Opinion: Space Force: An Unwise Solution to an Overhyped Threat
By Eric Gomez
There’s good news and bad news in the Trump administration’s plan to establish the Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military. The good news is that sales of formerly-ironic “space shuttle door gunner” patches are probably going to spike. The bad news is that the creation of a new military branch carries far more risks, costs and complications than benefits.
The value of the Space Force should be judged against the kinds of threats that it is intended to counter. A substantial increase in threat could warrant the drastic step of creating a new military branch, but space is not as dangerous as Trump and his senior officials are making it out to be.
Competition with Russia and China is a consistent theme of the administration’s major national security documents. Senior officials frequently cite the activities of these countries in outer space, such as China’s use of a missile to destroy one of its own satellites in 2007. American officials are especially worried about how much the military and major civilian economic sectors depend on satellites that are vulnerable to disruption or destruction.
The Trump administration has hyped the threats while ignoring factors that would likely restrain Russian and Chinese behavior in space. The most aggressive option available to Russia and China would be the destruction of U.S. satellites. The primary risk of such an attack would be the debris created by it that could inflict collateral damage on Russia or Chinese satellites. In fact, China’s growing military ambitions increase its vulnerability to space debris because it must place more satellites in orbit to facilitate military operations farther from its shores. Less destructive actions such as jamming or temporarily disabling U.S. satellites would carry lower risks, but it would also be easier for the United States to recover from such actions.
Another mark against the Trump administration’s plan for the Space Force is the difficulty of creating a new branch of the military. The costs of adding a sixth branch would come on two fronts. First and most obvious to taxpayers is the price tag.
In an early August 2018 speech, Vice President Pence said that the administration would ask Congress for $8 billion to invest in “space security systems over the next five years.” Furthermore, establishing a new military branch carries significant overhead costs. According to Fred Kaplan writing for Slate, “A new service would mean a new headquarters, another seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and a few hundred more Pentagon-based staff) … (and) another military academy (with faculty, grounds, scholarships, etc.).”
The Space Force could cannibalize existing facilities and officers to hasten this process, but that would probably not go over well with other branches.
The second basket of costs associated with establishing a new military branch is bureaucratic. Trump cannot create a new branch of the military without congressional approval. Legislation to create a Space Corps within the U.S. Air Force passed the House in 2017 but failed to get through to Senate and was resisted by several high-ranking officials at the time, including the secretary of defense and the commander of Air Force Space Command.
Moreover, even if the administration could secure congressional approval, it would likely face additional bureaucratic battles within the military. A new branch of the military needs its own people and infrastructure. The Space Force could take these resources from the Air Force, the current branch with primary responsibility for space operations, which would not be a welcome development for the latter. Given the history of inter-service squabbling, the transition period could be quite arduous.
Creating a Space Force as a separate branch of the U.S. military is not a wise decision. It is an overreaction to the threats facing the United States, and its costs outweigh its dubious benefits. Instead of sticking to the current plan, which promises to generate more sensational headlines than sensible policy initiatives, the administration should focus its efforts on improving existing military organizations that handle space.
One path forward would be to emulate Cyber Command, which is not a separate branch of the military but a unified command. Instead of being its own branch, Cyber Command incorporates cyber-focused units from across all the branches of the military. Creating a unified command for space would help the military focus its resources and push for more investment in new capabilities without creating the economic and bureaucratic headaches.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Eric Gomez is a policy analyst for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: College Debt vs. Education Choices
By Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan
Never ones to miss an opportunity to call for more government, politicians can’t stop talking about how to make the average $140,000 price for a four-year college education “more affordable.” Putting aside the obvious question as to whether politicians have the ability to make anything more affordable in the first place, there is an important distinction to be made here.
Affordability is only one side of the paying-for-college coin. The other is financing. Financing is the student’s ability to obtain college loans. Affordability is the student’s ability to repay those loans. Politicians love to conflate these two things, because understanding them separately reveals little need for political tinkering.
Financing a college education is a problem for almost no one in the United States, regardless of economic status. According to the College Board, the average student (or the student’s parents) receives grants, tax credits and federal work-study that pay for 30 percent of tuition and fees. After accounting for parental contributions, savings and scholarships, the average student who borrows ends up borrowing less than $30,000 to finance a four-year education.
Even students from the nation’s poorest households appear not to have trouble obtaining student loans. Almost 65 percent of students coming from the poorest quartile of U.S. households have borrowed at least $10,000 for college. That, combined with working 20 hours per week at a minimum wage job, would pay for four years at the typical public university. And that’s assuming the student receives no grants, scholarships or tax credits. While working 20 hours per week as a full-time student is difficult, it is without question possible. According to the data, students don’t have much trouble financing college.
Whether students have problems affording college, on the other hand, is largely up to them. The stories of college graduates mired in debt make great fodder for the evening news, but only 5 percent of undergraduate and graduate students combined have loans in excess of $100,000. And since graduate degrees in law and medicine are included in these numbers, the fraction of four-year college graduates who are $100,000 in debt is vanishingly small. Almost 90 percent of indebted students have borrowed less than $50,000. The few cases of students buckling under massive debt are due less to their being hit hard with the tuition hammer than to their having made poor educational choices. And here we see why politicians are so loath to tell the truth about any of this. Politicians who can portray themselves as solving the tuition “problem” win votes, regardless of whether a problem actually exists.
If done right, college is a great investment. If done poorly, it can be a disaster. Which it will be depends almost entirely on the student, not on politicians or tuition.
According to data from the Census Bureau and a Korn-Ferry analysis of 145,000 jobs, the average entry-level job requiring a college degree pays $25,000 more per year than the average entry-level job requiring a high school diploma. That means that the average college graduate could pay off that average $30,000 college loan in a little over one year. Of course, this assumes that the student chooses a major that imparts marketable skills. And choosing the right major isn’t a financing problem or an affordability problem. It’s a life-choices problem.
The data indicate that college financing and affordability aren’t problems that need fixing. As to life-choice problems, all the legislation in the world won’t fix those. Only common sense will. Either way, when it comes to “making college affordable,” there is nothing that politicians can do short of creating problems that don’t yet exist.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James R. Harrigan teaches in the department of Political Economy and Moral Science at the University of Arizona. They host the weekly podcast Words & Numbers. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Chronic pain after trauma may depend on what stress gene variation you carry
August 27, 2018
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Sarah Linnstaedt receives funding from the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases (K01AR071504), the Mayday Fund and previously received funding from the American Pain Society (Future Leaders in Pain Grant). None of the above funding agencies had any role in the design and conduct of the study, in the collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data, or in the preparation and review of the above article.
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Unfortunately, almost every individual in the world will experience at least one traumatic event, such as a car crash, assault, exposure to war combat or a natural disaster during their lifetime. Many will endure more than one.
Although the majority of individuals recover from a traumatic incident, a substantial proportion will develop chronic problems, including post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression and chronic pain.
Chronic pain? Isn’t pain caused by nerve injury? Well, not always. Chronic pain can develop and is quite common following trauma exposure. This fact might surprise you given the fact that many traumas involve very little or no tissue damage.
I am a geneticist and molecular biologist studying predictors and mediators of chronic pain and other chronic neuropsychiatric conditions that develop following a traumatic experience. I am particularly interested in understanding the biological reasons why some individuals are more vulnerable to chronic pain than others.
Towards that end, based on previous findings from our group and other groups, my colleagues and I hypothesized that individual genetic variation affects who develops pain, and who recovers following trauma exposure. To test this hypothesis, our group at the Institute for Trauma Recovery, led by Dr. Samuel McLean, enrolled individuals in a longitudinal study of European and African-Americans who had been involved in a traumatic motor vehicle accident. We collected blood samples from over 1,500 such individuals and assessed their DNA and their pain levels six weeks following the car crash.
How might trauma and stress cause chronic pain?
Before I go into details about our most recent study, let’s brainstorm how chronic pain might develop following trauma. This is an important question because if we know how pain develops, we can find treatments that prevent its onset. And by preventing the onset of chronic pain, we completely alleviate the need to use those addictive and potentially deadly opioids you might have heard about.
Exposure to traumatic events causes your stress system to activate. This stress system sends signals between your hypothalamus in the brain, your pituitary gland and your adrenal gland, and ultimately results in the release of cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone.”
Cortisol is a critical link between trauma and chronic pain. This is because cortisol and another stress hormone called adrenaline have been shown to directly sensitize peripheral nerves – giving it the ability to signal pain in the absence of nerve injury. For this reason, it is vital for our bodies to carefully regulate cortisol levels, and to quickly and effectively resolve the stress response.
Regulating the stress hormone cortisol
Fortunately all of our bodies have natural regulators of blood cortisol levels. Typically, a protein called the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) binds to cortisol that has been released after stress exposure and causes cells to alter activities of the immune system and brain. But another protein called FKBP5 can also manipulate cortisol levels by binding GR and preventing it from binding cortisol.
If FKBP5 levels are high, it sequesters the GR and prevents the GR from binding and lowering blood cortisol levels. Consequently, levels of cortisol in the blood can rise and potentially cause harm by binding nerve endings and causing pain sensations. Previous studies have shown that a person’s genes can influence relative levels of these proteins.
Based on this knowledge, we hypothesized that the ability of FKBP5 to regulate cortisol and potentially affect pain levels might originate in our DNA. We tested this hypothesis using data from our cohort of individuals enrolled following motor vehicle collision. Importantly, these individuals who experienced trauma did not have bone fractures or tissue injury.
We chose motor vehicle collision as our trauma exposure because it is common and highly traumatic, and allows us to capture data in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic incident. Physicians in emergency departments across the country helped us enroll individuals and collect blood from them so that we could measure DNA, RNA, microRNA and hormone levels. This was important because for this study we wanted to understand how all of these types of molecules are related and how their composition can vary from one individual to the next.
How much pain you experience depends on your genes
In our recent study, we discovered that which genetic variant of the FKBP5 gene a person carries is predictive of how much post-traumatic chronic pain an individual will experience following motor vehicle collision.
Our genetic analyses revealed that in both African-American and European-American individuals who carry at least one copy of the less common variants, FKBP5-TG or FKBP5-GG, experienced more pain than the individuals carrying only the more common FKBP5-TT variant. (Remember, we all have two copies of every chromosome and this is why we can carry two different versions or variants of the same gene).
We then wanted to know how these variations affect the stress response and subsequent chronic pain.
At this point we knew that individuals who have the less common variants, FKBP5-TG or FKBP5-GG are more likely to experience pain following trauma exposure. We then predicted that in these individuals with higher pain, FKBP5 regulation of cortisol would be abnormal. Therefore, we measured cortisol in these individuals and indeed found that their cortisol levels were higher with respect to FKBP5 levels when compared to individuals carrying the FKBP5-TT who have less pain.
The common TT gene variant causes less cortisol to build up in the blood leading to less pain. The rare TG and GG variants cause cortisol levels to surge and can trigger chronic pain. Sarah Linnstaedt, CC BY
Overall this recent discovery from our group is important because it suggests a way that humans can develop chronic pain following trauma exposure without experiencing tissue injury. It also highlights an important gene involved in the development of post-traumatic chronic pain that could be a promising new target for drug therapies. And it proposes a mechanism through which this important gene is naturally regulated.
This last point can help us in our quest to discover specific types of therapeutics because, for instance, if we didn’t want to try to target FKBP5 directly, we could mimic the action of this naturally occurring regulatory mechanism. Additionally, our work suggests that with such a potential therapeutic, we’d only need to treat individuals with the DNA variant that causes more pain.
Exposure to traumatic events as a child is the one factor you ignored, but it clearly has the most explanatory power. Genes explain very little about human behavior compared to psychology. Early life experience explains everything. Someone who has been sitting on a trauma since childhood is going to be vulnerable in the event of another. All traumas in childhood are perceived as life or death events, that’s by definition alone. So sufferers already carry a burden of pain which has the highest valance possible. Anything on top of that is going to quickly overwhelm the system. The emotional pain becomes physical because it can no longer be held in check. What you are finding is merely tell tale evidence, the mechanisms which are called into play by psychology. But that is not the same as understanding the problem. These mechanisms are not faulty. They are doing their job. Messing with them with drugs is not going to fix the problem.
Ohio State Research
Aug. 28, 2018
Close ties with fathers help daughters overcome loneliness
Study examined changes in child loneliness over time
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Fathers play a key role in helping their young daughters overcome loneliness, a new study has found.
Researchers found that girls tended to report less loneliness as they went from first grade to fifth grade. But loneliness declined more quickly among girls who had a closer relationship with their fathers.
“The bond between fathers and daughters is very important,” said Xin Feng, co-author of the study and associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University.
“We found that closeness between fathers and daughters tends to protect daughters and help them transition out of loneliness faster.”
The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.
The researchers studied 695 families who participated in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, initiated and funded by the National Institute on Child Health and Development.
Mothers and fathers rated their relationships (both closeness and conflict) with their child when the child was in grades 1, 3, 4 and 5. In grades 1, 3 and 5 the children rated their levels of loneliness.
Results showed that levels of closeness tended to decline over this time period, while conflict increased. That’s not surprising, said Julia Yan, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in human sciences at Ohio State.
“This is a time when children are becoming more independent, developing relationships with friends and spending more time outside the home,” Yan said.
“So they become less close with their parents and have more conflict as their need for autonomy increases.”
Loneliness also tended to decrease as the kids developed relationships with their peers and felt more comfortable with their social skills.
But the study showed that kids didn’t shed their loneliness at the same rate. Daughters did better when they had closer relationships with their fathers.
Relationship closeness did not have an effect on loneliness in boys. The study can’t show why, but Yan said it may be because parents don’t socialize boys to have particularly close relationships and put less emphasis on them maintaining close ties.
Mothers’ relationships didn’t have an effect in this study, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important, Yan said. One reason for the lack of impact among mothers in this research was that mothers nearly always had close relationships with their kids, so there was less difference to measure.
In addition, Feng noted that fathers have relationships with their children, particularly their daughters, that are different from relationships mothers have.
“In our society, mothers tend to be responsible for everyday care and stability for their children,” Feng said. “Fathers have more freedom to interact with their children in different ways, to challenge them and have a wider range of emotional contact. That may be one reason why fathers had more impact on their daughters.”
While relationship closeness was tied to changes in loneliness, the study did not find that levels of conflict between fathers and daughters had an effect.
One reason may be that most families didn’t have high levels of conflict.
“Normal levels of conflict may not affect loneliness,” Yan said. “If there is still communication going on and a good relationship, it may not matter as much.”
The results affirm that fathers should nurture their relationships with their children, particularly their daughters, the researchers said.
“Pay attention to their feelings, especially when they are sad or unhappy, and help them cope,” Feng said. “Our results suggest it can really help daughters feel less lonely over time.”
Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, professor of human sciences at Ohio State, was also a co-author of the study.