Up ... up ... up and away

We see it over and over again in government: Those in senior positions of power seem to acquire a sense of entitlement to luxuries not available to lesser mortals.

We saw it with the Jackson County commissioners' ill-advised 26 percent pay increase — although two of the three commissioners later said they would decline the raise.

We saw it at the state level, with compensation packages for state university presidents approaching half a million dollars.

Now we see it at the federal level. It's hardly surprising; the federal government is notorious for spreading money around with little thought. But the latest revelations — and the response of both presidential contenders to one news item — makes us wonder if anyone will ever give more than lip service to the concept of reining in irresponsible government spending.

The first item led the front page of this newspaper on Saturday. It seems the Air Force's top brass has been trying for three years to spend millions in counter-terrorism funds on "comfort capsules" designed to make senior officers and other government bigwigs more comfortable when traveling aboard military transport planes.

The capsules, consisting of two sealed rooms designed to fit into the fuselage of a large military jet, feature leather chairs, a couch, a bed, a 37-inch flat screen monitor with stereo speakers and a full-length mirror.

Apparently the standard airline-style seats already available on such aircraft are not sufficiently comfortable for the refined backsides of the military's top brass. Even one early version of leather seating was deemed inferior by top Air Force generals, who insisted that the brown chairs be reupholstered in Air Force blue at a reported cost of $68,240.

Never mind that military planes have for years been considered perfectly adequate for ferrying Very Important Persons around the globe. Never mind that only the most senior officers will be housed in such rarefied surroundings while in flight.

What is always amusing about this kind of government excess is the inability of those caught doing it to understand the outrage.

The capsules are needed, the Air Force insists, so that senior leaders can talk, work and rest comfortably while flying. Using money dedicated for the war on terror presumably indicates that the VIPs will more effectively fight terrorism if they're well rested.

Lower-level officers and airmen, apparently, are more resilient.

The second news item, also on Saturday's front page, described the cost overruns that have pushed the price tag for the president's new Marine One helicopter to $400 million each. In all, 28 of the choppers are being built to fly the next president about — at a total cost of $11.2 billion, nearly double the original cost of $6.1 billion.

Yes, the president needs the best, safest and most secure transportation available. But the British have managed to buy the same base helicopter for $57 million each.

What's most disturbing about this second item, however, is the response from both presidental candidates, one of whom will be flying in the new aircraft. Barack "Change We Can Believe In" Obama and John "Straight Talk" McCain both "pledged to look at the program, but stopped short of saying whether it should be canceled," according to The Associated Press.

And some people wonder why so many American voters have soured on government.

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