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The Mountain View Voice recently reported that Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, and founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have purchased a small fighter jet. This fighter jet has been seen at Moffett Field, a former U.S. Navy landing strip that is now operated by NASA and is located only a few minutes away from Google’s headquarters in California. The jet is a Dornier Alpha Jet, a German-French manufacture that was primarily used by European air forces in the 1980s. In a flailing economy, acquisitions such as this highlight the importance of understanding the legality and transparency of corporate activity.
The New York Times recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request with NASA inquiring about the deal that authorized the Google executives’ use of the NASA runway. NASA released information about its agreement with a company owned by the Google executives that allows NASA to put scientific instruments on planes used by Google’s founders. In exchange for this compromise, as well as $1.3 million a year, the Google founders can park at this convenient spot and help NASA defray research costs. No other company in Silicon Valley has landing rights at this field. This begs the obvious question: do the Google executives have too much money, power and influence? The CEO of Google is apparently a skilled and enthusiastic pilot, though the exact ownership and use of the fighter jet has not been disclosed. In addition to this most recent purchase, Google’s billionaire founders own a Boeing 757 and two other jets. Last year, attention concerning the Boeing plane intensified when a legal dispute arose between the Google executives and a contractor hired to refurbish the plane. At the time, gossip leaked purporting that the founders wished to string hammocks from the ceiling and install king-size beds on board. Once again, the question is raised: do corporations have too much power and influence in the United States?
After the recent dive in the American economy, much attention by the general public and policy experts has turned to corporate greed. Many have pointed to and blamed the government for the absence of regulation in the high-powered corporate financial sector that has allowed executive compensation to skyrocket to the point that fighter jets become realistic purchases. Should executive incomes be legally regulated? Although the problem on Wall Street is not limited to executive compensation, it does involve the general lack of overall enforcement mechanisms for existing corporate regulations. There is an obvious need for transparency in the corporate field in order to understand the functioning of the U.S. economy. The media’s use of the Freedom of Information Act is one method of exposing corporate scandals, or, as was the case with Google’s fighter jet purchase, for further investigation into suspicious corporate executive activity. Money and power can buy a lot in a capitalist economy– even fighter jets– but this type of activity should be subject to public scrutiny. Furthermore, the government should not be kept in the dark as corporate executives line their pockets, and be forced to step in later and bail out companies on the verge of financial ruin. This situation will be among the most important issues that the next U.S. president will have to face. On a lighter note, the New York Times published an article last week concerning the acquisition of the fighter jet by Google’s billionaire executives. The article ended by stating that no jet fighter attacks on Microsoft are imminent at this time.
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