Copyright ImageClick to View A closed and boarded up Oakland Police Department recruiting center is seen in downtown in Oakland, Calif., in 2010. Officer layoffs are one reason that some Oakland neighborhoods are hiring private security officers. (Paul Sakuma/AP/File) On the streets of Oakland, budget…
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Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Mexico’s capital Sunday in a show of support for President Manuel López Obrador, who before assuming the presidency had led some of the country’s biggest protests.
The “people’s march” marked four years in office for the leftist leader and was a response to a large opposition march two weeks ago to protest López Obrador’s proposal to reform the country’s electoral authority.
The president himself led Sunday’s march through central Mexico City, which was accompanied by mariachi music, singing and a festive atmosphere. Many participants had been bused in from provinces across Mexico in trips organized by the ruling Morena party, unions and social groups.
“Effective suffrage, effective democracy, and no to re-election,” he said in a speech after the march in which he repeated his slogans of favoring the poor and fighting the oligarchy.
The opposition insisted that many participants were forced to join the march, but López Obrador said he had not put “a penny” of the federal budget into the march. Demonstrators questioned said they had come voluntarily.
But in many cases the transportation was provided by local governments or politicians who wanted to be well thought of inside the ruling party.
Gaby Contreras, a former Morena mayor, brought a group from Teoloyucan, north of the capital, and was the only one of her group authorized to speak. “We are here to support the president.”
Pedro Sánchez, a bricklayer who came with his wife from the Tehuantepec isthmus in southern Mexico, said his municipality organized everything. Hundreds of buses that had brought participants lined nearby streets.
“I come from Sonora by plane and I paid for my ticket,” said lawyer and López Obrador supporter América Verdugo.
Nelly Muñoz, an administrator from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said “it’s called ‘organization’ and and believe it or not, it’s what we’ve been doing since 2006.”
That date was a reference to the year López Obrador came within 0.56% of the vote of winning the presidency and denounced his loss as fraudulent. Many supported him, launching a mass protest movement.
López Obrador was elected to the presidency 12 years later and his Morena party won four of six races for governor in last year’s midterm elections, giving the ruling party control of 22 of Mexico’s 32 states, an important advantage heading into the 2024 presidential elections.
But the government has been criticized for its increased use of the military, laws whose constitutionality has been questioned in the courts, and its support for controversial mega-projects, some people who support the president are now are his critics.
Clara Jusidman, founder of INCIDE Social, an NGO specialized in democracy, development and human rights, said that what is important isn’t the number of participants in the march, but “why they participated.”
She said many Mexicans feel compelled to participate because they receive money transfers from the government, which is its main way of supporting those in need. Others want to be in the good graces of the party ahead of the 2024 local, state and presidential elections. The leading contenders to replace López Obrador as Morena’s presidential candidate in 2024 appeared in the march.
But there was no shortage of fans of Mexico’s president, who maintains a high approval rating.
Alberto Cervantes, who traveled from Los Angeles to join the march, had the president’s face and “AMLO 4T” tattooed on his arm. AMLO is the popular acronym for López Obrador’s name, and 4T refers to the “4th Transformation,” which López Obrador says he is carrying out in Mexico.
Lorena Vaca, who waved a flag of the LGBTQ community, said she came to ask for more attention for women and transgenders.
“There are things we don’t agree with... but that doesn’t mean we don’t support the Fourth Transformation process,” said Aurora Pedroche, a member of a critical sector within Morena who questions the party’s leadership but supports the president.
Mexico’s opposition had called a massive march because they feared López Obrador planned to use his proposed reforms to compromise the electoral institute’s independence and make it more beholden to his party.
López Obrador repeatedly criticized the march and days later said he would call his own march.
“You can’t make a change overnight and Andrés Manuel is not infallible,” Pedroche said. “But we have worked hard and what we don’t want is for this to be reversed.”
Neil Armstrong took his historic “one small step” on the Moon in 1969. And just three years later, the last Apollo astronauts left our celestial neighbour. Since then, hundreds of astronauts have been launched into space but mainly to the Earth-orbiting International Space Station. None has, in fact, ventured more than a few hundred kilometers from Earth.
The US-led Artemis program, however, aims to return humans to the Moon this decade – with Artemis 1 on its way back to Earth as part of its first test flight, going around the Moon.
The most relevant differences between the Apollo era and the mid-2020s are an amazing improvement in computer power and robotics. Moreover, superpower rivalry can no longer justify massive expenditure, as in the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union. In our recent book “The End of Astronauts”, Donald Goldsmith and I argue that these changes weaken the case for the project.
The Artemis mission is using Nasa’s brand new Space Launch System, which is the most powerful rocket ever – similar in design to the Saturn V rockets that sent a dozen Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Like its predecessors, the Artemis booster combines liquid hydrogen and oxygen to create enormous lifting power before falling into the ocean, never to be used again. Each launch therefore carries an estimated cost of between $2 billion (£1.7 billion) and $4 billion.
This is unlike its SpaceX competitor “Starship”, which enables the company to recover and the reuse the first stage.
The benefits of robotics
Advances in robotic exploration are exemplified by the suite of rovers on Mars, where Perseverance, Nasa’s latest prospector, can drive itself through rocky terrain with only limited guidance from Earth. Improvements in sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) will further enable the robots themselves to identify particularly interesting sites, from which to gather samples for return to Earth.
Within the next one or two decades, robotic exploration of the Martian surface could be almost entirely autonomous, with human presence offering little advantage. Similarly, engineering projects – such as astronomers’ dream of constructing a large radio telescope on the far side of the Moon, which is free of interference from Earth – no longer require human intervention. Such projects can be entirely constructed by robots.
Instead of astronauts, who need a well equipped place to live if they’re required for construction purposes, robots can remain permanently at their work site. Likewise, if mining of lunar soil or asteroids for rare materials became economically viable, this also could be done more cheaply and safely with robots.
Robots could also explore Jupiter, Saturn and their fascinatingly diverse moons with little additional expense, since journeys of several years present little more challenge to a robot than the six-month voyage to Mars. Some of these moons could in fact harbour life in their sub-surface oceans.
Even if we could send humans there, it might be a bad idea as they could contaminate these worlds with microbes form Earth.
The Apollo astronauts were heroes. They accepted high risks and pushed technology to the limit. In comparison, short trips to the Moon in the 2020s, despite the $90-billion cost of the Artemis program, will seem almost routine.
Something more ambitious, such as a Mars landing, will be required to elicit Apollo-scale public enthusiasm. But such a mission, including provisions and the rocketry for a return trip, could well cost Nasa a trillion dollars – questionable spending when we’re dealing with a climate crisis and poverty on Earth. The steep price tag is a result of a “safety culture” developed by Nasa in recent years in response to public attitudes.
Artemis -1 launch.NASA
This reflects the trauma and consequent program delays that followed the Space Shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003, each of which killed the seven civilians on board. That said, the shuttle, which had 135 launches altogether, achieved a failure rate below two percent. It would be unrealistic to expect a rate as low as this for the failure of a return trip to Mars – the mission would after all last two whole years.
Astronauts simply also need far more “maintenance” than robots – their journeys and surface operations require air, water, food, living space and protection against harmful radiation, especially from solar storms.
Already substantial for a trip to the Moon, the cost differences between human and robotic journeys would grow much larger for any long-term stay. A voyage to Mars, hundreds of times further than the Moon, would not only expose astronauts to far greater risks, but also make emergency support far less feasible. Even astronaut enthusiasts accept that almost two decades may elapse before the first crewed trip to Mars.
There will certainly be thrill-seekers and adventurers who would willingly accept far higher risks – some have even signed up for a proposed one-way trip in the past.
This signals a key difference between the Apollo era and today: the emergence of a strong, private space-technology sector, which now embraces human spaceflight. Private-sector companies are now competitive with Nasa, so high-risk, cut-price trips to Mars, bankrolled by billionaires and private sponsors, cold be crewed by willing volunteers. Ultimately, the public could cheer these brave adventurers without paying for them.
Given that human spaceflight beyond low orbit is highly likely to entirely transfer to privately-funded missions prepared to accept high risks, it is questionable whether Nasa’s multi-billion-dollar Artemis project is a good way to spend the government’s money. Artemis is ultimately more likely to be a swansong than the launch of a new Apollo era.
If former President Donald Trump is to regain the Republican Party's nomination for the presidency, he will do so without the backing of a Pennsylvania Republican who had his back in 2016.
Politico reports that Lou Barletta, who supported Trump in 2016 when most in the party were shunning him, is off the MAGA train for Trump's 2024 run.
“I’m not supporting him,” he told the publication. “I was one of his most loyal supporters in Congress. But loyalty was only a one-way street.”
Politico notes that Barletta may be harboring bitter feelings after Trump shunned his campaign to be Pennsylvania's next governor by endorsing hardcore MAGA acolyte Doug Mastriano, whose disastrous gubernatorial campaign resulted in a 15-point loss to Pennsylvania Governor Elect Josh Shapiro.
Barletta is not the only longtime Trump stalwart to feel burned by the former president, as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who encouraged protesters to "kick ass" ahead of the deadly January 6th Capitol riots, has similarly slammed the former president for being disloyal after Trump rescinded his endorsement of his United States Senate campaign.
“It would be a bad mistake for the Republicans to have Donald Trump as their nominee in 2024,” Brooks said recently. “Donald Trump has proven himself to be dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude and a lot of other things that alienate so many independents and Republicans. Even a candidate who campaigns from his basement can beat him.”