Grab hold of the political moment.

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The U.S. appears headed for a bumper crop of 2008 presidential candidates, most of which know they can’t possibly win the nomination, let alone ever be hailed as the chief. So why do they toss in their hats? Many say it’s to ensure the national debate includes their ideas for improving America.

On that basis, I figured it was time I stop being coy and jump in too. I therefore declare my candidacy for president of the United States and, if elected, here’s my agenda:

1. Apologize to the world and get out of Iraq immediately. If the oil companies want their wells protected, let them hire the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who are currently the victims of our invasion and inept occupation to become security guards. Save over $100 billion a year.

2. While the recent U.S. House bill to reduce about $14 billion of oil subsidies is laudable, I would eliminate the other $100 billion too. Combined with my first point, that gives us $200 billion a year to work with on other priorities.

3. Apologize to the families of the 100,000 people who die prematurely in the U.S. each year from disease related to completely preventable petroleum air pollution (and the 6.5 million Americans who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases) for public policies that allow such legalized assaults. Use half of the $200 billion to provide health insurance to the 45 million Americans who have none, so at least everyone will get health care. It doesn’t really matter if people are poor, slackers, or illegal immigrants. It costs us far more than $100 billion a year to deal with the illnesses of the uninsured, providing expensive reactive health care mostly in emergency rooms instead of more affordable proactive health care in a doctor’s office.

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4. Use $20 billion a year to replace every diesel mass-transit and school bus in the nation that emits more pollution than the cleanest engines on the market today. Then tackle the oldest, dirtiest trucks and locomotives. Replace these vehicles with ones that run on the cleanest fuels available, which today are biofuels, natural gas, and hydrogen. This program will not only reduce a significant percentage of the life-threatening air pollution that grips our cities, it will stimulate investors to build a nationwide fueling infrastructure for clean fuels. It will also cut greenhouse gases. And I would consider insisting that the replacement vehicles be mostly American-made, thus renewing the U.S. auto industry and its workforce.

5. Use the rest of the money to offer a four-day (32-hour) work week to any government employee willing to volunteer one day a week for public service, and encourage other employers to do likewise, with an emphasis on volunteering in local schools. People could make their communities better, safer places to live, and reduce crowding on freeways (reducing air pollution and lost productivity for everyone).

Would any or all of these measures improve your everyday life? Better health care, less pollution and disease, thousands of new jobs, less traffic — I suspect that would make a difference worth voting for. I have solutions for global warming, illegal immigration, foreign affairs, and the erosion of our education and justice systems too, but I’ll save those for the rubber-chicken dinner circuit. In the meantime, look for me in New Hampshire and Iowa perfecting my baby-kissing techniques.

And if you think you can do better, why not tell the world by declaring your candidacy and setting out a platform of your own?

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