Monday, April 14, 2008

Here and there from the Southwest USA

By Carol Gee

The southwest region of the United States sometimes makes the national headlines, for good or for ill. Three events captured national attention this past week. A West Texas polygamist sect's compound was raided in order to protects its vulnerable women and children from sexual abuse. Hundreds of passenger flights in the region were canceled in order to do safety inspections on airplane electrical wiring. And NASA in Houston is transitioning their three-person crew aboard the International Space Station.

Texas polygamist sect story: Monday brings a Washington Post story of what will happen next in these troubling events regarding custody of the children, protection of spouses, etc. It will come under the auspices of the state courts, and even the governor could weigh in. To quote:

An investigation of abuse at the private ranch of a polygamous sect is moving to a San Angelo courthouse this week as the state argues to retain custody of 416 children removed from their parents. Texas bar officials say more than 350 attorneys from across the state have volunteered to represent the children for free.

"The size, the scope of this effort is unprecedented," attorney Guy Choate said. "It's terribly important to the State Bar of Texas that everyone have access to justice."

. . . Three mothers have appealed to Gov. Rick Perry for help in a letter the sect said was mailed to him on Saturday.

There is a new twist to the polygamist ranch story. Americans have been subsidizing the group with millions of their tax dollars, according to McClatchy. My Representative, Kay Granger, should probably urge an investigation, although what action might come out of it is unknown. To quote:

American taxpayers have unwittingly helped finance a polygamist sect that is now the focus of a massive child abuse investigation in West Texas, with a business tied to the group receiving a nearly $1 million loan from the federal government and $1.2 million in military contracts.

. . . A large portion of the awards were preferential no-bid or "sole source" contracts because of the company's classification as a small business, according to online databases that track federal government appropriations.

. . . U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, the Fort Worth Republican who sits on the House Appropriations Committee that deals with issues of defense, military and homeland security, said she is surprised that the federal government is doing business with a group accused of mistreating women and children.

"It makes me very uneasy," Granger said. "It needs to be investigated without a doubt."

Is it yet safe to fly? Travelers in the Southwest and elsewhere were affected deeply by the FAA safety inspection problems presented to Southwest and American Airlines. There is plenty of blame to go around in both the FAA and the airline companies. "Safety problems in grounded jets known for years by FAA," was written by Bob Cox at McClatchy Newspapers, April 12, 2008. To quote:

Airline safety regulators have known for years that MD-80 airliners could have a potentially serious electrical wiring problem like the one that led to the sudden grounding of American Airlines planes last week.

But a review of Federal Aviation Administration documents indicates that the agency was in no hurry to force airlines to make fixes.

NASA's Space Program is located in the Southwest region of the United States. Missions are controlled primarily out of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas as well as number of facilities in Europe. The current mission is ISS Expedition 17, now transitioning a new crew to be aboard the Space Station. Two members of the new rookie crew and a visitor from South Korea arrived at the station on April 10. To quote from

Crewmembers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed the arrival of a Russian spacecraft bearing their replacements and South Korea's first astronaut early Thursday.

Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, and South Korean spaceflyer So-yeon Yi pulled in at the station aboard their Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft, which docked with the outpost's Earth-facing Pirs module at about 8:57 a.m. EDT (1257 GMT). The two vehicles were flying over northern Kazakhstan when they connected.

. . . Volkov, the first second-generation spaceflyer to reach space, received congratulations in Russian from his father, famed cosmonaut Alexander Volkov.

. . . Whitson, who served as ISS Expedition 16 commander, and Yuri Malenchenko, Expedition 17 flight engineer, will be relieved by Volkov and Kononenko. The third current station inhabitant, U.S. astronaut Garrett Reisman, will stay onboard as a flight engineer for the new Expedition 17.

. . . Yi, Malenchenko and Whitson are slated to land on the steppes of Kazakhstan next week after a 3 ½-hour journey home from the space station.

NASA has launched a beautiful new science web site: NASA SCIENCE . . . for the benefit of all. Researchers, educators, kids and citizen scientists are invited to delve into the sections on Earth, Heliophysics, Planets and Astrophysics. Full featured, it also includes an image of the day, spotlights one of the science missions, and focuses on "NASA Science and Kids."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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