For some reason, Ron Paul has taken to Fox News to skewer SpaceX

Enlarge / Former Congressman Ron Paul: Not a fan of SpaceX.

Three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul has written an opinion piece for Fox News that comes out swinging against SpaceX, accusing the company of benefiting from potentially having a monopoly on national security launches. The article also attacks US Sen. John McCain as a “lead sponsor” of provisions to give SpaceX a monopoly on launch services.

“Allowing SpaceX to obtain a monopoly over launch services harms taxpayers much more than forbidding the Pentagon from purchasing Russian products harms Vladimir Putin,” Paul writes. “If this provision becomes law, SpaceX will be able to charge the government more than they could in even a quasi-competitive market. This monopoly will also stifle innovation in rocket launching technology.”

Paul correctly notes that SpaceX has enjoyed substantial support from NASA, but, in return, the company has provided services at a significantly lower cost for the space agency. However, the irony of his “monopoly” argument is that it was SpaceX, and its Falcon 9 rocket, that brought competition into the Air Force launch services agreements. Before SpaceX was certified two years ago to compete for national security launch contracts, United Launch Alliance was the sole provider of these services for a decade. SpaceX has since provided launches at a large discount for the military.

In recent years, McCain and other senators have been pushing the Air Force and United Launch Alliance to develop an alternative launch vehicle to its workhorse Atlas V rocket, which relies on Russian-made RD-180 engines for lift. Paul asserts that the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 represents “cronyism” for SpaceX because it “expressly forbids the Air Force from developing new launch vehicles by restricting expenditures to the development of new engines or the modification of existing systems.”

How the Air Force feels

The reality, according to Air Force officials, is that they don’t want to be saddled with the entire cost of building a new launch system to replace the Atlas V. This funding mechanism allows for United Launch Alliance to solicit engines from both Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne for its next-generation Vulcan launch vehicle. The authorization act Paul is lambasting as crony capitalism, therefore, is providing funding to United Launch Alliance to build a rocket that can compete with SpaceX on price.

Although Paul said Pentagon brass are concerned about the provision and its benefits for SpaceX, top Air Force officials have recently been complimentary of the rocket company founded by Elon Musk. “There are some very exciting things happening in commercial space that bring the opportunity for assured access to space at a very competitive price,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson testified in June, in reference to SpaceX. Gen. John Hyten, the head of US Strategic Command, also recently praised SpaceX’s approach.

It is not clear why Paul has chosen to weigh in on a complicated space policy matter such as the National Defense Authorization Act, but some clues may explain his hostility. Paul has not run for office since 2012, but at the time, two of his top six corporate donors were Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the parent companies of United Launch Alliance.

Paul also has been sympathetic to Russia in recent years, and SpaceX’s low-cost approach to launch threatens to take considerable market share away from Russian firms. For example, this year the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity has suggested the investigation into Russian meddling in US elections is a “farce” and said hostile efforts by US policymakers to sanction Russia were “irrational.”

Ron Paul: Crony defense budget hands SpaceX a monopoly – why?

Behind the high-minded rhetoric surrounding many government programs, there often (or even usually) lies some grant of special privilege to a powerful business interest. The most well-known example, of course, is ObamaCare’s individual mandate creating a guaranteed market for insurance companies. However, the most common hiding place for corporate welfare is the Pentagon. Hawkish politicians love sticking gifts to big corporations in the yearly National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). So it is no surprise to find an example of cronyism in the Fiscal Year 2018 NDAA, which the Senate is expected to vote on this week.

Specifically, Section 1615 of this year’s NDAA expressly forbids the Air Force from developing new launch vehicles by restricting expenditures to the development of new engines or the modification of existing systems. This prohibition is supposedly designed to address the “Russian threat” — a threat manufactured by those seeking a new Cold War. In addition to flaming anti-Russian hysteria, this provision makes the company SpaceX the only affordable option for launch services.

For obvious political reasons, Washington wants to phase out the use of Russian-manufactured RD-180 rocket engines. However, as former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James made clear, the Department of Defense “would strongly prefer to not have to pay for the development of an RD-180 engine replacement that would benefit only one launch service provider.”

The union between politicians seeking to grow the welfare-warfare state and businesses seeking special favors from government solidifies the forces of big government’s control of Capitol Hill.

Allowing SpaceX to obtain a monopoly over launch services harms taxpayers much more than forbidding the Pentagon from purchasing Russian products harms Vladimir Putin. If this provision becomes law, SpaceX will be able to charge the government more than they could in even a quasi-competitive market. This monopoly will also stifle innovation in rocket launching technology.

Despite the numerous public statements by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk decrying crony capitalism, SpaceX would not exist without government contracts and subsidies. According to The Wall Street Journal, government contracts account for about 70 percent of SpaceX’s contracts. U.S. taxpayers have provided SpaceX more than $5.5 billion in the form of Air Force and NASA contracts.

SpaceX’s reliance on government subsidies lead it to behave in ways that distort the political and policy process. Companies like SpaceX have an incentive to invest in lobbyists and campaign contributions to keep the government money flowing. These companies shower their largess on powerful politicians whose political or ideological agenda dovetails with the companies’ demand for taxpayer subsidies.

The union between politicians seeking to grow the welfare-warfare state and businesses seeking special favors from government solidifies the forces of big government’s control of Capitol Hill.

A perfect example of how this system works against the taxpayer is the relationship between SpaceX and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz. Elon Musk is a generous donor to both Senator McCain’s campaigns and the McCain Institute, while Senator McCain has in the past been a lead sponsor of provisions that would give SpaceX a monopoly on launch services.

I do not mean to suggest that Senator McCain is helping start a new Cold War to receive donations from SpaceX. Anyone who knows John McCain knows he does not need financial incentives to promote a belligerent foreign policy. Rather, SpaceX supports John McCain because his policy preferences coincide with their business interests.

I rarely agree with Pentagon officials, and it is rare that I am on the same side of questions involving military spending as President Trump. However, the president and the Pentagon brass are correct in that this protectionist provision should be removed from the NDAA. It poisons relations between the U.S. and Russia to benefit one company. Killing this piece of cronyism would be a great way to start draining the swamp.

Ron Paul, a former congressman for Texas, is host of the Ron Paul Liberty Report and Chairman of Campaign for Liberty.

Current NASA Astronaut to Speak at Black History Month Symposium Honoring SC Hero and Astronaut Ron McNair

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Current NASA Astronaut to Speak at Black History Month Symposium Honoring SC Hero and Astronaut Ron McNair

Chris Hauff
Feb 16, 2017

On Thursday, February 23, two-time space traveling astronaut Christopher Cassidy will board the USS Yorktown to discuss the life and accomplishments of S.C. hero Ron McNair during a Patriots Point Black History Month symposium titled “In the Spirit of Ron McNair.” The free program begins at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.

McNair was born and raised in Lake City, S.C. during the Civil Rights Movement.   In 1984, after overcoming countless obstacles, he became the second African-American astronaut to travel to space.  Just two years later, he was killed in the tragic space shuttle Challenger explosion.

In addition to learning about McNair’s life from his younger brother Eric McNair, the audience, which will include several hundred fifth grade students, will also hear firsthand accounts from Christopher Cassidy about space travel.  The current National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut has spent more than 182 days in space, has visited the International Space Station (ISS), and completed six spacewalks.

Christopher J. Cassidy (Captain, U.S. Navy) was selected by NASA in 2004 and is a veteran of two space flights, STS-127 and Expedition 35.

“We are honored to have the opportunity to host a program about the extraordinary Ron McNair,” said Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette.  “McNair was raised during times of segregation in the South, and despite that, he was able to persevere to astronomical heights.  His story, paired with the experiences of current NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy, will make for a very inspiring program.  There are very few people who can say they’ve met an astronaut.”

Respected Charleston musicians, Lonnie Hamilton and Ann Caldwell will perform the National Anthem.   Hamilton will also perform a song at the conclusion of the symposium in tribute of Ron McNair – one McNair had planned to play aboard the space shuttle Challenger before the launch took his life.

Admission and parking for “In the Spirit of Ron McNair” is free.  The program, which will also be streamed live through the museum’s social media pages, is part of the ongoing “Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things” symposium series.


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Apple Considered Buying Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, but Talks ‘Fizzled Out’

Another rumor of Apple’s interest in acquiring a company involved in film and television has come to light today, with Financial Times reporting that the Cupertino company was in talks to acquire production company Imagine Entertainment, co-founded by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. The deal is said to have gotten “serious enough” to include Apple CEO Tim Cook and senior vice president Eddy Cue, but discussions ultimately “fizzled out” for unknown reasons.

Those knowledgable about the deal said that possibilities ranged from a “first look” distribution strategy granted to Apple for movies and television shows released by Imagine all the way to an investment or even an outright purchase by Apple. Imagine is a company behind a number of well-known films, including all three entries in The Da Vinci Code series, Apollo 13, and the upcoming adaptation of The Dark Tower. Some of its production in the TV space includes shows like Empire, 24, and Parenthood.

Ron Howard and Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment


According to Financial Times, Apple’s current approach to original video content “has many in Hollywood scratching their heads.”

This approach has many in Hollywood scratching their heads. Apple’s rounds of meetings with various entertainment industry players suggest it has not yet decided what its strategy should be.

The iPhone maker has been stalking Hollywood for more than a year, talking to leading industry players while it tries to formulate a cogent video strategy. It has considered a range of acquisitions and targets including, most recently, Imagine Entertainment, the Hollywood production company owned by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, according to several people briefed on the discussions.

Imagine is said to have recently faced the end of a long-term production and distribution deal with Universal Pictures, which is when Apple is believed to have considered entering into a first look deal with the company. The new Imagine rumor marks another bump in the road for Apple’s trip around Hollywood, following reports that the company considered buying Time Warner last year. Later in the year, people familiar with Apple’s acquisition strategy said it was “not interested” in acquiring Time Warner at the time.

Today’s news follows a Bloomberg report from yesterday that underscored Apple’s “arrogance” in mergers and acquisitions, where it’s reported to use shrewd business tactics and non-traditional strategies in its attempts to acquire new companies. These tactics work mostly for Apple’s smaller acquisitions, according to some analysts, but impede its success at acquiring larger companies, although it is unclear how seriously Apple has pursued any such large targets.

Apple’s stalled talks with Ron Howard flag content confusion

Apple was an early pioneer in the digital distribution of music and video with the iTunes store. But will it be a player in the next phase of content distribution?

The iPhone maker has been stalking Hollywood for more than a year, talking to leading industry players while it tries to formulate a cogent video strategy. It has considered a range of acquisitions and targets including, most recently, Imagine Entertainment, the Hollywood production company owned by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, according to several people briefed on the discussions.

The talks were serious enough to involve Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, and Eddy Cue, its senior vice-president of internet software and services. The talks included a possible “first look” distribution deal of Imagine movies and television shows, as well as an investment by Apple — or even a full purchase. But, as with many other potential deals involving Apple, the discussions fizzled out.

Imagine, the producer of films ranging from Apollo 13 and The Da Vinci Code to television shows such as Empire, recently came to the end of a long-term production and distribution deal with Universal Pictures, which is part of Comcast’s NBCUniversal group. A tie-up with Apple, on paper, at least, would have made some sense.

But then, Time Warner, which Mr Cue approached last year about a possible takeover, would have made sense too. Must-have Time Warner content, like HBO’s Game of Thrones, or hit Warner Brothers movies, could have underpinned an Apple video subscription service, strengthening the link between the device maker and its customers.

Apple has continued to have discussions with potential Hollywood partners. But instead of buying a company, it has put its efforts into just a couple of original series: Carpool Karaoke, a spin-off of the popular segment on James Corden’s Late Late Show, and a reality show called Planet of the Apps. Apple will use the shows to differentiate Apple Music, its streaming service that competes with Spotify.

At the Code Media conference in southern California this week, Mr Cue played down the notion that Apple would ever buy a media company. “We’re not out trying to buy a bunch of shows, we’re trying to do some things that are creative, that can, we think, move culture,” he said. On Apple’s recent earnings call, Mr Cook said the company has a “toe in the water” in terms of original content.

This approach has many in Hollywood scratching their heads. Apple’s rounds of meetings with various entertainment industry players suggest it has not yet decided what its strategy should be.

It has the firepower to do something meaningful in content production and distribution — a space that is increasingly dominated by Netflix and Amazon. They have each invested billions of dollars in original programming: Netflix has built a global subscriber base of 93m while Amazon’s Prime service and its exclusive original content make people likely to spend in its online store.

Apple could get up to speed by buying a company. Or it could follow Amazon’s model: hire the right talent and give them the backing to get the ball rolling. Amazon made no films in 2015; it released 15 in 2016 and has seven Oscar nominations to show for it, including a best picture nomination for Manchester by the Sea.

Apple’s stock recently hit an all-time high — and a market value of $700bn — on hopes that the launch of a new iPhone will drive a sales “supercycle”. The prospect of its $230bn overseas cash pile being repatriated to the US under the new Trump administration is also fuelling investor optimism.

The company has set a target of doubling its revenues from services, such as the Apps Store and Apple Music, to about $50bn in the next four years.

It is hard to believe it will reach that target without doing something more meaningful in video. But it may have missed a trick, given broad, global changes in audience behaviour. People increasingly get their entertainment from video subscription services — and they need devices like those made by Apple to watch them.

The late Steve Jobs always envisioned a closed environment where Apple’s software platform and device were tightly integrated. In not being more aggressive in video in the past two years, Netflix and Amazon have stolen a march on Apple. Will it come to regret it?

matthew.garrahan@ft.com

Should we live on Mars? NASA astronaut Ron Garan believes we should focus on fixing problems on Earth instead of Martian colonization — Quartz

Today’s businesspeople are very excited about launching into the stratosphere. Whether it’s Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the Mars One mission, or a slew of other aerospace enterprises, a host of companies are trying to help humans leave the rocky planet we’ve called home for the past six million years. But some critics argue that instead of finding a nook elsewhere in the solar system, we really ought to be focusing on solving the issues with our own planet.

Ron Garan, a former NASA astronaut, believes we should not be abandoning hope for continued life on planet Earth in favor of rubbing shoulders with Martians. He has spent time on the International Space Station (ISS), done four spacewalks, and has been awarded both the NASA Exceptional Service medal and the NASA Space Flight medial. Back on land, Garan spends his time focusing on bettering the home we already have. “Being so far away from Earth makes you see how similar and interconnected everything is,” he says, “rather than us compartmentalizing home.”

To be clear, Garan isn’t opposed to exploring the notion of colonizing Mars: It’s just that we should be using the innovative technologies we’re developing to live up there to make life better down here. Human curiosity is one of the biggest drivers for space exploration, and it “keeps us hungry to continuing wanting to innovate and solve these problems,” he says.

It may be a moonshoot, but perhaps if we aim for the moon, we’ll land on the stars.

This conversation has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

Considering you are one of the few people who have left Earth, how have you come to form the opinion that we shouldn’t colonize Mars?

I think we should explore other planets, but I don’t think we should abandon this planet to go live on Mars. It just doesn’t make any logical sense that we would leave this planet for an inhospitable one like Mars. First of all, if we can’t even “terraform”—which is to control our climate and environment—our own planet, what makes us think that we can go to another planet and control the environment there? If we developed the capability to terraform and create atmospheres and climates on other planets, then we should apply that capability to benefit our home planet.

From Elon Musk to Richard Branson, private entrepreneurs are sending a lot of money up into space. Would it be best to redirect that capital toward solving the problems that already exist on Earth?

I think funding should go to both. Space is our future; we need to devote resources and time and effort toward further exploration of our solar system, including human exploration. The primary reason for doing this is not so that we can have a plan B, via having another planet we can go live on, but instead so that we can use the technology that’s developed through those efforts to help us here on Earth.

Carl Sagan basically said that for the foreseeable future, Earth is where we make our stand. So if there is nowhere else we can go right now, we need to take this really seriously.

Astronaut Ron Garan
STS-124 Mission Specialist Ronald J. Garan. (NASA)

Have you always felt this way, or was there a moment when you realized the importance of focusing on the Earth instead of the stars?

I’ve always had the idea that everyone has a responsibility to leave this place a little bit better than how they found it. But going to space broadened, reinforced, and amplified that opinion.

The Earth is just incredibly beautiful when viewed from space, and all those buzzwords you’ve heard astronaut after astronaut say about how beautiful and tranquil and peaceful and fragile this planet looks from space—those are all true. It really does look like this jewel in the blackness of space; a fragile oasis. I try to use this perspective of our planet to inspire people to make a difference, mind the ship, and take care of our fellow crewmates on Spaceship Earth.

Why are so many people obsessed with getting off planet Earth?

I wanted to be an astronaut ever since July 20, 1969. That was the day when I, along with millions and millions of people all around the world, watched those first footsteps on the moon on TV. I wouldn’t have been able to put it in these words at the time, but even as a young boy, on some level I realized that we had just become a different species. We had become a species that was no longer confined to this planet, and that was really exciting to me.

I wanted to become a part of that group of explorers that got to step off the planet and look back upon ourselves. I think continuing that exploration out into the solar system and beyond is part of human nature. We are explorers by nature. We want to expand our knowledge and expand our understanding of our universe.

Is it common among astronauts that once you finally leave Earth and can look back upon it from space, you have an urge to go straight back to protect it?

I don’t want to speak for other astronauts, cosmonauts, or taikonauts, but most of the people I know who’ve had this experience have come back with a deeper appreciation for the planet that we live on. And it’s not just an appreciation for the planet—it’s appreciation for the living things on the planet, too.

One of the things I experienced in space is what I can only describe as a sobering contradiction: a contradiction between the beauty of our planet and the unfortunate realities of life for a significant number of its inhabitants. It’s obvious from space that life on our planet is not always as beautiful as it looks from space.

The other thing I’ve experienced was a profound sense of gratitude: gratitude for the opportunity to see the planet from that perspective, and gratitude for the planet that we’ve been given. Being physically detached from the Earth made me feel deeply interconnected with everyone on it in some way that I really can’t fully explain. It’s very obvious from that vantage point that we are all not only deeply connected, but also deeply interdependent as well.

What new discoveries have we uncovered in our exploration of the universe that have been particularly revolutionary back on Earth?

There’s the technology side, and there’s then there’s perspective. Perspective is very powerful. That first time that we looked back and saw this planet from space—Earthrise—was incredibly revolutionary. That photograph of Earthrise is certainly the most influential environmental photograph ever taken. It was credited for inspiring the first Earth Day in 1970, and it’s helped launch the modern environmental movement. It really shows the truth, the reality of the world we live in; that we’re on this oasis, and it’s all we have.

So there’s that aspect of it, but there’s also all the technology that comes from the space program, whether it’s computing technology, energy production through things like solar energy, or all of the implications for medicine and medical diagnostics. We do a tremendous amount of Earth observation from space that gives us a profound increase in understanding of our planet and its life-support systems that we would not have insight into if we didn’t have a space program.

Earthrise planet earth from space
Earthrise, 1968. (NASA)

 

Why do you think there are so many conversations about Martian colonization? Have we lost hope for Earth?

This idea that we are going to abandon Earth and go live on Mars is utter nonsense. It’s illogical. It makes perfect sense to expand human presence to Mars, but we’re not going to abandon Earth. If we had the capability to colonize and terraform Mars to make it habitable for humans, then we certainly could control what’s happening on our own planet, which has a head start of millions of years.

What conversation should we be having instead?

The first place we should establish a permanent human presence in our solar system is the moon, our closest neighbor. And then from there, establish transportation infrastructure to allow regular flights between the Earth and the moon. Then from there, we could use it as a jump-off point and have that be a transportation hub to the rest of the solar system. That makes perfect sense to me.

We need to basically take parallel paths: We need to be exploring the solar system because of all the benefits to humanity that that will incur, while also devoting as much effort to being able to control the life-support systems of Spaceship Earth.

If we expand milestones such as the accomplishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and having complete decarbonization by 2050 out to 2068—which is the 100-year anniversary of Earthrise—I believe we should have complete control of the life-support systems on our planet by then. If we had complete control of the chemical constituents of our atmosphere, soil, land, and oceans, we’d be able to monitor it and adjust it—and optimize it for life.

Why are we having more conversations about living on Mars than the potential of being able to control our own atmosphere on Earth? Learning how to counteract climate change and other environmental factors here instead of establishing colonies elsewhere seems far more beneficial.

Well, it’s a moon shot, right? It’s something that’s going to take a lot of effort and a lot of time to accomplish, but we started this conversation off with terraforming Mars. It’s a lot easier to control our own atmosphere and our own oceans than it is to create an entirely new atmosphere.

What are you currently trying to achieve back on Earth?

I’ve got a non-profit that I founded and am still involved in, and I have a lot of social enterprises that I’m involved in. Most of the stuff I work with in that sector is around being able to provide clean water to folks, because I think it’s really important to do that in an environmentally, financially sustainable way.

I’m also involved with an effort called Constellation, which is bringing together a coalition of international astronauts, visionaries, and futurists to put out a call to the world to crowdsource and co-imagine a vision of our future. We’re not going to be able to get to the vision of our future we want if we don’t learn how to work together on a planetary level, not just a local level.

My primary day job is working as the chief pilot for a company called World View, which is trying to launch all kinds of things—including people—to the edge of space in high-altitude balloons. This project has tremendous environmental capabilities as far as being able to hover these platforms over a specific area of interest to do things like monitor the oceans, coral reefs, or how much CO2 is in the atmosphere. From it, we might be able to develop better ways to do climate modeling, weather predictions, and agricultural optimization.

For those who would still want to go live on Mars, what kinds of over-romantic notions do people have about living in space?

You can’t be claustrophobic, because if you’re going to Mars, you’re gonna be in a can for six to eight months. And once you get there, you’re still gonna be living in a tin can. There are a lot of things that define the beauty of life on our planet, like the breeze in your face, mist on a lake, and the sound of the birds. If you’re going to live on Mars, you’re not gonna have that for the rest of your life. That’s not so romantic to me.

What is romantic is expanding the body of human knowledge and expanding human presence. It’s not going to be all fun. Those pioneers who will eventually be exploring Mars are going have to deal with hardships. I’m sure there will be a lot of people who get homesick, which is an interesting thought: When you get that far away from the planet, your definition of home changes radically. Home simply becomes Earth.

You can follow Ron on Twitter at @Astro_Ron and read more on his website. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.