A flight that should be grounded

September 3, 2013

With the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination coming up in November, we’re certain to be reminded of how Cuba was at the white-hot center of Cold War tensions a half-century ago.

In 2013, however, Cuba is, at best, a tangential player on the world stage. Support from the Soviet Union has long since evaporated, the economy is in ruins and the country is being led by the seemingly indestructible Castro gerontocracy. While it has long been apparent that the United States could help hasten Cuba’s transformation by lifting its long-running economic, financial and commercial embargo and engaging with the Caribbean nation’s citizenry, we have stubbornly maintained the embargo and continued with a policy as antiquated as the ancient American vehicles that rumble precariously down Havana’s streets.

The absurdity of the United States’ outmoded approach to Cuba and out-of-whack fiscal priorities were brought to light in a Monday article in The Washington Post. It detailed how the federal government is coughing up close to $80,000 per year to keep a 1960s vintage turboprop plane in mothballs at an airfield outside Atlanta. It was once used to fly toward Cuba and broadcast signals from an American-operated TV station into the island and evade the nation’s censors. The television station’s audience was negligible – because the Cuban authorities were so adroit at jamming its signals, estimates have it that less than 1 percent of Cubans ever sampled its programming. That’s probably comparable to the number of insomniac viewers who tune in to a public access cable channel in the dead of night.

So, given the fervor to cut budgets in Congress, grounding this airplane once and for all and selling it off would be a perfectly sound decision. However, like something out of “Catch 22,” Congress decided to cut just enough from the program so the plane is deprived of fuel and pilots, but not enough to scotch the program entirely. So, taxpayers are now having to pay over $6,000 per month to keep the plane in storage.

“It’s hard to state how ridiculous it is,” Philip Peters, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Cuba Research Center, told the Post. “And rather than spend the money on something that benefits the public … it’s turned into a test of manhood on Capitol Hill.”

Of course, $80,000 barely registers on the federal ledger, but it hardly takes great insight to realize that a bit of change that size could be spent in better, more productive ways. That would represent at least one teacher’s salary, get some students into Head Start, or pay for quite a few school lunches.

The next time that plane is dusted off and taken out of the hangar where it’s been languishing, it should be taken straight to the auction block.



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