Monday, January 12, 2004

O'Neill speaks. The principal revelations by former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill - that the Bush administration began planning to go to war against Iraq almost from the moment it took office, and that even George W. Bush questioned huge tax cuts for the rich before gutlessly signing on - are staggering.

It is an incredible indictment of the state in which we find ourselves these days that it probably won't make any difference.

Here is the transcript of O'Neill's appearance last night on CBS's 60 Minutes. The section on Iraq is appalling beyond description:

And what happened at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting is one of O'Neill's most startling revelations.

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," says O'Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.

"From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime," says Suskind. "Day one, these things were laid and sealed."

As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.

"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this,'" says O'Neill. "For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap."

O'Neill's account of Bush and the second tax cut comes from a "nearly verbatim transcript" that an administration official gave O'Neill following a meeting in November 2002. Ron Suskind - author of the forthcoming The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill - describes it like this:

He says everyone expected Mr. Bush to rubber stamp the plan under discussion: a big new tax cut. But, according to Suskind, the president was perhaps having second thoughts about cutting taxes again, and was uncharacteristically engaged.

"He asks, 'Haven't we already given money to rich people? This second tax cut's gonna do it again,'" says Suskind.

"He says, 'Didn't we already, why are we doing it again?' Now, his advisers, they say, 'Well Mr. President, the upper class, they're the entrepreneurs. That's the standard response.' And the president kind of goes, 'OK.' That's their response. And then, he comes back to it again. 'Well, shouldn't we be giving money to the middle, won't people be able to say, 'You did it once, and then you did it twice, and what was it good for?'"

But according to the transcript, White House political advisor Karl Rove jumped in.

"Karl Rove is saying to the president, a kind of mantra. 'Stick to principle. Stick to principle.' He says it over and over again," says Suskind. "Don't waver."

In the end, the president didn't. And nine days after that meeting in which O'Neill made it clear he could not publicly support another tax cut, the vice president called and asked him to resign.

If O'Neill is telling the truth - and there is no reason to think he isn't - then this is an absolutely devastating portrayal.

The Time magazine piece is, if anything, even more frightening in its picture of Bush and, especially, of the machinations of the Dark Lord, Dick Cheney. Check out the account of the "gang of three beleaguered souls" - O'Neill, former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Who elected this guy, anyway? Oh, yeah ... right.

His bowtie is twirling. Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler slapped buckraking columnist George Will yesterday for Will's non-disclosure of the $25,000 payment he'd received from corrupt press lord Conrad Black.

The ex factor. Right below a column by Boston Globe Christine Chinlund today on the number of corrections the paper ran last year (1223) is a piece by syndicated columnist William Pfaff (not online at the Globe's website) that refers to "ex-US Senator Charles Schumer."

Here is the Pfaff column - first published last Friday - at the website of the International Herald Tribune. As you'll see, Schumer is properly identified as a current senator. But, of course, this could have been corrected after it came in.

So did a Globe editor introduce the mistake or simply fail to fix it? Media Log will be watching the corrections column.

Clipping service. Bruce Allen wants to know: how much leeway does that disclaimer at the bottom of the Globe's sports-notes columns give? Is it okay for a writer - like football columnist Ron Borges - simply to cut-and-paste from

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