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By Bill Gallagher

"Without exaggeration, George W. Bush, light blue tie, silly smirk and all, is the worst president this nation has ever had." -- Jack Lessenberry, Detroit Metro Times columnist.

DETROIT -- The president has been tanking in the polls since telling the American people he needed $87 billion in a hurry for just a partial payment for the occupation of Iraq.

The often-repeated reasons for the war -- that Saddam had "weapons of mass destruction" and posed an imminent threat to U.S. security, and that Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- are now known to be outrageous lies.

Even the president has finally acknowledged publicly for the very first time that Saddam was not involved in the murderous deeds of Sept. 11. That should have been big news, but it wasn't.

Media outlets, especially television, are largely responsible for the vast public misperception that Saddam was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks -- a myth that nearly 70 percent of Americans still believe.

The Bush administration's deliberately deceptive rhetoric formed the lie, and major corporate news organizations served as shameless hucksters for the political propaganda. So now, when the president finally fesses up and says sheepishly that there was "no evidence that Hussein was involved" with the Sept. 11 attacks, that ought to be a major news story. Instead, it was buried and got little play, when it should have made headlines and been the lead story on every American news broadcast.

The story should have had even more weight since the president was debunking Vice President Cheney's feeble attempt to keep the lies alive. Cheney sold this solemn whopper on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Cheney said, "If we're successful in Iraq, then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of terrorists who had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

Host Tim Russert let that big lie slide without a challenge or a whimper.

Seth Porges, in the newspaper trade magazine "Editor & Publisher," did some telling research and wrote, "Of America's 12 highest circulation daily papers, only the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News ran anything about it on the front page. In The New York Times, the story was relegated to page 22. USA Today: page 16. The Houston Chronicle: page 3. The San Francisco Chronicle: page 14. The Washington Post: page 18. Newsday: page 41. The New York Daily News: page 14.

"The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal didn't even mention it at all."

I didn't hear any talk about it at all on the American Pravdas, the cable news channels that have been trumpeting Saddam's Sept. 11 "connections" like they were sacred writ. I guess it gets a little messy when the White House changes the scripts the right-wing talking heads have been dutifully reading all these years. Or maybe they were thinking, "If we don't report it, you don't get to decide."

The Associated Press developed a blockbuster story proving another fear-exploiting deception, and it got even less play than the president's belated exoneration of Saddam for Sept. 11.

Top American scientists hunting for weapons in Iraq found no evidence Saddam Hussein's regime was making or stockpiling smallpox. Wait a minute! Again, on the same "Meet the Press" show, Dick "Watch me lie with a straight face" Cheney said Iraq had a smallpox program.

After dancing around his earlier wild and unfounded claims that Saddam had a nuclear weapons program, Cheney made a desperate play to trot out the bogey man of biological weapons of mass destruction to save face and cover his growing resemblance to Pinocchio.

Cheney said flat-out that two trailers discovered in Iraq could have been used to make smallpox and he referred to them as "mobile biological facilities." But the AP reports U.S. intelligence analysts believe the trailers were used to fill weather balloons. No hot air in Iraq can rival Cheney's.

Don't forget, Secretary of State Colin Powell played the biological weapons card in his call to war before the United Nations, saying Saddam "has the wherewithal to develop smallpox."

As people were frantically scarfing up duct tape, the cry went out to get everyone vaccinated against smallpox. The fear campaign worked.

Now the truth.

A three-month search by a group of scientists known as "Team Pox" found no signs of smallpox, only evidence to the contrary. They found the fine work of UN inspectors who had disabled lab equipment that had been rendered harmless. Iraqi scientists, believed to be credible, said they had done no work with smallpox, and a lab thought to be back in use before the war was found to be covered in cobwebs.

No nukes. No pox. But the fear of them served the Bush administration's drive to convince the American people that war was the only way to avoid horrible peril.

Jack Lessenberry teaches journalism at Wayne State University in Detroit and he writes columns for the Metro Times, a weekly muckraking newspaper. You probably guessed we're friends. He's witty and candid and his prose whistles.

Jack says people were fooled into thinking George W. Bush would run a "moderate, healing administration."

He's got the Bush gang nailed: "Since Day One, his government has worked hard, and largely successfully, to beggar the lower and middle classes for the benefit of large corporations, and nibble away at our civil liberties. Worst of all, he has gotten us into a senseless war with no end in sight with the wrong enemy in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The more the American people learn about George W.'s crazy designs for the world and what they cost in lives and diverted national resources, the more they dislike it. The truth is a deadly political poison for the Bush administration.

Under George W. Bush's watch, 2.9 million U.S. jobs have vanished -- 93,000 just last month. His cynical, pandering steel tariffs -- aimed at getting votes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, critical states for Bush's re-election -- have cost 200,000 manufacturing jobs in other states like New York and Michigan.

Forty million Americans, mostly people with jobs, have no health insurance, while Bush defends the status quo and protects private health care providers, which take huge government fees to deny coverage for the needy.

The rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases are soaring as Bush allows utility companies to spew more pollutants into the air.

George W.'s tax-cut con will provide 42 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of the population -- families earning more than $330,000 per year.

That raid on the U.S. Treasury has created record deficits and will produce nearly $2 trillion in new debt over the next five years. In an act of generational injustice without parallel, Bush gives big tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and passes the bill and unconscionable debt onto the children and grandchildren of working people.

George W. has done nothing to deal with the looming shortfall for Social Security funding, and Medicare is in equal trouble.

Public schools, roads and bridges are crumbling as the quality of our nation's infrastructure declines and Bush demands taxpayer money to rebuild schools and bridges in Iraq.

"Nobody has done as much to ruin the nation and mess up the world," Jack Lessenberry declares, and he's so right.

Yes, folks, James Buchanan, U.S. Grant, Warren Harding and Richard Nixon are now only faraway contenders, out of the race, now faded rivals for presidential infamy. George W. Bush has the undisputed distinction of being "the worst president this nation has ever had."

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 September 23 2003