Behold, the Future?

There aren't many people who can say, "I think somebody should build this crazy futuristic technology," give only a rough sketch of what it would be, say that he's too busy to build it himself, and nevertheless touch off a media mini-frenzy of speculation. But Elon Musk, whatever his talents as a CEO and technologist, has in a few years achieved a unique status among corporate moguls, receiving endless glowing profiles and gee-whiz coverage of whatever his latest pet project might be. Not that he doesn't deserve a good deal of the praise—his Tesla Motors has, against heavy odds and most predictions, turned out to be a successful car company producing high-end electric cars that have won rave reviews from critics, and his SpaceX venture manages to send rockets into space and return them to Earth, no small feat.

Musk hinted a couple of months ago that he had an idea for a transportation system, called Hyperloop, that would hurl passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in half an hour (the trip takes five or six hours by car), and "intrigued" does not begin to describe the way people in the tech world reacted. One blog after another posted speculation, often including drawings and animation, about what the Hyperloop might be. Reporters waited with baited breath for details. And yesterday, Musk finally unveiled a proposal in the form of a 57-page document posted on the Tesla and SpaceX web sites. It would involve 28-passenger pods driven by electric motors, riding on a cushion of air through tubes with a near-vacuum state (but not a complete vacuum, since that's too hard to maintain). And the problem of the Kantrowitz limit is solved with the use of an air compressor at the front of each pod, but you probably already guessed that.

Musk says the Hyperloop would cost only $6 billion to construct and require only $20 for a one-way ticket, figures that seem almost comically optimistic. We at the Prospectaren't engineers, so we can't say for sure what the technical pitfalls might be, but you can bet that once you start trying to buy up all the land you'd need to place the pylons on which the tubes sit, things are going to get complicated. That's what has happened with the California high-speed rail project, which will eventually travel at positively pokey speeds under 200 mph. The project has been bedeviled by wrangling over rights-of-way and landowners unwilling to sell, and it has been repeatedly delayed.

Practical obstacles aside, the Hyperloop is an undeniably cool idea. So what if it never gets built? It doesn't hurt to dream.


"Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen mourns that Hillary Clinton lacks a 'message.' ('All she lacks is what she has always lacked—an overriding, stirring message.') It's true—Clinton has no campaign message. She also lacks a headquarters, campaign manager, website, ads, and logo, not to mention iPhone apps. It's almost as if the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign doesn't even exist yet."

Jonathan Chait



  • Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina just signed a new voter-ID bill into law.
  • North Carolina is the first state to pass new voter restrictions after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. 
  • Hillary Clinton said on Monday, "Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention."
  • As Comedy Central puts it: "North Carolina's voter-ID law will prevent voter fraud, zombie uprisings, and other things that never happen anyway."
  • McCrory's reasons for signing the controversial measure? "Even if the instances of misidentified people casting votes are low, that shouldn’t prevent us from putting this non-burdensome safeguard in place. Just because you haven’t been robbed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lock your doors at night or when you’re away from home."
  • Dave Weigel explains the governor's defense thusly: "The governor says that the bill "includes" voter ID—which it does! That's a bit like saying a bottle that's half Advil and half castor oil softgels 'includes Advil.'"
  • Soon after the bill became law, civil rights groups, including the ACLU, filed a suit against the state. Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, said of the voter-ID law, "Governor McCrory has transformed North Carolina from a state with one of the nation's most progressive voting systems, where we saw some of the highest voter turnout rates of the last two presidential elections, into a state with the most draconian policies we've seen in decades, policies that harken back to the days of Jim Crow."
  • The Justice Department has also indicated that it intends to challenge the law.
  • The state NAACP chapter called it, "a poll tax dressed up in new clothes."
  • Some North Carolina residents are not impressed either. One told the local news station, "This is just going to make it worse for minority voters [and] not only minorities, but the poor. They are a lot less likely to have an ID, or to have the proper kind of ID; so, it's going to make it a lot more difficult for them."
  • Rick Hansen says the "bottom line is that the way to fight much of North Carolina’s strict law is not legally but politically. And that’s part of the impetus for the lawsuits as well.  Even if they are not wholly successful, they will keep the issue in the news."


  • Some Republican presidential hopefuls are still sucking up to conservative Christian leaders in Iowa. Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux  explains why this ritual is becoming pointless.
  • Making student debt affordable has been a project on the minds of many for some time. Monica Potts writes about a new method that is attracting supporters and detractors in state capitals across America.


  • Atlanta's airport's weird claim to fame? Most guns seized from travelers packing heat.
  • Alex Pareene begs New Jersey voters not to pick Cory Booker for the Democratic Senate nomination today.
  • Why is Obama’s NSA stance so awful?
  • The New York Times conducted a Q&A with NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
  • North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory just signed a voter bill which would require voters show an ID and shorten the early voting period
  • The Obama Administration is delaying a rule in its health care law that would cap out-of-pocket insurance costs.
  • Steve King is hitting the road to campaign against immigration reform with more outrageous statements.
  • Anthony Weiner says he is staying in the race, whether people want him to or not.


Nearly half of Americans questioned think the federal deficit has ballooned since January 2010, according to results from a poll put up by Google’s Hal Varian. Just 8.3 percent of respondents believe the deficit has decreased significantly in the past three years, which is what it has done. The annual federal spending shortfall has fallen from $1,300 billion in early 2010, to $600 billion midway through this year.

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