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Transatlantic Tracks

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

My fellow Americans, it’s time to solve a problem that’s bedeviled humanity for decades. “We are the change that we seek,” and we can -- no, must -- agree to take immediate action.

Even as you read this, an untold number of Americans are stranded, helpless. They’re scattered across Europe, with little hope of returning safely to our shores any time soon. Overhead, volcanic ash fills the air and their planes have been grounded. Sure, our government is ready (or will be in four years) to “give” them universal health care. But what good will that do if they cannot get here?

Frankly, they’ll be lucky to survive long enough to enjoy ObamaCare, since they’re being forced to subsist on European cheese and beef that hasn’t met USDA standards for purity. Meanwhile they’re being forced to spend funny-money Euros with drawings of non-existent bridges and arches, instead of good old U.S. dollars with drawings of slave-owning George Washington. (Washington probably also favored universal health care. What great American throughout history didn’t?).

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The volcano now erupting in Iceland is a “crisis” we shouldn’t let “go to waste.” It highlights the need for a project we should have completed long ago: A railroad tunnel to connect the United States with Europe.

Oh, sure, there’s plenty of evidence that high-speed rail lines are expensive and don’t work. And a much smaller version, the Eurotunnel, went over budget and under performs. Still, let’s set that aside and focus on the fact that this tunnel has been a dream of presidents and politicians for decades.

Recently I, like President Obama, was reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. He noticed that Teddy favored universal health care. I must have missed that chapter.

But it was clear to me that Roosevelt wanted closer ties with the British Empire, and what better way to achieve them than by linking our two nations by train? The man who built the Panama Canal would have understood that American ingenuity could conquer any engineering problems that might crop up. But in Teddy’s day, isolationist senators (meaning conservatives) would oppose any such tunnel.

By the late 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt had cemented our ties with Europe. He invited the British King and Queen over for hotdogs, and you know they would have loved to ride here on a high-speed rail line instead of a slow ship. Sadly, World War II broke out, and took precedence over a possible tunnel.

Other great leaders, including Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, built better ties with Europe, but none could get a tunnel approved by conservatives in Congress.

And let’s not forget the years that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy spent fighting for this project. In his memory (and in order to secure the support of his successor, Sen. Scott Brown), the tunnel should begin in his native state of Massachusetts.

It’s well known that Kennedy, supposedly a proponent of “green energy,” fought long and hard against building windmills off Hyannis Port. Maybe he did that because he understood that one day a tunnel must go under that stretch of sea, and windmills above could destabilize any such project. In that case, once it’s completed, the tunnel should be named for Saint Kennedy.

Just think of the jobs such a project will create! Millions of unemployed Americans (and Britons) will rally to their shovels and start digging. It will be the ultimate proof of John Maynard Keynes’ theory that, to erase unemployment, “The government should pay people to dig holes in the ground and then fill them up.” Except we’ll skip the “fill up” part, and just end up with a great big hole.

Oh, sure, this approach failed to end the Great Depression. But it’s bound to work when tried on such a grand scale. Right? And we can use the dirt we dig up for agriculture; Washington will get to tell farmers what crops to plant (my money’s on corn). Or perhaps Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can take advantage of the new land we excavate and invest in vast affordable housing projects on it. It would be a win-win-win -- yet another opportunity for our already oh-so-effective effective federal policies to shine.

My fellow Americans, our countrymen are stranded in Europe and need immediate help. Our federal government is the only thing that can provide it (and isn’t this always the case?). It’s time for a handful of intransigent conservatives to stop blocking progress and get on board.

As Barack Obama put it in a similar context, the “time for talk is over.” We need a mere $2 trillion to begin this crucial project. It’s a small down payment that is certain to pay dividends and help many. Dig in.

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