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By Bill Gallagher

"I guess you'd say I'm a good steward of the land. The quality of the air is cleaner since I've been the president." -- President George W. Bush.
"Well no wonder you're late. Why, this clock is exactly two days slow." -- The Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

DETROIT -- George W. Bush is totally unhinged and the American people better wake up to the truth that the commander in chief is out of touch with reality and getting more dangerous every day. Down is up. Up is down. Failure is victory. Inversion and absurdity make sense to him.

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At Friday night's debate, he'd jump out of his chair and dance around the stage spewing ridiculous nonsense like the Mad Hatter setting up the tea party in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." George W. is a champion of the environment. The war in Iraq is an act of international charity and the violence helps spread democracy in the Middle East. Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, but if he'd had them, he would have provided them to al-Qaeda. The economy is humming right along, and the job market is growing everywhere. Tax cuts for the rich and huge deficits are helping the middle class. The only problem with health care in America is trial lawyers, and we better watch out, because prescription drugs from Canada may poison us. And finally, the only damn mistake George W. ever made in his presidency was appointing people who disagreed with him.

You can't make this stuff up. He's mad. While reflecting on his physical movements and his ability to say the nonsensical with such ease, his certitude about everything and his obliviousness about his own clear failures, I had a eureka moment and understood why. It's mercury vapors! The president and the Mad Hatter have the very same affliction and they are incapable of clear thought and making any sense of reality.

Felt hats were the rage in Europe and North America in the 19th century, when Carroll wrote the Alice books and created the Mad Hatter character. A complicated process turned furs into the finished hats. Cheaper furs were rubbed with mercurous nitrate to roughen the fibers. The fibers were then shaved off the skin and turned into felt, which was then immersed in a boiling acid solution to thicken and harden it.

The acid treatment decomposed the mercurous nitrate to elemental mercury and the poor hatters, working in poorly ventilated workshops, would breathe in the mercury vapors, unaware of how dangerous and toxic they were.

Mercury is a cumulative poison that causes a host of maladies, including permanent brain damage. Some of the symptoms are uncontrollable shaking, anxiety, slurred speech, loss of memory and irritability.

The president doesn't want to run the risk of allowing more affordable prescription drugs from Canada to come into the United States because he says they might kill us. At the same time, he wants us to breathe more mercury fumes that are already causing birth defects at an alarming rate and have made eating fish from about 40 states dangerous to your health.

Let's see. Cheaper prescriptions, no. More mercury-contaminated air, yes. Only the Mad Hatter and George W. Bush would say that.

Bush's order-relaxing rules on mercury emissions from coal-burning electrical power plants were made to pay political favors to polluters at the expense of public health.

Felice Stadler, a mercury pollution expert at the National Wildlife Foundation, says that Bush's gift to the corporations "is a dream come true for energy companies and a nightmare for children's health."

The "good steward" also withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty to combat global warming that requires industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse emissions. The United States is the biggest greenhouse-gas emitter on the globe, but Bush's boys purged the phrase "global warming" from the Environmental Protection Agency's annual report.

If the Mad Hatter says it doesn't exist, it doesn't. Those rising temperatures are really falling. Inhale enough mercury and you'll think that way.

Over the last week, more rattling truth emerged that didn't seem to make a difference in George W.'s contaminated mind. He's sticking to his lies and mercury moments, so he'll never be accused of flip-flopping or being the kind of president who shifts positions.

"I don't see how, in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, you can change your mind because of politics," Bush twanged in Friday's debate.

He must have forgotten about his opposition to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the 9/11 Commission, and how, under political pressure, he did a complete about-face and supported both. Take another whiff of mercury and that might make sense. George W. and his minions used the argument that aluminum tubes Saddam Hussein bought were evidence he was planning a nuclear program. That stretch of the facts got a serious dose of truth, but that doesn't faze the lie-merchants. Remember, in the 2003 State of the Union address, Bush claimed, "Our intelligence sources tell us he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."

Condoleezza Rice earlier sounded the dire warning that the aluminum was "really only suited for nuclear weapons programs," and she followed that false claim with her chillingly infamous line: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

In a masterful article, The New York Times showed Energy Department experts told Rice's staff and the C.I.A. that the tubes were probably intended for small artillery rockets and not nuclear weapons. That was in 2001.

Now we learn from the chief weapons inspector that Saddam had no stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and his nuclear program had decayed long before the contrived invasion.

Charles Duelfer, the man the Bush administration picked to head the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), wrote in his report, "The analysis shows that despite Saddam's expressed desire to retain the knowledge of his nuclear team, and his attempts to retain some key parts of the program, during the course of the following 12 years (after 1991) Iraq's ability to produce a weapon decayed."

Former U.S. Viceroy in Iraq L. Paul Bremer told the Washington Post, "We never had enough troops on the ground," and, referring to the looting, "We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness." Bremer later said he thought he was speaking "off the record." Oops.

The author of the war "on the cheap" plan made a candid admission himself that he then retreated from. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had doubts about possible links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. On Oct. 4, he told the Council on Foreign Relations, "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two." Quickly, the Pentagon's Web site declared there was "credible evidence" that al-Qaeda leaders had sought contacts in Iraq to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and that Rumsfeld's statement was "misunderstood." How do you misunderstand a simple, declarative sentence in the English language? Sniff mercury.

At one point in Friday's debate, Bush babbled, "I thought the moderator was telling me my clock was up." The Mad Hatter couldn't have said it better.

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 Oct. 12 2004