Saturday, February 27, 2010

Congressman Rangel Should Resign

This week, the House Ethics Committee admonished Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) for taking trips with some staffers to the Caribbean that were paid for by corporations with important business before Congress. Since Congressman Rangel is Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which crafts legislation involving taxes and many of the largest social welfare programs, he is one of the most powerful members of Congress and is clearly in a position to do critical favors for well-connected corporations.

The House Ethics Committee has a history of going soft on members of Congress who break ethics rules or commit outright illegal acts (such as with this announcement of yesterday), and the admonishment carries no further penalties for Congressman Rangel. Nor did the committee bother to comment on the whole host of other ethics violations that Congressman Rangel has committed, including failing to report income from the rental of overseas properties he owns and getting sweetened deals on rent-stabilized apartments in New York City from a real estate developer.

Some members of Congress, including members of his own party, have called on Rangel to resign his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee in light of these scandals. This is not sufficient. Congressman Rangel should resign from Congress altogether.

The American people elect their representatives in Congress to serve the interests of their constituents and the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, the modern culture in Washington has long since reduced this ideal to a quaint idea from a utopian past. Every time news ethics rules are created, the politically and financially powerful quickly and easily finds ways to circumvent them. Besides, most ethics rules are written with loopholes deliberately inserted into them anyway.

The only true insurance against bribery and corruption in Congress is the American voter. All citizens should remorselessly monitor their own representatives in Congress and the state legislatures, and hold their feet to the fire when any hint of ethical lapses rears its head. Congressman Rangel, for his part, should have been voted out of office by his own constituents long ago.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Orlando Zapata Tamayo: 1967-2010

One of Cuba's best-known dissidents, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, has died in a Havana clinic. He had spent the last several years in a Cuban prison for daring to speak out against the Castro regime, and died as a result of a hunger strike that lasted nearly three months. He might as well have been murdered by the oppressive forces that currently control Cuba.

One day, when the Castros are long gone and the Cuban people enjoy the fruits of democracy, let's hope they build a statue to Mr. Tamayo in commemoration of his courage and self-sacrifice.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Purchase of Additional C-17 Transports Wasteful and Irresponsible

The C-17 Globemaster III is highly successful American-built military transport aircraft, used not only by the United States but many of our allies. It forms a critical part in the massive system of military airlift that, for better or worse, holds together the American global "empire of bases". The United States currently operates about 190 of the aircraft and the Air Force says that they do not need any more.

Congress, nevertheless, has allocated funding for at least ten more transports. At $200 million per aircraft, that adds up to $2 billion taken from hard-working American taxpayers (and borrowed from American citizens yet unborn) to build aircraft that the Air Force doesn't even want. It is a clear case of Congress deciding military funding policy not on based on military necessity, but on purely political motivations.

The long-established defense contractor Boeing is the primary corporation responsible for building the C-17, and is clearly determined to squeeze every taxpayer dollar that it can out of the program. Not surprisingly, the members of Congress who have been the biggest pushes for the purchase of additional C-17s, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), have campaign accounts awash in contributions from the company.

John McCain (R-AZ), the recent Republican presidential candidate, has probably been the loudest voice raised in opposition to buying additional C-17s. In this, he has a somewhat ironic ally in President Obama, who has called on the Senate to reject the appropriation. Unfortunately, the Senate voted down a proposal to strip the funding out of the defense appropriations bill in October, and President Obama decided to sign the bill rather than go to the wall on the issue of the C-17s.

Few should doubt that many members of Congress, prompted by their corporate masters at Boeing, will continue to push for even more C-17s in the next congressional session and beyond. It i similar to story we saw with the F-22; a military product becomes a cash cow for a well-connected corporation, and its minions in Congress continue to fund additional units long after the military has said it does not need any more.

When this happens, the federal government is effectively robbing from the poor to give to the rich, and worsening an already disastrous national fiscal crisis. Though perfectly legal, it's a sinister form of Hamiltonian corruption and must be stopped. All 21st Century Jeffersonians should contact their own representatives in the House and Senate and make it clear to them that they want the production of further C-17s halted. And be sure to hold their feet to the fire at every townhall meeting you can get to.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

President Obama Creates Deficit Reduction Commission

Last month, Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) proposed creating a bipartisan commission to propose solutions to the nation's disastrous fiscal crisis. Foolishly and with incredible short-sightedness, the Senate voted down the proposal. However, as he said he would do in his State of the Union Address, President Obama has now taken the step himself, issuing an executive order creating a high-powered commission to study ways to reduce the deficit.

To co-chair this commission, President Obama has chosen Democrat Erskine Bowles, who was chief-of-staff to President Clinton, and Republican Alan Simpson, a former Governor of Wyoming who also served as one of the state's senators for several years. Two other members of the commission will be chosen by the White House, while six will be chosen by congressional Democrats and six by congressional Republicans.

Considering the refusal of the Republican Party to act as a responsible opposition over the last year, it wouldn't be surprising if they will simply refuse to participate in the commission in an effort to embarass the President. This would be a great disservice to the country. The fiscal situation of the United States presents a danger to the country far greater than any conceivable combination of foreign enemies, and to play political games while the disaster accelerates is so irresponsible that history will condemn the GOP for decades to come if they don't step up and work with the Democrats to deal with it.

The Democrats, however, need to get their own house in order before anyone can take them seriously on this issue. While the freeze on discreationary spending increases is better than nothing, President Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress need to go much further. All talk of a second stimulus package should be dismissed out of hand, and the country needs to be prepared for inevitable cuts, not just spending increases.

The continued announcements by moderates and "deficit hawks" in Congress that they are resigning is not encouraging. Thus far, three of the most prominent champions of a more sensible budget have announced that they will not seek reelection this year: Judd Gregg (R-NH), Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Evan Bayh (D-IN). While all the mindless political pundits analyze these announcements for any perceived advantage or disadvantage they create for one party or the other (as if that matters), few are mentioning the disquieting implications these resignations will have on budget and deficit issues, which cannot be solved without bipartisan solutions.

Let's hope this commission can actually accomplish something and that this opportunity is not sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Putting Terrorists on Trial in Civilian Courts is Proper Course of Action

Ever since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, a dispute has raged over how to deal with terrorists when they are captured. Should they be tried like ordinary criminals in civilian courts, or should they be given some other sort of status that puts them on a different level from ordinary criminals?

The Bush Administration was emphatic that terrorists were not ordinary criminals and shouldn't be treated as such. However, since the terrorists are not military personnel of a foreign state, they cannot be treated as prisoners of war under international law. To resolve this paradox, and despite having no constitutional authority to do so, the Bush Administration created a new legal designation for terrorists- "enemy combatants"- and locked them up in the prison camp of Guantanamo Bay or other detainment facilities around the world (many of them secret), so as to circumvent the constitutional protections the terrorists would have had on American soil.

In the past, terrorist suspects were tried in civilian courts. This was done in the case of the men who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, and also in the case of Timothy McVeigh, the domestic terrorist who blew up Alfred O. Murrah Federal Building in 1995, killing 168 people. Trying terrorist suspects in civilian courts never presented any insurmountable problems before the 9/11 attacks, which makes the subsequent behavior of the Bush Administration all the more confusing.

Civilian courts were deemed unacceptable by the Bush Administration, which decided to implement a special system of military courts in which to try the 9/11 suspects and other Al Qaeda prisoners. In its desire to paint the campaign against Al Qaeda as a "war", even though the enemy is a nonstate organization and not an independent nation, the administration apparently never considered simply treating the terrorists as the criminals they are. With the hindsight available to us eight years later, we can now see that this was a very serious mistake.

Al Qaeda, and all the other Islamic terrorist groups who share its ideology, like to see themselves as religious warriors fighting for freedom against an oppressive enemy. Indeed, they have created a sophisticated propaganda machine to spread this image throughout the Muslim world and beyond. By treating them as something more than common criminals, the Bush administration gave them a mystique and credibility that they do not deserve. With the stroke of a pen, Bush raised the public status of the Al Qaeda fighters from murderous criminals to holy warriors.

Last November, President Obama created a firestorm of controversy when he announced that Al Qaeda suspects would be tried in a civilian court in New York, rather than in a military court in in the Guantanamo prison camp. Republicans lambasted the decision as somehow being "soft" on terrorism. But President Obama's decision was the correct one, and he is to be commended for sticking to his guns in the face of sustained political pressure.

Terrorists are nothing but murderous thugs, and treating them as common criminals is the only rational thing to do. Giving them some sort of special status elevates them to a higher level than they deserve and creates artifical credibility for their twisted political and religious ideologies. It also subverts the forms of constitutional law on which our nation is founded, for if the legal status of terrorists can be altered simply by executive decree, so can the legal status of anybody else.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Political Dynasties Have No Place in a Jeffersonian Republic

There is news today that Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) will not be seeking reelection. While not a major news item in and of itself, it does mean that the most famous political dynasty in America without a direct role in the federal government for the first time in many decades. And this is good news, because 21st Century Jeffersonians should always raise eyebrows whenever political candidates attempt to capitalize on family connections and prestige, rather than their own fitness for office.

When the nation was founded, Jefferson and his cohorts saw the possibility of a new kind of society, uninfected by the virus of aristocracy. Thomas Paine, writing in Common Sense, made the obvious yet important point that "virtue and ability are not hereditary." As a state legislator in Virginia, Jefferson pushed legislation banning the practice of primogeniture and attacked other pillars of aristocratic privilege. In order to prevent the establishment of an aristocracy in America, based on wealth rather than noble lineages, Jefferson waged a long struggle against Hamilton and his Federalist allies.

But despite all the efforts of the early Jeffersonians, we can see that the virus of aristocracy has wormed its way into the American political process, and this is most clear in the form of the many family dynasties that hold a disproportionate share of political power in our country.

The Kennedys may be the most famous political dynasty in America, but the Bush family is a close second. From the ranks of this family have emerged two presidents, two senators, a governor, and a Supreme Court justice. Their example is perhaps the most telling argument against political dynasties, for George W. Bush would never have become Governor of Texas, let alone President of the United States, had he not been his father's son. And while the history of his administration still has yet to be fully written, it is more obvious every day that the United States would have been much better off had George W. Bush lived out his life as the part-owner of a baseball team.

Throughout our nation's history, many families have operated political machines that have controlled entire states or large cities, sometimes for decades. The Daley family has treated Chicago pretty much as their own personal fiefdom since the 1950s. After the assassination of Huey Long in 1935, his family continued to effectively control the politics of Louisiana for decades, and his son Russell continued to serve in the Senate until 1987. The Udall family has had a disproportionate share of power in many Western states for nearly a century, and two of its members are currently United States senators, one from New Mexico and one from Colorado. When Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) was elected Governor of Alaska, he had the gall to appoint his own daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to succeed him in the Senate. Beau Biden, the son of the current Vice-President, was elected Attorney General of Delaware on account of his father's popularity, and there has been talk of his succeeding to his father's Senate seat. And there are countless other examples of family political dynasties in America.

This sort of nonsense must stop. If the officeholders of the land are going to be chosen because of who their parents are, rather than on account of their own virtues and abilities, then America is no better than a medieval kingdom. Citizens must be extremely wary whenever they hear of a current politician's child or other relative running for office. If all else seems equal between two candidates, the fact that of them is a member of a powerful political family should be a sufficient enough reason to vote against them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Poll Shows Three-Quarters of Americans "Angry" at the Federal Government

According to a newly-released public opinion poll from Rasmussen Reports, 75% of the American people describe themselves as "angry" at the federal government. Broken down by political affiliation, 89% of Republicans, 61% of Democrats, and 78% of Independents describe themselves as angry.

In a certain sense, this is not news. Being angry at the federal government is standard procedure for the American people. And one shouldn't assume that this poll represents some sort of unity among citizens. Republicans might be angry because the Obama Administration is trying to pass amassie healthcare bill, whereas Democrats might be angry at their failure to do so.

But there is a clear picture that the American people are more disillusioned with the government today than they have been in some time. The polling data indicates that the American peole blame both political parties more or less equally. Many are disillusioned because President Obama promised a great deal during the campaign, which it turned out he couldn't deliver. Many are disillusioned by the Republicans for blocking the President's initiatives for motives that are clearly based on parisanship rather than policy. Almost everyone, I think, is disillusioned because it is becoming increasingly obvious that the current structure of the government are unable to meet the expectations of the American people.

It's not a big surprise that so many American citizens don't bother to vote on election day, because they see their votes as essentially worthless. One finding of the poll was that a large majority of the American people believe "that the political system is broken, that most politicians are corrupt, and that neither party has the answers." As usual, the American people are quite correct.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jeffersonian Victory! NAIS Is De-Funded

Good news in the fight to save America's independent family farms. The Department of Agriculture has announced that the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) has had its funding stripped in the next federal budget.

We've discussed this program in the past. Its purpose was to tag literally every livestock animal in America with an electronic marker and monitor their movements. Ostensibly intended to help prevent the outbreak of cattle disease, it representated a massive intrusion of federal power into areas where it had no constitutional authority. The giant agribusiness corporations loved the idea, as the additional costs to them would be more than made up for by additional profits from overseas sales. But organizations representing independent ranchers were furious, especially because the cost of the program would fall to them and would have been about two dollars per animal. Indeed, many small ranchers believed that a main motivation for the inception of the program was the desire by the agribusiness corporations to drive small-scale operators out of business.

The announcement that this program will not be pursued is wonderful news and something that all 21st Century Jeffersonians should applaud.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Increased Tensions with China Disturbing but Not Surprising

In the last month or so, relations between the United States and China seem to have taken a sharply negative turn. When looking over the geopolitical situation of the world, a sound argument can be made that the Sino-American relationship is the most important one in the world, so any trouble in the relationship has to be taken seriously.

The sudden downturn in relations was highlighted when it was announced that the United States would sell a weapons package worth $6.4 billion to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province. The package included Patriot air defense missiles, Blackhawk helicopters, and communications equipment for Taiwan's F-16 fighters. Despite the fact that these weapons are mostly defensive in nature, China has loudly protested the move and suspended contacts between the American and Chinese militaries.

Taiwan is a democracy under threat of invasion from the world's most powerful autocracy, so a case can be made that selling arms to them is not only good business, but a moral imperative. Had the United States not supplied Taiwan with the necessary tools to defend itself against a Chinese attack, the island would have long since fallen to China, and the people who today live under a democracy would instead be living under tyranny.

There have also recently been several acrimonious exchanges between America and China on the subject of trade. The United States accuses China of keeping its currency at an artificially low value, allowing cheap Chinese exports to flood the American market while hindering the entry of American products into the Chinese market. The Sino-American trade imbalance is absurdly tilted in favor of China, resulting in a long-term flow of wealth from us to them. It's a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.

There are numerous other bones of contention between the two powers. President Obama is scheduled to meet with the Dalai Lama, against Chinese protests. The United States is not happy with China's opposition to stronger sanctions against Iran or its position on an international agreement on global climate change. Indeed, the list of problems between the two countries seems to go on forever.

For all this rhetoric, nothing has happened in Sino-American relations in recent months that hasn't happened many times before. China, having recovered from the economic downturn more quickly than the rest of the world, is simply feeling confident and wanting to throw its weight around a little bit. In the grand scheme of things, it's nothing to be concerned about.

But what of the long-term Sino-American relationship and its impact on the wider world. Any rational observer of the global geopolitical scene can see that China's power is on the ascendent while that of America is beginning to wane. In and of itself, the relative decline of American power is not something that should worry 21st Century Jeffersonians, and indeed will have some positive benefits (no temptation to invade and occupy unthreatening countries, for example). But the fact that the rising power is clearly China, potentially the most powerful autocracy the world has ever seen, certainly raises eyebrows.

The United States should never kow-tow to China, but it should also strive to remove potential points of dispute. Eventually, the desire for freedom that is basic to human nature will liberate China from itself, but until then, we need to keep a wary and respectful eye on China.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cassini Mission to Saturn Gets Seven Year Extension

America's manned spaceflight program might be in complete disarray, but NASA's robotic explorations of the Solar System continue to produce tremendous results in terms of scientific information. Yesterday, the tremendously good news that the Cassini mission to Saturn had been extended for seven years was revealed, and this is certainly cause for celebration.

The Cassini mission is one of the feathers in the cap of America's space program, and will go down in history along with other robotic missions like Viking, Voyager, and Galileo for contributing to the knowledge of humanity and furthering our understanding of the Solar System. Launched in 1997 and arriving in orbit around Saturn in 2004, the probe has been exploring Saturn and its family of moons for the past several years, sending back massive quantities of information that is currently causing scientists to rewrite the textbooks not just on Saturn but on the entire Solar System.

Cassini is still operating perfectly, and NASA made a very sensible decision in renewing the mission for an additional seven years. The additional cost is very small, and the reward in additional scientific information is certain to be vast. The mysterious moon Titan holds many secrets yet to be unraveled, although Cassini has flown past it many times and deployed onto its surface the descent probe Huygens, designed by the European Space Agency. Cassini has also flown past the equally enigmatic moon of Enceladus several times, but we are only just beginning to understand this strange little world. And, of course, Saturn itself, despite centuries of study, is still yet to be fully understood. We are fortunate indeed to already have a robot emissary in orbit in the Saturnian system, and NASA made a very wise decision in extending its mission.

Thomas Jefferson's heart would quicken in excitement if he could be alive to hear about this. A man who always considered himself a scientist before a politician, he would have considered the exploration of Saturn and its moons far more interesting and important than debates about healthcare or arguments about our policy towards Iran. If he could choose only one magazine subscription today, he would be far more likely to choose Scientific American over Newsweek.

Raise a glass to Cassini, and to the fact that it will continue to explore Saturn and its moons for seven more glorious years.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Greed of A.I.G. Knows No Bounds

The serious economic crisis from which the country is still emerging, and which we might fall back into if we are not careful, is mostly due to the sickening greed, shortsightedness, and lack of decency by those who run the big financial corporations like A.I.G. Their foolishness in risking the money of their shareholders on dangerous speculations (it's an insult to call them "investments") in a real estate market they knew was falling apart might have given them short-term profits, but at the cost of strangling the American economy and ruining the lives of millions of American citizens.

To prevent the massive stupidity and greed of the investment bankers from causing the entire American economy to tank, the federal government stepped up and provided a massive bailout package, of which A.I.G. received about $170 billion. But despite the fact that the bank has yet to pay back the government the money (provided, lest it be forgotten, by the hardworking American taxpayer), A.I.G. continues to pay its executives obscene bonuses.

Today, A.I.G. has announced a new round of bonuses, totalling $100 million. Clearly, they have either learned nothing, or simply couldn't care less. Most likely it's the latter.

These Hamiltonian jackasses deserve no bonuses, since their mismanagement, greed, and lack of civic virtue helped bring on the financial crisis in the first place. Certainly they should not be paying such bonuses when they have yet to pay back what they owe to American taxpayers.

What A.I.G. and their ilk have done with the money of American citizens in the last decade is rather similar to another story of financial fraud from our history. During the Revolutionary War, patriotic citizens helped hund the war effort through the purchase of war bonds and many soldiers of the Continental Army received such bonds as their salary. After the war, the desperate financial straits of the government resulted in the bonds losing most of their value, so that a bond worth a dollar might have plunged to the level of fifteen cents or less.

When Alexander Hamilton became Secretary of the Treasury, he made the decision that the bonds would be bought back by the government at par, rather than at their market value. But before the general public was aware of this, Hamilton revealed the plan to his cronies in New York, who proceeded to launch a nationwide effort to buy up as many war bonds as they possibly could while they were still at their reduced value. The result was that Hamilton's cronies made a financial killing, while the veterans, war widows, and patriotic citizens were tricked out of the money that was rightfully theirs. It was all perfectly legal, but that didn't change the fact that it was all sickening and immoral.

The executives of A.I.G. and their ilk at other Wall Street financial corporations are Hamilton's modern cronies and their actions are equally ruinous to the live of countless American citizens. Just as the country once broke up monopolies like Standard Oil, which were acting against the interest of ordinary Americans, we should now act to break up these big banks. If you're "too big to fail", then the system is out of joint and needs to be fixed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Must Go

Earlier today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stood before the Senate Armed Services Committee and said that the long-standing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy needed to be scrapped. This obvious decision has been staring the country in the face for many years.

Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell, instituted in 1993, was President's Clinton rather cowardly way out of the dilemma of gays serving openly in the United States military. Essentially, it required that homosexuals not disclose their sexual orientation, and that military officials not inquire into it. There was nothing whatsoever laudable about this policy. It still meant that homosexuals could be dismissed for the service for nothing other than being the kind of person they were born to be. Such a disgraceful and undemocratic policy has no place in a Jeffersonian republic.

Admiral Mullen himself said it best when he stated, "No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

Being a homosexual in no way inhibits an individual's ability to serve in the armed forces. All the arguments used by opponents of gays serving in the military are essentially identical to those used by opponents of blacks serving in desegregated units with whites before President Truman's desegregation of the military in 1948. Believing, as we do, that all men are created equal, we cannot in good conscience maintain such a policy as Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell. It is a stain upon our national honor.

All citizens of the United States are entitled to equal treatment before the law. For this most basic reason, the discriminatory policy of Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell must go.

Monday, February 1, 2010

American Space Program Needs Clear Direction

The recent decision by President Obama to cancel NASA's plans to return astronauts to the Moon and eventually send an expedition to Mars is a great disappointment and a serious mistake on the part of the President. While Project Constellation was certainly not without its problems, a vastly better course of action would have been to adapt and adjust the program to ensure success, not scrap it entirely (especially since the federal government has already spent several billion dollars on it). The cancellation of Project Constellation leaves the American space program with no real direction, and this is a recipe for disaster.

In 1961, President Kennedy gave the newly-established NASA a clear and specific mission: successfully send a manned mission to the Moon by the end of the decade. Against all odds, it succeeded, with Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the Moon in 1969. It was one of the greatest achievements in world history.

Jefferson would have been delighted by the Apollo Program, and the bold spirit that NASA exhibited back in its glory days. He was always a firm supporter of exploration, as both a private citizen and as a public servant. Seeing a clear national interest, Jefferson didn't hesitate to use taxpayer money to fund the Lewis and Clark Expedition, not the mention the explorations of Zebulon Pike and many others. The pioneers of eventually settled the American West had had their trails blazed for them by these bold explorers.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were, in a very real sense, the true descendants of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. But unlike the exploration of the American West, the American space program has stalled and become mired in inefficiency and unproductive activity. Rather than continue to blaze a trail for future settlers, most of NASA's work has become needless waste of taxpayer dollars.

Even as the American flag was being planted on the Moon, NASA had drawn up ambitious plans to establish a permanent outpost on our lunar neighbor by 1978 and send a manned expedition to Mars by 1981. Shortly thereafter, however, President Nixon cancelled all these plans. Had NASA been allowed to go forward, we might today be well into the process of harvesting the vast resources of the Solar System to improve life on Earth in unimaginable ways.

In the years after the last Apollo mission to the Moon in 1972, the American manned space program has had no definable goals, seemingly existing merely to perpetuate its own existence. We have built and flown the Space Shuttle for the past thirty years, but it does little that cannot be done by expendable rockets and its poor safety record has lead to the deaths of 14 brave astronauts. Ostensibly, the Space Shuttle was created in order to build the International Space Station, but no one can seem to articulate what the ISS is actually for. In truth, we built ruinously expensive Space Shuttles in order to build a ruinously expensive Space Station, which goes nowhere and does nothing.

The utter failure of the manned spaceflight program since Apollo has been somewhat alleviated by the tremendous success NASA has had with its unmanned exploratory missions around the Solar System. All Americans should be tremendously proud of the Voyager missions to the Outer Solar System, the Viking and Mars Exploration Rover missions that landed on Mars, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Cassini mission to Saturn, the Magellan mission to Venus, and many other such projects that have unlocked great scientific secrets and advanced the collective knowledge of humanity. Thomas Jefferson would have been overjoyed by these achievements.

In January of 2004, not quite a year after the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia with its seven-man crew, then-President George W. Bush announced a new policy for NASA, aiming at the return of astronauts to the Moon and eventually sending an expedition to Mars. It was an ambitious goal, and one of the few major initiatives of the Bush Administration of which Jefferson would have approved. But despite some progress, including the design of a new manned spacecraft called the Orion, the plan had run into numerous roadblocks, most specifically technical issues involving the Ares rockets and the massive budgetary pressures that characterize our times. The decision by the Obama administration to cancel the program may be a disappointment, but it is not a surprise.

So now we are left with a manned spaceflight program with no clear direction or goal. A space program without a clear direction is worse than no space program at all, since it wastes great amounts of taxpayer money for no gain.

21st Century Jeffersonians should strongly support space exploration, for the same reason we would have supported the exploration of the American West in Jefferson's time. It's where the future hopes of humanity lie, and the reopening of the frontier spirit will reawaken many of the Jeffersonian impulses among the people, who have slumbered for too long.

Being fully conscious of our nation's precarious fiscal situation, we should push our government to move forward with a common sense, cost effective manned spaceflight program, whose long-range goal should be the establishment of a permanent human presence on the Moon and Mars and, eventually, throughout the Solar System. While the pioneers of the future will not travel in covered wagons, they will be as Jeffersonian as their spiritual ancestors, and we should be laying the groundwork for them now.

As Jefferson said of the Western explorations he did so much to make happen, "The work we are now doing is, I hope, done for posterity. We shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this nation. Those who come after us will fill up the canvas we began."