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The Devil's Disciple? | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

The Devil's Disciple?

Wrap-up: I've got a new Think Again column called "The end ofLocal reporting," here.

For the Daily Beast this week, I did a piece on "Cheney's ShadowGovernment" here and "Sonia's Kabuki Confirmation" here.

And my regular Moment column, is called "Should We Settle forSettlements--or Peace?" and that's here.

Also, my I.F. Stone column of last month also led to the followingexchange in The Nation, which was available only to subscribers:

I.F. Stone, Secret Agent? Spy? Mole?
Silver Spring, Md.

In an October 3, 2006, piece on The American Prospect's website, EricAlterman denounced as "almost entirely bogus, controversy over "whether[I. F.] Stone ever willingly...cooperated with the KGB in any way. Hedid not."

In May 2009, Alexander Vassiliev's notes from KGB archives becamepublic. They show that from 1936 until the end of 1938, Stone secretlycarried out specific tasks for the KGB. That is the definition of anintelligence agent, although Stone appears not to have been aparticularly important one.

Vassiliev's notes also corroborate that Stone was code-named "BLIN" andthus was the journalist whom the KGB attempted to re-recruit in late1944, as first revealed by Venona intercepts released in 1996. Moreover,former KGB Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin, whose 1992 allegations instigated thecontroversy, stated three years ago that Stone began cooperating withSoviet intelligence in 1936. Kalugin has rightly been criticized forchanging his story, but that statement has to count for something,unless one thinks it was a lucky guess.

Rather than retract his ill-advised assertion when faced with newevidence, Alterman has aggressively attacked--obfuscating the facts,denouncing the messengers and lumping together everybody who doesn'tmarch in lockstep with his inner convictions ["The Liberal Media," June22].

Because of the new evidence, I agreed to sift through all theallegations and counterclaims in an essay for the Journal of Cold WarStudies, which appears in the Summer2009 edition. Readers can judge for themselves whether I treatedStone fairly and put his activities in context.

Alterman's behavior is disappointing for a CUNY journalism professor whonever fails to present himself as a disciple of I.F. Stone, one of thepremier investigative journalists of his generation.

-Max Holland

Alterman Replies
New York City

Neither space nor sanity allows me to regurgitate, yet again, all theholes in the arguments for I.F. Stone's alleged espionage career made bythe likes of Max Holland, or those of Ann Coulter and Messrs. Haynes,Klehr, Radosh, Horowitz, Novak, etc. They reveal far more about Stone'saccusers than about the man himself. Holland knows that the notes ofVassiliev--ex-KGB man desperate to sell his wares in the West--havenever been verified and are hardly the kind of source upon which anycareful historian would build a case for espionage. He also knows thatthe myriad self-contradictory musings of Kalugin--another ex-KGB mandesperate to sell his wares in the West--have not only been successfullychallenged but have changed over time, depending on who was buying.(Kalugin denied them to me personally.) He knows, further, that by thestandards of Haynes, Klehr and Vassiliev, Walter Lippmann was a "Sovietspy," as were countless other Western journalists of the period.

But more troubling than what Holland knows and does not admit is what he"knows" that ain't so. I referred to Holland in my column exclusivelybecause of his baseless speculation that the KGB funded publication ofI.F. Stone's Weekly and Stone's Hidden History of the Cold War. He hasproduced no evidence for this slanderous flight of fancy and offers nonehere. Finally (and least consequentially), his crack about myself-presentation is also false. I have never presented myself as a"disciple" of Stone or even as an "investigative journalist." I wasIzzy's friend, period.

This Week on Moyers:

In his new book The Evolution of God, bestselling author RobertWright examines how the idea of God has changed through history. BillMoyers sits down with Wright to discuss why he thinks the notion of God-- real or not -- is imperative to a moral society. "Religion will bethe medium by which people express their values for a long time to come,so it's important to understand what brings out the best and the worstin it," says Wright. Robert Wright is editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv, a contributingeditor for The New Republic and a contributor to Time andSlate.

Alter-reviews, The Shaw Festival and four great new CDs...

The Shaw Festival at Niagara On the Lake:

Last week I traveled to the idyllic Canadian town of Niagara on theLake--about twenty kilometers from the Falls themselves--to attend itsfamous Shaw festival, which I first heard about from friends I made onan ancient Nation cruise. (I was making my "Perhaps I'm aphilistine, but I prefer Shaw to Shakespeare and Mozart to Beethoven"argument.) This year the festival, which runs from April to October, ispresenting two plays by George Bernard Shaw, and ten mini-plays (withthree presented at each performance) by Noel Coward. Both Shaw plays,The Devil's Disciple, and In Good King Charles' GoldenDays, allow for plenty of musing over principles in politics. Theplays are expertly produced and beautifully acted with some of the bestsets I've ever seen. Naturally, Shaw's wit shines brightly as ever, evenas the characters are pushing you to think about the ways in whichfanatical adherence to ideology is tragically destructive. The Cowardtrios are lighter fare, but share with the Shaw a certain sharpness ofwit that justifies their shenanigans.

In Good King, King Charles cautions his brother James (who willsucceed him as King) against boldly advertising his Catholicism,reminding him that the constituency that keeps them in power is gentry,not the public. Charles efforts to elevate reason above religiousdoctrine (by founding the Royal Society) must be wily and strategic,rather than bold and assertive, as his political power and his financialbase are precarious. For Shaw, what might be taken for Charles'spolitical cynicism is devotion to deeper desire to avoid bloodshed.

In The Devil's Disciple, Shaw's hatred for Puritanism as well asfor the mindless adherence to duty or empty principles is again ondisplay. The heroes of the play find themselves to be moved to act inways they did not expect of themselves -- and in contrast to theprinciples they have espoused. Thus, the amoral cad (aka the devil'sdisciple) finds that he is a man of moral principle, the mild preacherturns out to be revolutionary, the upstanding preacher's wife falls inlove (albeit briefly) with a man who is not her husband, and the Britishgeneral turns out to be a deeply humane pragmatic peacemaker. (It wasfun to see the play in a town that was founded by loyalists, alas.)

Brief Encounters contains the Coward plays "Still Life" "We WereDancing" and "Hands Across the Sea". "Dancing" and "Hands" have theupper crust behaving badly and comically, while "Still Life" is sadder,with two ordinary people deciding not to act on their love for eachother since they are married to other people. Star Chamber pokesfun at the narcissism of actors as they engage in a philanthropiccause. As a member of the Advisory Board of the Creative Coalition, Ican promise you that nothing like that ever happens in real life.

Music reviews: John Doe and the Sadies, Dave Alvin and the GuiltyWomen, Chris Gaffney tribute and Mark Karan

I've been listening to three Americana-ish CDs a great deal of late, allof which happen to be released on the small Yep Roc label, and all threeare gems. They are, in no particular order: John Doe and the Sadies:Country Club, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women and A ChrisGaffney Tribute: The Man of Somebody's Dreams.

I was never much for John Doe's punk bank, X, but I heard him spend anhour with Terry Gross--who's become my new imaginary best friend oflate--and I thought him terribly intelligent, well-spoken and he did agreat job on these songs. So I got the album, and hey, it's great. Thesongs by Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Mel Tillis, Willie Nelson, MerleHaggard, Tammy Wynette, Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson,and Johnny Cash, are treated respectfully but reverentially and Sadies,whoever they might be, provide excellent backing.The album also featuresfour originals - three from The Sadies and one by Doe and ExeneCervenka. It's a hard album for anyone to dislike, methinks.

The Blasters are one band I really miss but Dave Alvin, on the of theBlaster brothers, is more than making up for it with his wonderful solowork with The Guilty Men and now The Guilty Women, made up of CindyCashdollar, Nina Gerber, Laurie Lewis, Sarah Brown, Amy Farris, ChristyMcWilson and Lisa Pankrantz, with guest appearances from Marcia Ball andSusie Thompson. It's smart, heartfelt bluegrassy Americana--with a newreworking of "Marie, Marie," and lots of stuff to put a smile on yourface and an occasional gulp in your throat.

Speaking of which, Alvin was close friends with Guilty Men accordionistChris Gaffney, who did nothing but good-to-great stuff, though nothingas great as the great Hacienda Brothers album, What's Wrong withRight?--a band he led together with Dave Gonzalez and wasbrilliantly produced by Dan Penn--before his sad, early cancer death in2008. So Alvin put down what he was doing and put together thisabsolutely terrific collection of Gaffney originals by Los Lobos, JohnDoe, Dave Gonzalez, Joe Ely, Peter Case, Jim Lauderdale, Tom Russell,James McMurtry, Robbie Fulks, Boz Scaggs and Freddy Fender, amongothers.

If your taste is anything like mine, all three of these albums will sendyou deep into the back catalogues of all three artists, particularlyGaffney and Alvin. But after getting the Doe/Sadies record, I ordered anearlier, similar effort by another throwoff country punk band he foundedThe Knitters, and already, I'm having a better summer.

Another album I'm spending some time with this summer is Mark Karan's Walk Through The Fire, which is out on a label called Dig.Karan's played as a sideman with everyone from Dave Mason to DelaneyBramlett and where I heard him--Radog and the Dead/Other Ones. Thisalbum is a friendly survey of rootsy Americana-ish rock with some greatguitar. Though I'm told the title track was written as he beganchemotherapy (and profits from the track go to the Oral CancerFoundation). We get nice, clean versions of great song after gratsong: Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" (with Delaney Bramlett) theDead's "Easy Wind" and Randy Newman's "Think It's Gonna Rain Today" Ialso love this song, "Memphis Radio" by Susan Sheller, but there allpretty damn good and the musicianship, as you'd expect, is first ratethroughout.

The mail:

Name: Guillermo A. Partida
Hometown: Duarte, CA

Mr. Allerman,

Please don't use the term "splainin" any more. The correct English wordis "explaining". By using "splainin" you are ridiculing every one of myLatino brothers and sisters who took the time and effort to learn tospeak English properly. You owe an apology for offending millions ofpeople south of the border.

Eric replies: I don' thin so... I thin I am paying tribute to thegreat Desi Arnez, ....

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky

I regret having missed several weeks of Altercation during my move to anew house. I have also had some trouble getting the Nationwebsite to behave. It goes out of whack occasionally and mistreats me,sometimes being jumbled and other times dismissing me out of hand.

I'm here to report that the sham called the financial bailout hasblossomed, borne fruit and now withers on the vine, all for GoldmanSachs and its executives, past and present. The average worker has beenleft holding the bag, and its empty. All along, Paulson and his cronieshave deluded the hopeful and painfully ignorant Congress and twoseparate Executives that what's good for banks is good for the nation.Goldman now posts record profits, pays enormous bonuses, and looks to acheery jobless recovery for all; for all bank stocks, that is.

Obama said in March that a forecast of national double digitunemployment was a little pessimistic but now admits that it will likelystill get worse before it gets better. He says it was always a two yearrecovery plan and not a four month recovery plan. Still, just two monthsago he was the equity cheerleader-in-chief.

I still love Obama. He is still smarter than all the past presidentssince Nixon. He is also not afraid to lose his high approval ratingregardless of how closely each falling point is scrutinized by thechattering class. But he is failing economics 101: he let the fox guardthe henhouse.

Now while the 24 hours news cycle shifts temporarily from flogging theJackson family to slandering as racist perhaps the most honest jurist toseek appointment to the high court since Thurgood Marshall (yes, I wasfirst to make the comparison and I don't take Mr. Marshall lightly-let'stalk in 20 years) no one is watching the real scandal.

Roger Daltrey said we won't be fooled again. But he was wrong. We willbe fooled continuously. It's not conspiracy on the level of Mulder'sFBI's pact with a conquering virus, it's more like Gordon Gekko'spersonal goal to be "fifty, a hundred million, liquid, a player", inother words it's greed, dummy. We all have it, but we're limited in ourappreciation of scale. Ponzi duped hundreds into about7 million in losses, but for Madoff it was 65 billion in losses. For allof Obama's commitment to turn this economy around, he's still the dupewho came to a gun fight with a knife.

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