Bill Gallagher, Niagara Falls ReporterDETROIT -- The president of the United States is inept, a frightening reality for the American people and our neighbors around the world. It is chilling for someone with the responsibilities and powers of the president to lack the fitness, aptitude and sense to carry out the duties of that office.Bubble-Boy's bubble has burst. His failed policies and rampant incompetence now only enjoy unflinching support from the lockstep confines of GOP partisans, the Busheviks' corporate sponsors and their Amen chorus found on right-wing shout radio, the Fox News Channel and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal.The mainstream American media, which long ignored or supported President George Bush's string of disasters, are finally catching on to what a growing majority of American people know: This frat-boy slacker, selected president because of his name and big-bucks supporters, this media-made Churchillian figure standing in the rubble of the Twin Towers, has been out of touch -- and often out of sight -- for every major national crisis before and since.Bush, the great leader and commander, the protector of his people, is a myth. His now-dwindling support was built on the manufactured consent of fear, and now a majority rejects his handling of his hallmark issue. A Bloomberg-Los Angeles Times poll shows 54 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of terrorism. Hallelujah! The biggest lie of our times, that Bush makes us safer, is crumbling."I don't think anybody could have anticipated the breach of the levees," Bush told ABC's "Good Morning America" about flooded New Orleans as the waters were still rising and people were dying in the city and along the Gulf Coast. I heard him say it live and it didn't ring true at the time. When he repeated the line over and over again, as recently as last week, I smelled mendacity in the air.When Bush sounds like a skipping CD, you know Karl Rove told him to cling to the memorized script and that repetition will make the lines stick.The lie fizzled when the truth showed up on videotape and we all could see how inept and disengaged Bush really is. The tape is from a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing for Bush on Aug. 28, before Hurricane Katrina hit. The video shows Bush sitting in a room at his Texas ranch getting briefed on the storm through a teleconference.Dr. Max Mayfield, the head of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told the president he "didn't have any good news" and a "very dangerous hurricane" of enormous size and strength was going to hit the Gulf Coast. Mayfield warned that the levees around Lake Pontchartrain were in peril, posing the "greatest potential loss of life."Mayfield told Bush and all with ears to hear, "I don't think any (computer) models can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but obviously that's a very, very grave concern."Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, sounded the alarm and made it clear to Bush that he was worried about the Superdome's vulnerability to flooding and whether its roof could withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Brown expressed great concern about dealing with so many evacuees at the Superdome and the preparedness of disaster teams "to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe." Oh, his prophetic soul. As I watched the tape, Brownie struck me as the one port in the storm with the globe on in his lighthouse, paying attention and anticipating the consequences of the looming disaster.Bush then gave what sounded like a political speech. He thanked everyone, mentioning a string of names, prayed that lives would be spared and promised, "I can assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm."The wise and experienced expect Bush to lie about anything that exposes his poor judgment and inattention. The Army Corps of Engineers, surely at the behest of the White House, is making the distinction between a breach in the levees an actual break and water overrunning them. We are supposed to forget about the "very, very grave concern" warning. The Busheviks still think we are fools.What I found so fascinating was, as the presentation continued, Bush just sat there silently, inept and paralyzed. No comments. No questions. No orders. There were numerous opportunities for him to offer direction and leadership, but he just sat there.He reminded me of one of Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster and friend Ernie Harwell's famous descriptions. When a batter would just stare at a fat pitch right over the plate and the umpire would call a third strike, Ernie would say, "He stood there like the house by the side of the road."Bush should have understood the gravity of the crisis and taken personal responsibility for the federal government's response. He did not. He remained on vacation and prepared for a political fund-raising trek to California, content to be the house by the side of the road.Twelve hours before Katrina struck, Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security, was off to Atlanta to attend a conference on the bird flu. Bush's ineptness comes in two basic, equally repulsive flavors: omission and commission.Inexcusable omissions flavor Katrina, the failure to heed pre-9/11 intelligence about al-Qaeda and ignoring the overwhelming evidence of global warming.Bush's glaring acts of commission include looting the Treasury and creating unconscionable debt for the middle class to pay for tax cuts for the rich, creating an unfunded new entitlement with prescription-drug benefits and making it as confusing for people as possible, and fostering a health-care abomination that leaves 45 million Americans uninsured while enriching the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies and for-profit hospitals.Bush's mad adventure in Iraq required a blend of commission and omission, resulting in the tragic debacle and unending violence that will be Bush's legacy of ineptness for the ages.He used bin Laden's attacks as the pretext to invade Iraq. He was committed to that end and invented reasons to justify the aggression.New revelations based on two highly classified intelligence reports show Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the administration made claims about the threat of Iraq they knew were highly questionable or flat-out false.Resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq shows no sign of letting up. Contrary to administration claims, the insurgency is not a containable threat composed of criminals, Saddam loyalists and non-Iraqi terrorists. A recent Knight Ridder report refers to an October 2003 National Intelligence Estimate that concluded "the insurgency was fueled by local conditions -- not foreign terrorists -- and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops."Last week, I had a Dick Cheney moment. No, I didn't shoot a hunting companion in the face after cocktails and then hide from the sheriff. My Cheneyesque behavior involved cherry-picking intelligence, relying on dated and confusing information, and seeking out facts to buttress a conclusion already made.I made the case in last week's column that crony capitalism, corporate trade interests and the Bush family's cozy relationship with the royal family in the United Arab Emirates were important factors in the deal to permit Dubai Ports World to take over major shipping operations at six U.S. ports. That is true.But some things I wrote about the Carlyle Group were not and I apologize for those errors. Carlyle did not buy CSX's World Terminals unit, as I reported, but rather CSX's container shipping units. These were certainly related activities, but totally separate business entities.The CSX sale of World Terminals was a deal done directly with the UAE and Carlyle was not part of that transaction. Carlyle sold Horizon Lines to a private equity group, Castle Harlan, for $650 million. Carlyle also sold military contractor United Defense in 2004, which I failed to note.While some wealthy sheiks from Dubai have stakes in Carlyle, a private equity firm with $35 billion under its management, the company's own investments in the Middle East are limited, with some small venture capital investments in technology businesses in Israel.Former president George H.W. Bush and former secretary of state James Baker still maintain close relationships with some partners at Carlyle, but no longer work for the company, as I mistakenly reported. Both men have relinquished their positions with Carlyle -- Bush in 2004, and Baker last year.I could blame a generally reliable blog I often use and my own flawed memory. But the truth is, I am responsible for failing to be more thorough. I thank Chris Ullman from Carlyle for patiently and graciously helping lift the shroud of my self-created confusion.I admit my mistakes and trust no one has died as a result. Bush, Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will never be able to say the same.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.