Make text smaller Make text larger




It was anexhausting week at the MUGGER household. My wife, who'd valiantly foughtoff my stomach flu and Junior's head cold, finally succumbed, probablydue to fatigue from nursing her two guys. Then, on Tuesday morning, MUGGER IIIcame into our bedroom just after midnight and announced with a stoic whisper:"Mommy, Daddy, wake up, I'm about to barf!" He didn't, butwas burning with a fever, so we gave him some Motrin and he snuggled for a mostlysleepless six or seven hours. At times, shivering with a chill, he'd huddleby the radiator, saying, "I'm cold, so I'm toasting up."
The nextnight, he arrived about the same time and we played a few Magic School Bus videos,at low volume, but after the medicine kicked in he got hyper and started chattingjust like my mother did after a martini or two. Wired. So, at 2 a.m., I gotup with him and we played with dinosaurs, watched Scooby-Doo a bunch of times,learned our ABCs on a CD-ROM and drank ginger ale. He asked if I'd be agrandpa when he was a teenager?good God, I hope not!?and said he couldn'twait to walk the streets of Manhattan by himself. Then he was jabbering abouthis birthday?he wants his party to be held at 333, so he and his friendscan have a food fight?and what kind of pet the family might acquire oncewe move to a new apartment down the block in Tribeca. The new loft has a roofdeck, with plenty of space for a garden, hammock (Mrs. M and I are still negotiatingon this point) and playhouse. We settled on a bunny: MUGGER III wants to nameit $10 Bill, a very cool choice, I think. Junior protested later in the morning,around 5, saying he wanted a bird, so it might turn out that we'll havetwo creatures in large cages with a clear view of the Hudson.

In the midstof this surreal nocturnal experience, I had a parental epiphany that may beyesterday's news to people with older children, but it hit me pretty hard.When your kids are very young, they come up with a bunch of cute expressionswhile learning to speak. For example, MUGGER III, if he wanted a drink, calledout for "noose," meaning white grape juice. Long after he figuredout the correct pronunciation, Mrs. M and I continued with "noose,"and he just rolled his eyes. Similarly, when Junior was three, he loved the"previews" in between tv shows. I thought that was a riot, but atone point, and actually it happens instantly, he learned the right phrase,and when I'd continue saying "previews" he'd correct me.Usually with a sneer. A recent favorite of his was, "Dad, you're insane!"Naturally, I wore out the joke and so he told me, "Dad, that's reallyold!" Just the other day, when he was playing his damn Nintendo64 game, Zelda, I saw something on the screen and made an observation.

His response at my discovery: "Yeah, so what? That's just not my scene,man!"

It remindsme of a visit I made to the house of one of my brothers in Mill Valleymany years ago. It was the mid-80s and lots of rock stars were trying to assuagetheir consciences?much like Hollywood celebrities today gettinginvolved in saving the Constitution and environment?by playing benefitsfor starving kids around the world. As if Bono, Sting or BobDylan gave a shit about any of them. Anyway, it was during the holidays,and the song "Do They Know It's Christmas," the English versionof "We Are the World," was a big hit and my brother was greatly enthusedabout the charity. He insisted on playing it over and over, much to his kids'chagrin. Obviously, it had started as a family project, probably at the urgingof my nieces, who were pre-teenagers, and they'd had many unforgettablefamily moments singing the song, talking about poverty, etc. But by now my brother,who was still in peace-on-Earth-mode, not realizing his children had moved on,looked sort of silly bobbing and weaving to the tune. No wonder kids becomeso unruly in their teenage years: Either their parents ignore them, unable tocomprehend their unique difficulties and joys or, perhaps worse, they try tobe hip and relate on an equal level, a buddy sort of thing. Of course it neverworks.

I'mjust waiting for Junior or MUGGER III to tell me, with disgust, "You'reso square, you probably think I'm talking to you!"

Anyway,everyone was exhausted by 7 a.m.?except Junior, who had recovered fromhis illness and was now operating at 135 percent, which was pretty darn annoying?andthere was still a full day ahead. Which meant doctor appointments and wranglingwith an architect for Mrs. M; end-of-the-year tax sessions and business meetingsfor yours truly. But there was good news: During the day, Christopher Chestnutt,the eccentric owner of El Teddy's, called and invited me to a 10thanniversary party at his restaurant, a splendid Mexican joint from which I'vebeen banned for five years. It's too long a story to recount, but I wastickled the feud had ended.

On Thursdaynight Mrs. M and I, along with Drey Slivka, had dinner there. It'sstill a fantastic place. Sure, we had quibbles: A snippy cocktail waitress gotpissed at me when I'd ordered a drink at the bar and then sat down at atable; there's still a strange policy of not seating the party until everyone'sthere, even though in this case we were just missing one and the dining roomwas empty.

But thefood and service were fine, just as I'd remembered. We ordered a slew ofappetizers, all old favorites, and polished off the lot of them. Vertical nachos,with the chips standing up in cheese, guac and refried beans; a spicy quesofundido, made for dipping and enhanced by sliced jalapenos; superb fried calamari;and chunky, fresh guacamole and salsa. Mrs. M had a dainty bacon, lettuce, tomatoand avocado burrito; I went with the duck taquitos and Drey, who consumes 5000calories a day, downed a piece of striped bass. We had margaritas, beers andclub soda and the bill was modest.

At somepoint, Mrs. M. mentioned James Atlas' new business plan ofproducing truncated biographies, an idea that seems awful to me. For starters,I still can't get out of my head Atlas' New Yorker piece froma year or so ago, in which he whined that writers can't live the affluentlifestyles of their predecessors in the 50s and 60s in New York anymore.What a baby: Go become a banker, for crying out loud. Second, if you want todig into a bio, you probably want the entire story, warts and all, not a versionthat's between Cliffs Notes and the real thing.

Drey concurred:He's currently reading a 900-page tome on Teddy Roosevelt, a president he, and I, admire even though the imperialist/trust-buster could be a real shit. We were talking literature and then I confessed that I hadn't read Moby Dick, one of Drey's favorites.

Mrs. M,who reads more than 99 percent of Americans, hadn't either, and made acogent and spirited argument against the academics who rant and rave if youhaven't studied the "big books." Drey felt a little intimidatedby my wife's feisty demeanor and announced, "Well, I don't likeShakespeare." Really? I countered, surprised by this admission froma taciturn Columbia graduate. "Yeah, I wrote about it two yearsago, bud." Oops, didn't remember that piece. For good measure, hecalled Joyce's Ulysses a piece of shit. That topic exhausted,Drey marveled at the celebrity status of our receptionist at 333, starlet ErinFranzman, wondering just how she charms most of the callers to the officeand has a constant retinue of suitors wanting to hang out in the front lobby.(Sort of like a young version of the Shirley MacLaine character in Termsof Endearment.) He was glad to avoid the subject of Amy Sohn,who's hot after his butt, as I've described in the past. Sorry, butthe really salacious parts of this story are off the record.

On Fridaynight, before heading over to the Ace bar for production manager JeffKoyen's 30th birthday party, five of us had dinner at CuckooCaribe, a middling Caribbean joint on Ave. A. I had to stop over at CooperSquare to get my passport to the East Village renewed, but the waitwas minimal: Voice press critic Cynthia Cotts, a NYPressaficionado, was on duty and she processed my papers in a flash.

(On a relatedVoice note, one of my correspondents suggested NYPress try toraid Nat Hentoff from the beatnik weekly. He wrote: "I can'tbelieve Hentoff is happy writing for the Voice. If you could ever landhim for a column, that would be a coup. He's a brilliant and unique iconoclast,who'll never repackage talking points like some other writers I can thinkof." I explained that Hentoff, whom I admire, would never cross the streetbecause of his loyalty to the Voice. My friend countered: "That'sthe Catch-22. A decent, principled columnist like Hentoff has too many scruplesto leave a publication that shares none of his virtues.")

I'mfond of food from the islands, and Negril (23rd betw. 8th and 9th) ismy top pick in the city: Cuckoo doesn't live up to those standards, butit's a fun place to hang out for an hour or so, even if you wonder whenthe straw thatching might go up in flames. The jerk wings were ordinary, thekind that are served at 1000 bars, and needed to be doused with an entire ramekinof hot sauce to make my own "jerk." (Strangely, there were no bottles of Pickapeppa or other scotch-bonnet concoctions that most Caribbeanjoints proudly display.) Ditto for the coconut-crusted shrimp?strictlypub grub.

The entreeswere an improvement: Two of us opted for the meaty jerk chicken, which, unlikethe wings, actually had some seasoning. Mrs. M and Mike Gentile had nocomplaints about their chicken rotis, although later in the night Mike said,"I hope I don't have a date with Hubert tonight," meaningthat the food settled like a bomb in his gut and he was praying he wouldn'tbarf. Baltimore slang, what can I say? My pork stew was a heaping platterof tender, and delicious, pig, with mushy red beans. Unfortunately, the rice,meant to mop up the gravy and more hot sauce, was wet and sticky, cooked asbadly as I prepare it in my own kitchen. Mrs. M and I give Cuckoo a C-plus;Slivka, Mike and Tara Morris were more generous, awarding the barn-likerestaurant a solid B.

I don'tgo to bars very often these days, but Ace?on 5th, close to Ave. B?isa terrific watering hole, a place I would've made a local 10 or 15 years ago. It's a little heavy on the kitsch?pinball machines, beer paraphernaliahanging on the walls?but the display of old lunchboxes, located at the front, is a smart eyecatcher, since it immediately draws you in to find a favorite.

"Hey, there's Land of the Giants," Mike smiled,while Mrs. M searched for a Brady Bunch container, her nostalgic ticketto the past. I focused on a Cracker Jack box, and then deadpanned, "Well,they don't have the lunchbox I grew up with. I guess there aren'tmany Howdy Doody contraptions still in existence."

Jeff waslike a little boy on his 30th, receiving all sorts of goofy gag gifts and eventhough he'd only had a Rolling Rock or two by the time we arrivedhe was flying high, making sure everyone was having a good time. He completelythrew a friend off guard when he introduced him to me as "The guy I wastelling you about who had sex in the stairwell at the Puck Bldg. at our'Best of' party." Jeff floated away, mock-dodging all the friends snapping photos of him, and got a drink for his lovely wife Amy. Later,I'm told, someone gave him a pack of adult diapers as a present and everyonewore them on their heads. Kids.

Then MikeWartella, Boy Genius Illustrator, walked into the bar and immediately askedone of our writers, "Hey, have you fucked any hookers lately?" Mikewas on a different planet than he usually inhabits, Pluto instead ofMars, perhaps, and with a whiskey sour in his hand?the girl drinkof all girl drinks, and one that I innocently mistook for a Shirley Templeuntil Mike corrected me?told us the story of how he almost got arrestedthe day before down at the courthouse, trying to fulfill his civic duty as ajuror. He didn't make it past the metal detector: Seems that Mike hadn'tchanged pants from the night before, and still had a switchblade in his pocket.The guards weren't amused, thank God, and tossed his ass out of the building,threatening dire Rudy Giuliani-like consequences.

Mike andI then had a short conversation about comics and underground newspapers fromthe 60s. He has a couple of pieces in a new satiric magazine called Harpoon?whichJohn Strausbaugh correctly described last week as strong on art, lowon humor?and asked if I thought he was a hack for turning in work to thepublication. "Not if it pays well," I explained, offering the sageadvice that he wouldn't get rich from his endeavors at NYPress,despite the brilliance of his illustrations, and so it was necessary to findany jobs he could to keep the wolf from the door.

That satisfied,Mike and I leaped into another conversation. "Say, I was talking the otherday to an old guy named Tuli Kupferberg who used to write for the EastVillage Other. Have you ever heard of him?" Mike's only 24, soI didn't want to get rough with the tot, but I did say, yes, I'm familiar with Tuli, the Fugs, EVO, Robert Crumb's BigBrother album cover, headshops and even a group called the Byrds.I promised Mike, if he ate all his peas and carrots, that one day next weekhe could have complete access to my newspaper and magazine archive that spansfrom the late 50s to the current newsweekly covers about Clinton'simpeachment trial.

There wasa tremendous crowd at the Ace to bring Jeff into his 30s, including lots ofhis friends, most of them tall, and an impressive showing from 333, includinghis bud Giselle de Vera, J.R. Taylor, Kim Granowitz, AndrewSheppard, Van Smith, Abena Adjei, Alex Schweitzer,Jimmy Katocin, Scott Niebuhr, Adam Mazmanian, BethBroome, Heather Dell, Rob Gault, Godfrey Cheshire,Lisa Kearns and a gaggle of others who had later bedtimes than Mrs. Mand I. I wish we could've taken Junior and MUGGER III?Jeff is oneof their heroes at the office?but they were mercifully asleep under thewatch of a sitter, and, if genetics have any merit at all, they'll spendenough time in bars like Ace not too many years from now. Yikes.

Finally,on the domestic front, it's with great displeasure that I report the temporaryclosing (for renovations) of Pak's Deli, my home away from home,the Korean palace I visit five times daily before 7 a.m. The last few days therewere weird: They depleted the current stock, so on Sunday I bought the lastpack of Merits. As for Junior's Doritos, forget it?they weregone last Thursday. I went downstairs Saturday night to fetch him a snack forRugrats, and came up with an off-brand of sour cream and onion potato chipsthat were probably made in Montana some time in 1989. Junior was suspiciouswhen I gave him the bag: He sniffed, wanted to know why the chips had ridges,finally tasted one and said, "Excellent." Close call. Pak's offto see his family outside Seoul and won't return until the deli'sexpansion is complete in mid-March. By that time, with any luck, the MUGGER family will be down the road, and I'll have established a new early-morningroutine.
The Schlesinger Audition Lookingat just the first paragraph of Jacob Weisberg's delusionalpiece about Bill Clinton in Sunday's Times Magazine you geta queasy feeling. Although the cover is brilliant?there's a blurryphoto of a smiling Clinton?the headline "Bill Clinton's Legacy(First Draft)" and the byline (Slate's Weisberg has long beensoft on the President, spelunking for any upside to this corrupt administration)are enough to let any objective reader know they're in for a biased bunchof bunk. Weisbergbegins: "As a 10-year-old glued to the tv through the summer of Watergate,I remember the air of gravity that hung over the proceedings, the sense thatit was a dreadful necessity to put a President on trial. I don't recallauthority figures having to explain that it was a national crisis?evento a kid, that was pretty obvious." Jake, first things first: You mightnot remember, but there were two Watergate summers. In '73,the tapes were discovered, and later that fall there was the Saturday NightMassacre, the "I Am Not a Crook" speech and Leon Jaworskitaking over for Archibald Cox. The activity of the next summer, in '74,just put the final touches on an obvious conclusion.
Frankly,from where I was watching, there wasn't a damn bit of gravity inthe air. I was working as a janitor in a science lab at Princeton University, and as college jobs aren't too demanding I read several papers a day andwatched the tube in the afternoon with graduate students. Everyone cheered asthe Judiciary Committee cast their votes. There was a boozy party whenNixon finally resigned. National crisis? Bullshit. It was one of thehappiest summers of my life, and I'll bet that a lot of Boomers rememberit that way. Nixon went off to California, Jerry Ford became president and there was a palpable sense of disappointment that the drama was over.

It'strue that the public is less interested in Clinton's impeachment, but Nixon'sdownfall was a generation ago: no cable, the dawn of tv shows based on reality(All in the Family, with Archie Bunker spicing his lower-middle-classchatter with "kike" and "nigger," was controversial; thesexual explicitness of Maude was virgin territory, so to speak, on television)and a media that had just started to invade the secret lives of politicians.Everyone is more jaded today, and I think that explains the relative boredomwith the Clinton trial. As many have commented, if the Dow were tanking,Clinton would be long gone. Also, Weisberg seems to remember Nixon's '69-'74administration as one of economic prosperity; it started that way, but Nixondidn't impose wage and price controls in the early 70s because there wasa chicken in every pot. There was a short recession; massive increases in socialwelfare programs (and people thought Nixon was a conservative!); Nixon's"We're all Keynesians now" remark; inflation thought to be outof control; and the first oil embargo. Nixon capitulated to the left, whichled to Jimmy Carter's ruinous economics. Thanks to RonaldReagan, order was restored.

Weisbergwrites: "Bill Clinton's impeachment is historic in the sense of itbeing an event historians will puzzle over in decades to come. But what thosehistorians will have to ponder is not how it shook the country, but why it didn't."I think the biggest puzzle for historians in the future, who won't havea current feeling for Clinton, is why he didn't resign in the face of somany criminal activities on his watch.

Weisbergblathers on about how Clinton has transformed the office into a "governor-presidency"and says a few of his major achievements will be welfare reform and balancingthe budget. He acknowledges that Clinton's first hope for legislation thatwould burnish his legacy, health care reform, was a disaster; but he doesn'tgive the Republicans credit for pushing the President to "end welfare 'aswe know it'" or cleaning up the deficit. When Weisberg claims thatClinton has "restored a model last seen among Democrats during the Presidencyof Lyndon Johnson, when those joining his coalition get to experience victoryand taste power," he loses me. Admittedly, I skimmed the remainder of thearticle, which was sympathetic to the President and full of explanations ofhow his current problems, with the exception of the actual scarlet letter ofimpeachment, will be forgotten.

In hisWashington Post column last Sunday, David Broder inadvertently disputesmany of Weisberg's claims. While admitting that Clinton's approvalratings might soar even higher after his State of the Union address Tuesday(which I agree Clinton should deliver: Despite his lame-duck, criminal status,he's still president), in which there'll no doubt be promises of bagfulsof goodies and feel-good slogans, as well as a new tobacco tax, Broder saysthat historians will note that 1998 was a dud for Clinton. And not just becauseof Monica. He writes: "[T]he big items in his 1998 State of theUnion Address, the ones that won public applause, were scuttled: a major anti-tobaccoinitiative; an HMO patients' bill of rights; expansion of Medicare to includeyounger people; campaign finance reform; a boost in the minimum wage; fast-tracktrade negotiation authority. Most of those will be back on the agenda this year,but the prospects appear at least as dim. The 1997 balanced-budget agreementcould turn out to be the last significant Clinton legislative achievement."

If Broderwere pressed, I'm sure he'd say Clinton's legacy will be thatof a "caretaker," a morally skeezy and felonious president.

Even theLos Angeles Times, which has been easy on Clinton, editorialized last Friday:

"Clinton's lawyers can be expected to present a strong legal defensewhen they speak next week. But there is nothing they or anyone else can say that will mitigate his moral failures. The one fact everyone can agree on isthat Clinton has behaved abominably throughout this squalid business, and hisacquittal by the Senate, if it comes, will neither rescue his reputation norlighten the harm he has done to his presidency. We knew that last year. We knowit now."
The Gore Republic Makesa Preemptive Strike! Let'smake one thing perfectly clear: Dana Milbank, senior editor at TheNew Republic, is no Sidney Blumenthal. Milbank, 30, Yale-educated and an eight-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal, isn't in deviouscollusion with Bill Clinton, Larry Flynt, James Carville andTerry Lenzner, and from what I've determined he's a prettygood guy. No, Milbank's difficulty?one that's significant enoughthat it will most likely damage his career?is that he's MartyPeretz' handpicked cheerleader for Al Gore. Peretz, of course,is the owner of TNR and has pushed the Veep's candidacy for years;he even fired editor Michael Kelly nearly 18 months ago because of hisnegative coverage of Clinton's sleazy administration. Peretz, who was Gore'smentor at Harvard, prefers to spend time in Cambridge, ruminatingin the magazine about Israeli politics, and peppers The Gore Republicwith his own partisanship. Hence the need for a butt-boy, and this year Milbank,who's worked at TNR since March of '98, drew the short straw.
In a Jan.25 TNR piece headlined "Political Machine," Milbank spendsthe majority of his 5000 words explaining how Gore has the 2000 Democratic nominationwrapped up, emphasizing Iowa, New Hampshire, New York andCalifornia. It's clear that the Vice President is the prohibitivefavorite, given his ability to raise money (more about that below) and all thechits he's collected in six years of working for Clinton, but it'sprobably too early, considering his boss' current predicament and whatmight stick to Gore, to say the primary race is over. In an annoying conceit,Milbank uses the phrase "JugGoreNaut" no fewer than 10 times in thearticle, not to mention that he refers to New York and California as the "EmpireState" and "Golden State," respectively. Although Gore'spotential challengers do face daunting odds, Milbank dismisses Bill Bradleyand John Kerry almost out of hand. (A Jan. 18 item by Neal Travisin the New York Post claims that Bradley has won the cash-rich endorsementsof both Michael Eisner and Barry Diller.)

He reportsthat Gore has already amassed the endorsements of both low- and high-rankingpoliticos in primary states, and that the "bulk of their work" inraising Gore's money will be completed in 90 days, closing off the nomination.He doesn't even consider the possible candidacy of an ego-driven JesseJackson, though who knows how that will affect the field. Gore's proposalon Monday to increase spending for civil rights enforcement by 15 percent playsto the Rev's constituency. Besides, Jackson might be too busy ministeringto the prayer needs at the Clinton White House.

Amazingly,Milbank dismisses Gore's complicity in the financial irregularities ofthe Clinton campaign in '96?he even jokes that a recent fundraiser for '98 Democratic candidates netted $600,000, "none of it, apparently,from Buddhist monks"?writing that "Gore's campaign financeexposure, thanks to Janet Reno, is now slight." Doesn't Milbank realizethat Gore's involvement ("no controlling legal authority," doesthat ring a bell?) in the '96 campaign will be explosive fodder for theGOP nominee, especially considering how inept Reno was in not fully investigatingthe activity? After five pages of cheerleading in a six-page article, Milbankgets around to Gore's possible problems?a recession, fallout fromClinton's impeachment trial?but the bulk of the piece gives the impressionthat Peretz' former student will win the nomination in a slam-dunk JugGoreNaut.

Milbanktold me last Friday: "Okay, you've found me out. I'm anglingfor charge d'affaires in Bermuda during the Gore administration. Actually,all the response I've received (except yours) has been about the strongreportorial content of the story. The piece...was the first extensive look insidethe operation of the Democratic front-runner." I agree that Milbank'sreporting was exhaustive; however, it was also one-sided and aimed, I think,at satisfying his boss. As one journalist familiar with Milbank's worksays, "He does whatever Marty Peretz wants him to. Weak. Not bad, but weak."

Finally?andsorry for piling on Milbank?The Gore Republic editor includes asilly sentence in his Feb. 1 piece called "White House Watch: Sex-Crazed."In the article, in which Milbank strenuously strives for humor, saying thathe, too, was disappointed by Larry Flynt's non-delivery of the dirt onGOP politicians ("I am not proud of this craving for the salacious. ButI have been spoiled by a daily dose of sex scandal in recent days... We, as a nation, have become sex-crazed"), he falls into a lazy trap that wouldmake the First Lady proud.

In examiningthe Danny Williams nonstory, and chastising the usual tabloid and cyberspacejournalists whom mainstream journalists self-righteously spank, Milbank includesThe Weekly Standard among them: "The story, peddled by the right-wingconspirators...turned out to be false, but that's not the point."Omitting quotation marks around right-wing conspirators makes it appear as ifhe takes seriously Hillary Clinton's absurd charge from lastwinter. Bill Kristol, editor of the Standard, who saidhis magazine included a parody of the Williams story, said last Friday: "It's amazing. A year ago, we all laughed at Hillary for her [charge]. Now, we'vedefined credulity down."

Milbankresponded: "Haven't we reached a stage where the vast right-wing conspiracyis so obvious a reference it no longer requires quotation remarks?" I'dsay no, especially in The New Republic, reputedly a journal of thoughtfulopinion, and especially when you're writing about the Standard,which contains the most serious and articulate political writing in the countrytoday.

As forMatt Drudge, he had a ball over the weekend spitting in the faces of thosewho dismissed him a year ago, when he scooped Newsweek on the MonicaLewinsky story. Drudge recalls: "'You've just broken thebiggest story in 20 years,' Washington Post media legend Howard Kurtz toldme in hurried breaths during an interview back then. Kurtz had called to getcomment after his paper went with the story on January 21. Kurtz, a few daysearlier, had sent an e-mail joking about the DRUDGE Lewinsky reports. 'Gee.Are there any pictures?' Kurtz wrote."
Lotta Waffling Going On I'mnot often in agreement with William Greider, the veteran WashingtonPost reporter who surprisingly jumped to Rolling Stone more thana decade ago, but he's got Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott'snumber. Right on target. In a Feb. 4 RS essay, "Trent Lott: PowerFailure," Greider, an unabashed liberal who's managed to avoid thesanctimony of his brethren, traces Lott's Mississippi roots, hiscoming of age as a Southern Baby Boomer who never rocked the boat on segregationor the Vietnam War and his steady rise to the top seat in the Senate.Greider makes the convincing case that Lott isn't majority leader material:He's a lot more interested in delivering pork to his home state than inreigning in his colleagues to fight for conservative legislation against a weakenedBill Clinton. As Greider describes, Lott is often petty, paying backcolleagues who buck his orders. Recently, both Richard Lugar (who nominatedLott's opponent for majority leader) and Fred Thompson (who sethis own agenda for a campaign finance investigation) had spats with Lott, onlyto find themselves punished months later.
Greiderwrites: "Amid these quarrels, Lott likes to dwell on small, obscure matters.He stuffs odd special-interest amendments into pending measures, sometimes withoutthe expected courtesy of informing sponsors or committee chairmen. If thingswere going well, perhaps no one would complain. But when the big Republicanagenda is in stalemate, the talk turns to Trent Lott's latest surpriseand to speculation about his motives."

I had hopedafter the disappointing results of the election last fall that both NewtGingrich and Lott would be given the boot. Newt smartly resigned, but Lottwas retained by his colleagues, a personal victory for him, but a potentiallydisastrous decision for the GOP. Given his homophobic remarks to a talk showhost last summer (even if they were taken out of context), and his reportedties to a racist organization (Council of Conservative Citizens), Lottshould've fallen on his sword, as Gingrich did, for the good of the party.Lott would score points if he allowed a Senate vote on the ambassadorial nominationof James Hormel and pushed for his confirmation. Hormel is gay, though,and Lott fears the likes of Jesse Helms. But allowing a vote?whocares if an ambassador, or any politician for that matter, is gay??wouldhelp his image.

I'dbe far more comfortable with Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles at thehelm, a forceful senator who isn't given to penny-ante deals, devious compromisesand late-night chats with Dick Morris, the quadruple agent who advisesboth Clinton and Lott. Still.

Timescolumnist Bob Herbert, no friend of Lott or the GOP (even though he calledfor Clinton's resignation last summer), focused on the Senator's connectionwith the CCC in a Jan. 7 piece. He complained that "what little heat Lottis taking is coming from the right"?for not being conservative enough?ignoringthe views of conservatives who also find the association unseemly, as well aspolitically stupid. Herbert spoke to Gordon Lee Baum, chief executiveofficer of CCC, who told him, "Trent's probably making a big mistake[for now distancing himself from the organization]. It isn't going to helphim back home, I can tell you that. It isn't going to help him in Mississippi."That's ridiculous, of course: Like most incumbents, Lott's seat ishis for as long as he wants it. The trouble for the Senator will come when moderateRepublicans and politically savvy conservatives realize that such a leader isn'tthe man to keep their party in control in the Senate.

Lott, despiteclear direction from Henry Hyde, has done his best to botch the impeachmentproceedings against Clinton. Yes, he has to be mindful of vulnerable GOP senatorswho're up for reelection in 2000. But as retired Sen. Alan Simpsonsays, the American people's attention span is what's playing nextmonth at the cineplex. He was quick to settle for a censure compromise withMinority Leader Tom Daschle, and only relented when his colleagues objected.Lott hasn't been definitive on the crucial decision to call witnesses beforethe Senate, even after the spellbinding performances of Asa Hutchinsonand Lindsey Graham last week. He's still working, at this very hour,to short-circuit the process?the most pressing business before Congresstoday?and return to his small-bore agenda. Witnesses will be called, though,no thanks to Lott.

Greider'sconclusion is far too generous, in my opinion: "The unanswered questionis whether Senator Lott might rise to higher ground?inspired by the criticalchoices facing the Senate to be more than his colleagues ever imagined?orsimply fall back on the familiar habits that have always protected his career.The dilemma has a certain poignancy for him. Trent Lott looks like a man caughtbetween his small-town past and the larger obligations of power, not sure whichto serve."

The onlything I can say in favor of Lott is that he was unfairly smeared by White Housenewsletter Salon on Jan. 14. An article called "Impeachment DiaryIII," authored by Anonymous, promised in the subhed "a wholelotta rumors about Trent Lott." All that's contained in the accountis that "The only conversation that excites people is the rumor that LarryFlynt has the dirt on Trent Lott." That's it, except speculation thatNickles is behind it. Considering the fact that Clinton confederate Flynthas promised "dirt" on almost every GOP politician who speaks hismind, this is very thin stuff. But it's not surprising coming from Salon,whose editor, David Talbot, must dream that his "ugly tactics"will pay off with a Gore-administration job.

RollingStone followed Greider's thoughtful article with a piece in the worstpossible taste: an interview with the berserk Barney Frank, the Massachusettscongressman who made such a fool of himself in the Judiciary Committeehearings on impeachment last year. Frank is witty, and can crack you up witha cutting soundbite, but his partisan politics are just as hypocritical as thoseof the Republicans he makes a career of bedeviling. I won't dwell on Frank'sQ&A in RS, a piece that typifies the entertainment magazine'sinfrequent forays into politics, but I will print one quote that captures theCongressman's lunacy. He said: "I think the public has figured itout exactly right. Kenneth Starr is one of the only genuinely unpopular prosecutorsin American history. He was the agent of the right wing who wanted to go afterour private lives and tell us how to live, who to have sex with and when, whereto pray and what to read and all these other things, and the public just gotvery angry."

Frank'sa madman. First, prosecutors are never very popular. More importantly, I didn'tsee Starr propose a reading list for Americans, a primer on sexual relationsor a booklet describing a "correct" place to worship. He's not"an agent of the right wing." That's a myth, promulgated by HillaryClinton and her acolytes, and it's tremendously unfair to a man whois simply doing his job. And Bill Clinton pretends that he's tired of the"politics of personal destruction." I wonder what he thought aboutthis garbage coming from Frank.
Desperate Times Call For DesperateTactics ChristopherByron soundly thrashed News Communications, Inc.?the publiclytraded newspaper company that publishes 29 awful titles likeManhattan Spirit,Queens Tribune, Our Town, Elmont Life, BrooklynSkyline and Dan's Papers?in his New York Observerbusiness column "Back of the Envelope" last week. His focus was onWilbur Ross, the financier who bought a controlling share of the companyin late 1996 for just $2 million, some say just to boost the political aspirationsof his now-estranged wife?and, at the time, Lt. Gov.?Betsy McCaugheyRoss. As Byron explains, it was a deal made from the heart rather than themind: News Comm. has never been in robust shape financially?let alone editorially?andRoss' infusion of cash has done nothing to change the ailing company'sfortunes. In fact, as Byron reports, when Ross bought in, News Comm. tradedat barely $2.50 a share; it currently goes for 43 cents a share.
Byron continues: "On Jan. 5 the company filed yet more papers with the Securities and ExchangeCommission in a continuing effort to float a desperation financing package designedto raise $5.6 million of urgently needed working capital. The main problem withNews Communications is, of course, that it's not really much of a businessat all. Think of it more as a collection of not-very-good high school newspapersthat somehow managed to sell stock on Wall Street and you won't be faroff."

By coincidence,on the same day Byron's article was published, I had an e-mail exchangewith a high-ranking executive at Manhattan Spirit and Our Town.

MUGGER: "What did you think of the Observer article today?"

Exec:

"Didn'tsee it. I don't know."

MUGGER:

"ChrisByron trashed News Communications."

Exec:

"Oh,damn. That article. Well, that won't help the stock. Which is all anyonereally cares about around here. At least they gave me a shitload of it to comework for them."

MUGGER:

"Hemurdered the company, basically said it was about to go out of biz. [Your stock]won't be worth shit."

Exec:

"Yesand no. I do get perks. Had lunch with The Donald yesterday. It was basicallya two-hour kiss-the-ring session. But I may have convinced him to hand oversome cash. Actually, you guys should call him about his new building."

MUGGER:

"DonaldWho?"

Exec:

"TRUMP."

MUGGER:

"Who'sthat? The guy you guys cream over every week? To what end?"

Exec:

"Iknow. It was like he was an actor playing himself in a movie about himself."

MUGGER:

"Areyou going to get dough from him?"

Exec: "Looks like he'll sign a $100,000 contract for his properties. Aslong as we continue to blow him on the covers. We are real good at that. I'mactually getting used to it."

Indeed heis, as the front page of the Jan. 7 Our Town illustrates. With a photoof Trump in the middle, the headline reads: "Donald, Duck! (Here Comes the Opposition)" The subhed: "But Is The Movement To Halt TrumpWorld Tower Too Little, Too Late?" I won't bore you with a full recitation of Keith Meatto's "news" article inside, but I'dsay the pull-quote from Trump says what side Our Town is on: "I'veseen virtually no opposition. The only people that are really opposed are livingat 100 U.N. Plaza because some of their river views will be obstructed. Welcometo New York. A building goes up and people lose views."

As for theadvertising with News Communications that the Manhattan Spirit executivebragged about, Trump's spokeswoman, Norma Foredore said, "Idon't know about this [$100,000 contract], but if it's true, I'mnot sure we'd blab about it to the world." Foredore added that she'dask Trump about it and get back to NYPress. By press time Monday night,she hadn't.
Calling 411Let'shave a chat about modern-day feminism, shall we? I can't resist startingwith Anne Roiphe, the New York Observer columnist who's goingnuts right before that paper's 25,000 readers' eyes. You try to makesense of the following: "I have become a snob... There really are somepeople I wouldn't allow to dine with me or to join my club or to marrymy child. These are people who really are worse than I am, worse of character,worse of politics, bad eggs, rotten sorts, types to avoid at all costs. I won'tcomment on their forebears or their descendants, although I have my suspicions,but I will say that we in America had best defend ourselves against their perniciousinfluence, their constant grab for power and control of the media and the financialcenters, their determination to change America and make it over in their ownimage. You know who I mean. They are here legally, so we can't deport them,but perhaps we can confine them, keep them off our golf courses and out of ourschools; at least, we should institute a quota system."
Roiphe isnot talking about Jews or Asians, though you might get that impression fromher garbled rant, but... "the family-values types," meaning Pat Buchanan, Bill Bennett, Ralph Reed, Henry Hyde andanyone else who doesn't agree with her politically, shop at Zabar'sor have a degree in Eastern philosophy. In addition to those people?whodon't control the media, Wall Street or the Ivy League universities, fromwhat I know?Roiphe wants to rid the country of men and women who don'tget "upset if someone drops napalm on an animate child in a distant village."Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't that include her hero, BillClinton, who bombs pharmaceutical companies in Third World countries whenit's politically convenient for him?

Roiphe endsher rant by saying, simply, "I've been pushed to the brink."Indeed. I'm not sure what the health insurance plan is at the Observer,but my advice to editor Peter Kaplan is to get this very sick woman intosome kind of treatment immediately. She might have to be locked away for years,but she needs help, and so does the Observer if the paper continues toemploy her. Even Joe Conason isn't such a rabid fool in print.

Over atThe Nation, Katha Pollitt, bless her bleeding heart, still believesthat Clinton's impeachment is just about sex. In her Feb. 1 column shebelabors the point, explaining to her devoted readers what a blockhead the Times'William Safire is for wondering why Clinton remains popular. She writes:"Safire couldn't wrap his mind around the obvious answer: People clingto Clinton because they don't believe he's done anything so terrible,given that he is, after all, a politician; and they hate and fear Clinton'senemies, whom they see, correctly, as narrow-minded reactionaries with a dangerousagenda. It's not just that most people have skeletons in their own sexualclosets, and if they don't their best friend does. It's that they don't have the strict, old-fashioned beliefs about sexual morality of theanti-Clintonites, and they know, moreover, that many of the anti-Clintonites don't have them either."

Count mein the latter camp, Katha: I don't give a shit about Clinton's sexlife. I do care that he hired private investigators to pry into other people's sexual closets, that he paid hush money to silence potential witnesses and liedto loyal aides, resulting in huge personal legal fees, not to mention excruciatingembarrassment before the nation. I object to his staff rifling FBI filesand perhaps using the IRS as a weapon against enemies. I object to hiswaging war against Third World countries, killing innocent people, in orderto wiggle out of political predicaments. I object that we have a president whocannot tell the truth, whether it's about trivial sexual dalliances orthe defense and monetary issues that affect every single citizen in the UnitedStates.
Bob From Baltimore SpeaksAl From Baltimore isn't my only political pal in B'More. Fora different point of view, read the following:
"Asyou know, I am a member of a dying breed (an economic conservative who believesthat some governmental redistribution of wealth is necessary both to fuel theeconomy and for social justice, and a staunch civil libertarian of the Douglas/Blackmold). I just thought you'd like to know that I, for one, want the Senateto allow the House 'members' (a double entendre if there ever wasone) to call witnesses. Let the trial last months. Let Monica (the biggestvictim in this charade) cry. Let Vernon Jordan and Betty Currieimpress all with their dignity. Force Clinton to testify and try to out-finessethe 'members' in a Barr-room brawl. The result will be, I hope,a great public reaction against the unmitigated self-righteousness and egocentrismthat we currently are experiencing.

"Twoprophetic sound bites are relevant here: 'The worse the better,' and'out of chaos comes order.' The Senate's blathering about 'civility'is not close to the mark. What is missing from both political parties at themoment is a sense of common purpose and some basic decency. Without a true purge,no decent people will even attempt to enter politics. We need this charade.

"Ifthe purge is successful, someone will exploit the void in 2000, appeal to diversepopulations and exercise the kind of unifying leadership that hopefully willresult from this mess. You can place your money on the Texas Stud, but I thinkhe is in for a Bush-whacking from his own party. I put my longshot dollarson the Jersey Jumpshot. Regardless, let us just hope for one thing: thatthe party that controls the presidency does not also control the House and Senate."

JANUARY 18


Make text smaller Make text larger

Comments



MUST READ NEWS

VIDEOS



* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters





MOST READ

MOST COMMENTED