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By Bill Gallagher

"Cultivated leisure is the aim of man." -- Oscar Wilde, Irish genius.

DETROIT -- George W. Bush is right on target with the leisure part, but that cultivated stuff doesn't interest him. America's worst president ever also has the distinction of being the most rested. He typically takes more time off in the month of August than the vast majority of American workers do for the entire year.

When Bush speaks to the Republican Convention he'll be tanned and relaxed, fresh from another nine-day stay at his Rancho Wacko in Crawford, Texas. This is his 34th paid vacation in his three-and-a-half years in office.

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Bush, who disdains most things European, goes on holidays at a rate that would make a French nobleman blush. The summer numbers have not yet been tallied -- he will, of course, need more rest after his grueling convention duties -- but the vacation stats he's already chalked up are staggering.

CBS News calculated that, through April 2004, Bush had spent all or part of 535 days of his presidency at vacation spots. That's 42.4 percent of his time in office. While most Americans crave a week or even a day off, our leader in leisure goofs off for weeks at a time.

I don't buy that "working vacation" crap for one minute. He puts on his blue working shirt and parades around the ranch for a few photo ops with his minions in mufti -- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice -- in tow. It's all for show. He spends little time on matters of state.

The president enjoys jogging in the oppressive heat of the Texas desert, playing golf, fishing, shooting birds, chopping wood, clearing brush, hanging out with his dog and spending endless hours playing video games and watching sports on the tube. He reads little, if at all. And, as we learned from his 2001 summer hiatus, he even ignores written material vital for our national security.

On Aug. 6, 2001, Bush received an intelligence briefing paper entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S." Did he call for a National Security Council meeting? No. Did he order the military and his Cabinet to respond to the warning? No. Did he do anything? No. We do know the very next day the commander in chief went to the Ridgewood Country Club in Waco, Texas, to play a round of golf.

We also know from congressional Intelligence Committee reports that the CIA knew terrorists were planning to use airplanes as weapons, and senior government officials were made aware in a July 2001 brief that bin Laden "will launch a significant terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interest in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interest. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."

This spring, George W. took a work break from his vacations and chatted with the 9/11 Commission about those briefings. While sitting on Lord Halliburton's comfy lap, he said he considered the warnings of bin Laden's plans "historical information." I'll bet he never bothered reading the reports. He didn't want to be late for tee time.

Also in late August 2001, CIA Director George Tenet was informed that the FBI had nabbed Zacarias Moussaoui, a known Islamic jihadist who had been taking lessons on how to fly a 747. During her performance -- which should have been nominated for an Oscar -- before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice made a dramatic speech about how Tenet briefed the president nearly every day, even when George W. was hanging out at the ranch.

But Tenet had a different story. He testified that, during that entire month, he did not have a single conversation with the president. Tenet too was "on leave."

Like a baron in pre-Revolutionary France, Bush surveys his estate and isolates himself from the unwashed masses that work every day and cherish rare days of rest. The elitist Bush regime is systematically exploiting overworked, vacation-starved Americans.

George W. is the rare American who gets too much vacation, but he has made leisure respectable. What he should be saying at the Republican Convention is that Americans need more time off, and then he should unveil his new plan for trickle-down vacations.

But in George Bush's America, the fruits of labor provide the very few with pampered privileges and leave out the rest. His Labor Department just issued new rules that will make it possible for employers to deny overtime pay to as many as 6 million American workers. People will work longer hours for less money, and be able to afford fewer vacations.

Deborah Figart, co-editor of the book "Working Time," told the Institute for Public Accuracy that "part of the problem is that U.S. managers are encouraged to overwork people because of the fixed costs associated with each employee, like health care insurance and unemployment insurance." Meanwhile, Figart adds, "low income people work overtime so they can pay their bills."

During the Bush presidency, 9 million working Americans have had their health insurance taken away as their employers cannot or refuse to pay the premiums. These workers must now pay all their health care insurance out of their own pockets or join the growing ranks of the uninsured.

In a national disgrace, a record 45 million Americans now are without health insurance, and I'm sure Bush didn't spend even two minutes of his latest vacation time trying to do something about that festering problem.

Vacations are out of the question for the 4.3 million people who, under the Bush regime, have fallen below the poverty line of $18,660 for a family of four. And another statistic you won't hear mentioned at the Republican Convention is median family income. It was $44,853 in 2000 and it's plunged $1,535 during the first three years of the Bush dark ages.

While Europeans don't have our income levels, the wealth distribution there means significantly less poverty -- especially among children -- and studies show they are much more satisfied with their lives than are Americans.

Europeans tend to "work to live" while we "live to work." The Economic Policy Institute analyzed data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published in a forthcoming book, "The State of Working America 2004/2005." The comparison of the United States and 19 other countries on time off and productivity shatters some old myths.

The average American worker put in 1,815 hours in 2002, 59 more days than the average worker in the Netherlands. All that time off didn't hurt, but rather helped, productivity. The study finds "the Netherlands' hourly productivity reached 106 percent of the U.S. rate, while working fewer hours and keeping the poverty, as measured by the OECD, to less than half that of the U.S."

The unprecedented findings reveal that, with fewer working hours and lower poverty rates, Norway has 131 percent of U.S. productivity levels.

The fun-loving Irish, Italians and, yes, even French workers are topping the productivity of Americans.

Alan Greenspan has a dire warning that Social Security and Medicare benefits for the Baby Boom generation may have to be scaled back, but that heightened productivity growth of workers "offers the greatest potential" for allowing the nation to support the aging population. As Europe shows us, let's give workers more time off and improve productivity at the same time.

Greenspan finally admits the record Bush deficits have reduced national savings rates and we're forced to borrow more money from abroad. As the deficits balloon, that creates more trouble for Social Security, which might require a gradual delay in retirement ages.

If we're forced to work longer, why not have more time off?

Here's why. George W. Bush wants to protect his business and corporate sponsors who want nothing to do with shorter hours and more vacations for workers.

Besides, our rested leader fears vacations give people more time to relax, read, reflect and reason, and that means they're more likely to understand what a fraud and disaster his presidency is.

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 Aug. 31 2004