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=== The Golden Tripod ===

or,

Why Can't America Afford Space?

by

Martha Adams

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Today's America shows us the old wisdom "The ladder of life is full of splinters but they hurt the most when you're sliding down" applies not only to people but to entire nations. A principal agent of our American downhill slide seems to be the policies and style of its Republican Party.[grnt] (I am not by these words, therefore praising the Democratic Party.) There's much more to that topic I'm skipping over,[news] since these pages are about space settlements not institutional and personal pathology. Why cannot rich America afford to prepare for an expectable future?

(Maybe not so rich after these wars and so much money pumped up to the top?)

The need is obvious; the technology and the resources to meet the need exist; the people who can do the work are there (if they are a smaller part of our overall population than one might wish) but somehow, it's not happening. In today's disturbed America, $3 billion added to the space budget is nearly too difficult to talk about. But $30 billion to send more military far overseas? After $trillions recently, intense PR fog and mirrors ongoing, and no end in sight? No problem!

Yes, I said trillions of dollars. Creamed off the top. Wasted: lost. Be careful what you believe from news published about this and especially, from news made in Washington. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, has studied out some of the real costs of recent wars, and in 2008, he published a book in which he estimates those (then) costs.[jstg]

This is a character determining issue of our times, but it's not new and never heard of before. See recent history. The 1960's Apollo program and its preliminary Lunar visits (a small part of a far larger plan) changed science and economic reality. Much that is good today grows from deep roots there. Apollo was terminated, its trained workforce and its industrial base dissipated to "save" money for the war in Vietnam. What do we have today from that war in Vietnam? I see them in the streets and around a downtown Boston storefront that offers support to homeless veterans.

Today's America seems to be doing it again -- key parts of the Vietnam debacle and, of course, the consequences of wars. (Robert Heinlein has words for this.[rah]) It's doing it slower and larger, if methods to quiet objections to present policy have improved (i.e., become more sophisticated and often, less visible). Before Apollo was killed, planners projected humans walking on Mars in the 1980's. In light of the then existing industrial base and knowhow, and the accomplishments of the time, it was a natural and not very far step onward. Today, Apollo and its end are decades gone and one young person thinking about his future career, looks for humans on Mars "...not in my lifetime."

It's instructive to watch Obama's attempt at a clever sidewise step. If he shuts down NASA many people will complain. He wants to "save" that space money for his wars. Indirection is the method. This is killing Apollo all over again. His politically expedient choice is to "offload" NASA's space work onto existing commercial companies. Owing to differences of scale, locale, and size of industrial base, costly and wasteful loss must follow. News I've seen suggests this loss of knowledgeable workforce and industrial base is starting now. Never mind expectable consequences over the long run.

(If you choose 10 or 100 average people off the street, put them in a room and challenge them with a large problem, what happens? Will their accomplishment amount to one genius? One Einstein? Not likely, this is the old million monkeys idea. Obama's action has the essence of a good idea, a needed idea. But this fragmentation of space work will only get us nowhere -- slower.)

How do these things happen? Such immense failure must grow from many roots. Some of them are certainly very dark. When I think about what goes on here, how it works, I believe I see an iron triangle central to it.[iron] And that (probably), when the consequences of the failure begin coming back upon us, the people who made the failure will be safely clear of those consequences thru retirement or relocation. There isn't money for space because someone else with more political grabbing power (not to be confused with more merit) snatches it first.

* * *

The "iron triangle" is a concept out of political science. It's a stable three-node institution composed of government, industry, and military components. It has between each pair of nodes, an expectation to receive and return. A mutual reinforcement. The arrangement is shielded from public exposure. It can take on a life of its own.

When Eisenhower spoke of a "military-industrial complex," he referred to an existing iron triangle, a leftover from World War 2.[ike] Eisenhower was a foresighted man and President. But I don't believe he could have seen from his time in history, the runaway and costly policy-fixing, war-making subgovernment thing that we see today in Washington.[move] Nor the sheer size of it -- "engorgement" comes to mind.

Nor could Eisenhower have foreseen the systematic degradation of our three-part constitutional government with its (originally intended) checks and balances. This structure worked well enough over the past two centuries; but now it's failing against the combined destructive forces of special interests, religion, and institutionalized ignorance (religion's siamese twin), using modern technology for their distribution. (At this writing, the matter of school textbooks in Texas comes to mind.)

So it turns out, Eisenhower was right but today we see a bigger picture. What does Washington's iron triangle bring to us now? We've had the Korean war, then the Vietnam war; then some military adventures leading up to the Iraq war and shortly later, the Afghanistan war. One can see more such conflict held at hand off-stage to be brought in at need. We see religious and ideological thrust installing grotesque and profound changes to our constitutional checks and balances in Washington. (Read between the lines in James Bamford.[jbam]) And over these years the iron triangle in Washington has thrived and grown remarkably -- I think the idea needs some updating.

My choice is, I add a dimension to it. The original planar triangular flow and return are expanded into a tripod which includes (monetized) money and social consequences of it. Thus "golden tripod," because money is what it's basically all about. (Why isn't this blatant corruption?) Over decades, it has skimmed several trillions (thousand billions) of dollars from our national cash flow. Which dollars were our top resource for maintenance and growth of our America. Where do those pre-empted dollars go? This tripod is golden, indeed, for someone.

* * *

The roots of the destinies of countries is certainly a major subset of historical scholarship. China gives us something to think about as Gavin Menzies has been doing recently in his very interesting books.[gmnz]

Which in turn, leads me to a further observation. We have around America, a few larger organizations which each in its own way, promotes some variety of space work. One of these, Mars Society, is working toward the space settlements we might build ...someday. I think these organizations well-meaning work strikes shy of today's requirements. It's not where the problem is. The problem is not in physics and engineering and social science, nor entirely in the ignorance of so many Americans. The problem is, rather, the Golden Tripod I'm pointing at here.

That badness will certainly end over the long run, one way or another. Fact-based good news on this topic is scarce. Will America's military or its fast-growing "security" institutions, at last, break America? Big militaries and big "securities," over the long run, have a bad track record. We should be looking at recent word from Brazil, Pakistan, Peru, Egypt, Syria, and Burma; in addition to recent German and Japanese history.


=== Notes, Resources, and Pointers ===

[Append, 2010 Oct 29.] Belated thinking on this topic has led me to a new perception. When Eisenhower planned his closing speech,[ike] what was he thinking, out of his decades of experience and accomplishment? Did he foresee what we have come to now?

For the American military, having dominated in a serious war, occupied a position in Washington of prestige and power at the end of it, ideal to grow from. And as we know today, that's what it did. (Several small wars helped; historians question the beginnings of some of these.) But the militaries of Germany, Japan, and Italy, had no such track record, and so lost dominance and power in those countries.

Which have gained immensely from not being forced to carry that load. I can easily believe that before his speech, Eisenhower saw this coming, and it accounts for some of the things he says in that closing speech.


[grnt] Corrupted Science.

In fact, the Republican Party with its faith-based religious connection, can only be a disaster where the future is concerned. For more background, read Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, Unscientific America (Basic Books, 2009) and Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science (Basic Books, 2005).

For further account of technology abused, mistaken, or gone wrong, see John Grant, Corrupted Science, Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science (2007). Note especially his large Chapter 6, "The Political Corruption of Science," in which he says much about the recent Bush administration.

We will be some decades recovering from works inflicted, I mean done during the Bush Administration's eight years, and I'm not writing here about the national debt. I'd like to feel now that this recovery is begun. For any success to it, public attitudes about science must become very much more reality based; but if you are graduate from almost any American school, then you sit there with a poor start at it. To begin an intense update, see John Gribbin, The Fellowship (The Overlook Press, 2005) for an overview of some history. See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Third edition, U of Chicago Press, 1996) for some character of science background. Be reminded Wikipedia provokes severe criticism from some (usually older) academics, but in practical application it's been shown to compare favorably with Encyclopedia Brittanica and it's very accessible. By this I mean, use it.

[Append, 2010 Dec 07] See news current at this writing, illustrating the Republicans' success with harshly obstructionist policies against the Democrats: "My way or no way!" (This phrase also expresses the Republican definition of "Fair and balanced.") At this very bad time in the story of America, most of us are losing. Except those who profited most from America's Republican hubris, who get to experience the least consequences of it.


[news] Looking at the news.

It's set in plain sight. Observe skeptically your periodicals and TV news stories. See boundaries absent between fact and directed interpretation, between directed interpretation and complete invention, as though nobody could see the difference. (I suspect this is frequently a correct assumption.) Remember that politics is about contending forces, not about black-and-white opposite forces. Remember contending political forces and their outcomes feature no necessary connection to reality. (But the consequences will be along later, and we are seeing that today as America degrades.) Nor is politics, these days, much about today's reality and expectable futures. On television, Fox News is said to be very ...productive.

[Append, 2010 Oct 29] See Wikileaks. Much is being said about government and military secrecy failure and peoples privacy violations. And nothing is being said about the far divergence from reality the Wikileaks materials illustrate in today's news published to the American public. So far, the proposition that government "of the people, by the people, for the people" requires open and true information, seems to get no recognition at all.


[jstg] Stiglitz and Bilmes, Trillion.

Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War (W.W. Norton & Co., 2008). Numbers found in this book seem very different from those published out of Washington. Be reminded Stiglitz is winner of a Nobel prize in economics, and that Bilmes has a strong track record too. Be reminded these authors have an interest in fact-based fact, a kind of thing that appears unpopular in Washington.

[Append, 2010 Dec 07] The word out of Washington concerning the cost of America's two most recent wars, according to a television news piece, amounts to less than $1 trillion ($1,000 billion). Social and property damage are not mentioned.

[Append, 2010 Dec 07] These discussions and denials of cost to America of its wars, ignore their lives and property costs to the people where these wars are done. I do not expect the longterm consequences of these adventures (i.e., Blackwater and their ilk especially) to be at all good for America. Among other consequences, I think they position America very badly in its coming competition with China.


[rah] Heinlein.

"Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it" -- Robert Heinlein. And see also, Sigmund Freud on topic of "repetition compulsion."


[iron] Iron triangle.

America today is where it is today because somebody made it so. How was that done? By certain social instruments and methods, used to bad effect. I see a large iron triangle as central to today's reality. In political science, an "iron triangle" is a top level alignment of large key parts of the government. See a good discussion in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Triangle.


[ike] Eisenhower's speech.

This was Eisenhower's closing speech as his Presidency ended. It is what he chose to say from his lifetime of military and political work. Anyone thinking about history and the future wants this summary snapshot from Eisenhower's 1961. Some familiarity with the times and reading between the lines are indicated. See, http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm


[move] Moving money.

Where does the money come from and move to in the workings of an iron triangle? The short answer is it moves up. Up from the less rich in society to the more rich. See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military-industrial_complex. (Note lower-case 'c' in 'complex'.)

[Append, 2010 Dec 07] This money issue promotes a conjecture that America's success in WW II, which looked good at the time, hurt America badly over the long run. In Germany and Japan, the militaries that started and lost WW II found themselves in a bad light, and so could not extract large demands from national cash flows there. Money was left free for science and social development. But the reverse occurred in America, whose military thrived richly after WW II. They could do wars backed-up by intense nationalistic PR, and they did. See the vocabulary used for this: those costs and wars are justified as "defense."


[jbam] James Bamford.

James Bamford researches the dark side of the National Security Administration, and related matters. Among his several writings and books see, James Bamford, The Shadow Factory, Doubleday / Random House (2008) and (paperback) Anchor Books (2009). See also, Bamford's The Puzzle Palace, Penguin Books, 1983. A topic Bamford does not discuss is concepts we have today (some of us) from the Nuremberg Trials concerning personal and corporate responsibilities. He does, however, mention the part played by the telephone companies in national-scale warrantless wire and digital tapping of citizens communications.


[gmnz] Gavin Menzies.

These books are: 1) Gavin Menzies, 1421, about a crucial period in China's history. 2) Gavin Menzies, 1434, about a possible connection between Chinese culture and the European Renaissance. And finally, Cullen Murphy, Are We Rome? which title if not self-explanatory to the reader, may become so shortly.


Concerning links here.

Note: Most of the inks given here were seen good in 2009 December. Where a link fails, grab up some language from the text and try a search engine. In fact, the search engine is a great idea even if these local links work fine for you.


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