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By Bill Gallagher

"I know exactly where I want to lead this country." -- President George W. Bush.

DETROIT -- That rare and frightening utterance of the truth is heard when George W. reads the line in one of his new TV spots. The expensive ad blitz is aimed at trying to pump up his sagging poll numbers as Sen. John Kerry wraps up the Democratic nomination.

Knowing where Bush has already led the nation and the world, it makes me shudder at the thought of what his handlers and corporate sponsors have told him about where we're heading in the future if the voters succumb to the steady diet of lies they've been fed and, poisoned with that political slop, actually re-elect the worst president we've had since James Buchanan. The Democrats and John Kerry can certainly focus on some key issues that buttress that fact.

It is encouraging to see how the president's political brain Karl Rove's crass attempt to exploit Sept. 11 images for political advantage quickly boomeranged. Bush might have been given a little room on the issue if he hadn't been systematically stonewalling the work of the Sept. 11 commission at the same time he was trying to cash in on his association with that terrible national tragedy.

How Sept. 11 might have been prevented and what happened on his watch are precisely the questions Bush wants left unanswered and buried while trying to politicize the searing event. Add to the understandable furor the Sept. 11 exploitation ad has sparked the now-shattered image of "Fly-Boy" Bush on the aircraft carrier with White House-ordered "Mission Accomplished" draped over the ship. What were once considered the ideal photo ops are being shelved because of the nagging forces of reality and truth.

Fly-Boy now looks duplicitous in light of the belated media attention to his lax National Guard attendance and the far more serious matter of George W.'s failure to show up at a physical where drug testing was required. That still-unexplained failure to show got the trained pilot grounded.

The Democrats need to do little more with the thoroughly discredited claim that Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed a menacing threat to the United States with huge stockpiles of illegal weapons. A new report from the UN, a far more reliable and credible organization than any department in the Bush federal government, now shows Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction of any significance after 1994.

The point is now indelibly made for anyone who cares about the truth. The weapons claims were bogus. The increasingly smaller number of Americans who believe otherwise will never be convinced. The years of lies and corporate media propaganda will never be expunged from the minds of many of these gullible souls, and the rest of them are unconvertible partisans. Forget about them.

The same goes for the misguided masses who fell victim to the Bush administration rhetoric that Saddam and bin Laden were a combined force of terror. Knight Ridder's Washington Bureau, one of the few news organizations to consistently question the Bushite claims and catch them in their lies, reports that Saddam Hussein's al-Qaeda ties, "one of the administration's central arguments for preemptive war -- appear to have been based on even less solid intelligence than the administration's claims that Iraq had hidden stocks of chemical and biological weapons."

Senior U.S. intelligence officials Knight Ridder reporters spoke to say that "there never was any evidence that Saddam's secular police state and Osama bin Laden's Islamic terrorism network were in league."

The more important issue in the campaign is the present mess in Iraq and what to do about it. The terrible carnage at the Shiite holy places last week underscores just how dangerous Iraq remains. We are in the middle of the biggest troop rotation since World War II and the fresh forces are walking into a terrible situation.

The shuffle involves 235,000 troops. Those going home certainly deserve relief, but the consequences of replacing seasoned people with whole, inexperienced divisions and many less-trained Reserve and National Guard units will have some ugly consequences in the midst of chaos and, yes, quagmire.

The State Department's analysis of what would happen after Saddam's fall and what needed to be done to restore stability and order was ignored. George W. Bush has allowed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his boys to make all the important decisions there. Rumsfeld's arrogance and the poor planning for the long occupation are important issues in the campaign.

The jobs picture for the American people gets bleaker as the economy grows. Remember, job growth was the promised reward for working people in the Bush economic strategy. Cut taxes and the economy will take off and more jobs will follow. It's simply not happening.

In February unemployment remained at 5.6 percent and the economy produced a paltry 21,000 new jobs. Real unemployment may be higher than the official number when you take into account that approximately 392,000 people left the workforce between January and February. They simply gave up looking for work.

Since March 2001 the percentage of the population that is officially in the workforce has plunged from 67.1 percent to 65.9 percent. According to Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, that means the real Bush unemployment rate is 7.3 percent.

The feeble February job growth was far below even the most pessimistic estimates, and nowhere near the rate projected in the Economic Report of the President. Bush's own forecast predicts there will be 2.6 million new jobs created this year.

That number is so wildly off the mark you have to assume they just made it up. What more would you expect from an administration that would make up the reasons for war and sending young Americans to die?

The Bush tax cuts, which have most benefited the high earners, the top one percent, have done little to stimulate job growth, and at an enormous cost to the Treasury.

"You would think that after spending almost $3 trillion, you'd get more than 21,000 jobs," Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.) told The New York Times. "The president has not only a fiscal deficit, but a jobs deficit and a credibility deficit," Emmanuel adds.

And the Bush crowd is already plotting how to cover those record deficits the tax cuts are causing -- slash your Social Security benefits. Federal Reserve Chairman and Bush stalking-horse Alan Greenspan is already eying all that money in the Social Security fund surplus to make up for Bush's reckless tax cuts and fiscal policies.

The planned swindle screams of injustice. What Greenspan is talking about is taking payroll taxes working people have been paying into Social Security for years and diverting it to pay for the more-than-generous tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says Greenspan, by ignoring Bush's responsibility for the deficits, has compromised and politicized the federal reserve system. "By using his office to promote a partisan agenda, he has betrayed his institution, and the nation," Krugman says. Let me add this. That old horse Greenspan ought to be sent out to pasture and John Kerry ought to say that right now.

People who are not getting the jobs they were promised are now being asked to take a reduction in benefits to cut the deficits Bush created in his tax follies. That is outrageous.

What the Bushites are doing to the environment and where they hope to lead the nation is the unconscionable approaching the criminal. They are selling out the health of children to protect corporate polluters who are also, not coincidentally, big campaign contributors.

Just as the Bush administration began, we now see how the game was played. Former Republican Chairman and lobbyist for power companies, Haley Barbour, wrote a letter to Vice President Cheney outlining what he expected.

Barbour, who is now governor of Mississippi, was candid about the polluters' delight about the new administration.

The New York Times got hold of the memo where Barbour makes his case that laws and public health be damned and here's our demands.

"The question is whether environmental policy still prevails over energy policy, as it did with Clinton-Gore, Barbour wrote, and called for action that showed that concerns over the air we breathe would no longer trump good energy policy," the Times reports.

It's outlandish that someone would be bold enough to write that but, sadly for anyone who breathes, Cheney and Bush went along with it.

They relaxed air pollution requirements over the objections of the Environmental Protection Agency. You can make a direct algebraic equation between the big energy polluters, their contributions to Bush and the Republicans and the government's folding on clean air measures. It's irrefutable.

The Democrats have plenty to talk about. First they should send out this message. If you have inherited wealth, make over $300,000 a year, enjoy a dangerous, insecure nation and world, and don't care if your children have jobs or breathe filthy air, George W. Bush is your man. Otherwise, you might start thinking about John Kerry.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 9 2004