Friday, September 11, 2009

SFin: Man behind the Martian Trust helped create now-defunct “terror futures market”

The concept seems simple enough. You want to establish a human outpost on the planet Mars, but you’re frustrated by the government’s lack of financial and political capital. You like the folks over at the local space-themed nonprofit, but they have difficulty running an annual convention, never mind undertaking a voyage to the Red Planet. So, what are you going to do?

If you’re Dr. Charles Polk, a Ph.D. graduate from CalTech, former Jet Propulsion Laboratory employee, and former president of a San Diego-based trading technology company, you take matters into your own hands and establish a non-profit entity called the Martian Trust.

You see, “Before Sputnik, there were Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke and Heinlein. Before Apollo 11, there were Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey. And 40 years after Apollo 11, hundreds of millions of people will spend their money on space-themed media. Yet the popular enthusiasm for the rich themescape of human experience beyond Earth has never been connected to the design, funding and conduct of space exploration. The Martian Trust will, in effect, connect demand with supply and in so doing hasten a future that would otherwise remain distant.”

The specifics of how the Martian Trust intends to “connect demand with supply” involve branding, media partners, patrons, local affiliates, perpetual streams of finance, and outpost contracting, to name a few aspects of its business model.

Unfortunately, the Martian Trust’s website neglects to mention that the San Diego-based technology trading company that Dr. Polk headed is called Net Exchange, which is perhaps best known for being hired by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2001 to set up what became known as the Policy Analysis Market (PAM). The project was modeled on financial “futures” exchanges and was designed to allow Middle East experts to place bets on future political and economic events in the region. However, Congressional critics of PAM called it a "betting parlor on atrocities and terrorism” and state-sponsored “gambling on terrorism,” pressuring the Pentagon to pull the plug on the project in July 2003.

Oddly, the Martian Trust, which is currently registered as a non-profit corporation in Washington State, is seeking to transform itself into an international non-governmental organization (INGO) based in … New Zealand.

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