Sept 11 Journal

~ Monday, May 17, 2004
Letter re Alan Greenspan and Interest Rates
The New York Times
Letter to the Editor:

May 16, 2004
To the Editor:

James Grant's “Low Rates, High Expectations,” (Op ed, 5.16.04) ignores the political point that Alan Greenspan, an ideological Republican, refuses to raise interest rates despite increasing signs of rising inflation in order not to jeopardize the current recovery and imperil President Bush’s chances for reelection. Greenspan’s ideological bent, evident for a long time, was definitively outed in the Paul O’Neill/Suskind memoir when at the outset of the Bush administration, O’Neill and Greenspan advised that Bush's massive tax cuts be made contingent on future surpluses. Vice President Cheney and others overruled this prudent advice with nary a peep from Greenspan. By not raising interest rates months ago, Greenspan is permitting an ever larger housing bubble and high rates of consumer borrowing that seem certain to land us in even greater difficulties down the road.

Ronald Bleier
May 9, 2004
Note: A link to the Forward editorial follows.

Letter to the Editor:
The Forward

Forward letters

May 9, 2004

To the Editor:

It’s disappointing to see the Forward labeling a "miscalculation," Sharon’s defeat in a Likud party referendum on his disengagement plan. (“Sharon’s Blunder,” editorial May 7, 2004) Circumstantial evidence supports the view that as the father of the settler movement, Sharon does not intend to remove any of the 7,500 Gaza settlers. As Meron Benvenisti, longtime critic of Israeli settlement policy, explained in Ha’aretz, similar plans have come and gone “quite a few times over the past 20 years.” (April 8, 2004, quoted in Middle East International, No. 723, April 16, 2004) It’s telling that Sharon refused to submit his plan to a national referendum that, according to polls, he stood excellent chances of winning.

Shedding more light on ultimate Israeli intentions, Israeli journalist and author, Tanya Reinhart pointed out in March, that there is “no sign on the ground of any intention to evacuate from Gaza.” Work on fortifying the strategically important settlement of Netzarim that separates the northern area including Gaza City from the rest of the strip “has only intensified in recent weeks.” At the cost of millions of shekels, a new electronic security fence around Netzarim is currently going up. The chief of staff approved these plans and the region commander issued orders that included the appropriation of land from the Palestinians. (Sharon's "Disengagement" from Gaza, March 30th, 2004 Tanya Reinhart,

More such details emerged in a New York Times story that quoted an unnamed Israeli official to the effect that there were no plans in the offing to dismantle Gaza settlements and that settlement projects “in the pipeline” are going forward. The same article quoted Eran Sternberg, a spokesman for the Gush Qatif settlement bloc in Gaza who flatly contradicted an Israeli government announcement that settler development would be halted. “On the ground there are a lot of projects, a lot of families coming here all the time.” (James Bennett, April 3, 2004, “Sharon Says He Has Ordered a Halt to Gaza Development”)

Indeed your related front page story (“Aipac Shelves Major Lobbying Effort After Likud Voters Nix Sharon’s Plan, May 7, 2004) noted that AIPAC lobbying efforts seeking congressional codification of Bush’s assurances to Sharon are merely put on hold. In the end Sharon undoubtedly expects that Congress will continue to support the thrust of the agreements announced in Washington on April 14th: Israeli control over major portions of the West Bank and US support of the Israeli refusal to acknowledge the Palestinian right of return even while excuses will be found to postpone indefinitely Israeli disengagement from Gaza.

It appears that the wily Sharon has engineered what he hopes will be merely a temporary setback in the interests of his longer term objective to create a Greater Israel –including Gaza – virtually empty of its native Palestinians.


Ronald Bleier


Link to Forward editorial

May 12, 2004

The U.S. government’s new policy of downgrading science in favor of space exploration is a reflection of the anti-intellectualism of the Bush administration from the president on down. Details are emerging of a carefully planned assault on U.S. funded science budgets by means of a diversion of funds to space exploration in connection with future manned expeditions to the Moon and subsequently to Mars. The Hubble telescope, the most prominent loser in this battle, is the leading edge of a larger plan defund science in the name of space exploration.

The current diversion of funds from science is a sign of the religious fundamentalism motivating the policies of the Bush administration. They seem to view science as a threat to their worldview and their cultural values. Every one of the extraordinary pictures that the Hubble space telescope reveals of a universe many billions of years old may be seen as an implicit rejection of fundamentalist views and the Biblical narrative of an earth no older than six thousand years.

--Ronald Bleier

New York Times
April 27, 2004, Tuesday


At NASA, Science Sharply Shifts Course

By DENNIS OVERBYE (NYT) 1827 words

After President Bush's order that NASA redirect its energies toward human exploration of the Moon and Mars, the space agency has drastically shifted its scientific priorities, delaying missions and cutting the projected budgets of programs that it does not perceive as related to the exploration.

Much attention has been focused on the decision to let the Hubble Space Telescope die by canceling the shuttle mission to maintain it. But in the meantime, whole fields of science have been demoted to asterisks on NASA budget projections over the next few years, leading many scientists to fear for the future of science in space.

Two missions known as Beyond Einstein, devoted to investigating black holes and the space-time ripples called gravity waves, have been delayed two years and one year, respectively. Another series of probes, including a collaboration with the Energy Department to study the ''dark energy'' that seems to be pushing the universe apart, has been indefinitely delayed.

About $1.2 billion of $4.5 billion previously projected to be spent over the next four years has been cut from a program to understand how the Sun and Earth interact. The importance of that line of study was underscored last summer, when a series of solar explosions threw out giant blobs of radiation and particles capable of disrupting radio communications and, perhaps, endangering astronauts.

And despite President Bush's promise to seek answers to the questions about global warming, about $1 billion has been removed from the projected earth science budget over the next four years, delaying by two years the launching of a satellite that will measure worldwide precipitation.

NASA says it is not taking away any money from space science and adds that its science budget will grow 41 percent over the next five years. ''No missions were canceled,'' Dr. Edward J. Weiler, associate administrator in charge of space science, said. ''In some cases, the rate of growth decreased.''

In an interview, he cited a list of big-ticket items that had fared well in the new budget: Gravity Probe B, a $700 million experiment to test Einstein's theory of gravity, which was launched last week; the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's successor, to be launched in 2011; Kepler, a satellite designed to search for Earth-like planets around nearby stars, to be launched in 2007; and a mission to return a sample of rocks and soil from Mars in 2013 that Dr. Weiler described as ''the end of the rainbow for Mars scientists.''

But the changes in science plans have stirred anxiety among astronomers and members of Congress. Representative Sherwood Boehlert, the New York Republican who is chairman of the House Science Committee, said in a recent speech that the Moon and Mars initiative was riddled with uncertainty.

''Will funding this initiative rather than other programs move science forward or hold it back?'' he asked.

Mr. Boehlert noted that the proposed cuts in earth science would occur as more satellite information than ever was needed to resolve questions about climate change.

Many astronomers said they foresaw an end to the ''golden age'' in which they could use heroic instruments like spaceborne telescopes and other satellites to parse the light from the remains of the Big Bang or from the hearts of distant galaxies.

''The golden age is in jeopardy,'' Dr. Michael S. Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, said. ''I'm very nervous.''

Dr. Lennard A. Fisk, a professor of space science at the University of Michigan and the chairman of the National Academy of Sciences' Space Studies Board, which helps set priorities for space research, said the emphasis on ''exploration'' had thrown priorities out of balance, splitting the fields of science into ''haves'' and ''have-nots.''

''Many of us feel this demarcation doesn't make sense,'' Dr. Fisk said. ''Exploration is bigger than wandering around the solar system.''

Dr. David N. Spergel, an astronomer at Princeton and a member of NASA's space science advisory committee, said the new initiative was good for the human program but that its effects on science were mixed.

''Space science has been the jewel in NASA's crown,'' Dr. Spergel said, listing recent achievements like the Mars rovers. ''I think that the root of this success has been NASA's evaluating missions on their scientific impact. I fear under the initiative missions are being evaluated on, 'Does this support the exploration program?' rather than on, 'Is this great science?' ''

In a letter to Dr. Weiler this month, the entire advisory committee, led by Dr. Andrew B. Christensen of the Aerospace Corporation, agreed.

''NASA should not step away from this pre-eminence in science through an overly narrow interpretation of the exploration initiative,'' the astronomers wrote. ''We strongly recommend that 'highest quality science' remain the guiding principle'' of the Office of Space Science.

Even astronomers who might be expected to benefit from the rearrangement say they do not know what to make of it. Dr. Reta F. Beebe, a planetary astronomer at New Mexico State University who heads a National Academy of Sciences committee on planetary exploration, called the human exploration initiative ''grossly undefined.''

Dr. Beebe said it would have little effect over the next few years on the robotic exploration of Mars, which is following ''a very solid, very realistic road map'' worked out by scientists.

In January, Mr. Bush said that to pay for the new exploration program, he would increase the NASA budget about 20 percent over the next five years and shift $11 billion from other programs. The retirement of the space shuttles in 2010 will free about $5 billion a year.

While many scientists say human spaceflight needs a grand goal like Mars, few say the money allocated so far will be enough to pay for it.

''Inevitably, there will be overruns and problems,'' said Dr. Christopher F. McKee of the University of California at Berkeley, co-chairman of a recent National Academy committee charged with setting priorities for astronomy in this decade. ''And there could be a tendency to take funds out of science budgets.''

Dr. Edward W. Kolb, chairman of a NASA advisory committee on cosmology, said: ''Many of us are concerned that the other shoe will fall. Instead of stretching out these programs, they will be killed.''

Scientists say the process that involves them in setting scientific priorities for NASA has been a strength of its program. Every 10 years, committees impaneled by the National Academy canvass their colleagues and hammer out a report that sets out the priorities for how the nation should spend its research dollars.

Because the academy groups work hard to build a consensus, the so-called decadal surveys carry weight on Capitol Hill and set the tone for agencies like NASA, the Energy Department and the National Science Foundation.

Testifying recently before the House Science Committee, Dr. Fisk said the consensus building had given scientists ''a sense of ownership'' in scientific programs at the space agency. So far, he added, scientists do not have that same sense of ownership about human spaceflight.

NASA's science activities are spread over different divisions. The largest is the Office of Space Science, which is organized around themes that include the origins of life, stars and galaxies; structure and evolution of the universe; planetary exploration; Mars exploration; the Sun-Earth Connection; and a newly added field, lunar exploration. Earth sciences and biology and zero-gravity physics each have their own divisions.

Dr. Fisk, associate NASA administrator for science in the late 80's and early 90's, said that all the branches of space science were considered important then, adding, ''The idea was to move everybody forward at a reasonable pace.''

The new budget relegates the Sun-Earth and universe themes, as well as earth science, to the ''aeronautics and other science'' category.

The earth science reductions could have effects beyond NASA, said David Goldston, staff director for the House Science Committee, who noted that the space agency was involved in climate-change projects with other federal agencies.

''NASA basically provides the tools these other agencies have to use,'' Mr. Goldston said.

Asked whether NASA's science program had become unbalanced, Dr. Weiler said science would take up almost a third of the NASA budget by 2009, up from 20 percent in the old days. ''That's not bad,'' he said.

Dr. Beebe expressed sympathy for her colleagues, saying political uncertainty was part of the space game.

''Seeing new missions appear and old ones disappear is part of the world we live in,'' she said. ''You have to say, 'I'll wait for the next high tide.' These guys got caught on this one.''

Many astronomers are particularly dismayed at the cutbacks in the Einstein program, which along with the impending loss of the Hubble will leave them without the means to trace the history of dark energy, which Dr. Turner of Chicago called ''the most profound question in science.''

Indeed, the investigation of dark energy was given the highest priority in a report issued last week by a federal task force on the physics of the universe chartered by the National Science and Technology Council's Committee on Science and including representatives from NASA and other agencies.

Dr. Adam Riess, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, asked, ''If dark energy is such a profound mystery, why isn't it on NASA's budget?''

Dr. Weiler said that as an astronomer he could not agree more with these concerns, but that as a public official, he had a budget to meet.

''I don't have the G.N.P. to spend,'' he said. He added that he hoped to be able to move money around to speed up the gravity wave project, known as Lisa, for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna.

Dr. Kolb, of the NASA advisory panel on the universe, said: ''Dark energy, black holes and the Big Bang are still as compelling now as when we proposed the initiative, and it's distressing to see it stretched out. We want to do these, not because of Bush, not in spite of Bush, but because it's great science and it's the kind of thing that only NASA can do.''

CAPTIONS: Photos: A cutaway view of SNAP, a proposed space telescope that may succeed Hubble in observing exploding stars. (Photo by NASA)(pg. F1); (Mars photograph by NASA)(pg. F4)

Chart: ''Mission Shift''
In its budget proposal for 2005, NASA has adjusted its priorities to align with President Bush's vision. The request, which totals $16.2 billion, also estimates spending for the next five years.

Graphs track spending projections for some NASA programs:


(Source by NASA)(pg. F4)

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