Posts Tagged US Congress

The Space Rush

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launchThey say space is the final frontier, and like all terran frontiers, people are rushing to claim it.

In a way, we’re in the midst of a space-exploration renaissance, with a bizarre mix of nations, corporations, and random billionaires looking to stake their claim in the heavens.

Earlier this week, China announced that it had landed a robotic rover named Jade Rabbit on the Moon, while Iran is sending monkeys into space. Its the 1960s all over again.

Meanwhile, a host of private entities are making their way into space, helmed by a list of names that looks like it was generated by a random search of Wired.com.

There’s Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is already delivering cargo to the International Space Station, and hopes to modify its Dragon capsule to carry human passengers.

Then there’s Jeff Bezos’ mysterious Blue Origin, which is testing rockets and capsules at a top secret facility in Texas. Is Bezos trying to explore the galaxy, or conquer it?

Other, less practical schemes include Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which hopes to send a few (very wealthy) tourists to the edge of space soon, and Mars One, which plans to send colonists on a one-way trip to the red planet. Don’t laugh: there are already 200,000 volunteers.

While it may seem haphazard and–at times–zany, this should be encouraging for those who believe space exploration is an important pursuit.

That’s because while we’re a long way from Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, space exploration is taking on the exact same tone as nearly everything else humans do on a large scale.

Exploration purely for its own sake is a nice sentiment, but what really drives people is money and competition. Whether its the Cold War or potential business opportunities, things tend to get done faster when there’s another motive.

Today’s space pioneers may turn out to be more like the money-grubbing Ferengi or expansionist Romulans than Starfleet officers, but hopefully they will at least ensure that humans leave Earth orbit at all.

Advertisements

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

The will of one

Clouded Captiol [Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP]

Clouded Captiol [Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP]

Five years ago, a Jewish businessman in Dothan, Alabama saw that his synagogue was running out of congregants.

So he put up $1 million to recruit Jews, offering a financial incentive for them to move to Alabama and join the congregation.

Money can accomplish seemingly-impossible things, like getting Jews to move to the Deep South. However, that becomes a problem when there is no other power to balance the influence of cash and an individual willing to use it to exert his or her will.

An individual like John Ramsey. A 21-year-old Ron Paul fan, he used money inherited from his grandparents to start the Liberty for All Super PAC.

According to Rolling Stone, the PAC funded the winning campaign of  Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie, one of the hardline proponents of the government shutdown.

People have a right to contribute resources to causes they believe in, but without forces to balance them–like a string government or informed populace–what we get is essentially feudalism: the people with the money decide what happens.

Liberals have (rightfully) criticized corporations of exerting this kind of undue influence through lobbying and job-baiting, but things will get much weirder if that guy who just won the lottery becomes a political influencer.

The government shutdown is an example of tyranny of the minority: a group that’s been outvoted is holding everyone else hostage because they can’t deal with losing.

If Super PACs and their untraceable campaign funding are allowed to continue corrupting the electoral process, we’ll just get more of that.

In a democracy, not every person can have his or her way 100 percent of the time. Let’s make sure that having money to spend on a political campaign doesn’t change that.

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

Political perspective

US Capitol“Our political life is becoming so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men that the idealist who dreams of independent statesmanship is rudely awakened by the necessities of election and accomplishment.”

I guess it’s good to know that some things never change. Then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote the above description for his book Profiles in Courage, which was published in 1956. As we wait to experience the fallout of the Sequester, it seemed especially timely.

Kennedy could have easily been describing the political madness of 2013. The “necessities of election and accomplishment” seem to take precedence over government.

As Kennedy says, that kind of political life is indeed expensive and mechanistic. Candidates have to spend millions and billions of dollars on ads in a seemingly never-ending election cycle, inviting special interests and rich backers to gain undue influence. Every appearance and statement is tightly choreographed, making our representatives seem like walking lists of talking points.

Of course, things have changed since 1956. Kennedy goes on to mention the Cold War and how the rigid ideology it spawned was also affecting American political discourse. It’s also hard to compare the party dynamics of the 1950s Congress to today’s without doing some more research. Perhaps another day.

Regardless, the government Kennedy worked in, as both a Congressman and Senator, and later led as President, was able to muddle through several international crises and the Civil Rights Movement. Have our leaders done everything perfectly over the past 57 years? Nope. Yet the government, and the United States itself, is still here.

Political strife may have reached an all-time high, but parties and individuals have been arguing with each other since this country was founded. Just look at the stories of the eight Senators Kennedy profiles, or watch Lincoln.

Past Congresses have had to enact the founding principles of the United States, fight wars, and bring about social change. All this Congress had to do was pass a budget. Its members may not like each other, and they may need to get their priorities in order, but that didn’t stop their predecessors.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment