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News ::
The future, at a crossroads (english)
05 Feb 2003
Space shuttle tragedy prompts review, angst for Practical Idealism
February 5, 2003
The future, at a crossroads
Space shuttle tragedy prompts review, angst
Practical Idealism

By John Kusumi
The future stands at an
intersection that can only be described as painful. To best get through
this editorial, your author will be willing to write in the first person,
using such words as "me," "myself," and "I."
The campaign of 1984 was my time to introduce Practical Idealism, a
political platform that is native to Generation X. Having taken on a life
of its own, Practical Idealism is a body of work not to be mistaken for
me, myself, or I. Yet, I know this material very well, having a father /
child relationship with this political platform.
The national space program was in
fact my first political interest. Before I was ever the 18-year-old
candidate for U.S. President, advocacy of the space program was the first
way that I came to public attention. My first television exposure came at
14, as I read an opinion piece into a teleprompter, at a TV station which
ran public editorials like commercials in rotation. In that day, I was
campaigning for a stronger space program, and had also galvanized my
entire high school, sending a petition to Ronald Reagan.
The decision to have a space
shuttle dates back to around the time of Apollo. In NASA's Columbia
disaster, what just failed is Apollo-era technology. The above-recounted
advocacy is emblematic of where space enthusiasts have been. In the 1980s,
we wanted a stronger space program. In the 1980s, we did not get that. The
same can be said for the decade of the 1990s. Now, a space shuttle has
self-destructed, and a fair question to ask is, "How many people
drive a car that is 22 years old?"
It can be said that the space
shuttle was 22 years old, and the decision to have it was perhaps 33 years
old. Leave it to American politicians to command technology, and yet to
make scant use of it, achieving mere fractions of its potential. Could a
large space program, of solar power satellites, deliver clean electricity
to earth? Obviate nuclear energy? Yield a return on investment? Yes. Are
politicians interested in the same? Seemingly not. It must be that lobbies
for oil and the nuclear power industry prefer the status quo, and perhaps
buck against the deployment of newer technologies.
The proposal to loft solar power
satellites has been around before, indeed since Apollo days. In earlier
debates, the proposal became buried at the hands of certain Senators,
including William Proxmire and Walter Mondale. Space buffs will remember
dogfights with Congressional critics whom they would term visionless, if
not small minded. With respect to the space program, Congress has clearly lacked "the vision thing." I, for one, would not mind
laying the Columbia disaster at the feet of the Senate budget committee.
And yet, the vision thing really
needs to come from the top down. A stronger space program became folded
into the Practical Idealist political platform in my 1984 campaign; but, other concerns joined it
there, including fiscal responsibility. My loudest line in that campaign
began, "The budget must be
balanced..." I am in fact fiscally
conservative, and at the top line of a presidential campaign, space
development was crowded out by budget, taxes, and arms race concerns.
Tracing political history from a
Generation X perspective, let's consider three more concerns that arose to
further crowd our political radar. China's Tiananmen Square massacre in
1989 was impactful for all the world and for all age groups, but as for blood
being spilled, that one day loss of life was akin to a September 11 attack,
taken out upon Generation X. The students running Tiananmen
were my age, and in later years, Tiananmen leaders have begun
co-sponsoring Practical Idealist editorials with myself. We seem to be
like-minded, and perhaps the attraction is in the premise of Practical
Idealism, also its bumper sticker slogan: "People Are
As a concern on the radar, it
should be easy for America to support freedom and democracy for China.
There is no material budget implication for America to get behind the
Chinese democracy cause. The money they need is far less than money for a
space shuttle orbiter. Private donors could make a huge difference to
their inexpensive, non profit cause. Anti-communists need only turn to
To me, backing Chinese freedom and
democracy is a no-brainer. Next issue--
Opposition arose to the
globalization of free trade. As a believer in capitalism and free markets,
I am not a complete protectionist, yet I see the rationale for
protectionism. I believe that we should responsibly limit free trade to
the free world. NAFTA bothered me less than the WTO, where the accession of
China crossed the line. It crossed the border of the free world,
buttressing tyranny in an unconscionable way. Here were America's leaders,
casually handing out money to communists, dictators, tyrants, and thugs.
In the old days, I had heard of corporate welfare; but now, began a new
era of "welfare for tyrants," and as a U.S. policy, that was a
new one on me. The PNTR deal also crossed the democracy movement of China.
Everyone for freedom in China remains outraged at the opportunistic, self
serving China policy of free traders. The grabby move embraced
"greed incarnate" with murderous indifference to human rights
atrocities that China commits on a routine basis. In this move, I say that Washington "kissed the hand of
evil." Both NAFTA and the WTO have other objectionable features. They
should cease adjudicating "non-tariff barriers to free trade,"
and "investor to state" cases.
The self-defeating move to
globalize free trade actually undermined pillars of capitalism itself,
such as private property and the sovereignty of nation states. Let me
leave this by saying that Generation X does not think much of this new
"Boomernomics." It wasn't invented here, and it would not last in a
Practical Idealist administration. The situation has caused some of my
recent speeches to include high praise and soaring plaudits for America's
less tyranny friendly World War II generation. Especially from a view of
helping China's democracy movement, globalization / boomernomics is a
tawdry downgrade of the American way, system, and future. It may be a
political mistake for Baby Boomer politicians, and allows Practical
Idealists to say "checkmate" in an intellectual debate.
In any case, Practical Idealism
came to have alarm about "welfare for tyrants" and trade
deficits. Soon enough, it was time to have even more alarm about
terrorism, and WMD (weapons of mass destruction). The latter brings us
back onto the page with the administration, because Practical Idealism is
hawkish on national security.
So now, when a space shuttle blows
up, what does Practical Idealism say?
Well, "ouch" for
starters. This editorial began by mentioning pain and angst. Yet,
Practical Idealism has its rock steady quality. 20 years have passed
without a reversal in these politics. To review where it already stands,
will show us where it is today. In our view, NASA was under funded to
begin with -- for about 25 years, now.
In 1984, Practical Idealism called
for solar power satellites. During intervening years, new technology,
"thin film solar" has arisen; today, the solar power satellites
could be built with one-tenth of the mass, one-tenth of the lifting, and
one-tenth of the launch capacity, compared to requirements of 1984. It is
now cheaper and easier to embrace the initiative -- these satellites would
have the consistency of a kite.
In 2001, the September 11 attacks
occasioned worries about terrorism, and my editorial, "Kusumi to
U.S.: Nukes Offline." Here, I concluded that nuclear energy plants
constituted a juicy target for terrorism, hence a risk, hazard, and menace
to public safety. I not only called for decommissioning nuclear energy,
but I explicitly re-raised the call for solar power satellites (SPS). In
common designs of our aerospace community, an SPS has output equivalent to
five more usual power plants. The United States should replace 103 nuclear
energy plants in this country, and could do so with 21 SPS installations.
The upshot is two new missions for
NASA. First, to develop the next generation of launch vehicles, gaining
the lifting capacity that would be required to loft SPS. Second, to
develop and deploy the SPS installations themselves. Here, the energy
returned offers financial value to the investment. The launch capacity can
be cross utilized for NMD (National Missile Defense). Economically
planning for the SPS program, once the launch system is a separate given,
one can likely find a break even point in its operation, making its
deployment not a cost, but an investment.
More SPS systems could be sold to
other countries, perhaps at a discount if they will dismantle or forego
any and all nuclear programs. This could become a way to fight nuclear
proliferation, another great worry of the day.
The United States is now pressed by
concerns of terrorism, homeland security, war, and WMD. Fiscal restraint
cautions against bold initiatives. The cry by some is to retreat from
outer space. Yet, that would slap the face, and dishonor the memories, of
seven astronauts whom we are mourning today. Not one of them would ever
sign off on a retrenchment from space exploration. Taking the space issue on its
own merits, Practical Idealism has precisely fitting positioning. The countervailing concern is based, not on the merits at hand,
but rather on budget concerns and worries in other areas.
Those remain good concerns, but the
advocacy here is not for a boondoggle. I do not now advise, for example, a
mission to Mars. In fact, austerity now cautions against great new manned
efforts. The manned missions are always more expensive than the unmanned
ones. Solar Power Satellites, in the end, are unmanned items. With a
possible economic ROI (return on investment), an SPS mission for NASA
would be far more fiscally responsible than a Mars mission. And, it may
enable our future to move away from dangerous nuclear energy. If we
experience a terrorist attack that creates an American Chernobyl, we will
realize that today's suggestion from Practical Idealism concerned millions of
Stacked against nuclear energy, SPS
is a threat reduction. And, it is in line with the original promise of
Practical Idealism, that of "better ideas, for a better future."
As China commences manned space flight, this is no time for America to
abdicate. A question, "Can you embrace Practical Idealism?"
really boils down to the question, "Can you embrace a better
future?" We stand, able to answer "yes" to that question.

John Kusumi is a former independent
presidential candidate (1984).
Kusumi founded the China Support Network (CSN) in 1989, and continues to
lead that organization,
of Americans boosting the Chinese freedom and
democracy movement.

"It would not last
in a Practical Idealist administration."
--Former presidential candidate John Kusumi,
on globalization, which he calls 'Boomernomics'.
See also:
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