- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Aug. 16

Orange County Register on public-private space ventures needing oversight

Public-private partnerships in space travel hold much promise, and greater cost-efficiency, but government should be transparent about the risks and inevitable failures.

On Monday, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX, conducted a successful launch of a resupply mission to the International Space Station, or ISS, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket returning safely to SpaceX’s landing zone at Cape Canaveral.

It was the company’s 12th resupply mission, and its 14th successful rocket recovery.



SpaceX is one of two companies - Orbital ATK is the other - that stepped into the breach created when NASA ended the Space Shuttle program in July 2011.

Subsequently, Orbital ATK and SpaceX each won contracts through NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program to deliver at least 20 metric tons of cargo to the orbiting ISS.

SpaceX, a Hawthorne-based company founded and headed by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, is the only company deploying reusable space vehicles.

In November, SpaceX will try to launch the Falcon Heavy, a triple-booster rocket with two-thirds of the thrust that the Apollo program’s Saturn V rocket used to get to the moon. Musk has warned that the test flight is “risky,” and it will be a win if the launch pad isn’t damaged or destroyed.

Public-private partnerships can be nerve-wracking for taxpayers.

In June 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 preparing to resupply the space station exploded on the launch pad during fueling for a pre-flight engine test. Last month, NASA announced that it would not publicly release the results of its investigation into the failure.

That was a reversal for NASA, which had earlier promised to release a summary of its investigation. Now the agency says it was “not required to complete a formal final report or public summary” because the flight was under the FAA’s jurisdiction.

Another investigation into the Falcon 9 explosion was conducted by a board made up of 10 SpaceX employees and one voting member from the FAA. But an audit by NASA’s inspector general warned an investigation run by the contractor “raises questions about inherent conflicts of interest.”

Orbital ATK was treated differently regarding the investigation into the explosion of its Antares rocket in October 2014 that destroyed a $51 million load of cargo headed for the ISS. NASA released an executive summary of the investigators’ findings a year after the accident.

Unlike a lot of work done by government contractors, this actually is rocket science, and the public should not expect companies engaged in it to have an error rate of zero. But NASA must avoid even the appearance of favoritism or conflict of interest in its dealings with private contractors. To the extent possible with proprietary technology, transparency should be the rule, and not the exception, in any investigation into a technical failure.

The development of commercial spaceflight holds nearly limitless potential for technological advances, economic benefits and high-paying jobs. Public-private partnerships are helping to launch this nascent industry. Oversight and transparency will ensure that the flight stays on course.

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Aug. 16

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat on childhood vaccinations

In a report published this year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation noted that childhood deaths worldwide have been declining annually for more than a quarter-century.

“More children survived in 2015 than in 2014. More survived in 2014 than in 2013, and so on,” the report said. “If you add it all up, 122 million children under age five have been saved over the past 25 years. These are children who would have died if mortality rates had stayed where they were in 1990.”

The main reason: vaccination.

California passed a law tightening vaccination requirements for schoolchildren after a widespread - and entirely avoidable - measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in late 2014, which followed by a few months the largest outbreak of whooping cough in a half-century. The law’s impact was immediate, with the vaccination rate for incoming kindergartners soaring to 95.6 percent in 2016, the first year after the law took effect.

Experts say 95 percent is sufficient to prevent contagious diseases such as measles, whooping cough and chickenpox from spreading.

That should be comforting news for parents and children alike. However, as a new school year gets underway this week, state data show that students at hundreds of schools remain needlessly at risk of potentially fatal diseases.

An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found nearly 750 schools statewide, including 18 in Sonoma County and five in Mendocino County, where vaccination rates are at or below 90 percent. At four local schools, fewer than 55 percent of incoming kindergartners were fully vaccinated during the most recent school year.

It seems that old myths die hard. Too many parents are still clinging to thoroughly debunked claims that childhood vaccinations can cause autism. Others are skeptical of all pharmaceuticals. Many of those parents relied on widely abused exemptions for personal and religious beliefs to get around vaccination requirements.

But the risk of contracting a disease extends beyond unvaccinated children, and children whose immunity isn’t complete are entitled to protection at school.

That’s why California’s updated law eliminated the exemptions for personal and religious objections. The law retained an exemption for medical reasons, including certain allergies and for students who are undergoing chemotherapy and cannot be vaccinated.

That shouldn’t exceed 3 percent of schoolchildren, according to public health experts. However, more than 20 percent of kindergartners at some schools claimed medical exemptions in 2016. That’s a red flag. Legislators or the state Medical Board should ensure that such exemptions aren’t becoming a profit center for unscrupulous doctors.

The lowest vaccination rates tend to be at private and charter schools, and even some educators are uneasy about the potential for a serious outbreak.

One of them is Chris Topham, the executive director at Sebastopol Independent Charter School, where 11 of 45 kindergartners claimed medical exemptions last year. “I would be concerned if there was an outbreak,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Safety for a school leader is always No. 1, even before education, frankly.”

California has required vaccinations for schoolchildren in some form since 1899. The science is sound. So is the goal: protecting children’s health. They deserve nothing less.

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Aug. 15

The Fresno Bee on white, privileged and a victim being Trump’s America

Who says Team Trump isn’t getting anything accomplished?

Last week, as Google fought allegations that male workers there are paid less than females, a white male software engineer made national news with a claim that women were biologically unsuited to tech jobs and Google’s real workplace victims were conservative men.

Elsewhere in American culture, far right pundits attacked Procter & Gamble for an ad showing African-American parents discussing racism with their children. Part of the conglomerate’s “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign, the ad depicted African-American mothers telling children that “pretty for a black girl” is not a compliment, that “some people think you don’t deserve the same privileges just because of what you look like” and that knowing how to talk to police “when you get stopped” is “not about you getting a ticket - it’s about you not coming home.”

The ads reflect a sad rite of passage familiar to black families, and, in our opinion, mark a milestone in corporate inclusion. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin charged that they downplayed improvements in race relations, insulted law enforcement and played as “a kinder, gentler version of Black Lives Matter propaganda.” P&G;, she wrote, “should stick to selling diapers instead of filling them.”

How odd, for the victim card to be played now by the historically privileged. Though American culture is surely more diverse, the same can hardly be said for its power structure.

White men still dominate the top income brackets. Caucasians are more likely to own property, to marry, to be called back for job interviews, to attend college in this country - and still far less likely to be shot by law enforcement.

White men dominate government and the corporate world, including Silicon Valley. According to a Recode survey, women hold less than a third of leadership jobs and less than 27 percent of technical jobs at major tech companies.

At Google, three-quarters or more of the leadership and tech roles are filled by men, not women. Black employees hold 1 percent of Google’s technical jobs and 2 percent of leadership positions. The numbers for Hispanics there are 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

So why the sudden white whining?

“Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence,” wrote James Damore, the apparently un-shamed Google dissenter. If that sounds familiar, it’s because reverse racism has been an obsession for President Donald Trump.

Trump has made it his mission to end the yoke of political correctness that supposedly came with the election of President Barack Obama, the son of a black man and white woman. From the border wall he has vowed to build to preparations at the Justice Department to sue colleges over affirmative action admissions, Trump has invited the powerful not just to settle for the usual spoils of success, but to grab the moral perks that usually are reserved for society’s victims.

By Tuesday, Damore’s manifesto had cost him his job and he was threatening to sue, though the law is clear that an employee’s right to free speech ends at a company’s right not to tolerate a hostile workplace. But who knows what “hostile’ will mean, by the time Trump’s era is over.

The arc of the moral universe is long, as the saying goes, but it bends toward justice. Or something like that.

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Aug. 15

San Francisco Chronicle on Trump seeming ready to redo NAFTA, but what he wants isn’t clear

As a candidate, Donald Trump scorned the NAFTA trade pact with Canada and Mexico as the “worst trade deal in the history of this country.” But he’s cooling down as talks to rework the deal begin Wednesday.

The 1995 agreement deserves updating, not dismantling, a reality that Trump appears to accept. His angry campaign trail talk is giving way to more practical thinking. At least that’s the view of observers hoping an unpredictable and nationalist president is sobering up when it comes to trade.

Since the deal took force, the economies of the three nations are more entwined than ever. Car parts, timber and food are examples of products that shuttle between the countries. But what about digital products, climate change and the economic threat of China, none of which was visible when the pact was written?

These shifts and swirls plus each country’s internal politics make the talks significant and ultra-touchy. Mexico, for example, is pushing to wind things up by February before its presidential race intensifies and the pro-NAFTA political landscape possibly changes.

Canada is bringing new issues to the table such as gender equality, indigenous rights and climate change, all priorities of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The basics are what to watch. Trump has threatened quotas, duties and other barriers to shave down a $60 billion deficit with Mexico and an $11 billion hole with Canada. Steep as these numbers are, curbing trade with heavy controls would make matters worse, though politically pleasing for Trump.

Early on, the White House axed the Obama-era dream of a Pacific trade agreement as a counterweight to China’s expansive power. But that was a pact with only future impacts, not the baked-in results that NAFTA has notched. Erasing the many crisscrossing links would be an economic bomb blast to all three nations and a gift to Beijing.

Another sore point is trade disputes. Panels review claims of unfair practices, a set up that’s helped Canada and Mexico more than the U.S. in the view of Trump advisers. Any change will need careful consideration.

An issue sure to come up is the definition of where a product is made. Machinery, tech devices and autos are often an assemblage of global parts. If a microwave oven from Mexico has 30 percent of its wires and fasteners from China, does it qualify for NAFTA tariff free status?

The talks are expected to stretch over months with teams meeting in each country’s capital. It all leads to a draft package that each nation will need to approve, meaning Congress in all its divided glory will have the final say. Both Democrats and Republicans in their home districts will have special concerns ranging from plant closings to corn shipments.

It will also be a showdown test for Trump, who badly needs a headline win on a topic he has made important. In a quietly released conversation with Mexico’s president, Trump famously suggested the border wall carried more political importance than actual worth. The best outcome would be for Trump to accept a retooled NAFTA and call it a day.

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Aug. 15

Ventura County Star on saving wild horses and burros

A lot is going on in the world today, but we don’t hear about the plans the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management have schemed up to eradicate America’s wild horses.

Over 100,000 wild horses and burros are under threat of extermination, pending approval of the bureau’s 2018 “Budget Justifications.” It calls for provisions that, if passed, would strip protections and effectively allow the BLM to shoot and kill wild horses and burros and sell them for slaughter. Even now, the BLM is planning massive roundups of unprecedented proportions in Nevada and Wyoming beginning next month.

There are over 200 million acres of public rangelands in the U.S. where these native wild animals should roam freely, according to the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act signed into law in 1971. But they are quickly being eliminated by the same government agencies that claim to protect them. Unless action is taken, America’s wild equids will continue to vanish - a potentially catastrophic scenario for generations to come.

I remember the thrill when my dad would take us to watch wild horses out on the range, and driving across country sometimes we’d spot wild burros and scream with excitement. It was always a highlight of our trip. But sadly when I take my family now, we can’t find any herds.

Wild horse supporters, please get involved. Urge the White House, Congress and BLM to uphold protections for our wild horses and burros.

These horses belong to me, belong to the American people and deserve to be treated and managed humanely and with respect, as a treasured part of our heritage and our lands.

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