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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 6, Issue 8: February 23, 2004

  1. Will New Federal Space Program Kill Private Space Industry?
  2. Iraqi Security Forces Take More Hits as U.S. Forces Retreat
  3. Boycott, Don't Ban, Trashy TV

1) Will New Federal Space Program Kill Private Space Industry?

In his call for a re-invigorated federal space program last month, President Bush overlooked an important, worthwhile trend that his program could endanger: the growth of the private space industry. Companies such as XCOR Aerospace, Scaled Composites, and SpaceX are two years away from launching vehicles into space, but a revitalized government program could make it much harder for them to raise capital and to earn profits.

A larger federal space program also poses a significant risk to taxpayers. For decades the National Aeronautic and Space Administration has been plagued with gargantuan cost overruns, making it one of the most wasteful agencies in government, according to Frederick Giarrusso, research fellow at the Independent Institute and founder of Rotary Rocket, a company instrumental in creating the current generation of private space entrepreneurs.

"Since the mid-1970s NASA has tried in vain to create a series of goals and missions that would rekindle the spirit of the early days," writes Giarrusso in a new op-ed. "Each attempt has failed."

"Consider the international space station (ISS): it was budgeted to take 8 years and less than $20 billion, but ended up requiring 20 years and over $100 billion -- and has not accomplished any of its goals. ISS was slated to house 7 people: 3 crew and 4 researchers. Instead it houses 3 crew only -- with occasional research performed when crew members can find the time. It is a testament to how far NASA has fallen that this blatant failure is cited as one of their greatest recent achievements."

The private space industry, of course, does more with less. "These companies expect to dramatically reduce the cost of launching people and equipment into space -- from NASA's $500+ million per shuttle flight, to as little as $500,000 per flight." Also, many are competing to win a $10 million prize -- the "X Prize" -- offered to "the first company to make it to space without using government funds." Such a princely sum would be chump change to NASA.

If President Bush wants to help the private space industry flourish, Giarrusso has three suggestions for him. First, Bush should state loudly and repeatedly that his goal is to encourage private companies, not to drive them out of business. Second, he should work to end the regulatory barriers by the Federal Aviation Administration that inhibit private space entrepreneurship. Third, he should work to create tax incentives that would encourage private investment in space exploration.

"Note that private taxpayers need not spend a dime on this new endeavor," Giarrusso writes. "Indeed, federal space spending could be radically cut; our great capitalist system is already picking up the tab."

See "Our Future in Space," by Frederick Giarrusso (2/17/04)

For a critique of government funding of scientific research, see chapters 6, 8, and 9 of the Independent Institute book, THE ACADEMY IN CRISIS: The Political Economy of Higher Education, ed. by John W. Sommer.

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2) Iraqi Security Forces Take More Hits as U.S. Forces Retreat

The official word about the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq -- that insurgent attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq have dropped by more than half of their November peak -- is highly misleading. It suggests that the insurgency is dwindling, when in fact it is increasingly targeting Iraqi's emerging, U.S.-supported security forces.

"The major reason that fighting between the U.S. military and the insurgents has declined is that the American forces have vacated the field of battle," writes Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty, in his latest op-ed.

U.S. forces have removed themselves from harm's way because, as the Vietnam War demonstrated, U.S. casualties are bad politics during election years, Eland argues. Consequently, the ill-equipped, ill-trained Iraqi security forces have, in recent weeks, suffered suicide bombings that killed 125 people as well as a bloody jailbreak that freed insurgent prisoners.

Concludes Eland: "So although the Bush administration’s policy may be achieving its primary goal -- avoiding a sharp escalation in the U.S. body count before November -- the voting public should not mistakenly conclude that the United States is winning this war. A reckless Bush administration -- like the Johnson and Nixon administrations during the Vietnam War -- has stumbled into a war that it can neither win nor escape from gracefully."

"Body Count Redux," by Ivan Eland (2/18/04)

Center on Peace & Liberty

War on Terrorism

OnPower.org -- Terrorist War

PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK INTO U.S. DEFENSE POLICY: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland

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3) Boycott, Don't Ban, Trashy TV

If it is passed, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004 -- Congress's response to trash TV and revolting radio -- could have a chilling effect on the content of the public airwaves.

Maximum penalties for transmitting obscene, indecent, and profane language would jump ten-fold for single incidents ($275,000) and climb to $3 million for repeat violations -- small change for the networks, perhaps, but exorbitant fines for independent television and radio stations.

Indeed, the enforcement of federal "decency" standards has already taken a toll on free speech. For example, in 2001, a noncommercial community radio station in Oregon was fined $7,000 for playing a feminist rap song that included profanity. Although the fine was later rescinded, the investigation was closed to the public and took two long years -- long enough to give independent small broadcasters pause to reconsider playing anything edgy -- reports Independent Institute Research Fellow Wendy McElroy in her latest column for FoxNews.com.

More recently, NBC television decided to delete "the image of an elderly woman's breast from its popular medical drama, 'ER'" -- hardly the stuff of Super Bowl halftime entertainment, but different enough to cause the network to reconsider.

If viewers are offended by less-than-traditional offerings on the airwaves, they should turn not to government penalties but to their own power as consumers, McElroy argues.

"Those concerned with the moral content of radio and television," writes McElroy, "are being provided with more control every day: rating systems, live-feed delays, constant polls that serve as feedback to broadcasters, organized boycotts, and tools of parental control such as cable locks or decoders. Passing a law has the same appeal as drawing a gun: on the surface, it quickly stops an activity that annoys you. But drawing a gun does not solve cultural issues: it only introduces force into them."

See "Censorship Is Not Solution for Trashy TV," by Wendy McElroy (2/18,04)

Also see:

"Keep the FCC Out of the Halftime Show," by Anthony Gregory (2/6/04)

For more on FCC regulations, see "Rent Seeking Never Stops: An Essay on Telecommunications Policy," by James A. Montanye (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Fall 1996)

For a theory of free speech, see "Freedom of Speech: Constitutional Protection Reconsidered," by James A. Montanye (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Winter 1999)

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