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Our View: Leaderless NASA’s future is uncertain

Obama should step up

Orlando Sentinel, April 8: There are a lot of questions swirling around NASA lately: When will it ground the space shuttle for good? When will it launch Constellation, the next manned program? Where should it ultimately go, what kind of rocket should it use, and how much will it cost? How much money should unmanned programs get?

With NASA approaching three months without an administrator, and mixed signals coming from the White House, it might be easier to plot the path of orbiting space junk than to figure out where the agency is heading.

Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, who served nearly four years under President George W. Bush, was a strong advocate for Constellation and its original goal of reaching the moon and Mars. But Griffin resigned Jan. 20.

President Barack Obama hasn’t brought much clarity to these issues. He began his presidential campaign calling for delaying Constellation and spending the savings on education. Three months before Election Day, while campaigning in Florida, he reversed engines and declared his support for the original timetable.

Obama has compounded the uncertainty by taking his sweet time naming an administrator, and remarking that the next NASA leader needs to address “a sense of drift” at the agency and carry out “a new mission that is appropriate for the 21st century.”

With the federal government now borrowing trillions of dollars to prop up the economy, it’s understandable that Obama would weigh carefully the value for taxpayers in every federal program.

But if big changes are coming in the space program, the price of delaying them, in money and time, could be steep.

The right investments in space can yield scientific, technological and strategic benefits. That explains why other countries, including Russia and China, are moving ahead with their space programs. With so much at stake, Obama needs to make sure America’s program doesn’t get lost in space.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6: Any district attorney who said he wanted to pursue one out of every five teenagers on felony child pornography charges would be laughed out of the courthouse – then booted from office by voters at the next election.

But that’s the implication of the disturbing crackdowns by prosecutors in upstate Pennsylvania, North Jersey, and other communities over teens’ immature practice of circulating racy photos of themselves by cell phone message and online.

Fully one-fifth of teenagers and a third of young adults in their early 20s have told pollsters that they have sent sexually suggestive text messages – so-called sexting – or posted nude or seminude photos of themselves on the Web.

Trying to make an example of a few kids also ignores that these are teens and that this practice apparently is more widespread than jaywalking. Trying to stamp it out isn’t something for law enforcement officers, but better left to parents and school counselors.

Prosecutorial discretion is what’s needed here, along with common sense, and a good talking-to for teens and parental supervision of kids’ use of phones and the Web. Above all, it’s time to remember who the adults are in the room.

Washington Post, April 8: Through very different means and under very different circumstances, lawmakers in Vermont and the District of Columbia this week came to the same conclusion: Common decency and the protections guaranteed to all citizens by the rule of law demand that the relationships of gay men and lesbians be respected and recognized.

Nine years ago, Vermont became the first state to legally recognize civil unions. This week, the state House and Senate voted to override the governor’s veto of a same-sex marriage bill that was passed last week. With its 100-49 vote in the House – exactly the number of votes needed to nullify the veto – Vermont again set a precedent by becoming the first state to legally recognize gay marriage through a legislative act rather than a court order.

Conservatives often criticize judges for legislating from the bench; last week’s unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to strike down a ban on gay marriage came under fire for this very reason. But even conservatives who disagree passionately with the results in Vermont should be able to respect the right of the duly elected people’s representatives to take such action.

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