May 24, 2008

Clinton Campaign Takes a Turn For the Creepy

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it," she said, dismissing calls to drop out. Hillary Clinton, in a recent interview with the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader.

While it's always unsettling to watch a personality fragment into a million shards right out in public view, I admit that I've become fascinated about Hillary's future possibilities. Not about winning the nomination, which I don't think can happen. No - fascinated by the prospect of what she might say next. This one was a lulu, the best yet. She was warming up with her description of her backers as "ordinary working voters, white voters." And the one about Barack not being a Muslim "as far as she knew." Those were good, and by good, I mean sick.

But this was completely deranged. She apologized within a couple of hours (to the Kennedys, actually), but her apology didn't make any sense. How could it?
Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee says she was only referring to her husband and Kennedy “as historical examples of the nominating process going well into the summer.” Well, sure. In fact, if you wanted to find examples of the nominating process going well into the third or fourth round of voting at the convention, a little superficial historical research will do the trick. But look at what Hillary actually said and you'll see that's not what she had in mind.

In June, 1968, Bobby Kennedy, another charismatic political superstar, had just won the California primary and was poised to win the Democratic nomination as its presidential candidate. He had beaten back the insurgent campaign of Eugene McCarthy. He would take on the wily Nixon in the general election and restore Camelot to the White House, all within five years of losing the first Kennedy to an assassin's bullet. And then in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian gunman, blows the dream away.

It's astounding that all these years after Sigmund Freud did his groundbreaking work in the field of the unconscious, we are still so slavishly literal in our interpretation of what people say and mean. Dick Durbin, for example, Barack's Senate colleague and backer, defended Hillary by saying she and Barack are "good friends" and she would never wish him any harm. Umm-hmm. Never, huh? If you want to understand what Hillary meant, break her statement down into two categories:

1. Bill had not clinched the nomination until June, 1992, in the California primary.
2. Bobby Kennedy won the California primary, but not the nomination in June, 1968. The political thinking was that he had knocked McCarthy out of the race, setting up a one-on-one against Hubert Humphrey (whom he defeated in California) at the convention.

Hillary is talking about what's behind Door Number 2. Barack's got the momentum, the magic, the flow of history moving his way. He's young, he's talented and he's charismatic. He's a lot like Bobby Kennedy, in other words (Barack is actually older than Bobby was in 1968). People like believing in Barack for the same reason they liked the Kennedys: because he makes them feel like there are fresh possibilities in this tired, oppressed land, however nebulous and inchoate those "ideas" are (and they're very nebulous and inchoate). How do you beat that? Hillary has the racists and the white women over 50 as her key demographics; that's it. Obama has everything else. She needs a miracle.

Hillary's quest for this nomination borders on (hell, is) obsession. Where it came from is anyone's guess, but my thinking is that she feels victimized by talented, charming smoothies who get what they want because people (including young women) fall all over themselves to give it to them. She's endured this marriage to a womanizer who humiliated her at every turn by lavishing his attention on women who never approached her own levels of educational, professional and intellectual accomplishment. She endures it all, lives the lie, even moves to New York so she can be a Senator so she can be the President. And she won't be a weak, compromising, whimpering Mama's boy President like Bubba. She'll be a ball-buster and vindicate suppressed women everywhere. She's smarter than he is, more resourceful, tougher in the clinches. Afraid of nothing. It's all lined up. The payoff at last.

And then guy from Illinois, with his "pretty speeches" and tall, lean body strolls to center stage, wins a long string of early primaries trading on his charms, and she's back in the shadow again. How can this keep happening to me? I'm so much better! So, you know...under stress and anxiety, and the mounting millions in personal debt, the fatigue of nonstop campaigning -- things slip out, like a memory of sniper fire in Bosnia that never happened, or conscious expression of an unconscious wish. She's just reminding us that anything can happen. She's counting on that.

May 22, 2008

Hillary' s Meta-Racism, Obama and Schrödinger's Cat

Now hold on a minute, I might have something here.

Hillary Clinton's latest gambit might be called "meta-racism." The virtual world of electronic media eventually gets around to creating a meta-everything, and this may be its latest artifact. It works this way. Hillary claims that she does not encourage her supporters to vote for her because, ipso facto, she's white, even though she cites (and even lauds) her popularity among "ordinary working Americans, white Americans." Rather, she urges these ordinary white working Americans, and "progressive"-minded Americans everywhere, to simply face the facts. Racist Americans (real racists) are not going to elect Barack Obama in November; sad but true, she laments. So when choosing between candidates in the Democratic primaries, everyone who wants a Democrat to win should vote for her in a very race-conscious way which is not, paradoxically, racism, but simply a form of meta-racism necessary in order to achieve ultimate victory.

Now I harbor a sneaking suspicion that among Hillary's throngs of supporters in such states as West Virginia and Kentucky, and in "rural" Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, and in many other places, are quite a few people who aren't so much meta-racists as they are the gen-yoo-wine article. And while I'm being cynical, I might as well admit my other suspicion, which is that Hillary sure as hell knows this. So I'm saying that Hillary is deliberately courting a white racist vote, by being "their" candidate, under the guise of simply doing what's right for the party, which is making sure she's the nominee come November, the one who can win.

The meta-racist argument proceeds on the assumption that America in 2008, almost four hundred years after the first importation of African slaves to North America, is just not quite ready, not just yet, to elect a black person President, and that's what Hillary means when she whispers to party bigwigs that "Obama can't win!"

Yet we don't really know that, do we? Presidential campaigns are often full of surprises. The most unlikely people sometimes succeed. George W. Bush in 2004, with Iraq erupting into nonstop violence, no WMDs found, every rationale for the invasion exposed as a blatant lie - and he does better in 2004 than in 2000? Many people now talk of a younger, post-racial electorate coming of age, of a galvanized African-American voting bloc, of Southern states now in play for the Democrats, all of these changes in the electoral scene taking place against a background of great economic and geopolitical uncertainty, and against huge disenchantment with Bush in particular and Republicans in general.

It seems to me that the state of electoral politics in this country calls to mind the conjecture of Schrödinger's Cat, that clever thought problem dreamt up by
the Austrian physicist, Erwin Schrödinger. It was his subtle criticism of the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics with all its wave/particle dualities, its indeterminacies, its dependence upon observation to fix the state of things. If you're a cat lover, as I am, it's a little unsettling that Erwin used a cat as the example, but I suppose "Schrödinger's rhino" lacks the same bemusing quality. So the experimental arrangement involves a cat sealed in a box with an element which may or may not emit an alpha particle as radiation, but if it does, the particle will be detected by a Geiger counter, which will trip a hammer breaking a vial of hydrocyanic acid, which will kill the cat. The paradox lies in the clever coupling of quantum and classical domains. Before the observer opens the box, the cat's fate is tied to the wave function of the atom, which is itself in a superposition of decayed and undecayed states. Thus, said Schrödinger, the cat must itself be in a superposition of dead and alive states before the observer opens the box, observes the cat, and "collapses'' its "wave function."

Lots of people, including Einstein (who thought it was brilliant), have weighed in on this paradox. While the box is closed, the Copenhagen Interpretation forces us to conclude that the cat is both alive and dead, with its "superposition" undetermined. It is not until the "wave-collapse" moment of opening the box that the cat's status is determined. But surely, argued Schrödinger, the cat was alive or dead before the box was opened. Simply because subatomic particles exhibit the "superposition" quality of wave/particle duality until the moment that observation "fixes" their position doesn't mean that macroscopic entities like cats behave the same way. It was a head-scratcher for Niels Bohr and the rest of the Copenhagen gang, that's for sure. Schrödinger himself said later in life that he wished he had never thought of that cat.

It seems to me that Hillary Clinton is suggesting that we never open the box and find out. Is Barack's campaign alive or dead? Is the country so racist it cannot elect an African-American or not, is something new happening in this country or not? I'd like to know; I'd like us to perform the act of observation. And beyond that (and I don't know how Schrödinger would fit this into his analysis): if the Democratic Party really is completely incapable of winning in this country unless it runs candidates who appeal to Appalachian racists, and racists everywhere else; if that's still where we are almost four hundred years after slavery began, and after the 1868 ratification of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause, which was supposed to have "freed" the slaves once and for all; if those Constitutional guarantees are still meaningless because of the relentless and ineradicable bigotry of this country, then I'm not sure I even care anymore. Because it's pretty obvious that at such a point we will have looked inside and seen something dead, and an old, querulous white coot like John McCain, a guy who voted against Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday, and who casually hooks himself up to religious, ethnic, and social bigots, is good enough for this place.

So give up that line of argument, Hillary. Get out of the way. Let's open the box and take a peek.

May 21, 2008

John McCain's Pastor Problem, Revisited: Was Hitler an Agent of God?

In Sunday school, Revelations was always my favorite book of the Bible. The church I attended was pretty square, and too much time was given over to dreary stuff about sin and redemption, all the things you weren't supposed to do (anything fun), and of course that macabre crucifixion story, forever and ever, amen. But Revelations -- as close as a Fundamentalist church ever got to the psychedelic, this side of glossolalia anyway. I liked the theories I heard later (not in Sunday school) that John of Patmos was tripping when he wrote it, maybe stoned on righteous (or Righteous) hash, or smoking some of the opium crop growing there around the Seven Churches in Asia Minor.

The Book of Revelations is full of beasts, dragons, pale horses, war, lakes of fire, bottomless pits, Satan, thousand-year reigns, Gog and Magog, and Chapter 20 is the main action sequence. It reads like a screen treatment for a Biblical "Star Wars." 1:"And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2: And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years." While the bust of the Devil is going down, the righteous are raised up and live and reign with Jesus for a thousand years. The rest of humankind, quick and dead, sleep through it, little suspecting what's going to happen at the end of that first Millenium. Hint: you don't wanna know.

When the thousand years are up, Satan's let loose again. You might ask why. It's like asking why the girl in the deserted house always walks down the dark hall when she hears a strange noise. I guess God just has a good feel for narrative flow. Sure, he could wrap things up right there, but that would leave the Faithful feeling cheated out of a big finish. Glenn Close needs to come up out of the bath tub one more time. So the Devil (staying in character and having learned nothing from a thousand years chained up in a bottomless pit) immediately hoofs it (heh heh) and starts deceiving the nations in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, and to gather them to the battle of Armageddon, which may refer to Har Megiddo in present-day Israel. Once Old Scratch has them in position, surrounding the camp of the Saints, fire comes down out of heaven and devours the Devil's Irregulars. Satan is then cast into the lake of fire and brimstone (which makes the Bottomless Pit seem like the Ritz Carlton), alongside the beast and false prophet, and is tormented day and night forever. The Final Judgment follows soon thereafter.

That's only the Cliff Notes version of the End Times, of course. I'm leaving out some other great stuff, like Chapter 13's description of the beast with seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. (As a kid, I wondered: did each head have ten horns, meaning seventy horns and seven hundred crowns? If some of the heads didn't have horns, that would be one spooky beast. Well, either way, actually.) Also, I would be remiss not to mention the seven angels with seven vials with the seven plagues, because that is some wild, wild stuff. Quick recap on the Plagues: #1: sores on those engaged in Beast-worship. #2: turning the sea into the blood of a dead man. #3: turning rivers into blood (kinda derivative, Angel No. 3). #4: vial poured on sun, angel acquires scorch-power vs. men. #5: vial pouring on seat of the Beast, which turns out the lights and causes the Beast to gnaw his tongue for pain. It is when Angel Numero Seis opens the Sixth Vial (have they made a movie called "The Sixth Vial" and if not, why not?) and pours it out on the Euphrates that things go freaky-deaky. The river dries up and three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon (guess who? He-e-e-e-e-e-re's Johnnnny!) and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. "Rev. 16:14: For they are the spirits of the devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty." So Angel No. 6 has the vial that's really vile, because it brings on the final battle. Angel No. 7, batting clean up, pours his vial on the air and a voice comes out of Heaven saying, "Th-th-th-at's all folks!" Actually the voice says "It is done," and I'm accurate here because I'm not going to run the same risk as someone else I could name, as you'll soon see.

I'll have some of whatever John of Patmos is having. And speaking of amphibious creatures, John Hagee, John McCain's Go-To Pastor, looks a lot like a mutant bull frog with a learning disability. The latest bad news on Hagee is that he gave a speech, or sermon, or was simply ranting and raving about Hitler's role as an agent of God who acted as a "hunter" driving the Jews back to Israel so the Final Act could get underway. You know, let the End Times roll.

Now I recounted a lot of Revelations to (a) have fun and (b) make a point. Isn't it strange, after reading through that delirious account of angels with killer vials, frogs as Army recruiters, Devils-in-Chains, and goats (or whatever) with seven heads and ten horns, that the part everyone would find weird is calling Hitler an agent of God? That's so... tame. You're going to compare that little squirt from Austria with a seven-headed animal with seventy horns and seven hundred crowns? The Third Reich with Gog and Magog? You're messing with me, right? Hitler was just a man, a shitty little man to be sure, but just a man. The Devil-Dragon, the Beast with the Number 666, the False Prophet, all with their frog-filled mouths, these are spirit world creatures of immense power, of unimaginable evil. And they're completely mythological, the fabulisms of a guy who sounds like he was trying to shake off the DT's after a four month bender on ouzo.

So if I've got this right, millions and millions of Americans have absolutely no trouble if John Hagee believes literally in the End Times story I just summed up. That's why the Evangelicals are such fervent supporters of Israel, because the Jews need to be there when Vial No. 6 kicks things into high gear. So no problem with all of that; and if John McCain seeks support from a man who really, really believes that's how it will all play out, it's a sign not of clinical schizophrenia but of sound religious faith. It's a plus for McCain's campaign. The only thing pulling Hagee down is he got a little creative with this Hitler stuff. If he had kept to the story and said that God got the Devil-Dragon to do it, everything would have been all right.

Well, I've got a word or two for John Hagee, because I paid attention in Sunday school. Seems to me his exegesis runs afoul of the very last chapter of the Bible, Revelations 22: 18: ..."If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book." Vials Nos. 1 through 7, inclusive, John-Boy. I'll see ya; wouldn't want to be ya.

Teachings from Chairman Kahn

I mentioned a while back that I was reading On Thermonuclear War by Herman Kahn, polymath, RAND Corporation fellow and model for Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove." Herman Kahn didn't look much like Peter Sellers's caricature, actually; indeed, not at all. He died fairly young, probably for reasons associated with a lifelong problem of obesity, which again is nothing like his movie version.

The brilliance, however, and the blood-chilling willingness to look at any existential situation which humans can create, no matter how horrible, with a steady, penetrating eye are the same. That implacable fixity of purpose allowed him to "think the unthinkable," and it's evident throughout his long book that he delighted in exploring ideas all the way to their inevitable, awful conclusions, wherever they led. I suppose that's what prompted his occasional vilification, along with his Cold Warrior conservatism.

Society needs thinkers like Herman Kahn as a kind of reality check, so we don't get carried away with idealistic notions about ourselves. That self-glorification, I believe, has been a major impediment to American innovation in the face of global challenges. Kahn was a physicist first and foremost and looked at any problem from a rigorous and detached perspective. Writing about the revulsion that most Americans felt in pondering the value of life after a thermonuclear war, Herman pointed out a simple and homely analogy, our tolerance for traffic fatalities, as an example that we are perhaps far more callous about the suffering of others than we like to think. After even a catclysmic war, the survivors would go on, seeking meaning and even happiness to the extent possible. It's simply part of our genetic disposition, however much we like to believe in heroic traits of empathy that would make us "envy the dead."

In modern times, under the heavy influence of conventional political correctness (where idealization of homo sapiens is de rigeur), we're inclined to characterize such sang-froid as "sociopathy," a term often hurled in the general direction of the Presidential incumbent. This criticism (in his case) has to do, largely, with deaths in Iraq, American and indigenous. The sad truth is that if the president is "sociopathic" about such deaths, so are most Americans. I think the true grieving for the fallen American soldiers in Iraq is largely confined to the families and comrades-in-arms of the dead and wounded. Most Americans don't think about the Iraqis at all. Most Americans have compartmentalized the Iraq war as useless and futile and so don't see the outcome as affecting their daily lives in any meaningful sense, except as a waste of money. So we go about our business, as news of the war retreats from the front pages and becomes a kind of dull buzz in the background.

One could even trot out Herman's car wreck analogy on the subject of sociopathic indifference. As relevant today as ever. When he was writing, in 1960, the U.S. had a population of about 180 million with about 40,000 traffic-related fatalities per year. Today the numbers are about 42,000 fatalities and a population of about 300 million. The improved statistics no doubt reflect major advances in safety design, such as air bags and inertial seat belts. The term "traffic fatality" includes pedestrian deaths caused by cars and motorcycle deaths, along with a few other categories which are motor vehicle related. Kahn pointed out that if you lowered the speed limit to 20 miles per hour, you could probably eliminate most deaths. In our era, it seems reasonable to say that most deaths could be eliminated by a reduction in speed to 35 mph, given the improvements in car safety. There would still be deaths caused by bad weather, driving over cliffs or into water, etc., but it isn't difficult to imagine a drastic reduction in mortality, maybe by 90% or more.

And as I write this, the price for oil is topping $130 per barrel. Since the power necessary to overcome air resistance increases by the cube of increasing speed, lower speeds mean improved gas mileage. Indeed, at 35 mph (enforced by governors placed on car engines), it isn't difficult to imagine all our personal transportation needs being met by electric cars, eliminating gasoline altogether. So: virtually no deaths and no oil importation. It seems likely as well that since it might take 12 or 14 hours to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles at such a tortoise-like pace, the demand for high speed rail would increase dramatically. Finally, imagine that all cars were equipped with breathalyzer interlock systems that did not permit operation of the slow moving electric car by a driver with a BAL in excess of .02 (the standard in such countries as Sweden, where the designated driver is a social institution). The roads would be about as safe as we could make them.

So why don't we do all of that? Because it's inconvenient and because we've set the economy up to run at a faster pace. We tolerate all that blood and gore on the highways, all those tragic deaths, all that wasted gasoline, the growing problem with the balance of trade, our funding of autocratic regimes in the deserts of the Middle East, because it's just easier to own a car of any size we want and drive it as fast as we can to get where we're going, and because we perceive that more money can be made living that way. All the deaths caused by driving too fast for safety are a tolerable and necessary side effect of those simple values, or so the evidence of our behavior indicates. So even though the total deaths per year exceed the total soldier fatalities in Iraq by a factor of 10, we don't care, even though we could obviously do something about it immediately.

As I say, that guy Kahn was a smart dude. Makes you think, doesn't he?

And the same society that thinks that way is supposed to worry about soldiers they never met? Just remember, young men & women, as you enlist in the Army: saving your own ass is Job One.

May 20, 2008

Golub versus the Rubber Chicken

Shirley Golub has managed to go viral with her "rubber chicken" ad aimed at La Diva, Nancy Pelosi, the present Speaker of the House and U.S. Representative from San Francisco. It's a YouTube hit. I saw the actual ad on network TV and it caught my eye. So there really was a genuine challenger from within the Democratic Party for Nancy's seat in the House.

Shirley's originally from New Jersey, with degrees from Boston University in speech therapy and education. She worked in Hayward, California in that field, then bought an auto tune-up franchise at Pacific & Polk in San Francisco. She operated that shop for 20 years, then transitioned into real estate (according to her website) because "her lease was up." I guess I follow. Maybe she got tired of running a tune-up shop and longed for the corridors of power in the Capitol Building. Obviously a woman of parts, as the Brits say, and sometimes auto parts.

The political ad features a yellow rubber chicken talking into a microphone next to a name plate with "Nancy Pelosi" written in block letters. It takes La Diva to task for supporting the Iraq war, torture and for refusing to initiate impeachment, which Nancy famously took "off the table" as soon as she succeeded to the Speakership. The ad says that Pelosi is "spineless" and a "coward."

I don't vote in Pelosi's district, but a challenge such as Golub's does focus my attention on the way things are run in Washington. The "insider's game," which Pelosi plays to the hilt, is based on strategies of incremental gain; consolidating Democratic power; and huge compromises. Her confederates Rahm Emmanuel and Steny Hoyer play the game the same way. I think Pelosi's strategy from the start was probably shrewder than we give her credit for. She had been in the District of Columbia a lot longer than Bush when W came to town in 2001. I think the Democratic leadership had L'il George marked for a rube who was in over his head from the beginning; once the Dems took over the House and gained a marginal advantage in the Senate, they settled on a ploy of giving Bush the rope he needed to hang himself. Pelosi said as much; Iraq was "Bush's war," and the funding would be there, but the execution of the war was up to him.

Along the way the Democrats placated their base with occasional tokens of resistance. Doling out the money in small increments at times, so that Bush had to make a public display of demanding funds more often, imposing "nonbinding" time lines so that Bush would veto the bill (confirming that Iraq was a war without end), placing veterans' benefits in the funding bills so that Bush's hypocrisy in "supporting the troops" without supporting the troops became patent.

Drip, drip, drip. Along the way, the Democratic-led Congress became, in opinion polls, at least as unpopular as Bush. But the Democrats also knew that the American populace did not identify itself with Republicans anymore, and more than anything else, the borderline destruction of the Republican Party has been accomplished by one man, George Walker Bush, 43rd President of the United States, a politician so radioactive that when he sent his VP to Mississippi to rescue a Republican candidate in deep trouble, it sealed the deal for the Democrats.

I have a hard time arguing with anything in Shirley Golub's platform. It's just what you'd expect in a progressive agenda: single payer health care, out of Iraq in 90 days, aggressive approach to global warming, abolishing the electoral college, no telecom immunity. The sort of issues that liberal-minded people of my generation throw around the dinner table and solve so easily in their heads.

And which never seem to happen in real life, not in this country. Meanwhile, I think at least in the House the Democrats will go on to their super majority. Talk has it they will own 250 seats out of 435, a 57% majority. I don't think they'll need to overcome Presidential vetoes after January, 2009, so the remaining bottleneck will happen because of that strange "60-vote" rule the Senate uses without any Constitutional authority. Something else Shirley would no doubt change if she had the chance.

I don't think Ms. Golub will defeat Nancy Pelosi, of course. San Franciscans aren't going to turn the big-eyed Diva out of the Speakership and replace her with a tune-up shop owner. Nancy has real power. She's made her bones in D.C. playing against the Big Boys. It may be true, of course, that her power is mainly used in order to consolidate more power for her party, and that the "issues" are mainly game pieces toward that purpose. The war's okay as long as it sinks Bush and his party, which it certainly has. Whether any of this is good for the country is, in the final analysis, quite beside the point.

May 18, 2008

Memo to AG Sheldon Whitehouse on Law Revision Commission

To: Sheldon Whitehouse, Attorney General
From: Henry D. Waldenswimmer, Esq.
Date: January 22, 2009
Subject: Law Revision Commission for United States Code Annotated

Dear Shel:

You've asked my ideas on restoring the U.S. Code to some semblance of order after the havoc worked on it during the Bush Presidency/Republican Congress years. I could not agree more that major work needs to be done. Here are some of my ideas on how to proceed after the Commission completes its initial survey of the principal areas of damage:

1. Repeal any and all post facto exonerations: What a mess those clowns made of the criminal code with their paranoid escape hatches for various war crimes and violations of the Federal Anti-Torture Statute. If they all need to flee to Paraguay like their role models from another era, then let them, but don't disgrace the country with excuses for violating Geneva. Look mainly at the Detainee Treatment Act and the incorporated provision in the Military Commissions Act, with that baloney about torture being okay if done "with the advice of counsel." Now that we know all that "advice" was requested specifically so the Bushies and the Pentagon could ignore federal law and international standards of humane treatment, it isn't worth a plug nickel. (Nota bene: if an act, like waterboarding, was a crime when the act was committed, then repeal of the exoneration clause should restore it to a prosecutable offense without violating the ex post facto clause of the Constitution. You're going to be busy.) And restore habeas corpus for anyone arrested or detained by the United States other than in a declared war.

2. Get rid of the Department of Homeland Security: What next, are we going to call America "Vaterland?" Teach the "Horst Wessel" song in our grade schools? Restore FEMA, the Immigration & Naturalization Service and the Coast Guard to their previous places in the table of operations. Believe it or not, a bloated bureaucracy with new titles is not always the way to improve things. And never refer to this country as the "Homeland" again. It's the United States of America. If that was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it's good enough for us.

3. Repeal the Patriot Act: Allow the CIA and FBI to share information on domestic surveillance concerning foreign operatives and terrorist plots, as they did not before 9/11. The attacks weren't caused because Americans enjoy civil liberties or check books out of the library; they happened because the Bush Administration was disorganized, negligent and obsessed with attacking Iraq.

4. Repeal the Bankruptcy Code revision: Just put Title 11 back where it was before the Republicans hired banking and credit card lobbyists to rewrite it.

5. Repeal No Child Left Behind: I mean, do I need to say more?

Some things are self-executing, such as allowing all of Bush's tax cuts to expire under their own terms. I guess Tom DeLay and Bush outsmarted themselves after all, passing tax cuts which they could call "permanent" when they wanted to look like champions of small government and "temporary" when they wanted favorable forecasts of future deficits. Who's got the last laugh now, with a Democratic majority of 350-85 in the House and 65-35 in the Senate? All these things are a start, anyway. Tons of deferred maintenance in restoring good governance. It's like moving back into a house and discovering that crack addicts have been using it as a shooting gallery for the last eight years.

Oh, and if you want to lighten your own docket, why doesn't the United States just sign on with International Criminal Court in the Hague? Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall when they get news of that?