The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on February 2, 1986 · Page 4
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 4

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Sunday, February 2, 1986
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Page 4
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Opinion The Salina Journal Sunday, February 2,1986 Page 4 •n Mitel T i 1 he Journal Founded in 1871 HARRIS RAYL, Editor and Publisher KAY BERENSON, Executive Editor SCOTT SEIRER, News Editor LARRY MATHEWS, Assistant News Editor LORI BRACK, Weekend Editor JIM HAAG, Night Editor MARY JO PROCHAZKA, Associate Editor Taxing in Topeka Reality is beginning to set in in Topeka. Republicans are admitting the state needs more money. They're starting to talk tax increase. Rep. Ed Rolfs, R-Junction City and chairman of the House Assessment and Taxation Committee, talked to reporters about some Republican ideas. Rolfs would cut income tax rates and eliminate many income tax deductions to bring Kansas into conformity with federal income tax laws. Those changes would bring in an additional $150 million in revenue, he says. They would also mean Kansans might have to give up deductions for federal income tax, for Social Security and self-employment taxes and for medical expenses outside the permitted federal deductions — a significant tax increase for some Kansans, including some already hard-hit farmers. Eliminating the deduction for the federal income tax might provide ammunition for efforts in Washington to eliminate federal allowed deductions for state and local taxes, a move that would cut taxpayers' willingness and ability to pay higher state and local taxes. A booster tax on higher incomes, which Rolfs opposes, is a better idea. It would make the income tax more progressive as well as bring in revenue. Another Republican idea — increase the gasoline tax by 2 cents per gallon — would raise about $24 million in highway money while helping to hold down gas consumption as prices drop in response to OPEC's oil price war. It's a good idea, but it would not necessarily pump needed money into the state's general revenue fund for schools or social services. Gas taxes are earmarked for special funds to build and maintain Kansas roads. General fund transfers to the road fund could be cut, but "roads" people can be expected to fight mightily to avoid giving up the general fund money. The silliest suggestion is to generate additional sales tax revenue from items currently exempt. Rolfs says levying sales tax on items such as intrastate long distance phone calls and services provided by banks, lawyers and others could bring "anywhere from $5 million to $500 million." Kansas may need more, not fewer, sales tax exemptions. Prescription drugs should remain exempt. Exempting food sold at grocery stores, as many states do, would help reduce the relatively heavier burden sales taxes levy on poor people rather than on the wealthy. So where would Rolfs find the sales tax windfall? One suggestion — taxing professional services — could mean elderly and sick Kansans would pay an additional 3 percent or more every tune they visit the doctor. Does that sound like a fair alternative to a general sales tax increase, which would mean the rest of us would pay an additional penny every time we bought a couple of Cokes? Back to the drawing boards. If this is all Republicans can come up with, we may have to settle for Democrat John Carlin's regressive sales tax increase. Everyday heroes Friday, in the midst of national tributes to the heroism and sacrifice of the Challenger astronauts, another act of heroism and sacrifice took place in Salina. Fortunately the outcome was less tragic. Salina police officer Glen Soldan is recovering in Asbury Hospital from bullet wounds suffered when he stopped a suspect in a hit-and-run accident. Soldan had no reason to expect to be shot Friday afternoon, no reason other than the everyday routine knowledge that danger is part of being a police officer. There is never any way of knowing which routine call will turn out to be a sniper or which routine traffic stop will result in serious injury or death. Police officers and their families must live with that knowledge every day. Paying tribute to the Challenger astronauts, columnist Mike Royko last week wrote that the Challenger crew, like police officers and firefighters, were special because they represented all of us. "We delegate and they do our duty and dangerous work," he wrote. That's the reason the shooting of Officer Soldan is a bigger deal than the shooting of an ordinary citizen. He was standing in the shoes that might have been any of ours, but were not because he was just doing his job. Put shuttle deaths in perspective WASHINGTON — An hour or so after Challenger exploded Tuesday morning, shaken officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced an indefinite suspension of shuttle flights. There would be no more until the precise cause of the accident had been pinned down. Whatever mistake had been made in preparing for Tuesday's launch, this decision served only to compound it. It will be months — perhaps a year or more — before thousands of pieces of debris can be collected, examined and interpreted. The program must go on. We can't quit now. At the risk of seeming hard-hearted, let me suggest that the event be put in perspective. It was not, strictly speaking, a "tragedy." Truly tragic events involve great moral or ethical conflicts — blind Oedipus, mad Lear. There was none of that here. That seven persons died in an accident is not at all unusual. These were relatively young people, attractive and gifted people. We grieve for them and for their families. The death of the young, with everything to live for, always is an occasion of sorrow. But much younger people constantly are numbered in the highway toll. A thousand persons die of cancer every day. Someone, somewhere, is weeping now. What, then, made this story so special? For one thing, the nation could identify with these seven in ways that we cannot identify with strangers. For weeks we had followed the training of Christa McAuliffe, the 37-year-old schoolteacher from Concord, N.H. We had seen her on television; we had come to know her cheerful grin, her pride in her profession. Death often comes suddenly and often James Kilpatrick UNIVERSAL PRESS * BY ANY CHANCE,DIP EITHER A MR.GRANIM OR A NIR.R.UDMAN PROP BY WHILE 1 WAS AWAY, MISS SMITHERS?..." We tempt the fates by our high-tech arrogance WASHINGTON - In a simpler, more su- ~ " K « onl y ta &** shallow, self-centered age uerstitious affe. the annearance of a fireball •P r ~~""^| that we are so foolish as to suppose that there WASHINGTON — In a simpler, more superstitious age, the appearance of a fireball in the sky on the day of a great national ceremony would have been taken as a warning sign, an omen that the gods were angry. In our scientific era, the shock and grief over the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger and its crew were followed by a one- week postponement of the State of the Union address and a search for the faulty piece of equipment. "How Could It Happen?" the usually restrained New York Times asked in a large- type, front-page headline. Not "How Did It Happen?" but "How Could It Happen? " — as if the news lay in the effrontery of the occurrence. "Fuel Tank Leak Feared," the second line of the headline replied. On television, puzzled space-agency officials kept repeating that the computer readouts from all the on-board instruments were normal until the moment of disaster. They sounded like kids opening a Cracker Jack box and finding no prize. How Could It Happen? We cannot escape the envelope of culture in which we live, so those responses seem normal to us. In this post-industrial era, if a complex piece of machinery breaks down, the reflex is to seek out the malfunction, repair it and move on. Anyone who suggested half-seriously that the import of the Challenger incident was to remind us of the sin of pride or hubris would be quickly replaced before the "Nightline" cameras by an aerospace engineer from Hughes. The last possibility that we wish to consider is that the answer to this mystery is not to be found in a NASA manual but in the myth of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun with the wings his father had fashioned of feathers and wax, and perished in the sea. Rational, scientific man seeks rational, scientific answers. And yet, when confronted, as we all were, by the vivid image of fiery David Broder WASHINGTON POST death and destruction exploding against the peaceful blue sky, a part of our primal, pre- scientific soul responds. When that image is etched deeper and deeper into our consciousness by the television reruns, it demands answers more basic than a faulty nozzle or a punctured fuel pump. The answer, to my mind, has to be another question: Foolish mortal, what ever made you think you could explore the mysteries of the universe without risk, without danger, without death? When you set your goal as "zero defects," were you really so vain as to believe that fallible man could attain perfection? The search for the broken parts or the' faulty design is the proper focus for the experts; they have the responsibility for getting the next mission aloft as safely and swiftly as possible. But the rest of us might, in this time of national mourning for our seven brave countrymen and women, ask the harder question of ourselves: Do we really believe, in this and other areas of our national life, that we can avoid paying the price for what we achieve and enjoy? If we believe that, we are — for all our science, technology and knowledge — far more naive than our predecessors in this land. They knew that the struggle to achieve independence, to tame the frontier, to preserve the Union, to conquer disease and prejudice and to protect freedom in the world has always entailed sacrifice—of lives and of treasure. It is only in this shallow, self-centered age that we are so foolish as to suppose that there can be gain without pain, triumph without tragedy. The conceit has invaded our language. We speak of enormously costly programs as "entitlements," as if they were a gift of the gods. We hide our massive debts behind the weasel-word "deficits" as a way of concealing our generation's profligacy. We delude ourselves into thinking that we can have prosperity in the cities and calamity on the farms; that the elderly can be made financially secure, while more and more children live in poverty; that we can arm those we call '-freedom fighters" and destroy those we call "rebels"; and even, vanity of vanities, build a "shield" that will render harmless those frightening weapons we and our adversaries possess. The men who founded this nation and who preserved it in its most troubled hours knew better than to tempt the fates by such arrogance. In his Second Inaugural, Lincoln said: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." It was said, before Challenger turned into a fireball in the sky, raining down broken bits of metal and human flesh on the ocean waves, that President Reagan was preparing an "upbeat and optimistic" State of the Union message. It may be that what this nation, in its pride and innocence, needs to hear is that our debts — to history, to science, to each other and to God—must be paid. NASA officials failed in dealing with the public violently, but seldom under such horrifying circumstances. The circumstances were horrifying, but again, let us search for perspective. Every person who has flown on a clear day across the Western states must nave entertained the same passing thought: How did the pioneers ever make it? We look down from 30,000 feet on forbidding mountains and exhausting deserts. In the mind's eye we see the pitiful wagon trains, and we imagine the hardships those travelers endured. Many of them never made it. The westward movement never stopped. New wagon trains were formed, new drivers found. The early history of aviation tells the same story. We have forgotten how many brave men went to their deaths as aircraft gradually came of age. We never stopped flying. So it must be with space exploration. Tuesday's sad ending was a wracking, heartbreaking disappointment. It was a costly and terrible setback, but the president had it exactly right: The shuttle missions will go on, "and there will be more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space." Of course. Let us memorialize the dead, restore the flags to full staff and get back to work. Life goes on. WASHINGTON — In June 1969, White House speechwriters were crafting phrases President Nixon might use in congratulating the first men to land on the moon. We assumed a safe return, but were drawn up short by a call from Frank Borman, the astronaut assigned by NASA to be White House liaison. "You want to be thinking of some alternative posture for the president," said the astronaut, "in the event of mishaps on Apollo XI." When I did not immediately catch his drift, he added "like what to do for the widows." When space disaster finally struck this week, the shock of grief engendered a national sense of community; we realize only now what heroes these seven brave Americans were when they were still alive. The task of finding out what went wrong and fixing it belongs to scientists, but it is no derogation of the value of manned space exploration for laymen to begin a dry-eyed assessment of what went wrong at NASA in dealing with the public. We know the space agency is in administrative disarray. Director James Beggs, indicted for fraud, is on leave. The man who stepped in as acting director last month had been with NASA for one week. The public information chief, a General Dynamics associate of Beggs, had just been moved aside to make room for Shirley Green, formerly deputy to the departed press aide to Vice President Bush. This was hardly a top echelon prepared for emergencies. The NASA public affairs division's contingency plan for disaster, dated March 30,1984, reads in part: "In the event of an emergency involving crew injury or fatality, the fact will be apparent to radio listeners and TV viewers. Status of the crew will be the prime public consideration ... the facts, once confirmed, should be announced as promptly as possible. No longer than 20 minutes should elapse before an announcement is made." The space shuttle Challenger blew up at 11:40 a.m. More than an hour later, NASA announced it would hold a press conference at 3 p.m.; then at 4 p.m.; finally, at 4:30, four hours and 50 minutes later, after most William Satire NEW YORK TIMES schoolchildren at whom this Teacher-in- Space shuttle was aimed had left school, Jesse Moore of NASA appeared. Moore, who has charge of the shuttle program, was the proper official to make a statement. However, he had little to say other than to confirm what the nation had seen on television, to announce the automatic impoundment of data and launch of an investigation, and to refuse to speculate on the causes of the explosion. He could have made his statement — all but the fact that a search showed no evidence of survivors — well within the contingency plan's 20 minutes. NASA's representative then showed he was unready for the public side of this contingency. A simple factual question — "How much li quid fuel was in the external tank?'' — deserved an answer, or at least a "we'll, get that to you right away" — but it was turned aside as if improper. A gentle question, asking about impact on youngsters watching on television, cried out for some reassuring response (made later by the president), but nobody at NASA briefed Moore on how to deal The small society sensitively with the huge school audience assembled. He spoke outdoors in deep shadow, which made even necessary evasions seem sinister. NASA explains that the crush of questioners required outdoor stands. Shirley Green holds that the mission control commentator, who spoke of a "major malfunction" and "apparent explosion" soon after the fireball appeared on screens, fulfilled NASA's reporting responsibilities; she tells me that it would have been irresponsible to make any statement before ships on the scene confirmed that there had been no survivors. That's an excuse, not a reason; a top NASA official, not some disembodied voice, should have been onscreen promptly, qualifying his casualty judgment with news about the search for survivors. Granted, the NASA official was busy for five hours, doing his inside job and dealing with an inexperienced boss. Yes, the public relations staff was split between two major stories, and was distraught by the loss of human beings they knew. But soon after the tragedy was the moment for the man in charge to step up to the cameras and deal with the bad news. The astronauts did all that humans could; engineers and scientists had their contingency plans; only the face that NASA shows the world was shadowy and ill-prepared.

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