You're Clear to Land
 By Thomas L. Friedman

My friend Stephen Kobrin, a professor at the Wharton School, called the other day with a great proposal for
how to deal with all the air traffic delays in America these days: "faith-based air traffic control."

Seriously, think about it. The federal government, we're told, can't afford more air traffic controllers or radars. But
most international airlines like El Al, Gulf Air, Alitalia, Thai Airways, Air India land in major cities, like New
York and Los Angeles, where there would be plenty of mosques, synagogues, Catholic churches or Buddhist
temples to guide them in, using shortwave radios and secondhand police radar guns, says Steve. Jews would land
El Al planes, Muslims Gulf Air, Buddhists Thai Airways, etc.

"Think of the possibilities for innovation that will emerge from thousands of small faith-based groups trying to
guide planes safely and efficiently through our overcrowded skies," Steve adds. "It will transfer tax dollars from
overfed government bureaucrats back to the people. The airlines will be forced to become self- reliant, instead of
depending on the public dole and publicly funded air traffic controllers. And while proselytizing may happen while
planes are being guided in, at least passengers will have the chance to listen to stirring, faith-based messages full
of family values, instead of watching a movie full of sex and violence."

Steve's real point, of course, is that to listen to President Bush, you'd think our only two choices today were a tax
cut that returns the surplus to the people or having it wasted by the government. He never discusses a third
possibility that government provides essential services in our lives, that we as Americans are fortunate to have
the services we have, and that we constantly need to be reinvesting in them because we have a collective
responsibility to our children's future, and to the less fortunate, to ensure that the government always has the
resources to provide. Being a U.S. citizen is a privilege and a responsibility. It's not just a transaction about how
much you paid in taxes and how much you get back.

So when Mr. Bush repeats his mantra that the budget surplus "is not the government's money, it's your money,"
he's right. But the sentence is incomplete. We must finish the thought:

"It's not the government's money. It's your money. But it's also going to be your responsibility to pay your parents'
nursing home bills when they get old and you find that Social Security and Medicare are underfunded because of
today's excessive tax cut."

"It's not the government's money. It's your money. But it's also going to be your traffic jam, when the government
can't afford to invest in mass transit around cities so your 20- minute commute becomes an hour."

"It's not the government's money. It's your money. But it's also going to be your dilapidated public school, because
of a lack of funds for new school building."

"It's not the government's money. It's your money. But it's also going to be your busy signal, when you call a
federal agency for help in five years and you're put on hold for a week because it's understaffed."

"It's not the government's money. It's your money. But then, it's also your favorite national park that will be
underfunded, provided Mr. Bush hasn't sold it off to an oil company."

"It's not the government's money. It's your money. Of course it's also going to be your home alarm system that
you'll need to install to deal with the rise in crime when all those kids who should have Head Start today but don't
for lack of funds, or the 44 million Americans without health care, become desperate adults."

I suppose all this won't hit home until the Republican Party realizes that, without the surplus, there won't be any
more federal buildings to name after Ronald Reagan. It isn't enough that you now drive past the Ronald Reagan
office building in downtown D.C., past the George Bush Sr. C.I.A. building, until you get to the Ronald Reagan
National Airport building (and fly over the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier), but Republicans now want to erect a
memorial to Mr. Reagan while he's still alive! on the capital Mall.

No, on second thought, once the surplus is gone there will still be a boomlet in one area of federal buildings
prisons. Indeed, it would be rather fitting that the newest one be named the "George W. Bush Federal
Penitentiary."

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