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June 11, 2004 | 1:23 PM ET

The greatest obit headline I ever read appeared in the NYT on September 29, 1991.  It read “Miles Davis, Trumpeter, Dies; Jazz Genius, 65, Defined Cool.” This is the second best. (Though a simple “I Can’t Stop Loving You” would have worked just as well.”

And thanks to the hundreds of you, at least, who wrote in to voice your appreciation of the site and the work done on it.  I can’t print that stuff, but it is most appreciated.

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On to a Rayless Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Let's play "Jeopardy."

I'll take "National Pageantry" For 400, Alex.

Frances FitzGerald, Theodore Draper, Mark Hertsgaard, and Eric Alterman.


Who are four people who might have provided a more interesting perspective on Ronald Reagan's presidency than did freaking Robert Evans, whom MSNBC had on to talk about it Wednesday night?

I'm still totaling up the moments. The first one was Fox having Ollie North on to explain Iran-Contra.  (Silver medal in that division goes to Larry King, who brought in for similar duty Ted Olson, who'd been RR's counsel at the time, which even I didn't remember.  Oh, for 10 minutes and a vial of sodium pentothal there, boy.)  Then there was the inevitable appearance of the politically unemployable Joe Lieberman, inevitably on Fox, talking about "evil."  Or maybe, given the source, it was my old friend Keith Olbermann, talking about Wednesday's procession as a "sight no man alive had seen," which certainly must have given pause to the folks both at Graceland, and at the Kennedy Compound.

Or maybe it was Tom Brokaw, The Haircut Who Invented History, talking about how all the people in Washington were a'hankerin' for the simpler, less-divided nation that Ronald Reagan had given us -- which led me to believe that Brokaw had spent most of the 1980's on mushrooms, which is the nicest thing I've thought about him in a while.  You want to talk about divisive politics, cowboy?  Drop down the hall to Lisa Myers's office and talk to her about being the mouthpiece for a 10-year dirty tricks operation.  After that, stop profaning the honored dead by dressing their sacrifice up in banality.

Or perhaps it was the persistent running to ground of the most tentative appearance of independent analysis or critical thought, most particularly by the scion of the Westbury section of Levittown, Knocko O'Reilly.

(There were only two highlights -- one was brave old Roger Wilkins, balefully knocking down the bullsh*t on Jim Lehrer's show, and a great Scarborough Country last night where the Hitch looked very much like he was going to have a "Scanners" moment all over our old friend, Cakewalk Ken Adelman who, if this were a truly just land, would be emptying bedpans at a VA hospital for the rest of his sorry life.)

I know this is your side of the docks here in Blogistan but it has to be said -- the news function of the television medium surrendered this week.  It put its things in a box, locked up the office, and handed over the keys.  There is no longer any compelling reason to believe that these clowns believe in anything beyond the performance pieces out of which they've fashioned their careers.  (I exempt Olbermann from all of this, because he is an authentically eccentric whopper of a talent.  I have hopes for him.)  The great cartoonist Conrad once drew a memorable sketch of Richard Nixon driving nails into his own palms.  These guys spend an awful lot of time fitting themselves -- and the various mountebanks they cover -- for togas.  They put on propaganda, and they knew they were doing it when they booked the guests, and they did so unashamedly.

Which is only fair, I guess.  They were celebrating a presidency based fundamentally on the proposition that being an American citizen is easy work, that self-government can function on automatic pilot, that telling people they are great is infinitely preferable to challenging them to BE great.  As democratic government became wholly a spectator sport, Ronald Reagan, old Dutch the sportscaster, was its Babe Ruth.

And then, the really big loss on Thursday.  I remember the first time I heard Ray Charles sing "Lonely Avenue," on a dark road late at night near Ashland, Wisconsin, right there by the big lake.  I think the waters stirred in their depths, all the way across to the Canadian side.  Lux aeternam, brother Ray.  Amen.

Eric replies: There’s a piece that corroborates much of what Pierce says here, but ladies and gentleman, run, don’t walk to read the magnificent-but-way-too-modest-for-the world’s-good chef d’ouvre right here in the American Prospect online, and lets give thanks to whatever providential powers sent him our way in the first place.

Name: Eric Alterman
Hometown: New York, New York

Alter-classified ad

I need to hire a professional writer/researcher to help me with my various professional obligations.  I see the job as half-time and the pay as commensurate with experience.  The catch is, I really need someone who is already a pro.  To me that means you:

a) already have published on a variety of political topics in magazines, journals  (including online journals) with which I am familiar, or:

b) you’ve had at least a year of Ph.D. level research experience, preferably in U.S. history or media studies, or:

c) both

If you have neither, please do not bother applying.  I will simply delete your application.  I will be hiring an unpaid intern in the Fall, once I have someone to oversee his or her work, and you can apply for that.  The ideal applicant would be the kind of writer who left graduate school, freelanced for Lingua Franca before its untimely demise, had recently signed a book contract but needed a second source of income or simply wanted to take a break from doing their own work full-time and could help me organize and research mine.

The job will entail a variety of writing and research activities for my books, columns, courses, Web sites and lectures.  Both computer and old-fashioned library research talents are a must.

Please write me and tell me who you are, why you’re interested and how much you would need to be paid.  (Do not apply please, if you are a 2004 college graduate.  I am looking for someone with more experience.)  And this is important, DO NOT SEND ME ANY ATTACHMENTS.  They will not be opened.  Just a short paragraph telling me who you are and a resume inside the box.  I’ll get back in touch with you.  Send them to

And finally, my apologies, but I do not have the time to reply to inquiries except for those people I might want to hire.  If you don’t hear from me, that’s a “no.”  No follow-ups or further inquiries, please.

The job may begin now, or it may begin in the Fall, depending on your schedule and talents and availability.  Preference will be given to people who already live in the area.  We are an equal opportunity employer, whatever that means, though we give preference to people who can spell.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to talk more about Ronald Reagan.  I'm not the biggest Jimmy Carter fan (you're shocked, I know) but JC is really getting a bum deal in these Reagan obituaries, especially with respect to the economy and the Soviet Union.  

Take a look at a graph of crude oil prices from, oh, 1950 to the present.  Do you see that huge (and biggest) spike between 1976 and 1979?  Oil priced DOUBLED in that period - to about $80/barrel in current dollars.  How surprising is it that the economy was sputtering with energy costs like that?  Just as suddenly oil prices PLUMMETED during the Reagan years, to sub-Carter levels.  By 1990 it was at $33/barrel.  I'm willing to give Reagan a bit of credit for a supply-side effect on investment caused by lowering taxes on the rich (something that is not repeatable, despite subsequent attempts).  But the drop in oil prices pumped far more money into the economy.  Add to that Reagan's deficit spending and the natural turnings of the business cycle.  And the myopic media doesn't ask how much better the nation would have been in the long run with Carter's conservation-based energy policy. 

People also forget that Jimmy Carter was hardly a wimp when it came to the Soviets.  According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the CIA began aiding anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan in mid-1979, not in 1980 as part of some "Reagan doctrine."  Upon the invasion of Afghanistan Carter halted nuclear arms negotiations stopped grain and high-tech sales to the USSR and pulled us out of the Soviet-hosted Olympics.  And he got a lot of grief for that (I was too young to vote in 1980 but was a Ted Kennedy backer and to this day believe Kennedy self-consciously destroyed his own campaign).  Don't get me wrong - I give Reagan credit for needed increases in military spending (though not for its "starve the beast" effect on the deficit) and his moral rhetoric against communism.  He got "the big one" right.  But the idea that he reversed our cold war policy is ridiculous.

Name Eric Rauchway
Hometown: Davis, CA
There has been much talk about freedom this week, and much sadness for all kinds of Americans.  I was going to write at length about this, but as often happens when I think I am going to say something philosophical, I find Isaiah Berlin has said it better than I could.  So here is a short excerpt from "Two concepts of liberty," (orig. 1958) pp. 236-237 in The Proper Study of Mankind, ed. Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer.

"... no society is free unless it is governed by at any rate two interrelated principles:  first, that no power, but only rights, can be regarded as absolute, so that all men, whatever power governs them, have an absolute right to refuse to behave inhumanly; and, second, that there are frontiers, not artificially drawn, within which men should be inviolable, these frontiers being defined in terms of rules so long accepted that their observance has entered into the very conception of what it is to be a normal human being, and, therefore, also of what it is to act inhumanly or insanely; rules of which it would be absurd to say, for example, that they could be abrogated by some formal procedure on the part of some court or sovereign body.  When I speak of a man as being normal, a part of what I mean is that he could not break these rules easily, without a qualm of revulsion.  It is such rules as these that are broken when a man is declared guilty without trial, or punished under a retroactive law; when children are ordered to denounce their parents, friends to betray one another, soldiers to use methods of barbarism; when men are tortured or murdered, or minorities are massacred because they irritate a majority or a tyrant.  Such acts, even if they are made legal by the sovereign, cause horror even in these days, and this springs from the recognition of the moral validity -- irrespective of the laws -- of some absolute barriers to the imposition of one man's will on another.

The freedom of a society, or a class or a group, in this sense of freedom, is measured by the strength of these barriers...."

Name: Jeff Martin
Hometown: Alexandria, VA
Eric:  I read you every day.  And I do think you attempt to be fair while acting as a counter-balance to those on the right who are not similarly restrained.  Anyway, I went down to watch President Reagan's caisson on the Mall yesterday evening.  It was an interesting sight and I thought the people there behaved nicely.  I guess what I'm trying to communicate is this: although I expect many of the folks standing shoulder to shoulder with me in the heat don't share my politics, nor I theirs, it was pleasant to stand there in silence and wonder how long it has been since Americans could stand together as a group and actually feel like one.  Keep up the great work.

Name: Jay Easwaran
Hometown: Carmel, Indiana

Eric: When you quoted Eduard Shevardnadze as saying to Mikhail Gorbachev "Everything is rotten---," I was struck how closely our own situation at present resembles the one you have described.  I think this is due to the fact that our rulers in the past three years have frittered away the trust that is necessary for someone to exercise power in a democracy.  This trust has taken a systematic beating by the intentional deception practiced by the current junta in Washington on every matter great and trivial.  Unless this administration is denied power on November 2, a collapse of historic proportions awaits us, far worse than what the Soviet Union went through.  At least the Soviet Union had farsighted and courageous leaders like Gorbachev and Shevardnadze.  What we have is a band of thugs who do not care one whit for our country or its people.  Their only concern appears to be to preserve their power at all costs.  I believe our humiliation as a nation will be complete if this gang is returned to power.

Name: matt conway
Hometown: st louis mo

Eric, would you be kind enough to take a little time out of your terrorist-loving, anti-semitic, blame-america-first douche-bag day, and take a look at the tv pictures of those 200,000 americans filing past mr reagan's casket, and tell me how many black americans you see waiting in line?

i thought so. i couldn't find any, either.

Name: Marianne Sender
Hometown: South Orange, NJ
Eric -- How many Altercation readers have a copy of Gordon Wood's Creation of the American Republic on a bookshelf by their computers?  I do, and now I think I know why I am such an Altercation "junkie" -- you are a soul mate!  Way back in 1975, I took an amazing course in political philosophy at Haverford College that revolved around Wood's book.  My outlook on politics was forever changed.  Thanks for the reminder.

Name: Michael Bérubé
Hometown: State College, PA
Hi Eric!  Thought you might to reminisce with some of Dinesh D'Souza's greatest hits, now that he's a real live CNN analyst.  My first-ever blog post w/footnotes

Name: Andy Levin
Hometown: Philly

To the guy who wrote the letter that said "You think Reagan was worse than a man who got blowjobs in the oval office on our dime while talking to foreign leaders on the phone?":  If getting blowjobs makes you a bad person, I don't want to be good.

June 10, 2004 | 1:23 PM ET

“It Takes a Nation of Torturers….”  Here’s today’s ‘Bad Apple’ update:

"Military interrogators at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been given access to the medical records of individual prisoners, a breach of patient confidentiality that ethicists describe as a violation of international medical standards designed to protect captives from inhumane treatment." 

That’s here.  

Meanwhile, according to the Wall Street Journal,

"U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could put prisoners in "stress positions" for as long as four hours, hood them and subject them to 20-hour-long interrogations, "fear of dogs" and "mild non-injurious physical contact," according to list of techniques Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved in December 2002”

And here’s the cover-up update:  Now I don’t watch much TV beyond TCM, HBO and Showtime, but I do DVR Jon Stewart every day and watch it with the kid at breakfast.  My guess is that no “real” TV journalist did anything like the job that my main man did on John Ashcroft’s amazing assertion that his personal preferences overrode any Constitutional responsibilities he might have as chief law enforcement officer. 

Anyway the Daily Show video is here.  Now I wonder, what with its colossal failure on 9/11, its deliberate smear of Joe Wilson and unlawful exposure of a CIA agent, and its dishonesty about WMDs, all being investigated by various commissions, is there anybody left to serve on a commission about who decided it would be a good idea to get into the torture business?

Public Service Journalism:  Wonkette is busy watching this crap so we don't have to.

Meanwhile, I am willing to sit through “Kings Row” which is allegedly on TCM at 8:00.  He may not have been a great actor, but compared to his later roles in life, I think he deserves one of those lifetime Oscars.

Chris Mooney’s Think Again column is about the abuses of scientific expertise commonly found on the nation’s op-ed page.  It’s a real eye-opener.  The archives are here.  The main page is here and you can sign up for the Progress report to be e-mailed to you here.

More from the Left-Wing Media

Headline:  Michael Jackson: “Formerly Black Entertainers Should Not Sleep With Young Boys”  More here.

Good Line Department: From The Note:  “File this under "Not exactly how the RNC would have advertised it" -- Sports Illustrated's "This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse," notes, "Don King has joined the George W. Bush campaign."

Bruce is down with Al, as are we.  One question we debate around the house a lot is how much of this new Al would be with us if he had decided to run again.  Unanswerable, alas.

Ever read the famous Landau article?  It’s here

I had kind of a thrill the other night, when I finally got to meet the historian Gordon Wood at an evening devoted to singing the praises of the new National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.  I’ve read all of Wood’s books and found them incredibly illuminating.  I’ve often cited pp.562-565 of The Creation of the American Republic as among the most useful observations I’ve ever seen of the inherent weaknesses of American political culture.  I told Wood this, and he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, though that’s because authors never remember page numbers the way readers do. 

Anyway you can read Wood’s new Ben Franklin bio even if you’ve read Walter Isaacson’s quite good one, as you’re not really reading about the man, but the man and his times and the country he helped to midwife. 

Also, go see the new Constitution Center if you’re in or near Philly.  See if you can find the place in the document where it says it’s OK for Bush, Ashcroft and Rumsfeld to tell the military to torture innocent people with no accountability. 

Abuse corner:

Hometown: TEMECULA


Name: Mitch
Hometown: Pittsburgh
I always know Alterman was a scum sucking weasel without a sense of dignity, but this is a new low,even for him. Even Thatcher gives and Welcha give Reagan the credit. If the give it to him, pardon me if I think that the position of a mere MSNBC Blogger and author of one or two shoddily written books no one read, is kind of irrelevant on the issue.

Name: Bill
Hometown: Colorado Springs

Iam once again sicked by your communist way of thinking.I only have to look as far as this colum to see that you,Mike Campbell,gordon Moore,and probably Lee Harvey Oswald are on the same page.Do you actually write this stuff?What a pathetic looser you are for trashing this mans character before hes even buried.You should be wrapped in copys of your publications and set on fire!

Name: Tom Wade
Hometown: Boulder, CO

Thank you for publishing a few of the thousands of letters you've received from people with values. 

I particularly like the letter from "Dash" that included, "You are a sad little man, Eric Alterman-grasping at straws and your poll data for justifications to hate.  Cry, run in place and wet your pants-..."

I also concur with his tagline, "P.S. You are a loser."

What alarms me most about you and your ilk, is your tacit acceptance of the beliefs, tactics and behavior of terrorists and others who would destroy our world society.  But that's that's your belief, tactic and behavior also, isn't it?

People Who Can Spell Corner:

Name: Ken Severson
Hometown: Overland Park, KS

As a Republican I am embarrassed by some of the e-mails you have gotten from fringe lunatics.  I was Republican before, during, and after the Reagan presidency.  I remember why they called him the Teflon president.  I remember how hard it was to find reasons to keep supporting my party (it's harder now).  Was Reagan the worst president we ever had?  No.  But he was also not the best.  All presidents tend to be a mixed bag of good and bad.  He was no different. 

The main problem I see in American politics is the death of polite discussion.  I am not sure when it became necessary to lynch anyone who disagreed with you but this country could use some lessons from Miss Manners.  For Pete's sake, Reagan and Tip O'Neil used to hang out and no one disagreed on major items more than those two.  Our county's founding fathers would be appalled at the level of political rancor in this country.

Keep giving us your opinion.  Those of us who listen and think about both sides of issues are better for having people like you out there.

Name: William Sterba
Hometown: Queens, NYC

Dr. Alterman --
Thank you for acting as the lightning rod for all of the hate which the reactionary right roils with and which they're afraid to direct at their neighbors.

I do hope that you are going to take advantage of the offer which the following e-mail from Max Davis made:

Name: Max Davis
Hometown: Sarasota, FL
Hi Eric:
Go f**k yourself.  Alot of us are really getting bored with the nasty, left wing, Godless, do-whatever-you-want-to-do mantra from people like you.  Call me and I will persoanlly buy you a first class ticket to whatever country you want to go live in.  You are irreverant, inappropriate and foolish. 

He stipulates no requirement other than that you call him personally.  Haven't you ever wanted to visit Perth or, even better, Adelaide?  Wouldn't you like to sip some fine Shiraz while looking at opals for your significant other?  Take advantage of this oaf and get the ticket to go there.  Paper ticket, of course.  Then, you could just cash it too, since he doesn't require that you actually take the flight.  If he declines to buy the ticket based on his meager requirements (personal call, that's it), then just embarrass him, along with the rest of the blowhard reactionaries who can't honor a contract.

Enjoy the wine!

Bill Sterba

Name: Megan Williams
Hometown: Seattle

Dr. E.,
You are a nice man...I would have reminded all the 'mindless' writers on your site that today is the 50th anniversary of 'Have you no sense of decency, sir?'  Clearly, the time has come again...hang in there.

Name: Bill
Hometown: Dunellen, N.J.

I don't know how much of this terribly embarrassing coverage of the Reagan farewell you've had an opportunity to see, but I can tell you for my part I am ashamed to be a journalist.  I have never, ever, heard so much tripe from supposedly serious people.  Judy Woodruff, who I'm pretty certain has been the subject of a suicide watch since W's numbers went into the tank anyway, has simply lost any reason to continue calling herself a reporter.  It's extremely, extremely sad.

Will you permit me to point out one thing?  They expect about 200,000 people to trod past the wooden box allegedly holding St. Ronnie's remains, an event requiring endless coverage.  Just a few weeks ago, a pro-choice rally on the mall drew what was conservatively estimated to be 800,000 participants.  One warrants 24/7 coverage.  The other barely gets noticed by the networks or the newspapers.  Could someone kindly explain this to me?

It's a disgrace.

June 9, 2004 | 1:17 PM ET

St. Ronnie: Three ironies/points of historical evidence in a stormy sea of nonsense and deliberate disinformation.

  1. Mikhail Gorbachev, together with Eduard Shevardnadze, deserves the lion’s share of the credit for ending the Cold War and the era of Soviet tyranny.  Ronald Reagan was among the last of Western leaders to embrace Gorbachev’s effort—long after Margaret Thatcher and Germany’s Hans Dietrich Genscher—who was roundly mocked by Reagan supporters—for knowing something they didn’t.  Reagan passed up a golden invitation to end the nuclear arms race when Gorbachev offered it to him on a silver platter in exchange for giving up his nutty dream of a star wars system.  Reagan refused and today we are nearly eighty billion dollars poorer for it.  Had it not been for Nancy Reagan’s worrying about her husband’s historical legacy, it’s quite possible that the Reagan hard-liners would have continued to reinforce the Soviet hard-liners and history would have been much less kind to both sides.  From Sound and Fury:

    In March, 1985, Eduard Shevardnadze, Mikhail Gorbachev's closest friend and adviser, turned to his new boss, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, and blurted out the fact that had eluded virtually the entire Soviet leadership since Stalin's time.  "Everything's rotten," observed Shevardnadze, "it has to be changed."  Through their willingness to accept this awful truth into their collective political psyche, the two men converted themselves from hedgehogs into foxes.  Gorbachev was not exaggerating in the slightest when he explained that things were so bad that, "everything pertaining to the economy, culture, democracy, foreign policy--all spheres--had to be reappraised.” Thus began the series of events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

  2. One person who has reason to regret Reagan’s passing is Saddam Hussein, whom Reagan supported at the very moment he was known to be using poison gas inside his own borders.  Right up until the day he invaded Kuwait, Mr. Hussein had been considered a valued commercial customer and regional balancing force by at least three American presidents.  Both before and during his invasion of Iran, Hussein had enjoyed private screenings of U.S. satellite intelligence data.  When the war with Iran ended and he turned his poison-gas pellets on his own Kurdish population, Hussein continued to receive sophisticated American technology and taxpayer-subsidized grain.  From The Book on Bush:  

    Moreover, many of the same people who promoted Bush’s war, including Cheney, Perle, Wolfowitz and others, served in the Reagan/Bush Defense Department while this ad-hoc alliance was underway.  Donald Rumsfeld, like former Republican presidential nominee, Robert Dole, personally visited Hussein in Baghdad during the period of gassing as a special emissary of President Ronald Reagan, in December, 1983, and managed to avoid the distasteful topic.  (Talking points and minutes of the meeting demonstrate that that Rumsfeld’s primary interest was in keeping Hussein informed about America’s changing Middle East policy.  He also wished to discuss a proposal by the Bechtel Corporation to build an oil pipeline from Iraq to Aqaba, in Jordan, as well as to make sure that Iraq not attack Iran’s oil facilities.)

  3. As I mentioned above, Reagan’s primary foreign policy achievement, embracing Mikhail Gorbachev’s prophetic quest to end the Cold War, was bitterly opposed by many of those claiming to revere his name.  In May 2, 1982, Norman Podhoretz wrote of “The Neoconservative Anguish over Reagan's Foreign Policy” in The New York Times Magazine arguing that Reagan had "in practice been following a strategy of helping the Soviet Union stabilize its empire, rather than a strategy aimed at encouraging the breakup of that empire from within."  According to Paul Nitze, during the early days of the START talks, "Pentagon civilian officials - particularly Richard Perle [then Secretary of defense for International Security Policy] and Caspar Weinberger – were deliberately excluded from the discussion.  Otherwise the howls and leaks from Weinberger and Perle and their supporters would have made the project impossible." 

    For Podhoretz (among others), see John Ehrman’s The Rise of Neconservatism; intellectuals and foreign affairs, 1945-1994, New Haven : Yale University Press, c1995 and for Nitze, Paul H. Nitze with Ann M. Smith and Steven L. Rearden. From Hiroshima to Glastnost: At the Center of Decision”, New York : Grove Weidenfeld, c1989.

Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan hasn’t been buried yet and some of you might think satire inappropriate until after his funeral.  But the real jokes are coming from his idolaters.  Actual quotes from two of Reagan’s biggest boosters inspired this satire.  The Hill reports that Sen. Mitch McConnell is reportedly about to introduce a bill to replace Hamilton with Reagan on the $10 bill.  Would The Federalist Society really let that happen? 

You can’t make this stuff up… well, sometimes you can.

Oh yeah, the wars, remember: The Bush administration: Torture is us (and so are cover-ups).

Annals of the SCLM:  Right-wing propagandist Dinesh D'Souza is now a “CNN Analyst."  Everybody all at once: What liberal media?

Wonkette has more on the dastardly and deliberately confusing SCLM here

Speaking of conservative propagandists, the talented Mr. Yglesiais: 

“During the question-and-answer period, a disheveled Christopher Hitchens rose to suggest that Abu Zarqawi was all the "connection" one needed to make the case.  Hitchens' "evidence" is that Zarqawi leads a terrorist group that is in communication with, though not a member of, al-Qaeda and has collaborated to some extent with ex-Baathists after the fall of Hussein.  (Similar logic would suggest that Hitchens' former editors at The Nation are, in fact, in league with his newfound neoconservative friends, but never mind.)”

More here.

Paper criticism:  A few weeks ago, The New York Observer ran a strange article celebrating the demise of the Times’ Arts and Ideas section.  As with so much of the Observer’s reporting, it was filled, Page Six-style, with people’s personal vendettas and petty jealousies masquerading as analysis, together with some legitimate criticism.  Of course it is impossible for the reader to discern which was which, and hence, the article left the impression of a bunch of smart people actually celebrating the reduction of coverage of the world of ideas in America’s most important newspaper. This is nonsense and it would be weird—that a newspaper would celebrate the demise of an important cultural innovation in the nation’s most important newspaper- had it appeared anywhere else but the Observer. 

I have a dog in this fight, I’ve contributed a few times to the section—at greatly reduced pay rates I might add—and the editor Patti Cohen, is my friend, but you needn’t take my word for it.  How is it that supposedly smart people could ask for less of this type of coverage in the news?:

  1. The author of a book on war games explores the phenomenon in far greater depth and with considerable more background than could any reporter assigned to the topic, here.

  2. Extensive coverage of what looks to be Henry Kissinger’s attempt to squash criticism of his horrific Chilean policies at the Council on Foreign Relations, here.

  3. Anti-environmentalism or genuinely saving the world: An inquiry

  4. Iraq, as seen through the prism of the Iliad, by the thoughtful neocon, Edward Rothstein, here.

Now I ask you, what daily American newspaper is offering cultural coverage, friendly to, but not aimed at intellectuals and academics, of this caliber?  The answer, obviously, is none.  So what was really going on here?

Correspondence corner:

The Reagan stuff has inspired more mail to me than anything that’s ever appeared on the site, easily into four figures.  I’ve at least glanced at all of it and here is a genuinely representative sample, save the stuff that I can’t print because it smacks too much of self-congratulation or contains too much obscenity and or sexual imagery inappropriate for a family-oriented website. Sorry to those of you to whom I could not respond.

Name: Roscoe S. Barnwood
Hometown: Delilah, Mississipi

You are a communist menace and an enemy of God and America! Good  Americans know what a liar you are and that your real agenda is to get Hillary in the White House in '08. We'll die before that godless scum takes our country from us once again! Go and cry with your homosexual friends, you lost the fight, the sun has risen on America to stay.

Name: Max Davis
Hometown: Sarasota, FL

Hi Eric:
Go f**k yourself.  Alot of us are really getting bored with the nasty, left wing, Godless, do-whatever-you-want-to-do mantra from people like you.  Call me and I will persoanlly buy you a first class ticket to whatever country you want to go live in.  You are irreverant, inappropriate and foolish. 

Name: JOHN H STEVENSON (Return my email if you are man enough)
You are seriously twisted. Your mind has turned to a blob of black gelatin. At a time of national mourning you decide to take pen in hand and spew poisonous verse about a dead man who isnt even cold yet. Ever hear of a thing called tact? You think Reagan was worse than a man who got blowjobs in the oval office on our dime while talking to foreign leaders on the phone? Would you rather we were in a spending war with the Soviets or a nuclear war? The man was a leader when we desperately needed one. You think a Russian president will go ga-ga when the almighty Clintons die? You sir, are a low down miserable scum bag oppotunist who is exploiting this man's death as a chance to say what you are too cowardly to say to a living mans face. You are a pathetic, weak little man who will never fill his own shoes, and could never fill Ronnies. I think this is deplorable and you sir, like it or lump it, owe a great deal to that man being honored as we speak. I only hope when you die someone will be as vile with your epitaph.

Name: Dash Lane
Hometown: Folly Beach, SC

You are a sad little man, Eric Alterman-grasping at straws and your poll data for justifications to hate.  Cry, run in place and wet your pants- it does not change the fact that Ronald Reagan is a great American.  I say that in the present tense because his body died but his spirit will live forever.
D.P. "Dash" Lane

P.S. You are a loser.

Name: Paul Mellon
Hometown: Chalfont, PA
Thank you. At last a true liberal lunatic has the guts to spew the real venow the Left has for the Great Man. Your sick and pathetic idealogy has the blood of millions on their hands for your decades long desire to keep the Soviet Union in power. In your twisted mind the state is always superior to the individual be it communist or liberal. Reagan was and remains your ultimate nightmare as he had the foresight and brilliace to demolish not only the Evil Empire but the Left Wing Democratic choke hold on the US Govt. So complete is the victory that Kerry refuses to even accept the term "liberal". Now you freaks of nature are "progressive". Whatever, Ronbo will always be remembered as the hero he was and our nation exalts in him and our supremacy in the world due to his victorious triumphs. So please, continue to ramble on as the bitter, pathetic idiot your are so that Americans can thank God for giving us a leader like Ronald Reagan.

Name: Gary Roddy
Hometown: Livonia MI

I see that you still have your communist party membership!  You faggot!  Crawl back under KKKlinton's desk where you belong!!!!!

Name: Cory Kline
Hometown: Pennsylvania

You're a moron and a terrible American. For you to suggest that the media is not liberal is the dumbest thing someone can say.  Since the war in Iraq to remove a tyrant started, you and your peers have not reported the many good things that have happened over there. And the only reason Clinton was so popular, despite his disgusting acts and lying under oath, is because idiots like you in the media painted a glorious picture of him with your coverage! Do us all a favor and shut up.

Name: Carl Peterson
Hometown: Beaumont, TX

Nice try Commie-boy! Can't stand to hear the re-visiting of greatness that the man who brought pride back to America and faced down the Soviet Union and the left-controled Congress, can you? Reagan is the reason I left the Democratic Party over twenty years ago. Pus-bucket socialists like you that infest the present Democratic Party constantly reinforce that I made the Right decision.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Harleysville Pa
Are you sure you are not in Mass or on the seventh district court in California? It's people like you that are killing this country. I agree with the other person - GO TO FRANCE actually go anywhere else other than here

Name: Guillaume E
Hometown: Paris

Dear Eric,
In case you eventually decide to follow Mr Harrington's advice, and move to France, please know you will be welcome. Most of us Frenchmen (some of us devoted readers of Altercation) still cherish the idea of America you daily stand for, and that Messrs Bush and Co (and their moronic supporters) are busily destroying.

Name: Gordon Moore
Hometown: Truckee CA

I was 21, a former Marine, and in college when Reagan was governor.  He set a mean tone in California politics, in a very political time.  He single-handedly stomped all over the 1st Amendment and in his spare time, invented "homelessness."  He increased state income tax.  I didn't like him then and I don't like him now.  I've never understood why this nation idolizes him.  I hate to say that Americans are gullible or don't pay attention, but that is the way it seems.  At least during the current administration, due to the egregious behavior of the presidential selectee Bush and his mob of sissy-hawks, people are starting to wake up to the lies, arrogance, and contempt in which our intelligence as citizens is held by them.  "God wanted me to be president" is an insult, for Christ's sake.  But I digress.  Reagan's passing is a blessing.  Maybe after his burial we can quit hearing how great he was.  Thank goodness some of the print and Web writers are reminding us of his true record.  Just in passing, let me say that the Marines who were killed in Beirut were of the 8th Marine Regiment.  So was I during my service.  Reagan, who had them there by mistake in the first place, should have avenged them rather than withdrawing which showed terrible weakness to the Arabs.  I'd have flattened the joint.  Anyway, the coward cut and ran, and we are still paying for it.  Loved your book on the SCLM, but I think the Wrong (I can't use the term "Right") see it as a lefty cover-up.  They're the experts on cover-ups, after all.  Thanks for letting this Moderate/Progressive rant.

Name: Mike Campbell
Hometown: Eudora, Kansas

Reagan's death, coming so soon after Memorial Day and D-Day, reminds me of a little discussed facet of Reagan's Presidency:  his betrayal of American military pilots during the Iran-Contra scandal.  This betrayal was pointed out to me by a retired Navy pilot who deeply hated Reagan because of Reagan's sale of missiles to the Iranians.  At the time of Iran-Contra, the defenses on American military planes were designed to counter Soviet weapons, but were vulnerable to American weapons.  Why defend against ourselves?  By selling our missiles to Iran, Reagan gave our enemies the perfect weapons with which to attack and kill our own pilots.

Name: Frank Lynch
Hometown: Really Not Worth Archiving 

Eric, I don't want this to be interpreted as "why is this news? we've known about this..." -- but while the Administration's legal memo on torture is important, it's certainly not the first time this point was made.  The memo happened in March, 2003, but back in 2002 the Administration was talking about skirting the Geneva Convention back in January, 2002 (perhaps earlier); this CNN article dates from January 2002.  So this was already on their minds.  A later warning could have been seen in the June 2003 argument between the U.S. and Belgium over a Belgian law which claimed jurisdiction to try war criminals from any country, no matter where the crimes were supposed to have happened.

I am glad that the WSJ got access to these memos, and that the issue is at the forefront again. The Geneva Convention is there to protect us all. The world did not change so much on September 11 that treaties which were written and agreed to by cooler heads have become obsolete.  It is astonishingly arrogant of the Administration to think that it, and these times, are so special that treaties can be set aside willy-nilly.

June 8, 2004 | 11:45 AM ET

The ‘Liberal Media’ strikes again.  What you’re seeing this week is the product of a forty year right-wing campaign to brand the media as unpatriotic.  In truth, Ronald Reagan was never as popular as he is being presented to be with Americans.  As president, was never even as popular as Bill Clinton during the period of Clinton’s impeachment.  Don’t believe it?  Look here.

Nor was he considered to be as “great” a president after leaving office, at least compared to Clinton whose post-presidency rating is also higher.  Those figures are here, not that you will hear any network or cable news reporter mention them this week.

As a matter of historical record, Reagan campaigned on government discipline but vastly expanded its size and scope, along with the deficits it created; he provided weapons to terrorists and misled the country about it; he helped engender genocide in Central America—according to the terms employed, for instance, by Guatemala’s own truth commission, and misled the country about that too-- and showed no compassion to those who were stricken with AIDS, owing to a personal prejudice or (more likely) political calculations that homosexuals were not worthy of presidential attention. 

I’m not surprised that Reagan’s supporters do not want to hear about any of this.  Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt after all.  Nor am I surprised that the media wish to ignore it and blow Reagan up into a kind of fuzzy-wuzzy doll who just smiled a lot and made everybody feel good about themselves, while slaying communism with his bare hands.  My AOL pop-up screen reads “His words brought down walls.”

Nor, I suppose, should I surprised that the myth of the “liberal media” will survive the SCLM deification of this strange, strange man.  But it has ever been this way.  Return for a moment, with me, to the dramatic highlight of the Iran-Contra hearings.  The following is from When Presidents Lie and deals with the Congressional committee's unwillingness to take on Ollie North, who proudly admitted to lying to them whenever it suited his (and Reagan’s) purposes:

“The irony of this situation is that the reported reaction of the country to North’s testimony was actually at odds with most Americans’ profound disapproval of both his methods and his aims.  The committee’s unwillingness to prosecute North proved less a reaction to the genuine beliefs of the American people than to a phony ‘Potemkin’ pretense of a public reaction created by administration supporters and other conservative movement figures.  Most of the media fell for it as well.  Time, for instance, reported that “The Boy Scout and patriot had the nation rooting for him,” while Newsweek subtitled its cover story “The ‘Fall Guy’ Becomes a Folk Hero.”  Its attendant coverage argued that North “somehow embodied Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper and John Wayne in one bemedaled uniform.”  The coverage in both newsweeklies was directly contradicted by published polls at the time, including their own.  Time’s own poll showed that 61 percent believed that the term “national hero” did not describe North.  According to Newsweek’s polls, 45 percent of respondents believed North was a patriot and a hero, while 48 percent did not.  On July 9, 1987 “The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” reported, without evidence, that “ninety-six percent of you back North up, saying you approve of his actions.”  The broadcast went on to compare North to Rambo and Dirty Harry.  Overall, in four separate polls taken in June and July of 1987, between 68 and 81 percent of Americans questioned disagreed with the appellation “hero” when applied to Oliver North.  The labels “villain,” “victim,” “dangerous,”  “fanatic,” and “can be bought” proved considerably more popular.” 

The North example is something to keep in mind now that we’ve learned that this administration actually planned to torture people.  Given how weak the media have been in looking into their various nefarious activities, it is likely that the cover-up of the torture scandal will succeed and the higher-ups who approved it and set it into motion will never be disciplined, but in the meantime, take a good look at Josh Marshall's post and ask yourself if torturers telling prosecutors “we were only following orders” while the people giving their orders argue that they are shielded by unwritten law that gives them unchallenged power sounds like America to you.

Meanwhile, now that the White House has announced Cheney is speaking at a Reagan memorial this week, David Sirota wonders whether Cheney will reiterate his own harsh criticism of Reagan's defense policies.

Alter-reviews:  Let us now praise famous men:  OK, so it was only two songs, but I was seated in the front row of the balcony of the Apollo Theater in Harlem last night I saw the most wondrous thing: The Wynton Marsalis septet playing “It Takes a Train to Laugh…” and “Don’t think Twice, It’s All Right,” with a feller named Dylan singing and playing the harmonica.  (An acoustic guitar stood next to him untouched.)  The idea was weird but the execution was wonderful; a profound contrast to the under-rehearsed Dylan performances I’ve been seeing for the past few decades.  Dylan clearly loved doing the jazzy, bluesy version of these songs with these inventive, talented musicians and he smiled more than I think I’ve seen him do so in his entire career.  Before he came on, James Taylor did a lovely “Don’t Let Me be Lonely Tonight” and Branford and Wynton had a kind of gun-fight via their respective axes and goodness, what a night, I only wish it could have been longer and Cedric the Entertainer would not have talked quite so much.  Other people sang too, including a young girl who looked to be about 14. The J@LC 2004-2005 schedule can be found here.  I strongly recommend the Jazz for young people series if you’ve got a kid and live nearby.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jack Barnes
Hometown: Bunkie, LA

May God strike you down, sir.  Hell hath no fury like thy scorn.  You desecrate the dead on a level comparable to Al Queda.  Pray for forgiveness.

Name: j harrington
Hometown: coconut creek fl

it does my heart good to watch you twist in the wind and puke all over yourself and your liberal faggot (jr, Seau) friends as americans honor pres. regan. hillary the dike,  gore the manic, and bill the diddler, love to use saps like you to spew the hate. you should move to france  and be happy, as you are not as an a american.

Name: Jim Day
Hometown: Peoria, AZ

What the hell is wrong with you?  Let the dead at least be buried before you pile on.  Jesus you are a raging left wing lib/communist Eric.  Your irresponsible idealism is the exact thing the country doesn't need now or ever.  You and others

Name: Vicki Bryson
Hometown: Gruver, TX
After what Carter and Clinton did to this country and literally stealing and vadalizing the White House, I would like to read what you say about them.  How dare you.  If you wrote this 4 years ago, why do we have to read it again.  You people made an anniversary out of Watergate.  Why don't you have an anniversary for Monika?  Journalists like you are what is truly wrong with this country.

Name: Richard Pachter
Hometown: South Florida

For Jeff Mark and anyone else confused by the highly confusing broadcast chronology of SCTV, I highly recommend this site, which also has info and links for the new DVD set.

June 7, 2004 | 11:11 AM ET
Reading Reagan: 
I was not a fan of Ronald Reagan.  And his death at the ripe old age of 93 does not change that.  Perhaps he was a nice man, perhaps not.  His children had some harsh words for him as a father and his former associates, like Michael Deaver, were often shocked at how little personal connection he seemed to feel to them once their professional relationships ended.  I never met the man and as citizen of the nation he helped transform and a historian of those events, it doesn’t really matter to me whether he was a nice guy, a good father, a good friend or anything else, save how those qualities affected his public achievements and accomplishments.  These, of course, were myriad.  Reagan was unarguably a public figure of enormous import, no question about it.  As Todd Gitlin observes here, Reagan was a “great man,” but that is not same thing as saying that he was a good man.

I wrote this four years ago, and while if I had written it in the aftermath of the man’s death, I would have been a bit gentler about him personally—and so I don’t recommend you’re reading it if you find yourself in a state of raw emotion over Reagan’s demise— nothing about it is any less true today than it was four years ago.

To me the most astounding thing about Reagan was his ability to convince the many members of the media and much of the country that his fantasies mattered more than reality did.  In this regard, I think we can point to his presidency as the moment the country went off the rails in terms of a willingness to address its real problems, rather than the ones we wish we had.  The news is more nonsense than normatively significant national problems, and while there has always been some of this, I think with Reagan we hit a tipping point.  Listening to Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts wax nostalgically about how wonderful it was that Reagan made stuff up and a bunch of silly journalists had the temerity to (briefly) call him to account, brought back an almost physical wave of nausea as I involuntarily experienced the beginning of the period when facts and truth ceased to matter to their alleged guardians.  The following is from "When Presidents Lie":

Reagan’s own penchant for self-delusion has been widely documented.  He frequently convinced himself of historical truths on the basis of old movies he half-recalled.  He pretended to one White House visitor to have participated in the liberation of German concentration camps at the end of World War II though he hand never even gone overseas as a soldier.  He entertained a strange fascination with the End of Days and was even known to speculate that they might take place during his presidency.  He invented what he called “a verbal message” from the Pope in support of his Central American policies, which was news to everyone at the Vatican.  He announced one day in 1985 that South Africa--though still ruled by the vicious apartheid regime of P.W. Botha--had somehow “eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country.”  Such strange pronouncements by the president of the United States eventually grew to be considered so routine that rarely did anyone in the White House ever bother to correct them.  The president simply had a penchant, one former senior adviser admitted, to “build these little worlds and live in them.”  One of his children added, “He makes things up and believes them.”  What is more astounding is the fact that he convinced other people to believe them too.

The next few weeks will be ones of cheap sentiment and overweening pathos at the expense of the historical record, much as took place following the death of Richard Nixon.   I am not going on any self-appointed crusades to try and offset this, but for those who want a fuller picture of Reagan’s life and times, I’d recommend Lou Cannon’s fair-minded biography,  President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, a book that can be admired by honest fans of Reagan as well as honest opponents.  The most interesting meditation on Reagan’s character and presidency can be found, in my view, in Garry Wills’ Reagan's America: Innocents at Home.  An extremely useful perspective on Reagan’s role in the end of the Cold War can be found in Frances Fitzgerald’s Way out There in the Blue.

Thanks to George W. Bush’s refusal to enact the law passed by Congress opening up the records of the Reagan presidency, the historical record remains woefully incomplete.  But the best overview of Reagan’s horrific Central American policies can be found in Will Leogrande's history of the period, and for an overview of the Iran Contra scandal, I’d consult Theodore Draper along with this documentary history from the National Security Archive.  Lawrence Walsh's memoir, called “Firewall” is also a valuable record. (I also deal with Iran Contra extensively in When Presidents Lie, but I do wish I could have done so with open archives.  Meanwhile check out how confused is about just what the hell book this is.) 

A useful corrective to the self-congratulatory story of Reagan’s “victory” in the Cold War that dominates public discourse can be found in the historian Matthew Evangelista’s Unarmed Forces.  And as I mentioned recently, I learned interesting facts about Reagan’s role in Hollywood, and the double-dealing against his fellow union members during his dishonesty of a SAG presidency—including his secret role as an FBI informant- in Connie Bruck’s biography of Lew Wasserman and there’s more on this in the Wasserman bio by Kathleen Sharp.  (And by the way, when this one’s all over, tell me that story about the “liberal media” one more time.)

I don’t like June 6 to pass without noting two tragic anniversaries:  The beginning of the Six Day War, that may have been necessary to save Israel, but nevertheless marks its beginning as occupying, rather than liberating power.  Defeat for Israel would have been a tragedy, but so, alas was victory. (Israel also chose this date to invade Lebanon in 1982, demonstrating just how misperceived this victory has become through the triumphalist narratives of its unthinking “supporters.")

June 6 also marks the anniversary of the murder of Robert Kennedy by Palestinian terrorist Sirhan Sirhan; perhaps the last moment when it was possible to believe in the naïve idealistic dreams of the sixties.

Quote of the Day: “He is a self-admitted atheist, he was a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust...”
--Tony Blankley on George Soros

I’m a little confused here.  Is Blankley really saying that Soros should have taken Hitler’s medicine like a good Jew or is he saying all smart Jews could have avoided the ovens if only they were as tricky as that now-he’s-an-atheist-now-he’s-a-Jew Soros?  And what’s atheism got to do with it?  Is Blankley taking a position on the Jew as religion vs. Jew as peoplehood question?  Read the rest of the rant.  It’s almost textbook traditional anti-Semitism against the stateless, “robber baron … pirate capitalist” cosmopolitan.  It almost echoes the tenor of Nazi propaganda.  And Hannity agrees.  I can’t remember the last time I read something quite so brazenly anti-Semitic in the mainstream media.  And Blankley has the temerity to accuse Soros of fostering anti-Semitism.  Where’s the accountability?  Where’s the “liberal media?”

Reels the mind.

Correspondents’ Corner

Name: Laura Turner
Hometown: Vancouver

Eric (if I can call you that),
In response to your Nation article on John Kerry and the War, I think there's a major distinction you fail to make in your advice to our nominee.  You ask for two things from Kerry: (1) to admit his mistake in voting for the Bush-Gephardt Iraq War Resolution and later approving the March invasion, and (2) to promise to withdraw force from Iraq, as you put it "at the earliest possible moment."

As a long-time war critic who was horrified two years ago watching my party shelve the debate and cave in to the media-fuelled Neocon rush-to-War, the former piece of advice is extremely welcome to me.  Every time Kerry insists that his vote on H.J. Res. 114 was "the right one," my blood boils.  It was not the right vote.  Kerry, along with the majority of the Democratic leadership, failed his base on October 11, 2002.  He continued to let us down in the months leading up to the March strike as developments in Iraq and the UN continued to make the case for unilateral invasion came to look ever more tenuous and worthy of debate.

But the second gambit you propose -- that Kerry now promise voters an immediate move toward withdrawal -- would, I think, be irresponsible and political in the extreme.  For one thing, it opens the can of worms as to what is "the earliest possible moment."  Interpretations will differ wildly.  Things are changing rapidly on the ground in Iraq and the U.S. must do what it can to prevent civil war in the region we have so foolishly destabilized.  As much as I hate the War, I would see Kerry's promises to pull out come hell or high water as the worst kind of irresponsible pandering to people like me.  I wouldn't trust him to do it, and I'd be angered by the grossest of all flip-flops: having supported a war only to turn against it when things don't pan out as you'd planned.

In a nutshell, Kerry's recent rhetoric on the campaign trail about our involvement in and commitment in Iraq has struck me as eloquent, responsible and correct.  From the New York Times:

''Mr. Kerry said it was impossible to predict what the situation in Iraq would be when -- if elected -- he took office. But he said neither the United States nor its allies could afford a failure in Iraq, and repeated his call for Mr. Bush to engage more countries in the transition... "I promise you this," he said, "I am going to get the troops home as fast as possible, with honor and the job accomplished in the way it needs to be, and we will bring other people into the process."''

I only wish Kerry would combine that common sense realism with the humility of admitting that many primary voters -- who questioned and opposed the lead-up to War in real time but were still wise and forgiving enough to choose Kerry as our standard-bearer -- knew better than he did when it mattered.  That combination of toughness and humility is one I'd be truly enthusiastic to vote for.

Name: Steve Snyder
Hometown: Lancaster, TX

Stupid's right about China.  And I've mentioned it before in columns.  Of course, I'm just the editor of an itty-bitty weekly suburban Dallas paper, so I don't get much airplay.

Name: Jeff Mark
Hometown: Berkeley CA
Hi there...
A minor correction about the release of SCTV by Shout Factory.  Not "really" the first season, this collection is the first season of "SCTV Network 90", which is the expanded version that NBC showed upon (as I recall) the demise of "Midnight Special".  Possibly correcting the blurb on the web page, I also seem to recall one season called "SCTV Satellite" or something similar that was 60 minutes.  I await the half-hour- and 60-minute-episode releases, as they introduced us to most of their edgier characters (like Guy Caballero, Joe Flaherty's "crippled" station manager).  The 90 minute shows had their own special edge; I remember the New Year's 1984 episode in which the station suddenly changed, once it was officially 1984... This release does make up for the horrible editing of the syndicated reruns of SCTV, which broke some of the 90-minute episodes into unintelligible parts...

Name: Rich Jenkins
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Dear Eric,
Victor Reuther died and none of the usual left of center blogs have noted it.  He and his brother Walter profoundly changed the lives of American workers.  An ironic contrast with the also deceased St. Ronnie.

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
By now, everyone knows that the President has retained private counsel. But did you know that Cheney retained private counsel too?

This little tidbit is among the many fascinating issues discussed in John Dean's latest article, dissecting why the President & Veep each need their own private, outside counsel.

It turns out, in what amounts to the mother of all karmic ironies, that it's (heh heh) Ken Starr's fault:

"Why is Bush going to an outside counsel, when numerous government attorneys are available to him - for instance, in the White House Counsel's Office?  The answer is that the President has likely been told it would be risky to talk to his White House lawyers, particularly if he knows more than he claims publicly.

Ironically, it was the fair-haired Republican stalwart Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr who decimated the attorney-client privilege for government lawyers and their clients - which, to paraphrase the authority Wigmore, applies when legal advice of any kind is sought by a client from a professional legal adviser, where the advice is sought in confidence.

The reason the privilege was created was to insure open and candid discussion between a lawyer and his or her client.  It traditionally applied in both civil and criminal situations for government lawyers, just as it did for non-government lawyers.  It applied to written records of communications, such as attorney's notes, as well as to the communications themselves. 

But Starr tried to thwart that tradition in two different cases, before two federal appeals courts. There, he contended that there should be no such privilege in criminal cases involving government lawyers.

So now Bush and Cheney EACH have their own outside counsel . . . And they have Ken Starr to thank.

Funny, they seemed so anti-trial lawyer when they first came to town.  (mirror)

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