Friday, November 15, 1996
1. PORK POLITICS: WILL THE PRESIDENT WIELD THE LINE-ITEM VETO?
Back in March, perhaps imagining a Republican President, Congress passed a line-item veto
(WN 29 Mar 96) with an effective date
of 1 Jan 96. Will it really cure earmarking? We should find out; a few pork-barrel hall-of-famers will
retire (WN 27 Sep 96), but there's plenty
of talent left. Joseph McDade (R-PA), who was passed over for chair of House Appropriations two years
ago when he was under indictment (WN 18 Nov 94),
wants to claim the job now that he's been acquitted, but Bob Livingston (R-LA) has a lock on it.
McDade will likely get his choice of subcommittees; perhaps defense--he once earmarked a $10M
defense contract for the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the Senate, Mark Hatfield
(R-OR), the retiring king of pork, will be succeeded as chair of Appropriations by Ted Stevens (R-AK),
who has managed to earmark over $115M for the University of Alaska to extract energy from the
Aurora Borealis. In the unlikely event that Clinton uses the line item veto, it will almost surely face
a court challenge
2. INS AND OUTS: STILL A FEW QUESTIONS A WEEK AFTER THE ELECTION.
George Brown (D-CA) has apparently been elected to his 17th term in the House. The ranking
Democrat on the Science Committee has always been a stalwart supporter of science. At last count
he was leading his opponent by few hundred votes. The Washington Post this week listed the Director
of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as a key sub-cabinet post in the next four
years and quoted "insiders" as predicting John Gibbons will not stay. Faced with a shrinking budget,
Dan Goldin, NASA Administrator, was picked as the leading candidate for an ulcer.
3. LIFE ON MARS: LAUNCH OF UNSTERILIZED LANDER SET FOR TOMORROW.
The Russian-led Mars 96 has a NASA experiment on board that may shed light on the question of life.
The Mars Oxidant Experiment (MOX) seeks to resolve nagging questions raised by the Labeled Release
experiment performed by the Viking 20 years ago. Viking, which had been sterilized, found gas evolution
suggesting life, but a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer detected no organic compounds. The MOX
experiment will see if there are reactions on Mars that distinguish between isomers. On Earth, only
enzymes make that distinction. Both Mars 96 and Pathfinder (WN 8 Nov 96), however, are unsterilized. Pathfinder, whose launch is set for two weeks later, will actually arrive ahead of Mars 96.
4. LIFE ON MIR: UGLY IS WHEN A TOILET BACKS UP IN ZERO GRAVITY.
The port-a-potty on space station Mir is rapidly filling up. By the time a sanitation mission arrives, life could be unbearable. The emergency plan was to pump the stuff overboard, but someone seems to have misplaced the pump. Assuming they do manage to jettison the uh cargo, it will at least silence the critics who say there is nothing to be discovered in low-Earth orbit.