I've written two or three times over the years about a store in my hometown of Huntington called Kropotkin Records. It opened in 1970, when I was 15, and was an idyllic hangout for hippie teenagers who loved rock 'n' roll and the counterculture that flourished in that era. As opposed to its one competitor in town, a fuddy-duddy business that had a larger stock of Perry Como than Buffalo Springfield, Kropotkin was an oasis where the young owners were two of "us," who dug the music and would gladly talk for hours about current releases, politics and the newest issue of Rolling Stone or National Lampoon.
The first LP I bought there, for $3, was Workingman's Dead, by the Grateful Dead. I remember riding my bike early in the morning, about 6 a.m., picking up plums and pastries for the journey, visiting "straight" friends over in another part of town and then about noon, smoking a joint and reporting to Kropotkin's, where I'd spend the next two or three hours. It was a cool way to kill a summer day. There was a "spare change" box at the counter, no cash register, a list on the bulletin board of which customers were on the "shit list" and endless talk from one of the owners, Tom Pomposello, about the blues. That wasn't my interest, but it opened a whole new musical world for my buddy Mike Bifulco, who subsequently became very close with Tom. I also remember Tom and his partner Rob Witter good-naturedly making fun of me as I'd try to decipher hidden meanings in the pretentious covers of Moody Blues records.
Sadly, last week, at the age of 49, Tom Pomposello passed away. I hadn't seen him in years but certainly remember him, and always will, very fondly, as a familiar and gentle figure of my youth. Following are the thoughts of a few friends whose lives were enriched by their friendship with Tom.
"Sorry I'm late, but I was on deadline today with something. But in a way, it's good because I've just come from the wake and that was a scene. It brought together people from Huntington, musicians, animators, radio and tv producers, network executives, spiritual leaders?people who knew and knew of each other, people who hadn't been together in decades, and at least one who flew cross-country to pay his last respects. And on everyone's lips, you heard the same thing. Tom was a very special guy.
"I heard one story from Rob Witter about Scott Savitt and Bifulco that you will have to confirm with the two of them, but I will save it for the end because it's too amazing.
"First, two quick stories I know about Kropotkin Records.
"By the time I visited it in the early 1970s, it was already a typical-looking record store, but anyone who just knows the Towers and Virgins of today can't really know what that means. Modest. A few rows of bins to hold the 12-inch albums. Tom?the owner?smiling behind the counter. But apparently in the days when the business was young, there were no bins. Instead, the albums were lined up in rows covering the walls around the whole store. If you wanted an album, it was lifted off the wall, you paid, and walked off happy. But what no one knew was, those records on the wall didn't represent Kropotkin's stock. They were the stock. If Tom sold a copy of Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced? or a disc by Big Brother & the Holding Company, he was sold out of the title. I think a couple of times a week, he'd get on the train, visit a jobber a few towns away, and replenish. With one more copy for each one he sold.
"And the other story is, when Tom would make those shopping trips, he'd leave the store open. Maybe it was the back door or something, that part I don't know for sure. But regular customers who knew about it would come in and buy from him when he wasn't even there. They'd open the cash box. Leave money. Make change. Occasionally, he'd find extra in the till! I know I sound like my grandfather ('back in the old days, we trusted people') but even then it sounded impossible.
"Anyway, when I first got to know Tom it was 1970. I was at Columbia University spinning jazz records on the radio, Tom was doing the blues show. His old Huntington pal Fred Seibert, another undergrad who was later my partner, brought Tom to the airwaves, and by universal acclamation this student, champion and performer of the blues was a natural talent on the air. He had a wonderful radio voice, a delight in his category, and an understated authority. He was also something of a celebrity, having recorded an album playing bass alongside his idol, Mississippi Fred McDowell. With Fred, he formed Oblivion Records to manufacture and distribute it, along with a few other releases that came later (all in the blues and jazz realms).
"Years later, when Fred and I were at MTV heading up advertising, plus on-air promotion and marketing for the channel, I remember it as not being the best of times for Tom. He was doing his music then. Fred had the idea to get Tom to produce some music tracks and live-action IDs to fill out the package of identity we created for the network. The scheme was basically to get some coin into the guy's hands. (Not a lot, though. We were into volume at the time, we wanted a lot of animation for the dollars.) Tom had no experience, but we figured if the music was good, we could toss the films and it was still a good price just for the tracks.
"The simple bits he produced are still among my favorites of the hundreds and hundreds we put on the air. A cow in a pasture, munching on grass. As the camera pans around, we see some young prankster has painted an MTV logo on the cow's hide. Or, a view of the White House in Washington, shot from a passing car window. A stencil covers the window, a spray can passes back and forth across the opening, the stencil is removed and it's the channel's logo obliterating the Presidential Palace (that one to the tune of a Hendrix-like 'Star Spangled Banner,' performed by Tom on guitar).
"When we took over the on-air for Nickelodeon and completely revamped the channel's look and feel, we brought Tom on as our producer. Since I had done the day-to-day in that area for MTV since its inception, it was a bit like passing the baton for me. Yeah, right?until he left me face down in the dust with the results of his consistent talent, a huge body of excellent work.
"I like to think we brought Tom kicking and screaming into the commercial world, and I told Patty, his beloved wife, the same at the wake tonight. I remember the gut-wrenching, sometimes agonizing, struggle Tom waged with himself as he approached the work. For this man who had so much integrity and so much honesty (the name under which he always performed was Honest Tom Pomposello), who had worked so hard to popularize a form of music largely ignored and forgotten, who was earning a salary working for bosses who had clients, for Pete's sake?the whole thing was so off for him. I think it was like anything else for Tom. Once he figured it out, once he could understand it in a context, he could reach comfort with what he was doing.
"Eventually, he did that. Tom was on his own with his own company, his own style, earning his own universal acclaim and reaping the rewards, not just for the work but for his decency. And he never left behind the personal work he loved. Along with the commercial career, Tom found ways to incorporate traveling around the world playing the blues, and more recently, producing a CD of sacred music by the nuns of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT, where mass will be said for him tomorrow.
"In all the time we worked together, I never heard him raise his voice. There was always the gentlest approach with anyone with whom he was working?nothing was ever going badly. I can't count the recording sessions I attended with him at the mixing board, but to listen to him direct the session, there was never a bad take, just not the one we needed yet. And there was always praise and gratitude from him for everything.
"I felt all that again when I spoke to him just four days before he passed away. We weren't in the habit of speaking in recent years. A time or two a year, was all. But I needed some information I could have gotten a dozen ways, but figured a call to Tom could clear that up and give me a chance to catch up. It was as uplifting as always. He went on and on about the picture of our kids we sent him at Christmas. He spoke with pride about the work of his son Travis, who does David Letterman's promos (my favorite ID at college radio was tiny Travis' recording of the call letters). He was full of enthusiasm about upcoming projects, most notably a 'new' Mississippi Fred McDowell recording he was making. While we were still at the radio station, years before Fred died, Tom recorded McDowell singing with Tom on guitar. 'Fred was sounding very strong,' Tom told me. 'I was horrible.' But they were on separate tracks. So now, thanks to modern technology, Tom had stripped the vocal and was laying new tracks.
"So?full circle. A life completed, if not complete.
"Okay, the Witter story. Again, get confirmation. But apparently Bifulco hadn't heard about Tom's death, and Savitt felt he had to take him out to tell him. He brought him to dinner, choosing the Thai restaurant that lives where Kropotkin used to stand.
"Now, when it comes to spirituality I ricochet between the poles of 'it's all bunk' and 'name a religion, I'm an adherent, I believe it all.' But from what I understand, Bifulco, who used to work for Tom and was very close, hadn't seen him in several years. So he and Savitt are walking up to the restaurant and Bifulco stops and says, 'You know, it's so weird we're eating here because last night I had the strangest dream. Tom came up to me and hugged me. And then he kissed me. And it seemed so real.' And Savitt told him, right there, and Bifulco felt better than Savitt because he felt that Tom came to say goodbye.
"That's the story. I wasn't there. But go ahead and tell me that's a lot of pooh."
Mike Bifulco and Scott Savitt: "On January 25 we suddenly lost a beloved friend and musical treasure?Tom Pomposello. 'Honest Tom,' as he was affectionately called, was simply one of the most influential and creative forces to emerge in recent memory in the entertainment world. In the early 70s Tom and his partner Rob Witter opened Kropotkin Records in Huntington. In the days before mega-record stores, Kropotkin, though small in size, stocked an astounding cornucopia of musical delights?everything from acid rock to avant-garde jazz?with a special emphasis on the music Tom loved and championed all his life?traditional American folk music. Country blues, old timey and Chicago blues records lined the walls; rare treasures all but impossible to find outside of Greenwich Village.
"The atmosphere of the store was as eclectic and colorful as its stock. Two poles supported the ceiling, painted like something out of a psychedelic barber shop. The ceiling itself was covered with black light posters?the favorite being a notorious x-rated scene of Popeye and Olive Oyl. The free record box is still fondly remembered as is the huge tie-dyed couch where people would hang for hours, listening to music, catching the vibe or making out.
"All the while Tom was the ringmaster of this circus. He was hard to miss?a big bear of a man with shoulder-length black hair, full beard and a mischievous sense of humor. Many current day filmmakers, journalists, media moguls, musicians and artists spent their formative years in this wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime environment.
"But it was Tom's mastery of the bottleneck guitar and his charismatic stage presence that made him a legend. A musician from childhood, his life changed forever when he befriended and played bass with the great Delta blues man Mississippi Fred McDowell. Tom became a popular performer on Long Island and New York City, and his annual Heckscher Park concerts were the most eagerly awaited and heavily attended events of the year. In addition he was a music professor at Five Towns College.
"Tom moved on to Manhattan to found Pomposello Productions, producing music, animation, videos and records. He created music for, among others, MTV and Nickelodeon, including the famous 'Nick-Nick-Nickelodeon' theme. His accomplishments and awards are too numerous to list here, but it's no exaggeration to say that if you are even just a casual television viewer, you are more than familiar with his work. In spite of all his success, Tom never lost his love of performing and continued to tour the world playing his cherished custom-made Dobro guitar.
"Many live in this world; few leave it an enriched and brighter place by having been here. Tom Pomposello will be missed by many. His legacy lives on."
The First Annual Blues and Folk Festival to honor the memory of Tom Pomposello is being planned for the spring of 1999. For information call Scotto Savitt Entertainment at 516-757-9249.
It was Tom's wish that donations in his name be made to Promisek, Inc., a non-profit foundation. Funds will be used to provide musical instruments to the children of Northern Mississippi in honor of his mentor, Fred McDowell. Donations can be made to: Promisek, Inc., PO Box 402, Bridgewater, CT 06752. Phone: 860-350-8226.
A Slight Stumble for Bush It wasn't exactly a replay of Roger Mudd's interview with Teddy Kennedy in 1979, in which the Massachusetts senator failed to articulate any coherent idea of why he wanted to replace Jimmy Carter as president, but George W. Bush's one-hour appearance on C-SPAN last weekend was inauspicious. Even though he hasn't announced his intention to run for the 2000 GOP nomination?in fact, his cousin John Ellis, a Boston Globe columnist, has suggested he might not?Brian Lamb's chat with Bush wasn't aired just because the Governor won a smashing reelection in Texas last fall.
Bush badly needs some coaching lessons in speaking without a script; otherwise he'll be creamed in the numerous debates that will take place within a short period of time next year. Asked by Lamb if he likes reading, Bush said, "Yes, a lot." Prodded as to what kind of books he enjoys he answered: "I love history. I just finished reading The Sword of San Jacinto about Sam Houston. I like occasional social commentary. I say occasional; I occasionally read social commentary. But I love history. I was a history major in college and I spent a lot of time on history. I'm trying to wrack my brain now that you asked me to think of all the great history books. Well, I mean, The River Also Rises, the book about the Mississippi River that flooded; the '27 flood, I believe it was, of the Mississippi. It's a great book... It's amazing to be interested in history and living?making history. It's an interesting coincidence."
As my friend Binyamin would say: Oy!
However, when Bush works from text he can be the charismatic candidate that Republicans will rally around to recapture the White House. I saw Bush's Jan. 19 inaugural address on the tube and he was spellbinding; passionate, attractive, conveying a youthful sense of hope that propelled JFK in 1960.
In part, he told the crowd in Austin: "Our diversity gives Texas new life, new energy, new blood?and we should not fear it but welcome it. People seeking to improve their lives and move up lift our entire economy. Societies are renewed from the bottom up, not the top down. This renewal will continue if government respects individuals, does not tax them too much and does not try to do for them what they ought to do for themselves. And this progress will continue as long as we do not allow race to divide us... There's a trend in this country to put people into boxes. Texans don't belong in little ethnic and racial boxes. There are such boxes all over the world, in places with names like Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda; and they are human tragedies. As we head into the 21st century, we should have one big box: American."
That sort of rhetoric wins presidential elections. But if Bush gets swamped in a debate with the automaton Liddy Dole, pitbull John McCain (who's now said to have doubts about running) or even Lamar Alexander, who's more practiced in tedious retail politicking, then all his money, family connections and buoyant conservative philosophy will be for naught. The mainstream press, which is begging to forgive St. McCain any gaffe, won't be so kind with Bush; he'll enter the race as the frontrunner and the slightest Quayle-like slip-up will be exaggerated to the point that it might torpedo his campaign. I hope Bush runs: He's easily the best candidate against a damaged Al Gore, who'll be carrying so much Clinton baggage he'll start the general election campaign at a 10-point disadvantage. But George W. needs some debating lessons.
Bush has already been bashed by Alexander and Quayle for his slogan "compassionate conservatism," which I take as sour grapes from the two challengers because the Texas governor is topping the polls even before he's announced. Besides, Bush has demonstrated in Texas that there're teeth behind those words. And just last week, Sen. Rick Santorum, a hard-line conservative who faces a tough reelection campaign next year in Pennsylvania, repudiated Alexander and Quayle in a letter to both candidates. He wrote: "The Republican Party has a proud tradition of being both compassionate and conservative, and we should embrace and promote both." According to Sunday's Washington Post, Quayle's camp was polite in response, simply replying, "Dan Quayle believes Rick Santorum is a fantastic senator and looks forward to campaigning for his reelection."
Alexander's spokesman, reflecting his bitter boss' pleasure at tweaking Bush, issued the following hyperbolic statement: "Gov. Alexander is pleased to have started a debate in the Republican Party over whether we will stand strongly and competently by our principles and articulate them forcefully or whether we'll hide behind Clintonian-like weasel words which offer nothing more than a pale imitation of Democrat policies." So, now we know what Alexander has replaced his flannel shirt with this time around: the phrase "weasel words." Get used to it, because until he drops out of the campaign that's all you'll hear from the frustrated ex-governor of a tiny state.
Rich Is Back in the Tank I've laid off the Times' Frank Rich in recent weeks for a couple of reasons. First, the wretched columnist has either made some sense, like championing C-SPAN's Brian Lamb's call for complete television access to the Senate impeachment trial, or written about some entertainment nonsense that I find uninteresting but not dangerous. Then, last week, I felt kind of bad for him when our own Taki made sport of Rich's girth. I don't care if he's 300 pounds or anorectic; it has no bearing on what atrocities he commits to the printed page.
But Rich was back in rare form last week, first with a column on Wednesday called "The Crybaby Party" that attacked a satiric piece by P.J. O'Rourke in the Feb. 1 Weekly Standard. O'Rourke, who's often grating with his repetition of one-liners, was dead-on this time around, joyfully advocating an impeachment trial that would last for months, all because it's so damn amusing. Read the following and tell me, especially you earnest Upper West Siders, that it's not funny: "Senators, don't! Please fall into vicious partisan bickering instead. Mix drain cleaner into the coatroom jar of toupee glue if that's what it takes to bring tempers to a boil. Make the bar at the Palm restaurant a state and elect James Carville to your chamber. Hide Sen. Thurmond's Viagra. Force Sen. Kennedy to skip lunch. Give Sen. Byrd's history of the Senate to Michiko Kakutani for a snide review in the New York Times. Call witnesses, call an endless list of witnesses. Call Mick Jagger, he's slept with everybody. Call Dr. Laura Schlessinger. She knows Bill's type... The Clinton impeachment is a thing of manifold splendor, and what's most bright and shining is that it has no downside."
Rich, confident that the Republicans' fight to convict Clinton is near conclusion, wrote that the President's opponents are blaming everybody else for their failure to make headway. He castigates the usual bunch of villains: Henry Hyde, Bob Barr, Newt Gingrich, the House managers, Bill Kristol and Ken Starr. (Starr's a gimme on any Democratic list: To Rich, he's responsible for collecting "unexpurgated porn" and releasing it to the public, as if what was contained in his report wasn't tame by even a teenager's standards.) Why, Rich thundered, soon the GOP would start complaining about the biased, liberal media again!
But Rich has particular contempt for O'Rourke, who dared to lampoon the American people by describing them, rather accurately, as "masses waddling into airports, business offices, and churches dressed in drooping sweats or fuchsia warm-up suits or mainsail-sized Bermuda shorts, each with a mobile phone in one ear and a Walkman in the other and sucking Diet Pepsi through a straw." Imagine that! Rich, New York City populist, harrumphs. What is galling about his pomposity is that I'll bet that a majority of the punditocracy, the mostly liberal journalists who enjoy affluent lifestyles, send their kids to private schools, have summer homes and are members of an elite class in this country, howled when they read O'Rourke's words. They believe them, too, but don't have the balls to say so. And Rich, who's as elitist as they come, just used the passage to buttress his flimsy argument that Republicans in the House and Senate are Neanderthals who shouldn't be allowed in public meeting places. It's this kind of hypocrisy, so prevalent in the Washington-Boston power center, that's made this entire case so maddening. If Clinton were a Republican, you can bet that the media would be demanding his scalp.
(Michael Wolff, in his Feb. 8 New York "Media" column, rivaled Rich for repulsive writing. Wolff spent a few days at the hearings, sitting next to novelist Dominick Dunne, he's quick to point out, and was struck by just how stupid the House managers are. "The Republican managers certainly do not have the advantages of education, experience, or I.Q. to compete with the White House legal team. This is another thing that the television has flattened: the class differences between the House members and the president's legal team." Wolff also makes the preposterous leap that senators are of a different breed from mere representatives, ignoring the basic fact that 45 of the current senators started out in the House. Does he think these politicians transform from caterpillars to golden butterflies once they enter the Senate chambers? Wolff continues: "It's Yale Law School versus the bumpkins." Translated: the Ivy League vs. them dirty Southerners in overalls who guzzle moonshine whiskey and hang out with Goober and Gomer Pyle. Don't know about you, but I think South Carolina's Lindsey Graham was far more impressive than Clinton's personal lawyer David Kendall. As was Arkansas' Asa Hutchinson.)
Last Saturday, Rich was even more disingenuous, ridiculing the GOP for "p.c." behavior in calling its three witnesses for the trial. Where's Betty Currie, Rich wants to know; is it because she's a small, black woman that Henry Hyde passed her over, even though her complicity in the scandal is central to the case against the President? Of course Currie's testimony is crucial and everyone knows that: Her conversations with Clinton and his coaching could nail him. But as Rich is obviously aware, with only three witnesses allowed, the House managers aren't going to take the risk of a hostile media showing images of a cowering Currie as she's led to the Senate chamber. The demagoguery, led by Clinton's prayer and Super Bowl buddy Jesse Jackson, would be insufferable. It would be reminiscent of last year when she testified before the grand jury and, huddled against the masses of cameramen, looked so defenseless. In fact, Currie is not a witless waif who's deserving of such condescending treatment by partisans like Rich. She's a savvy woman who's been at the center of Clinton's White House?the gatekeeper, in a sense?and would make an extremely helpful witness. But her appearance would backfire for the Republicans and that's why they settled on Vernon Jordan, Sidney Blumenthal and Monica (who's now dropped her last name).
As for Blumenthal, it's no surprise that journalists are enraged that he's been called as one of the three witnesses: Despite his loathsome reputation, he's a former member of the press and there's a residue of twisted loyalty. Timothy Noah, writing in Slate, asks why Blumenthal (who's a neighbor of his) and not Betty Currie? The Baltimore Sun's Jack Germond and Jules Witcover called the choice of Blumenthal "astonishing." That's a bunch of hooey, as any Beltway insider knows: Blumenthal's been at the center of Clinton's dirty-tricks operation and, despite the self-righteous bluster he's bound to display on videotape, might fork over information to save his own skin. Besides, it was Blumenthal Clinton entrusted with the whopper that Monica was a stalker who might be out to blackmail him. The ex-New Yorker apologist for the First Family then disseminated that lie to the media.
The Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot, in his "Potomac Watch" column last Friday, was one of the few pundits who applauded Blumenthal's summons. He wrote: "Mr. Blumenthal's [grand jury] testimony reveals a president doing much more than hiding an affair. He was using the powers of his office to create a false story that would destroy Ms. Lewinsky... Mr. Clinton was telling his most fervent supporter that his president was the victim of lies and a gross injustice. Wouldn't Mr. Blumenthal want to tell everyone in the White House and around the world why his hero was innocent? If Mr. Clinton didn't want his chief political communicator to broadcast this phony tale, he could have said so. There's no record he did... In her interview with House managers on Sunday, Ms. Lewinsky seemed surprised when they asked her about Mr. Blumenthal's testimony and the 'stalker' line. Maybe this explains the furious Democratic opposition even to videotaping her testimony."
It's hilarious listening to Clinton's lawyers and shills shed crocodile tears for Monica, asking why subject the poor girl to another round of hostile questions. Margery Eagan, a columnist for the Boston Herald, was bursting with sympathy for Monica on Jan. 26, lamenting that the poor lass would be forced to testify once again. She shreds the House managers: "There's something so prurient about it all, so creepy, as if a bunch of dirty old men with soft fingers and sweaty upper lips keep pressing a pretty, embarrassed young thing for details of her impure thoughts." It bothers Eagan that Monica was questioned by men, and Southern white men at that. Incredibly, she continues: "Too bad for the Republicans that they don't have a woman inquisitor who comes across like Clinton defender Cheryl Mills?honey-voiced, passionate, high-minded." As I wrote last week, This Is Not America.
And Walter Shapiro, the USA Today columnist who moonlights for Slate, wrote these absurd remarks in the online journal last Friday: "Monica is an ordinary young woman, who blundered badly when she was exposed to extraordinary temptation. Like Helen of Troy, she's caused a helluva mess?but that doesn't mean she's responsible for it."
Helen of Troy? Jesus Christ, but I'm getting sick of all these lazy pundits invoking Greek tragedy, when in reality the sleazy scandal simply resembles a 90s sitcom or nighttime soap. Monica, with just a year of on-and-off servicing of Clinton, which she presumably enjoyed, is now famous and will become rich from a book deal and television appearances. She's the toast of Hollywood and will probably not want for a steady stream of income, at least for the next five years, until the shallow entertainment moguls decide she's too fat or boring to consume their precious attention. She made out like a princess in this deal.
Lanny Davis' Paper of Record There was an editorial printed last Friday by the Democratic National Committee, I mean The Clinton Times... No, wait, let me start over. There was an editorial printed last Friday by The New York Times that demonstrates just how buffaloed the country's "paper of record" is by the White House's spin. It began: "Senate Republicans acted unwisely yesterday by exercising their majority power to impose an open-ended and ill-defined set of procedures for the remainder of the impeachment trial. They are now perilously close to turning the trial into a purely Republican spectacle that poorly serves the nation and demeans the Senate itself."
I'm not alone in suggesting that every time the Senate meets it "demeans" itself, but let's leave that alone for now. Just what does the editorial board of the Times expect the Senate to do? Roll over for the White House and ignore the House's impeachment charges against Bill Clinton? They've been pushing their "censure" proposal for months now; it's going nowhere and I suppose Howell Raines and Arthur Sulzberger are pissed that their opinion wasn't immediately adopted by the GOP. It's ironic that the very next day, last Saturday, the Times condemned Attorney General Janet Reno for not appointing an independent counsel to investigate Clinton lieutenant Harold Ickes' involvement in campaign finance irregularities for the '96 presidential campaign. And on Saturday, The Washington Post's Susan Schmidt recounted ABC's scoop that Nathan Landow, a wealthy Democratic fundraiser, hired a private investigator, Jarrett Stern, "for an unspecified project." Kathleen Willey, who has accused Clinton of groping and fondling her, maintains that she was harassed by a man two days before her testimony in the Paula Jones case.
Also last week, the Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Kenneth Starr's indictments of Webster and Susan Hubbell on tax evasion charges. Dick Morris, Clinton's former guru (he may be still: who knows?) wrote a column in the New York Post a week ago that ridiculed the notion that the impeachment trial will end as scheduled on Feb. 12. He correctly noted that no one, last year, expected that Starr would recommend impeachment, that the House would actually impeach Clinton, that the Senate wouldn't immediately dismiss the charges or that they'd call witnesses.
Not long after Clinton's infamous pep rally on the day he was impeached, when former Presidents Carter and Ford, along with former Sens. Cohen and Dole, tried to broker a censure (translated: a pardon), it appeared the trial would be a sham, with a spineless Trent Lott caving in to the Democratic minority. It hasn't turned out that way. As I've written before, every day that this trial continues, the worse it will become for Clinton. Since it's a guarantee that the Senate will dawdle, there's plenty of time for further evidence?like the Landow revelations?to influence the senators. That's why the White House is considering calling witnesses of their own; that's why the War Room is gearing up for action again. There was, it turns out, a false sense of security when Sen. Byrd called for a quick up or down vote. That's long forgotten now, even as GOP senators claimed on the Sunday talk shows that the perjury count might not attract even 50 votes for conviction. But, failing a sudden burst of courage from the Senate, it does appear that eventually Clinton will get off the hook. I'm firmly against the "finding of fact" gambit that some Republicans are pushing to provide cover for their reelection efforts. Sure, it'll be thoroughly disgusting when Clinton celebrates upon his eventual acquittal, but the Senate shouldn't fudge with the Constitution. Leave it to future historians, preferably not the progeny of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. or Sean Wilentz, to describe just what exactly happened during Clinton's criminal administration.
It's Morris' theory that Susan Hubbell will crack and then her husband will too. Then: "If Lewinsky asked Currie to pick up the gifts, she might have done so on her own. But if Currie was the one who called Lewinsky, it is very, very, very unlikely that she did so on her own. If Starr uses Lewinsky's testimony to threaten Curry, she might have more to say about what Clinton did or did not tell her to do about the gifts." That's why the length of the trial is so important: Ken Starr might not be in the Senate chamber, but he's still working on the case. Clinton must've dirtied his briefs upon reading Don Van Natta Jr.'s report in Sunday's New York Times that Starr is considering an indictment of him while he's still in office.
If Morris is correct, and the trial snowballs, there's no guarantee that Currie won't still be called as a witness. National Journal editor Michael Kelly wrote in The Washington Post on Jan. 27: "The import of Currie's [grand jury] testimony is clear: Knowing that he was the subject of a federal grand jury investigation, and knowing that Currie must be called to testify in this investigation, Clinton called Currie in and ran her through the cover-up story one more time. At the time, whether Clinton knew it or not, Currie was in fact a subpoenaed witness. Bill Clinton tampered with a witness in a federal criminal proceeding." And that's called obstruction of justice.
The Times editorial board knows that Clinton is corrupt and that his criminal activity is not "just about sex." Why the paper is rolling over for Clinton is a mystery that I suppose only historians will uncover. If the minority party in the Senate won every procedural vote, would it then be a Democratic "spectacle that poorly serves the nation and demeans the Senate itself"? Probably not.
On the same day, Jan. 29, that the Times issued its 53rd call for Clinton's censure, its former executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, wrote a blistering column, saying, "A guilty verdict would repair the Presidency and country." Admitting that he voted for Clinton twice, the second time with grave reservations, Rosenthal derides those who complain that the proceedings haven't been "bipartisan," explaining that of course that would never be expected. He also lays out the case against Clinton for those senators who refuse to muster the courage to do it themselves: "Remember who got us here, who forced the trial, who put the country brain-deep in his own muck. Forgetting that is like forgetting that Judge Ito did not kill O.J. Simpson's former wife. Bill Clinton gambled the moral, political and historic reputation of the Presidency?showing what he thought of the office and himself. He lied. He lied in private and in public, with or without oath. He lied to friends, enemies, subordinates... If perjury aggravated by repetition is not enough, examine damage to government. He captured and tied up the entire White House in his lies. He lied directly to some of his government employees, used others as shields, and kept some theoretically ignorant so they could say sorry, we cannot inform the public."
Rosenthal, at one time, was a powerful and feared man at the Times. In his dotage, he's been granted a column, the equivalent of a gold watch, and is largely ignored by a young publisher who prefers the schoolgirl whimsy of Maureen Dowd and anti-Christian, entertainment-laden prose of Frank Rich. Dowd was riding on her high horse last Sunday, railing against Starr and the report that he may indict Clinton while still in office. "This is all about ego, vengefulness and arrogance. The public is begging for release from Monica madness, but all Ken Starr and the Republican House managers want is to save their own heartless faces." Stuff it, Mo, and keep those "vengeful" rants between you and Michael Douglas. If Starr is such a vindictive prosecutor, why do the judges keep ruling in his favor? Maybe it's because he's obeying the letter and the spirit of the law.
It makes you wonder: If Rosenthal were still a force at the Times, would the paper's stance toward the country's felonious president be more severe?
This Column Is Tapped I'm certain that Cynthia Cotts and her comrades at the Village Voice don't tune in to Matt Drudge's Fox tv show on Saturday nights?too many left-wing protest parties with cheap wine, bean dip and Joan Baez tunes to attend?but last weekend they'd have been surprised to see their own Nat Hentoff as one of Drudge's guests. Hentoff followed the ubiquitous Dick Morris, who spoke ominously about Judiciary Committee investigators fearing for their safety, presumably from Clinton's thugs.
Morris: "When I was called by the House Judiciary Committee just last weekend to testify or to meet with them I met with three investigators of the committee. They asked me not to use their names and I won't but they were each 50 years of age or over, they weren't kids. They had decades of experience working for the IRS, the FBI, and all other kinds of other investigative organizations. They told me they were physically afraid of retaliation... And they said aren't you afraid of retaliation? They said don't you know the list of the 25 people who have died in mysterious circumstances in connection with this investigation? And I said are you guys out of your minds? And they said no, no. And one of them said I guarantee you that each of us will have an IRS audit when this is over, he said I'm saving my receipts. I know that I am going to have an audit. And I said, how does that work? And he said well the head of the IRS and Hillary are very good friends."
But I digress. Hentoff said Clinton "has a list of discarded women and as soon as one of them indicates that she might speak to a reporter, or possibly sue...they get visited. Now I can't say that they get visited directly from Clinton but emissaries come and they say you better watch it..." Hentoff has written extensively about Clinton and his "discarded women" for The Washington Post and the Voice, so this isn't new territory; still, seeing his anger on air is different from simply reading it.
Drudge egged him on, asking where did all the radicals go, "where is the backbone in the rest of the media?" Hentoff wanted to know why Bill Clinton's medical records are such a secret and agreed with Drudge that NBC was chickenshit for holding back its Juanita Broaddrick story by Lisa Meyers, whom along with ABC's Jackie Judd he called "the two best reporters on the networks."
But about the mainstream media Hentoff said: "I think there is a fear, there is an exaggerated fear on the part of the liberals of the left. I'm really a libertarian but...never mind. They are so afraid that if Clinton is gone, they have no faith in Gore, which is an accurate prediction. They think that Tom DeLay is going to appoint all the Supreme Court justices, and the secret police?as if they didn't exist now, as Dick Morris points out?will take over the country. So they have abandoned their principles, most of them know that Clinton has done what he is being accused of, some of them know that as a civil libertarian I can make this case that he has done more harm to the Bill of Rights than any president in our history."
Barbara Boxer's Bullshit The hypocrisy of the Senate knows no bounds. Last Thursday, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, California Sen. Barbara Boxer had the audacity to call for an end to the impeachment trial without revealing that she's tangentially related to the Clintons: Her daughter is married to Hillary Clinton's brother Hugh Rodham, Jr. "This has been a very difficult chapter for the country," Boxer solemnly reminds readers, "for Congress, for the presidency and for me. In my recent re-election campaign, I said I wanted to go back to Washington to legislate, not to investigate or humiliate. The time has come to do just that?to move on and do the people's business." What pious horseshit.
It hasn't been a "very difficult chapter for the country." Most people don't care a whit about the proceedings in Washington, even if they do register approval for Bill Clinton's performance as president (which sharply contrasts with their opinion of his personal morality). Those who've followed the Monica travails and Clinton's succession of lies view it as entertainment; when it gets juicy every month or so, then it's better than the usual fare of film or television. As long as the economy stays healthy and there's no war to worry about, "the real people," as pundits like to say, are tending to their own business, looking at the trial as a mere sideshow.
In fact, most "real people" are woefully uninformed about the business of politics. Last week, WABC's radio talk-show host Sean Hannity had a man on the street interviewing passersby to see if they could identify the vice president of the United States. Only about one in five passed the test. (Hannity, by the way, as I mentioned last week, is no mental giant himself. I got a call from a rival radio station employee who alleged that one time when Hannity asked who was appearing on a show opposite his and was told Gore Vidal, he said, "Who's that?")
But back to Boxer. This is the woman who was elected in '92, the Year of the Woman, partly on the basis of her pillorying Clarence Thomas, now a Supreme Court justice, a man accused of far less heinous behavior than Clinton. In addition, when Sen. Bob Packwood, who resigned in the wake of sexual harassment charges, was up before his colleagues, Boxer said: "I have to say, as one U.S. Senator who is going to vote on how to dispose of this matter in a fair and just fashion to all concerned, I do not want to base my vote on a stack of papers." But when it comes to Clinton, a Democrat, she says it's time "to move on" and no witnesses are necessary.
Maryland's paleoliberal Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who's ready to rubber-stamp acquittal for Clinton, had a similar view when it came to Republican Packwood. She said: "It is that history and tradition that I believe that calls us now, as we get ready to vote, to honor the precedent of public hearings, for cross-examination of witnesses, to resolve discrepancies in testimony, to have a fair format." Yeah, I agree, that statement was hard to decipher; her simple "no" vote on witnesses for the Clinton trial was more straightforward.
Seniors Claim Their Street Space
Lifelines in the neighborhood Op-Ed
Masters at the Frick
The Second Tragedy of Traffic Deaths
Seniors Claim Their Street Space
Lifelines in the neighborhood Op-Ed
Masters at the Frick
The Second Tragedy of Traffic Deaths
A Retail Expansion on 93rd Street