October 2004
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Day October 10, 2004

When regulation goes bad: HR 3752 and the threat to private space flight

Bills are going through the House and Senate right now that will effectively stop all manned private space flight, along the lines of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne. The amendment to HR 3752 (its Senate counterpart is S.2772) purports to protect crew and passenger safety. In fact, however, the amended bill places stringent requirements on crew safety that can’t be met during the experimental phase of flying test vehicles.

Passenger and crew safety are important to protect, yes, especially if private space flight becomes an industry. Consumers would need the kind of protection from negligence we try to create in the commercial airline industry.

But we’re not there yet. By definition, test pilots are flying vehicles that haven’t flown the tens of thousands of missions needed to compile a flight safety record. Virtually all of the research and development for private manned space flight will be done with a smaller margin of safety than current commercial air traffic. The companies developing private space flight know this. Their insurance companies know this. The test pilots, and their families, know this. Their investors know this. It is, quite simply, their choice. Their use of the liberty afforded to citizens.

Nobody involved in private space flight is saying that they won’t achieve FAA “production” safety standards before the time comes to let a customer fly. But as HR 3752 and S.2772 seem to read today, this nascent industry will never get that far. Manned space flight will remain a government monopoly, profitably contracted out to the largest aerospace companies and defense contractors. The safety regulation will not affect government-led space flight, of course.

Which means that HR 3752/S.2772 have the effect — whether intentional or not — of raising protectionist barriers around aerospace contractors who currently run government and military space efforts. The amended bills will kill competition in the nascent industry. The amended bills amount to a revenue guarantee for aerospace contractors as the demand for commercial space flight continues. And a victory for industry lobbyists.

Write the Senators on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and express your opinion on the last-minute amendments.

UPDATE: The bill seems unlikely to move forward right now, and several Senators may try to broker a compromise.

Sick and tired of arguments against voting

I’m getting sick of arguments for not voting that boil down to “your vote won’t matter in deciding the winner.” Such arguments range from the easily ignored to “serious” quantitative analyses by economists and public choice theorists. Steven Landsburg’s recent article in Slate was the last straw, however.

Landsburg argues that your vote doesn’t matter, because the chances of your vote “deciding” the winner are miniscule. Even in Florida in 2000, your chance of being a tie-breaking vote was 1 in 3100; in today’s election, your chance of casting the tiebreaker is (he says) 1 in 10 to the 1046th power. I have no reason to quarrel with these numbers. If you believe that voting is “about” being the person whose vote broke a tie, then it’s reasonable to conclude that Landsburg, or some of the libertarian fringe that post on Lewrockwell.com, are right. But I didn’t come of age believing that voting was about breaking ties, and I’ll bet neither did you.

Why young people should still be afraid of a draft

Both candidates have claimed there won’t be a draft. President Bush looked in the camera and promised no draft on Friday night. But young people are still rightfully afraid. Via MyDD, here’s Tim Ryan (D-OH) giving a fiery speech on why college students don’t buy the rhetoric.

Right under our noses…Bush, Dred Scott, and Supreme Court appointments

I’ve been scratching my head since Friday night, wondering what the heck the President was saying, mentioning Dred Scott v. Sandford in his answer to the question of appointing Supreme Court justices. Is that the only decision he could remember? Did he start cutting class midway through American history?

As usual, the blogging community has the answer. Improbably, the President’s mention of Dred Scott is code within the pro-life community for cases the Court has wrongly decided…in other words, Roe v. Wade. So while most of us were sitting on our couches, scratching our heads, and wondering why the President seemed stuck in the mid-19th century, he was actually speaking directly to the pro-life community and pledging to appoint justices that will consider Roe v. Wade to be a terrible mistake.

In case you think this is far-fetched, try a Google search of “Dred Scott” and “abortion” together. The comparison between the two famous cases is all over the anti-abortion/pro-life community.

Well, we knew that this election would affect who was appointed to the next several Supreme Court seats. And Friday night, we heard confirmation that President Bush, in his second term, is going to be much more likely to drive socially conservative issues than he has been during his first term.

Kudos to Paperwight for his post on the connection.