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Morning Report 12/29/04Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

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Showing solidarity with suffering Asians, a swamped Bush cleans up debris

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Sweaty Samaritan: Bush knows what those Asians are going through. As a king of the hill country (above, in August 2002), he’s cleared a lot of brush from his ranch, and that’s a tough job, I tell you what. (White House photo)

Even a disaster of Biblical proportions failed to rouse the bored-again George W. Bush from his Christmas vacation in Crawford, Texas.

The monumental Indian Ocean tsunami was the closest thing to the Genesis flood that we’ll probably ever see. Any other U.S. president, including Daddy Bush, would have immediately gone public with comforting words and a bucketful of money. This earth-shaking event, the most deadly tsunami in the planet’s recorded history, has left hundreds of millions of Asians—those who weren’t swept away—with mountains of debris to clean up and victims to mourn.

Our president spent yesterday clearing brush at his ranch, while making sure the U.S. was pitching in to help the unprecedented disaster’s victims.

So yesterday, we pledged $15 million. My colleague Jarrett Murphy immediately put that rather small largesse into perspective. Here’s some more context: Lloyd S. Blankfein, president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, received a nearly $20 million bonus in 2003, the New York Times breathlessly reported in a totally unrelated story that I made fun of because it was totally unrelated to the real world.

But now I finally understand how our compassionate conservatism is only conservatively compassionate. The Bush regime’s Scrooge-like behavior prompted an outcry, and the U.S. chipped in $20 million more. And the Washington Post reported this morning that, even though there were “complaints that the vacationing President Bush has been insensitive to a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions,” the president wasn’t ignoring the issue of debris:

    Earlier yesterday [December 28], White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling.

Now that’s what I call homeland security—protecting your own territory from menacing tree limbs and branches. But the good news he brought to Asians was that the U.S. more than doubled its initial contribution of $15 million.

Here’s another frame of reference: In 2003, E. Stanley O’Neal, the CEO of Merrill Lynch, (and a record-setting fundraiser for Bush’s campaign), got a bonus of $13.5 million plus stock worth $11.2 million, as the Times calculated it.

If you’re keeping track, this is the running total:

• U.S. aid after tsunami: $35 million

• Bonuses paid in 2003 to corporate execs Blankfein and O’Neal: $44.7 million

Maybe Bush just blanks out when he’s down in Crawford. Rick Perlstein captured the president’s “divine calm” in a Voice story last May that began this memorable way:

    For George W. Bush, August 6, 2001, had to have been a pretty harrowing day, reading as he did in his Daily Brief that operatives of Osama bin Laden were “in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives,” and surveilling federal buildings in New York, and mulling over plans to attack Washington, D.C. But a reporter who saw him cavorting on his Crawford ranch not long after said, “The president was probably at the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him.”

Adding insult to injury, Bush later refused to make public that warning he had received more than a month before 9/11 and hadn’t taken seriously.

When Bush is in Crawford, nothing seems serious.

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