Written by Russ Smith on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

It was an exhausting week at the MUGGER household. My wife, who’d valiantly fought off my stomach flu and Junior’s head cold, finally succumbed, probably due to fatigue from nursing her two guys. Then, on Tuesday morning, MUGGER III came into our bedroom just after midnight and announced with a stoic whisper: “Mommy, Daddy, wake up, I’m about to barf!” He didn’t, but was burning with a fever, so we gave him some Motrin and he snuggled for a mostly sleepless six or seven hours. At times, shivering with a chill, he’d huddle by the radiator, saying, “I’m cold, so I’m toasting up.”


The next night, 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 chatting just like my mother did after a martini or two. Wired. So, at 2 a.m., I got up 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 a grandpa when he was a teenager–good God, I hope not!–and said he couldn’t wait to walk the streets of Manhattan by himself. Then he was jabbering about his birthday–he wants his party to be held at 333, so he and his friends can have a food fight–and what kind of pet the family might acquire once we move to a new apartment down the block in Tribeca. The new loft has a roof deck, with plenty of space for a garden, hammock (Mrs. M and I are still negotiating on this point) and playhouse. We settled on a bunny: MUGGER III wants to name it $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 have two creatures in large cages with a clear view of the Hudson.

In the midst of this surreal nocturnal experience, I had a parental epiphany that may be yesterday’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 expressions while learning to speak. For example, MUGGER III, if he wanted a drink, called out for “noose,” meaning white grape juice. Long after he figured out 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 at one 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 really old!” Just the other day, when he was playing his damn Nintendo 64 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 reminds me of a visit I made to the house of one of my brothers in Mill Valley many years ago. It was the mid-80s and lots of rock stars were trying to assuage their consciences–much like Hollywood celebrities today getting involved in saving the Constitution and environment–by playing benefits for starving kids around the world. As if Bono, Sting or Bob Dylan gave a shit about any of them. Anyway, it was during the holidays, and the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” the English version of “We Are the World,” was a big hit and my brother was greatly enthused about 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 urging of my nieces, who were pre-teenagers, and they’d had many unforgettable family 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 become so unruly in their teenage years: Either their parents ignore them, unable to comprehend their unique difficulties and joys or, perhaps worse, they try to be hip and relate on an equal level, a buddy sort of thing. Of course it never works.

I’m just waiting for Junior or MUGGER III to tell me, with disgust, “You’re so square, you probably think I’m talking to you!”

Anyway, everyone was exhausted by 7 a.m.–except Junior, who had recovered from his illness and was now operating at 135 percent, which was pretty darn annoying–and there was still a full day ahead. Which meant doctor appointments and wrangling with an architect for Mrs. M; end-of-the-year tax sessions and business meetings for 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 10th anniversary party at his restaurant, a splendid Mexican joint from which I’ve been banned for five years. It’s too long a story to recount, but I was tickled the feud had ended.

On Thursday night Mrs. M and I, along with Drey Slivka, had dinner there. It’s still a fantastic place. Sure, we had quibbles: A snippy cocktail waitress got pissed at me when I’d ordered a drink at the bar and then sat down at a table; there’s still a strange policy of not seating the party until everyone’s there, even though in this case we were just missing one and the dining room was empty.

But the food and service were fine, just as I’d remembered. We ordered a slew of appetizers, 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 queso fundido, made for dipping and enhanced by sliced jalapenos; superb fried calamari; and chunky, fresh guacamole and salsa. Mrs. M had a dainty bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado burrito; I went with the duck taquitos and Drey, who consumes 5000 calories a day, downed a piece of striped bass. We had margaritas, beers and club soda and the bill was modest.

At some point, Mrs. M. mentioned James Atlas’ new business plan of producing truncated biographies, an idea that seems awful to me. For starters, I still can’t get out of my head Atlas’ New Yorker piece from a year or so ago, in which he whined that writers can’t live the affluent lifestyles 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 to dig into a bio, you probably want the entire story, warts and all, not a version that’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
, one of Drey’s favorites.

Mrs. M, who reads more than 99 percent of Americans, hadn’t either, and made a cogent and spirited argument against the academics who rant and rave if you haven’t studied the “big books.” Drey felt a little intimidated by my wife’s feisty demeanor and announced, “Well, I don’t like Shakespeare.” Really? I countered, surprised by this admission from a taciturn Columbia graduate. “Yeah, I wrote about it two years ago, bud.” Oops, didn’t remember that piece. For good measure, he called Joyce’s Ulysses a piece of shit. That topic exhausted, Drey marveled at the celebrity status of our receptionist at 333, starlet Erin Franzman, wondering just how she charms most of the callers to the office and 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 Terms of 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, but the really salacious parts of this story are off the record.

On Friday night, before heading over to the Ace bar for production manager Jeff Koyen’s 30th birthday party, five of us had dinner at Cuckoo Caribe, a middling Caribbean joint on Ave. A. I had to stop over at Cooper Square to get my passport to the East Village renewed, but the wait was minimal: Voice press critic Cynthia Cotts, a NYPress aficionado, was on duty and she processed my papers in a flash.

(On a related Voice note, one of my correspondents suggested NYPress try to raid Nat Hentoff from the beatnik weekly. He wrote: “I can’t believe Hentoff is happy writing for the Voice. If you could ever land him 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 think of.” I explained that Hentoff, whom I admire, would never cross the street because of his loyalty to the Voice. My friend countered: “That’s the Catch-22. A decent, principled columnist like Hentoff has too many scruples to leave a publication that shares none of his virtues.”)

I’m fond of food from the islands, and Negril (23rd betw. 8th and 9th) is my top pick in the city: Cuckoo doesn’t live up to those standards, but it’s a fun place to hang out for an hour or so, even if you wonder when the straw thatching might go up in flames. The jerk wings were ordinary, the kind that are served at 1000 bars, and needed to be doused with an entire ramekin of hot sauce to make my own “jerk.” (Strangely, there were no bottles
of Pickapeppa or other scotch-bonnet concoctions that most Caribbean joints proudly display.) Ditto for the coconut-crusted shrimp–strictly pub grub.

The entrees were an improvement: Two of us opted for the meaty jerk chicken, which, unlike the wings, actually had some seasoning. Mrs. M and Mike Gentile had no complaints about their chicken rotis, although later in the night Mike said, “I hope I don’t have a date with Hubert tonight,” meaning that the food settled like a bomb in his gut and he was praying he wouldn’t barf. Baltimore slang, what can I say? My pork stew was a heaping platter of 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 as badly 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-like restaurant a solid B.

I don’t go to bars very often these days, but Ace–on 5th, close to Ave. B–is a 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 paraphernalia hanging 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 ticket to 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’t many Howdy Doody contraptions still in existence.”

Jeff was like a little boy on his 30th, receiving all sorts of goofy gag gifts and even though he’d only had a Rolling Rock or two by the time we arrived he was flying high, making sure everyone was having a good time. He completely threw a friend off guard when he introduced him to me as “The guy I was telling 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 everyone wore them on their heads. Kids.

Then Mike Wartella, Boy Genius Illustrator, walked into the bar and immediately asked one of our writers, “Hey, have you fucked any hookers lately?” Mike was on a different planet than he usually inhabits, Pluto instead of Mars, perhaps, and with a whiskey sour in his hand–the girl drink of all girl drinks, and one that I innocently mistook for a Shirley Temple until Mike corrected me–told us the story of how he almost got arrested the day before down at the courthouse, trying to fulfill his civic duty as a juror. He didn’t make it past the metal detector: Seems that Mike hadn’t changed 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 and I then had a short conversation about comics and underground newspapers from the 60s. He has a couple of pieces in a new satiric magazine called Harpoon–which John Strausbaugh correctly described last week as strong on art, low on humor–and asked if I thought he was a hack for turning in work to the publication. “Not if it pays well,” I explained, offering the sage advice that he wouldn’t get rich from his endeavors at NYPress, despite the brilliance of his illustrations, and so it was necessary to find any jobs he could to keep the wolf from the door.

That satisfied, Mike and I leaped into another conversation. “Say, I was talking the other day to an old guy named Tuli Kupferberg who used to write for the East Village Other. Have you ever heard of him?” Mike’s only 24, so I 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 Big Brother 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 week he could have complete access to my newspaper and magazine archive that spans from the late 50s to the current newsweekly covers about Clinton’s impeachment trial.

There was a tremendous crowd at the Ace to bring Jeff into his 30s, including lots of his friends, most of them tall, and an impressive showing from 333, including his bud Giselle de Vera, J.R. Taylor, Kim Granowitz, Andrew Sheppard, Van Smith, Abena Adjei, Alex SchweitzerJimmy Katocin, Scott Niebuhr, Adam Mazmanian, Beth Broome, Heather Dell, Rob Gault, Godfrey CheshireLisa Kearns and a gaggle of others who had later bedtimes than Mrs. M and I. I wish we could’ve taken Junior and MUGGER III–Jeff is one of their heroes at the office–but they were mercifully asleep under the watch of a sitter, and, if genetics have any merit at all, they’ll spend enough 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 temporary closing (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 there were weird: They depleted the current stock, so on Sunday I bought the last pack of Merits. As for Junior’s Doritos, forget it–they were gone last Thursday. I went downstairs Saturday night to fetch him a snack for Rugrats, and came up with an off-brand of sour cream and onion potato chips that were probably made in Montana some time in 1989. Junior was suspicious when 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 off to see his family outside Seoul and won’t return until the deli’s expansion 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-morning routine.

The Schlesinger Audition 

Looking at just the first paragraph of Jacob Weisberg’s delusional piece about Bill Clinton in Sunday’s Times Magazine you get a queasy feeling. Although the cover is brilliant–there’s a blurry photo of a smiling Clinton–the headline “Bill Clinton’s Legacy (First Draft)” and the byline (Slate’s Weisberg has long been soft 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 bunch of bunk.


Weisberg begins: “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 that it was a dreadful necessity to put a President on trial. I don’t recall authority figures having to explain that it was a national crisis–even to a kid, that was pretty obvious.” Jake, first things first: You might not remember, but there were two Watergate summers. In ’73, the tapes were discovered, and later that fall there was the Saturday Night Massacre, the “I Am Not a Crook” speech and Leon Jaworski taking 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 in the 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 and watched the tube in the afternoon with graduate students. Everyone cheered as the Judiciary Committee cast their votes. There was a boozy party when Nixon finally resigned. National crisis? Bullshit. It was one of the happiest summers of my life, and I’ll bet that a lot of Boomers remember it 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’s true that the public is less interested in Clinton’s impeachment, but Nixon’s downfall 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-class chatter with “kike” and “nigger,” was controversial; the sexual 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 boredom with 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-’74 administration as one of economic prosperity; it started that way, but Nixon didn’t impose wage and price controls in the early 70s because there was a chicken in every pot. There was a short recession; massive increases in social welfare programs (and people thought Nixon was a conservative!); Nixon’s “We’re all Keynesians now” remark; inflation thought to be out of control; and the first oil embargo. Nixon capitulated to the left, which led to Jimmy Carter’s ruinous economics. Thanks to Ronald Reagan, order was restored.

Weisberg writes: “Bill Clinton’s impeachment is historic in the sense of it being an event historians will puzzle over in decades to come. But what those historians 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 have a current feeling for Clinton, is why he didn’t resign in the face of so many criminal activities on his watch.

Weisberg blathers 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 balancing the budget. He acknowledges that Clinton’s first hope for legislation that would burnish his legacy, health care reform, was a disaster; but he doesn’t give the Republicans credit for pushing the President to “end welfare ‘as we know it’” or cleaning up the deficit. When Weisberg claims that Clinton has “restored a model last seen among Democrats during the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson, when those joining his coalition get to experience victory and taste power,” he loses me. Admittedly, I skimmed the remainder of the article, which was sympathetic to the President and full of explanations of how his current problems, with the exception of the actual scarlet letter of impeachment, will be forgotten.

In his Washington Post column last Sunday, David Broder inadvertently disputes many of Weisberg’s claims. While admitting that Clinton’s approval ratings 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 bagfuls of goodies and feel-good slogans, as well as a new tobacco tax, Broder says that historians will note that 1998 was a dud for Clinton. And not just because of Monica. He writes: “[T]he big items in his 1998 State of the Union Address, the ones that won public applause, were scuttled: a major anti-tobacco initiative; an HMO patients’ bill of rights; expansion of Medicare to include younger people; campaign finance reform; a boost in the minimum wage; fast-track trade 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 agreement could turn out to be the last significant Clinton legislative achievement.”

If Broder were pressed, I’m sure he’d say Clinton’s legacy will be that of a “caretaker,” a morally skeezy and felonious president.

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

“Clinton’s lawyers can be expected to present a strong legal defense when 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 is that Clinton has behaved abominably throughout this squalid business, and his acquittal by the Senate, if it comes, will neither rescue his reputation nor lighten the harm he has done to his presidency. We knew that last year. We know it now.”

The Gore Republic Makes a Preemptive Strike!

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Dana Milbank, senior editor at The New Republic, is no Sidney Blumenthal. Milbank, 30, Yale-educated
and an eight-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal, isn’t in devious collusion with Bill Clinton, Larry Flynt, James Carville and Terry Lenzner, and from what I’ve determined he’s a pretty good guy. No, Milbank’s difficulty–one that’s significant enough that it will most likely damage his career–is that he’s Marty Peretz’ 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 his negative coverage of Clinton’s sleazy administration. Peretz, who was Gore’s mentor at Harvard, prefers to spend time in Cambridge, ruminating in the magazine about Israeli politics, and peppers The Gore Republic with 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 spends the majority of his 5000 words explaining how Gore has the 2000 Democratic nomination wrapped up, emphasizing Iowa, New Hampshire, New York and California. It’s clear that the Vice President is the prohibitive favorite, given his ability to raise money (more about that below) and all the chits he’s collected in six years of working for Clinton, but it’s probably too early, considering his boss’ current predicament and what might 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 the article, not to mention that he refers to New York and California as the “Empire State” and “Golden State,” respectively. Although Gore’s potential challengers do face daunting odds, Milbank dismisses Bill Bradley and John Kerry almost out of hand. (A Jan. 18 item by Neal Travis in the New York Post claims that Bradley has won the cash-rich endorsements of both Michael Eisner and Barry Diller.)

He reports that Gore has already amassed the endorsements of both low- and high-ranking politicos in primary states, and that the “bulk of their work” in raising 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 Jesse Jackson, though who knows how that will affect the field. Gore’s proposal on Monday to increase spending for civil rights enforcement by 15 percent plays to the Rev’s constituency. Besides, Jackson might be too busy ministering to the prayer needs at the Clinton White House.

Amazingly, Milbank dismisses Gore’s complicity in the financial irregularities of the 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 finance exposure, thanks to Janet Reno, is now slight.” Doesn’t Milbank realize that Gore’s involvement (“no controlling legal authority,” does that ring a bell?) in the ’96 campaign will be explosive fodder for the GOP nominee, especially considering how inept Reno was in not fully investigating the activity? After five pages of cheerleading in a six-page article, Milbank gets around to Gore’s possible problems–a recession, fallout from Clinton’s impeachment trial–but the bulk of the piece gives the impression that Peretz’ former student will win the nomination in a slam-dunk JugGoreNaut.

Milbank told me last Friday: “Okay, you’ve found me out. I’m angling for charge d’affaires in Bermuda during the Gore administration. Actually, all the response I’ve received (except yours) has been about the strong reportorial content of the story. The piece…was the first extensive look inside the operation of the Democratic front-runner.” I agree that Milbank’s reporting was exhaustive; however, it was also one-sided and aimed, I think, at satisfying his boss. As one journalist familiar with Milbank’s work says, “He does whatever Marty Peretz wants him to. Weak. Not bad, but weak.”

Finally–and sorry for piling on Milbank–The Gore Republic editor includes a silly sentence in his Feb. 1 piece called “White House Watch: Sex-Crazed.” In the article, in which Milbank strenuously strives for humor, saying that he, too, was disappointed by Larry Flynt’s non-delivery of the dirt on GOP politicians (“I am not proud of this craving for the salacious. But I 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 would make the First Lady proud.

In examining the Danny Williams nonstory, and chastising the usual tabloid and cyberspace journalists whom mainstream journalists self-righteously spank, Milbank includes The Weekly Standard among them: “The story, peddled by the right-wing conspirators…turned out to be false, but that’s not the point.” Omitting quotation marks around right-wing conspirators makes it appear as if he takes seriously Hillary Clinton’s absurd charge from last winter. Bill Kristol, editor of the Standard, who said his 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’ve defined credulity down.”

Milbank responded: “Haven’t we reached a stage where the vast right-wing conspiracy is so obvious a reference it no longer requires quotation remarks?” I’d say no, especially in The New Republic, reputedly a journal of thoughtful opinion, and especially when you’re writing about the Standard, which contains the most serious and articulate political writing in the country today.

As for Matt Drudge, he had a ball over the weekend spitting in the faces of those who dismissed him a year ago, when he scooped Newsweek on the Monica Lewinsky story. Drudge recalls: “‘You’ve just broken the biggest story in 20 years,’ Washington Post media legend Howard Kurtz told me in hurried breaths during an interview back then. Kurtz had called to get comment after his paper went with the story on January 21. Kurtz, a few days earlier, had sent an e-mail joking about the DRUDGE Lewinsky reports. ‘Gee. Are there any pictures?’ Kurtz wrote.”

Lotta Waffling Going On

I’m not often in agreement with William Greider, the veteran Washington Post reporter who surprisingly jumped to Rolling Stone more than a decade ago, but he’s got Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s number. Right on target. In a Feb. 4 RS essay, “Trent Lott: Power Failure,” Greider, an unabashed liberal who’s managed to avoid the sanctimony of his brethren, traces Lott’s Mississippi roots, his coming of age as a Southern Baby Boomer who never rocked the boat on segregation or 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 in reigning in his colleagues to fight for conservative legislation against a weakened Bill Clinton. As Greider describes, Lott is often petty, paying back colleagues who buck his orders. Recently, both Richard Lugar (who nominated Lott’s opponent for majority leader) and Fred Thompson (who set his own agenda for a campaign finance investigation) had spats with Lott, only to find themselves punished months later.

Greider writes: “Amid these quarrels, Lott likes to dwell on small, obscure matters. He stuffs odd special-interest amendments into pending measures, sometimes without the expected courtesy of informing sponsors or committee chairmen. If things were going well, perhaps no one would complain. But when the big Republican agenda is in stalemate, the talk turns to Trent Lott’s latest surprise and to speculation about his motives.”

I had hoped after the disappointing results of the election last fall that both Newt Gingrich and Lott would be given the boot. Newt smartly resigned, but Lott was retained by his colleagues, a personal victory for him, but a potentially disastrous decision for the GOP. Given his homophobic remarks to a talk show host last summer (even if they were taken out of context), and his reported ties to a racist organization (Council of Conservative Citizens), Lott should’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 nomination of James Hormel and pushed for his confirmation. Hormel is gay, though, and Lott fears the likes of Jesse Helms. But allowing a vote–who cares if an ambassador, or any politician for that matter, is gay?–would help his image.

I’d be far more comfortable with Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles at the helm, a forceful senator who isn’t given to penny-ante deals, devious compromises and late-night chats with Dick Morris, the quadruple agent who advises both Clinton and Lott. Still.

Times columnist Bob Herbert, no friend of Lott or the GOP (even though he called for Clinton’s resignation last summer), focused on the Senator’s connection with the CCC in a Jan. 7 piece. He complained that “what little heat Lott is taking is coming from the right”–for not being conservative enough–ignoring the views of conservatives who also find the association unseemly, as well as politically stupid. Herbert spoke to Gordon Lee Baum, chief executive officer of CCC, who told him, “Trent’s probably making a big mistake [for now distancing himself from the organization]. It isn’t going to help him 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 is his for as long as he wants it. The trouble for the Senator will come when moderate Republicans and politically savvy conservatives realize that such a leader isn’t the man to keep their party in control in the Senate.

Lott, despite clear direction from Henry Hyde, has done his best to botch the impeachment proceedings against Clinton. Yes, he has to be mindful of vulnerable GOP senators who’re up for reelection in 2000. But as retired Sen. Alan Simpson says, the American people’s attention span is what’s playing next month at the cineplex. He was quick to settle for a censure compromise with Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and only relented when his colleagues objected. Lott hasn’t been definitive on the crucial decision to call witnesses before the Senate, even after the spellbinding performances of Asa Hutchinson and Lindsey Graham last week. He’s still working, at this very hour, to short-circuit the process–the most pressing business before Congress today–and return to his small-bore agenda. Witnesses will be called, though, no thanks to Lott.

Greider’s conclusion is far too generous, in my opinion: “The unanswered question is whether Senator Lott might rise to higher ground–inspired by the critical choices facing the Senate to be more than his colleagues ever imagined–or simply 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 caught between his small-town past and the larger obligations of power, not sure which to serve.”

The only thing I can say in favor of Lott is that he was unfairly smeared by White House newsletter Salon on Jan. 14. An article called “Impeachment Diary III,” authored by Anonymous, promised in the subhed “a whole lotta rumors about Trent Lott.” All that’s contained in the account is that “The only conversation that excites people is the rumor that Larry Flynt has the dirt on Trent Lott.” That’s it, except speculation that Nickles is behind it. Considering the fact that Clinton confederate Flynt has promised “dirt” on almost every GOP politician who speaks his mind, 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.

Rolling Stone followed Greider’s thoughtful article with a piece in the worst possible taste: an interview with the berserk Barney Frank, the Massachusetts congressman who made such a fool of himself in the Judiciary Committee hearings on impeachment last year. Frank is witty, and can crack you up with a cutting soundbite, but his partisan politics are just as hypocritical as those of the Republicans he makes a career of bedeviling. I won’t dwell on Frank’s Q&A in RS, a piece that typifies the entertainment magazine’s infrequent forays into politics, but I will print one quote that captures the Congressman’s lunacy. He said: “I think the public has figured it out exactly right. Kenneth Starr is one of the only genuinely unpopular prosecutors in American history. He was the agent of the right wing who wanted to go after our private lives and tell us how to live, who to have sex with and when, where to pray and what to read and all these other things, and the public just got very angry.”

Frank’s a madman. First, prosecutors are never very popular. More importantly, I didn’t see Starr propose a reading list for Americans, a primer on sexual relations or a booklet describing a “correct” place to worship. He’s not “an agent of the right wing.” That’s a myth, promulgated by Hillary Clinton and her acolytes, and it’s tremendously unfair to a man who is simply doing his job. And Bill Clinton pretends that he’s tired of the “politics of personal destruction.” I wonder what he thought about this garbage coming from Frank.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Tactics
Christopher Byron soundly thrashed News Communications, Inc.–the publicly traded newspaper company that publishes 29 awful titles like Manhattan SpiritQueens Tribune, , Elmont Life, Brooklyn Skyline and Dan’s Papers–in his New York Observer business column “Back of the Envelope” last week. His focus was on Wilbur Ross, the financier who bought a controlling share of the company in late 1996 for just $2 million, some say just to boost the political aspirations of his now-estranged wife–and, at the time, Lt. Gov.–Betsy McCaughey Ross. As Byron explains, it was a deal made from the heart rather than the mind: News Comm. has never been in robust shape financially–let alone editorially–and Ross’ infusion of cash has done nothing to change the ailing company’s fortunes. In fact, as Byron reports, when Ross bought in, News Comm. traded at 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 Exchange Commission in a continuing effort to float a desperation financing package designed to raise $5.6 million of urgently needed working capital. The main problem with News Communications is, of course, that it’s not really much of a business at all. Think of it more as a collection of not-very-good high school newspapers that somehow managed to sell stock on Wall Street and you won’t be far off.”

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

“What did you think of the Observer article today?”


“Didn’t see it. I don’t know.”


“Chris Byron trashed News Communications.”


“Oh, damn. That article. Well, that won’t help the stock. Which is all anyone really cares about around here. At least they gave me a shitload of it to come work for them.”


“He murdered the company, basically said it was about to go out of biz. [Your stock] won’t be worth shit.”


“Yes and no. I do get perks. Had lunch with The Donald yesterday. It was basically a two-hour kiss-the-ring session. But I may have convinced him to hand over some cash. Actually, you guys should call him about his new building.”


“Donald Who?”




“Who’s that? The guy you guys cream over every week? To what end?”


“I know. It was like he was an actor playing himself in a movie about himself.”


“Are you going to get dough from him?”

“Looks like he’ll sign a $100,000 contract for his properties. As long as we continue to blow him on the covers. We are real good at that. I’m actually getting used to it.”

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

As for the advertising with News Communications that the Manhattan Spirit executive bragged about, Trump’s spokeswoman, Norma Foredore said, “I don’t know about this [$100,000 contract], but if it’s true, I’m not sure we’d blab about it to the world.” Foredore added that she’d ask Trump about it and get back to NYPress. By press time Monday night, she hadn’t.

Calling 411 Let’s have a chat about modern-day feminism, shall we? I can’t resist starting with Anne Roiphe, the New York Observer columnist who’s going nuts right before that paper’s 25,000 readers’ eyes. You try to make sense of the following: “I have become a snob… There really are some people I wouldn’t allow to dine with me or to join my club or to marry my 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’t comment 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 pernicious influence, their constant grab for power and control of the media and the financial centers, their determination to change America and make it over in their own image. 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 our schools; at least, we should institute a quota system.”

Roiphe is not talking about Jews or Asians, though you might get that impression from her garbled rant, but… “the family-values types,” meaning Pat
, Bill Bennett, Ralph Reed, Henry Hyde and anyone else who doesn’t agree with her politically, shop at Zabar’s or have a degree in Eastern philosophy. In addition to those people–who don’t control the media, Wall Street or the Ivy League universities, from what I know–Roiphe wants to rid the country of men and women who don’t get “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, Bill Clinton, who bombs pharmaceutical companies in Third World countries when it’s politically convenient for him?

Roiphe ends her 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 into some 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 to employ her. Even Joe Conason isn’t such a rabid fool in print.

Over at The Nation, Katha Pollitt, bless her bleeding heart, still believes that Clinton’s impeachment is just about sex. In her Feb. 1 column she belabors 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 cling to 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’s enemies, whom they see, correctly, as narrow-minded reactionaries with a dangerous agenda. It’s not just that most people have skeletons in their own sexual closets, 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 the anti-Clintonites, and they know, moreover, that many of the anti-Clintonites
don’t have them either.”

Count me in the latter camp, Katha: I don’t give a shit about Clinton’s sex life. 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 lied to loyal aides, resulting in huge personal legal fees, not to mention excruciating embarrassment before the nation. I object to his staff rifling FBI files and perhaps using the IRS as a weapon against enemies. I object to his waging war against Third World countries, killing innocent people, in order to wiggle out of political predicaments. I object that we have a president who cannot tell the truth, whether it’s about trivial sexual dalliances or the defense and monetary issues that affect every single citizen in the United States.

Bob From Baltimore Speaks Al
From Baltimore
isn’t my only political pal in B’More. For a different point of view, read the following:

“As you know, I am a member of a dying breed (an economic conservative who believes that some governmental redistribution of wealth is necessary both to fuel the economy and for social justice, and a staunch civil libertarian of the Douglas/Black mold). I just thought you’d like to know that I, for one, want the Senate to allow the House ‘members’ (a double entendre if there ever was one) to call witnesses. Let the trial last months. Let Monica (the biggest victim in this charade) cry. Let Vernon Jordan and Betty Currie impress all with their dignity. Force Clinton to testify and try to out-finesse the ‘members’ in a Barr-room brawl. The result will be, I hope, a great public reaction against the unmitigated self-righteousness and egocentrism that we currently are experiencing.

“Two prophetic 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 the moment 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.

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