Dick Cheney story

In his new book, "In My Time", Dick Cheney devotes a scant paragraph or two to the first Treasury Secretary of the Bush Administration, Mr. Paul O'Neill. In his few brief sentences, he paints us a picture, of Mr O'Neill apparently being a little nutty, and Mr Bush having decided that it was time for him to go.

The funny thing is that Ron Suskind wrote a several hundred page book specifically about Paul O'Neill's days working at the Treasury Department in President Bush's administration - it was called "The Price of Loyalty". Suskind interviewed many people and most of what he wrote doesn't agree with Mr Cheney's account. This picture paints O'Neill as being bureaucratically outmaneuvered by Mr Cheney at every step, on purpose. O'Neill would have meetings with Cheney, and Cheney would just sit there, nodding, looking at him, saying nothing, while O'Neill poured out his visions and ideas. O'Neill is painted as a classic American industrialist - creative, brilliant, wise, unconventional, hard assed, and so forth. But his political skills and Machiavelli instincts were not up to the task of being Secretary of the Treasury.

Although it is not mentioned directly, Henry Paulson, the last Treasury Secretary (O'Neill: '01-03, Snow: '03-06, Paulson: '06-09) under President Bush, seems to have watched all this occur with a bit of disagreement. In his book "On the Brink", he describes the conditions he put forward to Mr Bush as terms of his employment as Treasury Secretary. The list included the requirement that he would have direct access to the president, and be able to do what he needed to do, when he needed to do it. When reading this passage in Mr Paulson's book, one's mind may tend to wander back to the book written by Mr Suskind, and wonder exactly what Henry was referring to here. Was he, in fact, mentioning, without mentioning, the fact that Vice President Cheney had basically blocked Treasury Secretary O'Neill from doing his job, by cutting off his relationship with the rest of the Administration, and by blocking anything he wanted to do?

One of the things O'Neill wanted to do, coincidentally, was go after Executive Compensation - this did not mean that he wanted to punish rich people for making money, what it meant was he wanted to look at how Executives were being payed in public companies relative to their actual job performance, something that would become important during the Great Recession when many were displeased to find out that the executives of bankrupt companies had payed themselves huge bonuses for taking enormous risks, including Dick Fuld and Joe Gregory of Lehman Brothers, Stan O'Neal and John Thain of Merrill Lynch, various heads of the 'fixed income' divisions that tended to have loaded up on CDOs and Subprime mortgages, etc etc. They did not get the money, in short, because they 'earned it' in the classic sense, they got the money because they took on incredibly risk investments, based their bonus payments on how much 'future earnings' were expected out of these risky investments, and then kept the bonuses even after the whole system crashed in 2008. While many of them lost hundreds of millions in stock value when their companies crashed, they kept all of the bonus cash they had raked in over the years, and all of the mansions and so forth they had bought with the cash. The shareholders and the employees took massive hits, becoming unemployed and losing their life savings, while the executives had to settle for keeping a few hundred million or so. Many people speak about this as an 'incentive' system that had become dysfunctional. This is, presumably, what O'Neill would have gone after back in 2001, when there had still been time to do something . . . seven years, in fact. But I digress.

Another good story about Cheney is from Angler, by Barton Gellman. In this book, Mr Gellman describes what Mr Cheney Cheney did to Frank Keating, the governor of Oklahoma. Back when President Bush was Candidate Bush, running for election, his Vice Presidential choosing team was run by Dick Cheney. All of the candidates, like Keating, sent in voluminous 'vetting' packets filled with deeply personal information, so that the President would not be accidentally embarassed halfway through the campaign by skeletons hidden in his Vice Presidential candidate's closet. Cheney allegedly leaked the information in Keating's file to the press, destroying his chances as Vice President, and helping clear the way for that candidate to be Cheney Himself.

In Cheney's book, we see the statements of the ultimate, crystalline pure, penultimate bureaucratic 'knife-fighter' as they say. What Ron Suskind described in a several hundred page book, as immensly complicated and problematic, Mr Cheney has boiled down to a simple paragraph or two, based on common stereotypes, like the "absent minded professor", or the "embarassed recommender", and the "reluctant messenger", to paint the story in a different manner, completely transforming his own role from behind-the-scenes plotter to humble guy doing his job.

Now. Who are you going to believe? Ron Suskind, or Dick Cheney? Which story teller do you listen to? And how do you know you picked the right one?

Much depends on complete strangers

"- What kept you going all this time?

- The thought that I am not alone, that there are people struggling for me and other political prisoners, that I have support of my family and friends, especially my wife and parents. In prison I received thousands of letters and postcards with most sincere words of support. It helped a lot, really. In my life, I’ve always met people who are ready to help. Prison is a very peculiar place where much depends on complete strangers. I was lucky to meet many decent people."

--Aliaksandar Atroschankau: This fascist regime uses slavery to its advantage, charter97.org, 9 15 2011

Poliitcal Capital

"Vukovar is a city which is divided, but not on the way that we have some kind of straight line. We have our division in our heads. This kind of division is uh supported constantly by political campaign, by political parties which actually existing in this town not because of political program, they surviving because they supporting this kind of dividance. Trauma, as a result of the war, it's uh, political capital, here, in this community"

-- Srđan Antić, Nansen Dialogue Center, quoted in Return to Vukovar, Martin Bell, BBC, 2011, 18:00