Monthly Archives: March 2010

At ULA, reliability trumps cost

There’s no room for error when launching key military spacecraft, Gary Payton, the deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space programs, said Friday.

“We’re at the point now where our programs are so critical to the warfighter that we cannot afford a launch failure,” he said. Critical launches this year — all being carried to orbit with ULA’s Atlas V or Delta IV — include four “first of their kind” spacecraft: the first GPS Block 2F satellite, the first Space Based Surveillance System satellite, the first Advanced EHF communications satellite, and ORS-1, the first Operationally Responsive Space operational satellite.

“So I need four good launch vehicles,” he said.

With expensive and important payloads, the cost of the rocket is secondary.

“I am paying extra for mission assurance on all of our launch vehicles, but to me that’s great,” Payton said. “I would love to save $10 million on a launch, but if it costs me — if that launch vehicle fails and I splash a $2 billion satellite — then I’ve been pushing on the wrong end of the lever.”

“Launch reliability is my top priority. Our constellations for any of our missions cannot tolerate a launch failure.”

Payton’s comments are a reminder that human-rating ULA rockets should not be a major step. The cost of their payloads and their importance to our troops mean ULA is already building in as much reliability as possible.

◊Eric Fleischauer

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Filed under National security, Rockets

The regulatory downside to states’ rights

I’ve interviewed lots of candidates for Congress in recent weeks, and being from Alabama they all have two things in common. They advocate a reduced role of the federal government in deference to state government, and they advocate a reduction in regulatory control of businesses.

The concepts are joined so often in stump speeches that it’s easy to forget that there is no logical connection between the two.

A reader recently called my attention to an example in which the desire for less regulation and the desire for less federal authority are at war with each other.

Angel financing refers to a small group of investors who combine their funds to finance an entrepreneurial venture. They are free from regulatory control by the Securities and Exchange Commission if the total investment is under $5 million, there are fewer than 35 unaccredited investors, and accredited investors are included in the mix. An “accredited investor” is a person with a net worth of at least $1 million or an organization with at least $5 million. The idea is that accredited investors are sophisticated enough that they do not need SEC to scrutinize the fairness of the deal, and unaccredited investors can rely on the expertise of the accredited investors.

In an apparent nod to the free market, the SEC exempts such ventures from almost all regulatory control.

Under Sen. Christopher Dodd’s proposed financial regulatory reform bill, angel financing ventures would have to file their proposal with the SEC. If the SEC does not review it, the states can regulate it.

And regulate it they would. In January, Denise Voigt Crawford, Commissioner of the Texas Securities Board, complained that the existing private offering exemption preempts state action but fails to “protect” investors with federal oversight.

Said Crawford:

Preemption of state regulation of private placements, therefore, created a regulatory black hole — today no one regulates these offerings.

Crawford notes that the financial industry resents increased efforts by states to regulate such deals involving sophisticated investors:

Not surprisingly, the financial industry has not welcomed this new activism by state securities regulators and would be happy to constrain or preempt us.

All this is a reminder that a smaller federal government does not necessarily result in fewer regulations. Instead, ventures may be faced with 50 different states trying to expand their regulatory control. At least in this example, the federal agency has reduced regulatory control. It could do so unilaterally because the states are preempted from exercising control. Under Dodd’s bill, the states could fill the “black hole” of regulatory freedom with their own regulations.

Eric Fleischauer

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Filed under Federalism, Government regulation, States' rights

A talking point on life support

Republicans politicians — and, of course, almost all politicians in Alabama — are screaming that the health care bill passed Sunday was against the will of the American people. That seems counter-intuitive, given that it provides coverage for 32 million people who do not have it and benefits hospitals — like Decatur General — who now have hope of getting paid for their services. The relevance is also questionable, given that voters regularly complain about politicians who govern by poll rather than having the courage to show leadership.

The death knell of the against-Americans’-will talking point, however, is that it appears to be false.

A USA Today/Gallup poll Monday found 49 percent of those polled said passage of the bill was a good thing, compared to 40 percent who called it a bad thing.

Don’t expect Alabama politicians to pay attention. Attorney General Troy King on Monday joined a group of AGs seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional. House members are falling over each other with promises to deny funding to the law or repeal it. Our senators promise to raise every possible roadblock when it returns to the Senate.

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Fear not, America!

A friend of mine — an American who grew up in Georgia — has lived in Europe for several years. She struggles to understand U.S. fears of health care reform. In a recent message, she said:

I am sure the proposed health plan is not perfect, but I find the “hands off my health care” mania appalling. I hear it from people I love and respect who have been, I think, misled by rich fearmongers. I don’t live in American culture everyday anymore… I just watch it via the Internet and CNN. But, I did have the terrible job of shopping for health insurance for a small U.S. company once, and I worked in a U.S. hospital once, so I’ve seen those parts of the system up close.

I’ve had the blessing of living in what most Americans would call “a socialized medicine system” for seven years. People here  can’t understand what all the fuss is about in America. Sure their taxes are higher here, but “we’re talking about health care,” they reason. If the US ever gets past “go”, changes can and will be made to improve the system.

And in another message:

Fear not, America! Today in Italy, I paid about $28 for three months worth of one prescription med and two months worth of another. That’s $28 total! Change can be good.

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Artur Davis continues to disappoint

I wrote previously of my belief that U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, was selling out his constituents in voting against health care reform as embodied in H.B. 3962. His vote, I believe, was motivated entirely by the fact that he is running for governor. He cannot afford for his name to be in the “yes” column on health care reform and hope to capture the votes he needs to become governor.

At the time of his vote, he explained that he wanted health care reform. The Senate bill, he said, was more to his liking.

Now he has his chance. The House is voting on the Senate bill. So how is he going to vote? He announced March 10 that he will vote against it.

Davis should be Alabama’s best hope. The Harvard-educated lawyer is the most intelligent gubernatorial candidate. He is black, which I believe would be a huge benefit for the state. He is a fabulous speaker.

He represents the 7th Congressional District, which includes Wilcox, Dallas and Perry counties. They have the highest unemployment rates in the state. His district, with 19 percent unemployment, needs health care reform more than any other in the state.

Davis’s vote on H.B. 3962 and his planned vote on the Senate version of health care reform tell me that his political ambitions override his desire to do what’s best for his constituents. His constituents’ needs are at odds with his political ambition. For Artur Davis, political ambition wins out.

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Filed under Alabama politics, Health care