Lucile McConnell had had enough. Watching the 1992 presidential campaign, McConnell, AB'83, and some friends started to think that they might be better at reducing the national debt than the politicians.
In November 1992 they established the Fund to End the Deficit, Inc.-a volunteer, nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation with two goals: to educate people about how the (annual) deficit and the (cumulative) debt affect citizens' lives, and to increase voluntary contributions to the Bureau of the Public Debt. McConnell, FED's executive director, got the idea for the organization after reading a news-paper article mentioning an obscure 1961 federal statute, P.L. 87-58, that allows citizens to make tax-deductible contributions that, unlike taxes, go only toward retiring principal on the national debt.
With the debt at more than $4.6 trillion and increasing by $10,000 every second, McConnell might seem in over her head-especially when she says that in two years the fund has acquired just 5,000 members and raised about $5,000. But those numbers, she says, ignore the impact of FED's outreach efforts. Many of the people she works with-such as a group of Minnesota seniors who held an auction that raised $3,500 and church members in Kansas City who raised $1,100 by fasting one day a week for a year-don't make their contributions through FED. McConnell also underscores that, in the first six months of fiscal 1994, contributions under P.L. 87-58 exceeded $19 million, compared to $30 million raised in the previous 32 years.
In 1994, McConnell took a year's leave of absence from her job-a tax and contract attorney with the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm Winston & Strawn-to work with FED full time. By year's end, FED had established an 800 number for people to pledge money, organized the concert fundraiser "Rock the Debt," and targeted members of Congress, asking them to donate their pay increases to retiring the national debt (to date, 17 have done so). Also new on FED's agenda is a four-part strategy called the Citizens Debt Retirement Plan: a corporate contribution campaign, a payroll-deduction plan, a legislative/advocacy plan, and a civics curriculum for junior-high students.
Armed with a J.D. from Cornell and an economics degree from Chicago, McConnell feels well-equipped for the campaign, despite the fact that many people tell her she's "crazy." To them she responds, "Isn't it more crazy what's going to be facing us in the future if we don't do something about it now?" McConnell predicts a future where her two teenage sons will have an 85-percent tax burden. Right now, she says, $300 billion annually, or 20 percent of the federal budget, goes toward paying the interest on the debt-more than eight times the federal government's share of education spending. McConnell, though, sees the debt not as a reason for citizens to feel powerless before Washington politics, but rather as "a major symptom" of that feeling. She hopes to use FED to get people of all ages interested in participating in government.
An optimist by nature, McConnell is even more energized by seeing people "spontaneously springing up" to help lower the national debt: "We can do something about a problem that concerns all of us."-K.S.
Arthur Code, SM'47, PhD'50, has a lot of firsts to his name: the first telescope sent into space, the first maps of the spiral structure of the Milky Way, the first discoveries of the hydrogen clouds around comets, and the first proof of star formation in other galaxies. The University of Wisconsin astronomer received Chicago's Professional Achievement Award in 1969 and was awarded NASA's highest honor, the Distinguished Public Service Medal, in 1992. At age 71, Code continues to advance his field: In February, yet another of his telescopes, the Wisconsin Ultraviolet Photo-Polarimeter Experiment, will be launched into space. WUPPE and two other major projects should keep him busy well beyond his official retirement next June.
After five decades in the field, his love of discovery remains strong. "For that mo-ment, you're the only one in the world who knows that little secret of nature," he says. "That's a reward that goes beyond salaries, or medals, or acclaim. And then the next step is telling other people about it."
After earning his Ph.D. from Chicago, Code taught briefly at the University of Virginia, at Wisconsin, and then at the California Institute of Technology. While he was at Cal Tech, soon after the Russians launched Sputnik, the National Academy of Sciences asked the scientific community to propose research applications for U.S. satellite launchings. Code suggested applying stellar-photometry methods to a space-based telescope, which could observe the ultraviolet light that doesn't reach Earth's surface.
In the meantime, Wisconsin offered him directorship of its Washburn Observatory and the position of astronomy department chair. Although there was no space astronomy program anywhere in 1958, Code felt that space-based telescopes were inevitable, and went to Wisconsin thinking, "You can't do great ground-based astronomy from the Midwest, but you certainly can do space astronomy as well here as from California." It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: Not only did Code establish Wisconsin's Space Astronomy Laboratory, but his NAS proposal led to the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory-the first space telescope, launched in 1968. Code went on to direct a number of national astronomical organizations, including a stint as acting director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (which operates the Hubble Space Telescope).
Currently, Code devotes much of his time to WUPPE as the project's principal investigator. A telescope with a spectro-polarimeter, WUPPE measures the polarized ultraviolet light from the interstellar medium and objects such as hot stars and active galaxies. First launched into space with the Astro observatory in December 1990, WUPPE is scheduled to go up again as part of Astro-2 on the shuttle Endeavor in February 1995. The project, Code says, should give a "better understanding of the nature of star formations" and, subsequently, of the nature of the universe.
Understanding the nature of the universe has been, in fact, Code's grand strategy since deciding to be an astronomer back in grade school. As a seasoned researcher, however, he knows that understanding will come first in bits and pieces: "So many of the programs that I have worked on or been interested in are all little building blocks to trying to put that picture together."-K.S.