover
It’s an incredible testament to the vision, genius, and engineering expertise of the people who work at NASA. Imagine the world we might live in if we insisted that our government invest more of our tax dollars with the people and the science capable of designing, building, launching, and operating a rover that was sent to Mars on a 90-day mission and that is still operating without any direct human contact 10 years later.
We’re a curious species. It’s in our nature. It’s how we turned stones into tools, tamed fire, taught ourselves agriculture, and for the last 57 years have been capable of sending machines and people into space.
I’m all for spending money on exploration and learning. It’s how we’re going to expand our knowledge and (hopefully) improve everyone’s lives. I find it to be both fascinating and disturbing that such statements might be controversial in some quarters.
What I am not for is the universal idea that characterizes mostly the GOP today; that every government expenditure ought to be done only if, a) an equal and opposite cut is made elsewhere or, b) there’s some immediate and measurable monetary return-on-investment.
What Opportunity’s 10th Birthday Also Tells Us
Sometimes we just need to spend money on exploration for the sake of exploring, secure in the knowledge that it’s the path to the future. We already know what’s behind us. We’ll never know what’s ahead if we don’t explore. Maybe that’s why I consider the label “progressive” to be a compliment. I’m all for progress.
Yes, we have lots of problems to solve here at home. Yes, we need to spend money wisely.
That said, I believe – and the people at NASA celebrating Opportunity’s 10th birthday are living proof of this – that there are lots of smart people on the planet capable of doing anything, including solving the biggest problems imaginable, if only they are properly funded.
Beyond NASA; Beyond Austerity
With all due respect to those good and fine and smart people, this post is about more than NASA.
It’s very reasonable to ask the question, “Where are we going to get the funding for <fill-in-the-blank>?”
What is unreasonable is to always condition this question with a demand for more and more and more austerity.
We don’t have a money problem in America. What we have are moral and ethical problems created by the selfishness and greed of the rich and powerful in this country, including the people in elected offices who represent them and not us in our government.
Money to spend solving our big problems is readily available. In my opinion, it comes from 3 places:
1. Raising taxes on the wealthy.
They are the only ones left with any money. Frankly, if they don’t like it I invite them to live out their Randian fantasy of being some modern-day John Galt and just leave. The big problems in our society are because of them, not because of the poor and the middle class. I’ll even help them to pack if their patriotism is limited to the size of their personal bank accounts – be they onshore or off.
2. Reforming the tax code to plug tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and profitable corporations.
Once again, let me speak plainly to the rich and powerful. You’re not trickling anything down to us anyway, so you might as well stop suckling my tax dollars from the teat of the federal government and take your accumulated wealth to another country. We aren’t going to miss what you hoard and already don’t contribute back to society anyway.
3. Reallocating tax subsidies that go to profitable corporations, starting with the fossil fuel industries.
This one alone was worth about $70 billion – that’s a 7 followed by 10 zeros – between 2002 and 2008. (Source: Environmental Law Institute; Energy Subsidies Black, Not Green)
Who is to Blame, and What Do We Do?
To put #3 into some perspective, that $70 billion would have funded 64.5% of NASA’s *ENTIRE* budget over that same time period.
NASA has never been more than 4.4% of the federal budget, and that was during the race to the Moon in the Cold War days of the LBJ administration. It was never more than 0.72% (yes, that’s zero-point-seven-two percent) in that 2002 to 2008 period, and it averaged just 0.63% during that time.
Want to talk austerity? Going from 4.4% to 0.63% is an 86% budget cut.
The point is this: We can’t live in a civil and advancing society without pooling our funds (taxes) and demanding good governance in how they are spent, right?
So, isn’t it obvious by now that trickle-down economics is a lie? And while absolutely appropriate for bloated budgets like the DoD’s and for unwarranted expenditures like subsidies to wealthy and profitable corporations, isn’t it clear to everyone that austerity is *not* an appropriate strategy for everything?
I’m not referring only to NASA now.
I’m much more concerned at this moment in time with the GOP and the conservative movement that demands more and more austerity in social safety net programs.
How much more are we going to punish the poor and the unemployed for conditions they did not create and for mistakes they did not make?
The rich and powerful – the people who make up the Big Money in this country – are the ones to blame for the economic collapse and the anemic recovery. There’s simply no other conclusion borne out by the facts.
So, shouldn’t the rest of us be working together to get the corrupting influence of Big and Dark Money out of our politics so that we can take back our government and actually have our elected leaders represent us?
I invite you to learn more about what we can do together and where our priorities ought to be by visiting these web sites: