- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

NASA undercuts private enterprise

[W]e're typically not ones for run-away spending," opines The Washington Times ("The surly bonds of Earth," Editorial, Monday), "but when it comes to NASA, we're prepared to push for more. Indeed, in the absence of any obvious private-sector interest (and it is limited), space exploration is precisely the kind of project our government should undertake."

Starting from false premises is likely to lead one to erroneous conclusions. The private sector does have "limited" interest in space exploration everything is finite but that interest is not "limited" in the sense the editorial conveys.

Numerous private-sector firms have attempted to get into "the space business." The means by which they have been prevented from doing so probably contributed to last Saturday's disaster.

Companies that want to go into that line of business face two major hurdles.

The first is getting permission from the Department of Commerce to launch from U.S. soil permission that is denied each time it's requested.

The second hurdle is more onerous. For two decades, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has used the shuttle program and taxpayer money to shut down all attempts at developing private launch capabilities.

By subsidizing the launch of commercial payloads and selling the service of putting them into orbit at less than the cost of providing that service, NASA has created an effective monopoly for itself. Private firms can't charge customers less than their costs and then reach into the taxpayer's pocket to make up the difference.

Who loses? You and I end up spending just as much money. The difference is that part of it comes out of our pockets as taxes instead of higher bills for telecommunications and such. The private-sector firms that might greatly advance our space capabilities lose the opportunity to do so.

Who gains? The companies that benefit from this blatant "corporate welfare" and NASA, which doesn't have to worry about trying to measure up against market-driven, efficient competitors.

Or does NASA really benefit? The shuttle program was not intended to undertake military and commercial missions. These "space trucks" have been overused for two decades, far beyond the original intentions of those who developed them, in pursuit of that monopoly. The cost of that misuse appears to have been augmented to the tune of one shuttle and seven human lives last weekend.


THOMAS L. KNAPP

St. Louis

Same old song on Social Security

I read with equal parts interest and amusement the fine article "Democrats pound Bush budget for its deficit spending" (Nation, Tuesday).

On the one hand, leading Democrats attack President Bush for plunging the United States into debt, citing in particular a drain on funds for Social Security. At the same time, they admit they also would dip into Social Security funds for budgetary relief. I wonder if I'll ever grow accustomed to this sort of hypocrisy.

In the 40 years I have been in this town, I have never seen a budget crafted by the Democrats that did not raid this program or its so-called "trust fund." Put the Republicans in control of the budget, however, and all of a sudden, big-time spenders such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, cry crocodile tears and only see red ink when this administration's reasoned, short-term deficits are propelled by tax cuts that our flagging economy requires. Tax cuts, that's the issue. Heaven forbid we should allow people including senior citizens to keep some of their own hard-earned money to spend or invest as they see fit.

As we enter the 18th month of the war on terrorism, as a likely war with Iraq looms, as we prepare for conflict with adversaries around the world who mean us harm, as we forge plans to invigorate the nation's economy and address critical needs with our space program, smart Democrats who find fault with the president's budget should offer a better one if they can. Until such time, I would advise that they forgo the scare tactics. We "seasoned citizens" see through their false virtue, and we resent it.


JIM MARTIN

President

60 Plus Association

Arlington

Applause for Mayor Williams' parking enforcement

As a D.C. resident, I take exception to Tom Knott's column, "Ticketing frenzy goes 'from obvious to outrageous' " (Jan. 30, Metro). The hiring of more city employees to enforce existing parking regulations is a part of Mayor Anthony A. Williams' effort to manage the limited number of public spaces. If the increased revenue is any indication, these new employees are doing an excellent job.

If, as Mr. Knott states, "ubiquitous parking tickets" and the "omnipresent parking officer" exist in the District, then it is because there are illegally parked vehicles in every ward. Because of these vehicles, residents continuously complain about not being able to park in or near their neighborhoods; businesses complain about not being able to load and unload their goods; red meters are occupied all day; buses cannot pull up safely to the curbs; people with disabilities cannot use the handicap parking spaces; rush-hour restrictions are ignored; and during snow emergencies, emergency routes are blocked. By hiring additional meter maids, the mayor is showing he is on the right track to managing the District's parking problem by ticketing violators.

Mr. Knott states that not too long ago, parking was a fairly simple procedure. Maybe back in the days of the Wild West, Mr. Knott could ride in on his horse, tie it to a post and attach the old feed bag. Today, the post has a meter attached to it, and the meter has to be fed.

There has to be an expected degree of turnover at the parking spaces in order to accommodate the residents who live here, those who come to the District to work and the millions of tourists who flock here. The District, through its increased parking enforcement, is doing its best to make living, working and visiting the city a more pleasant experience.

What Mr. Knott calls a "process of refining a revenue-generating racket" is actually good city management of a limited resource. Mr. Knott's failure to recognize this indicates that he's wearing those blinders he used to put on his horse back in the day when parking was so simple.


ELBERT D. WHITE

Washington

Bush AWOL on border security

It's downright strange when the president asks for more money to protect the United States ("Bush asks for more to secure homeland," Nation, Tuesday) when he brazenly has ignored the most obvious security problem since September 11: open borders. Many non-Hispanics illegally enter the United States from the south and are known as OTMs ("Other than Mexicans"). These include Middle Easterners. Despite all the talk in Washington about increasing homeland security, America's borders remain as porous and dangerous as ever.

Worse, it is a stunning abrogation of government's basic job of protecting the nation that President Bush is about to launch a war on Iraq without first shoring up America's unprotected borders. He has ignored this aspect of homeland security for the lowest of political reasons courting Hispanic voters at the nation's peril. A war against an Islamic nation surely will ramp up terrorist fury manyfold. It is imperative that America's borders be closed before the war begins.

Interestingly, border security elsewhere is implemented when there is the will to do so. The Los Angeles Times reported in December that "to slow the flow of illicit drugs, terrorists and contraband into and out of Afghanistan, the United States is planning to finance the construction and maintenance of 177 checkpoints staffed by a 12,000-strong border police unit." The price of each checkpoint will average $300,000, which totals more than $53 million. When the political will exists, America can, indeed, institute militarized border security to keep out just the sorts of threats arising from our open border with Mexico.


BRENDA WALKER

Berkeley, Calif.

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