PHILADELPHIA -- We all had our debate moments, but the one that stunned me was, "It's (Iraq is) hard work. I see it on the TV screens."

Watching it on TV, boy that is tough work all right. And what was the "hard work" thing about? Did Rove poll and find out people think the president vacations too much?

I also came to a full stop after the one about sending troops to die. "I never -- when I was running -- when we had the debate in 2000, never dreamt I'd be doing that." He never dreamt it?

It never occurred to him? Was this man prepared for the job? Help!

I lean to the "bubble president" theory of Bush's peevish, petulant performance in debate. They've kept him surrounded by people who keep telling him he's great. I blame Karl Rove, of course. Bush is not used to being questioned. In Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War," the president is quoted: "I'm the commander in chief, see, I don't need to explain, I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting part about being president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

He never has liked being questioned about anything, going back to his years as governor, when he often snapped at reporters who asked tough questions during press conferences. As president, he practically never has press conferences, so he's really out of practice, and since the R's control Congress, he gets no challenge there.

Now in Philadelphia, where politics is really special, they're having another dandy scandal where their pols sold out for peanuts. At least they're up from the $300 bribe during the late, great judges' scandal to a couple of grand per city hall official.

Meanwhile, the presidential race here is a pip. The Inquirer reports voter registration up dramatically, there are volunteers on every street corner in downtown Philly, the media are swamped with ads, door-knockers, rallies -- it's an election. Meanwhile, back under the radar, the level at which no one is paying attention, I learn via the Internet that the Republican National Committee's precious database, with all that info about our voting habits, was outsourced to India.

The New York Times didn't let this one sneak by: It Page One-ed the news that public libraries and schools around the country are no longer receiving high-speed Internet access and telephone service. The Bush administration, without public notice, put a moratorium on $1 billion in new grants the states expected to receive by the end of the year.

This could shut down service in many states. It is particularly critical in rural areas. The Federal Communications Commission wants tighter rules put on the grants that finance equipment and service, supposedly to prevent fraud. However, the big telecommunications companies have been fighting the so-called "Gore Tax" ever since the law passed back in 1996. According the Times, the FCC has been reducing the companies' contributions to the program for the past nine months. In the name of sound management, the FCC is forcing the entity that runs the program to liquidate more than $3 billion in investments at a loss not yet calculated. Boy, that's shrewd management.

Speaking of both radar and stupid government, for a truly pathological example of how ideological fixations and denying reality can cost us dearly, to the $200 billion for the disaster in Iraq add at least $150 billion to deploy the unproven and unworkable missile-defense system, nee Star Wars. Since Star Wars was a pet scheme of Ronald Reagan's, Republicans insist on trying to carry out this nutty idea, the equivalent of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Ye olde military-defense complex also has a rather large stake in keeping this dog of a program going.

We have spent $90 billion on it since 1983, with much more to come. The thing is supposed to be deployed this year, but it will have no demonstrated capability and would be ineffective against a real attack by long-range missiles. Between 1999 and December 2000, the thing has been five for eight against targets WITH the information of the time and place of the launch and the missile's trajectory fed to the interceptor. In other, words, totally rigged tests.

The list of what's either wrong or doubtful about this system is nearly endless. The Union of Concerned Scientists points out we have no evidence it will ever be able to distinguish between warheads and weather balloons. The New Yorker notes that none of our enemies has ICBMs and we are trying "to protect a nation from terrorists with box cutters and suitcase bombs."

Sometimes, I get the feeling the whole country is being run by Paris Hilton.

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