Friday, June 22, 2007

Flights of Fancy in a Time of Need

So the Oregon State Legislature has approved $106 million in financial aid for the state’s college students over the next two years. The lawmakers are also set to approve a $1.4 billion budget for the state’s community colleges and universities over the two years funding cycle.

That’s an 18 percent increase over what the state currently spends. It’s about time because right now Oregon ranks 45th nationally on its higher education spending. Our schools aren't even second-rate.

The Oregonian reports that the financial aid comes too late for this year’s public university graduates whose diplomas came with a record average debt of $19,000.

Remember those numbers.

Now jump to the world of the super-rich. Texas billionaire Robert M. Bass is financing the development of a super-sonic business jet. The minimum price tag for the jets will be $80 million, according to the Thursday New York Times.

Such an outlay would pay for nearly 60 percent of the state’s higher ed loans over two years.

So what does such a plane gain the business elite? The benefits are huge. Huge! Three hours off the typical Paris-to-New York flight; one hour trimmed from New York to Miami? Such convenience! Such cache!

And who will buy these super-sonic hot rods in the sky? An aerospace analyst is quoted as saying, “These are people who are willing to pay any price.”

He means “any price” to trim three hours off that grueling subsonic corporate plane trip between Paris and New York.

While we are on the subject of costly airplanes, consider the new F-35 Lightning II under development for the Pentagon. Only one of the planes exists, but the full program will cost $276 billion with an additional operating cost of $347 billion. But don’t bet on those numbers. According to a business story in today’s Times, the program is already $31.6 billion over budget.

The base version of the plane will cost $75 million; the “advanced” model (presumably with Bose speakers) will go for $90 million. A kind of corporate super-sonic jet with missiles but no martinis.

Meanwhile American soldiers and Marines are dying on the ground for lack of proper armored equipment. Let’s not get started on “military intelligence” and what really greases these, ahem, "strategic" decisions.

Finally we have on the business page of today’s Oregonian the story of Stephen Schwarzman, who, thanks to his Blackstone Group’s going public, is now worth more than $10 billion.

Let’s try to wrap our minds around $10 billion.

Imagine that I gave you a $1 million bill each second for the next 2 hours and 47 minutes. Start counting, “$1 million, $2 million…”

Fun, huh?

Now keep counting for the next 2 hours and 47 minutes. “$25 million, $26 million.” You have a very long way to go because there are 10,000 million dollar bills in $10 billion. $9,200 million, $9,201 million….

As you can see, for Mr. Scharzman and the Pentagon, the price of a super-sonic business jet or fighter is — let’s say it — an obscene waste.

Here in Oregon and elsewhere, it would buy the tickets to knowledge and fulfillment for literally thousands of kids.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget that those planes are most likely designed & built by engineers with huge student loan debts.

8:02 AM  

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