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Gov. Bush's trip raises questions about 2008

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has emphatically ruled out a 2008 bid to replace his brother in the White House, but his profile-raising tour of tsunami-wrecked countries has rekindled talk of a third Bush presidency.

The governor's trip with Secretary of State Colin Powell to Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka seems tailor-made for a White House aspirant looking to pad his resume. Traveling with a press secretary and two security guards, Bush is getting equal billing at news conferences with Powell, the pair standing side-by-side at podiums or in trio with a foreign leader.

Powell typically refers to Bush in the first sentence or two of any remarks, saying "we" are doing this and "we" will do that. Bush seems to take his cues from Powell _ they even dress alike, in khakis and open-necked shirts.

The governor is deferential to Powell, limiting his remarks to his experience with Florida's hurricane season. He acknowledged, however, that the damage from four hurricanes paled in comparison to the tsunami.

Shortly before his brother won a second term, the governor said he would finish his second term in January 2007, "and then I'll go back to Miami and I'll figure out what I'm going to do. But it isn't going to be running for president, I promise."

Private relief efforts

NBC PLANS SPECIAL: NBC Universal says an hourlong special to benefit Asian tsunami survivors will air across the company's various cable and broadcast networks on Jan. 15, a Saturday.

An NBC spokesman said there were no additional details about the special _ such as which relief organizations or countries will get the funds _ but that it will be "music- and celebrity-driven." The special is scheduled to air live on the East Coast, starting at 8 p.m., on NBC, USA, Bravo, Trio, Sci-Fi, MSNBC and CNBC.

DEDUCTIBLE FOR '04: Taxpayers would be able to claim deductions for contributions to tsunami relief efforts on their 2004 tax returns under legislation introduced Tuesday by the chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., would allow charitable contributions for tsunami relief made through January to be claimed as deductions on taxpayers' 2004 tax returns.

FINE OR DONATION: A judge in Chattanooga, Tenn., is offering traffic violators a choice: pay a fine or make a $100 donation to a tsunami relief charity.

Municipal Judge Russell Bean began the offer Monday and plans to continue it for at least two weeks. "If they make this $100 donation to one of these programs like Red Cross or Save the Children, I will give them amnesty," Bean said.

Defendants involved in accidents or charged with reckless driving are not eligible. And young drivers may still have to attend a driving course.

U.S. Diego Garcia base

HONOLULU _ Location and underwater topography helped protect the strategic U.S. military base on the island of Diego Garcia from the killer Indian Ocean tsunami.

Pacific Fleet officials in Honolulu said Navy facilities and operations on the tiny British-governed atoll were not affected by the Dec. 26 earthquake or the tsunami it caused. Ships stationed at the base have been sent to Southeast Asia to help the relief effort.

An air and naval refueling station that is home to about 4,000 U.S. personnel and support staff, Diego Garcia is the only U.S. military base in the Indian Ocean.

Silence in Europe

BRUSSELS _ Flags across Europe will be lowered to half-staff, stock exchanges will stop trading and workers, shoppers and businesses across the continent will join a three-minute silent tribute at noon today to victims of the tsunami.

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