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Puck welcomes John Heilemann as its Chief Political Columnist!

Elon’s Star Power & Apple’s New Era

SpaceX, Twitter and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, on June 16, 2023. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP) (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)
Elon Musk has quickly become an important geopolitical player, in large part due to his ownership of SpaceX, which operates about half of all satellites orbiting Earth. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images
Baratunde Thurston
September 17, 2023

There’s a lot of material in Walter Isaacson’s new book about Elon Musk, which I’ve yet to finish because last week was my birthday, and I don’t celebrate life by finishing 688-page books about highly intelligent but unstable egomaniacs. But I have read and listened to some of the people who have read it, whose reporting I generally trust. Casey Newton cataloged 9 wild details, mostly relating to the botched Twitter acquisition. (I wish Isaacson had spent more time exploring Musk’s relationship with race, from his South African childhood to the multiple allegations of racial harassment at Tesla’s factory in Fremont.) Meanwhile, Constance Grady at Vox did an admirable job of zooming out to critique Isaacson’s focus on the individual, rather than global or systemic, impacts of Musk’s growing power and personal flaws. 

Musk, after all, has quickly become an important geopolitical player, in large part due to his ownership of SpaceX, which operates about half of all satellites orbiting Earth. In an excerpt from his book, published in The Washington Post, Isaacson reports how the Ukrainian military has come to rely on Musk’s satellite network for its operations—and also how Musk, when asked to extend the range of the network to an area where Ukrainian drone subs were attempting to strike back at the Russian navy, refused. The subs “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly,” Isaacson writes. Of course, Musk’s growing influence in national security raises serious concerns about everything from his alleged drug use to his ability to influence (and be influenced on) battlefields. But Musk’s interventions in Ukraine are just one example of the risks we’re exposed to when a private company dominates a traditionally public sector like defense.