Obama Wants to Privatize WHAT?

Thanks to Steve Murray of West Bountiful for bringing this to my attention with his pointed letter to the sltrib.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that “Obama wants to outsource future space flights to private companies.” This hits me close to home, because I have a brother-in-law who works for a rocket engineering firm. I am, of course, concerned about his job security. Rob Bishop and Bob Bennett (Rob and Bob), on the other hand, have much larger concerns.

Ending [the Ares program] will devastate our industrial base, put us at a global competitive disadvantage, and cost us thousands of high-paying jobs in Utah at a time when we can least afford it,

says Bennett, and Bishop adds:

This is a stupid time to cut 7,000 jobs nationwide. This is going to put us behind the Russians and Chinese in space exploration.

It’s good to know that our representatives are so in touch with the nation’s needs. Clearly, fiscal responsibility is a concern, but what about staying in the space race? That’s clearly a larger concern, like the Olympics or avoiding talking to countries we don’t like. Balancing the budget can wait!

This makes sense, though. After all, we’ve invested too much in NASA to just let these projects go down the tubes, and they just employ too many people. Can anyone say, “Too big too fail?” Then again, only $9 billion has been invested so far in the project in question. Compared to the companies shored up by the 2008 bailout package at tens of billions apiece, this is small cheese. Besides, how much would it really hurt us to transfer our current $3.5 billion to other jobs, and to let the free market handle space exploration–there’s a huge supply of space out there. Let’s see how well the demand maintains with less of the Keynesian boost we’ve been giving it for the last half-century.

The irony in this is that Bishop, Bennett, and their Republican allies in Congress have been arguing for privatization of everything from education to Social Security–far more crucial programs with far more disastrous consequences, should the privatization fail. Yet, now, we’re supposed to hang on to NASA because we’re concerned about beating the Russians to the moon. . .again?

Apparently, it’s too risky to privatize our teams in the perpetual ball game against our international rivals, but the duly acknowledged risks of privatization aren’t a concern when it comes to our retirement savings, medical care, or educational standards. Does this seem one-sided? It gets worse.

Recent years have provided ample evidence that conservatives are trapped in the 1950s and ’60s. Aside from the punditry (Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly) who mythologize their childhood to show how despicable modern life has become, we’ve also seen this perspective in our leadership. It isn’t enough to simply fictionalize that era; we have to do all we can to remain in it, too, by pursuing symbols like the arms race, space race, and more subtle remnants of the Cold War (America loves McCarthyism).

I hate to tell the Republicans who were in office in 1991, but we left those things behind almost 20 years ago. Still, is it any surprise that an ideology that mythologizes childhood would be unable to grow up?

Disclaimer: This is not intended to comment on conservatism in general, but on the farcical historical perspectives of many in the Republican punditry and leadership and the policies which they translate into. Due criticism is deserved, however, for those conservatives who accept the arguments of said punditry and leadership without proper critique, as well as to liberals who do the same in regards to their own leadership.

UPDATE: This article by Andrew Moseman explains the plans a bit better.  Turns out funding is increasing for NASA, but being sent to other areas; that is, to private industries which may seek private customers rather than publicly-funded private contractors.  NASA funding is becoming more of a commercial interest rather than a scientific one.  Sounds like an ideal capitalist solution.

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  1. #1 by Richard Warnick on February 12, 2010 - 1:39 pm

    I guess I don’t get it. I thought space exploration was already privatized. All of NASA’s hardware is made by private companies. ATK Launch Systems Group (formerly Thiokol) is a subsidiary of Alliant Techsystems.

    NASA and the Air Force just administer the contracts, and push the buttons in mission control.

    • #2 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on February 12, 2010 - 1:49 pm

      That’s what I thought. I mean, my brother-in-law works for a private firm. I think the idea is that NASA will no longer be getting as much funding from the U.S., so it’s going to have to find private investment, but I don’t know for sure.

  2. #3 by Baggy James on February 12, 2010 - 7:09 pm

  3. #4 by James Farmer on February 12, 2010 - 9:16 pm

    Richard:

    You are partially correct. An enormous amount of research and development for all space programs (as well as basic research in non space related areas – e.g., nanotechnology) is conducted by NASA – Ames Research Center in Calif. and Langley Research Center in Virginia are good examples.

  4. #5 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on February 12, 2010 - 9:45 pm

    Thanks, Baggy James. That’s a good article.

  5. #6 by Richard Warnick on February 12, 2010 - 11:56 pm

    James–

    I have visited JPL in Pasadena, and the Goddard Space Flight Center back East in Maryland. So maybe I was a little too glib, but it does look like the big bucks go for hardware, not research.

  6. #7 by brewski on February 13, 2010 - 10:17 am

    Point of information: JPL is administered by the Califirnia Institute of Technology (Caltech), a private insitution.

  7. #8 by James Farmer on February 13, 2010 - 11:27 am

    JPL is managed by Cal Tech on behalf of NASA. That does not take away, however, from the fact that JPL is tied to NASA in just about very way imaginable.

  8. #9 by brewski on February 13, 2010 - 5:01 pm

    as a former Pasadenan, it is Caltech and not Cal Tech. I don’t really care that much but I know they get particular about it.

  9. #10 by Kevin Owens on February 16, 2010 - 2:42 pm

    It seems pretty obvious that Mr. Bennett’s and Mr. Bishop’s concern is for ATK, not for space exploration in general. Every legislator has to bring home the bacon now and then if he wants to get reelected.

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