Thursday, January 3, 2008

The January cold

The wind chill in Central Connecticut today is -7 degrees, and driving in I noticed the stretch of Connecticut river that forks to the West of Wilcox Island in Middletown has frozen over.

I was listening to a radio report about the Justice Department prosecutor John Durham (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Colin McEnroe) who has been assigned to pursue a criminal case involving the destroyed CIA torture tapes, and I thought about a great Richard Meyer song, The January Cold.

Meyer was one of the talented songwriters who performed on, and helped edit The Fast Folk Musical Magazine, a quasi-monthy subscription magazine and LP (later CD), which was a compilation of songs written by up and comers in folk music. Some who recorded for FFMM, were Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, John Gorka, Hugh Blumenfeld, Pierce Pettis, Greg Brown and just about anybody, who was anybody, and anybody who was nobody in folk music at the time.

Meyer's song was written on a bet. I can't remember which songwriter he wagered, but the challenge was that each songwriter would challenge the other with an impossible topic about which to write a song. Meyer was challenged to write a song about the Teapot Dome scandal. He did, and The January Cold is magnificent. It first appeared on FFMM 105, May 1984, which also included performances by Jack Hardy, Shawn Colvin and another amazing song, The Sentinel, by John Gorka. The song later appeared on Meyer's album Laughing Scared, and on a Fast Folk Musical Magazine compilation on the Smithsonian Folkways label called, A Community of Singers. The songs is currently available on iTunes. Here are the lyrics:


The year was nineteen twenty one
Woodrow Wilson was not well
He was beaten by the aftermath of the ‘War to end all wars’
And handsome Warren Harding stood in the January Cold
And swore to restore America’s God given heart a soul

Harding was an average man whose friends played him for a fool
They abused the nation and the man to keep their pockets full
The consecrated president with a child by an affair
Assured me and my countrymen with his wife who’s name was clear

And how the flappers danced
How the movies flashed
And how the strength of business before the market crashed
And how the modern world was born in the aftermath or war
While the bally-hoo went on and on
before the market hit the floor

We made late peace with Germany and I marched and celebrated’
For Lindbergh’s flight and prohibition we toasted and awe hated
My government in Washington by of and for the people
Isolated and disarmed the country that seemed to have saved the world

I worked the naval oil reserve in Wyoming’s Teapot Dome
When the Secretary of the interior sold the navy down the road
From the oil fields to Canada where the corporate deals were made
Or secret loans and gifts before the Congress learned the game


So how did free American take the selling of her oil
And the butchering of offices by appointed criminals
They called the Senate committees scandal mongers malicious and unclean
Bolsheviks and Partisans that the country did not need

The Harding I remember our hail-fellow well met
Abused by native faith in friends and naïve unworldliness
Died poisoned in Alaska when the scandals came to fame
Some say it was his wife’s revenge or mercy for his name

The song readily brings to mind the many problems and scandals of the current administration, not the least of which is the alleged involvement in the destruction of evidence in the CIA torture case. Yesterday, bipartisan members of the 9/11 commission published an accusatory op-ed in the New York Times, and today the Times an encouraging editorial on Attorney General Mukasey's appointment of Durham to investigate the case. The Washington Post believes Durham is the right man for the job because of his integrity and his dogged pursuit of other cases.

Jonathan Turley, a constitutional expert from George Washingon University, speaking with Keith Olbermann on Countdown last evening, is not as confident about the effectiveness of the investigation, since Durham is not being assigned as an independent prosecutor. Turley claims that it is the Justice Department investigating itself, and in the end, Durham's boss is Mukasey, and Mukasey's boss is the President.

To be sure, there is no evidence to cast aspersions on Durham's reputation. He's brought down the mob, the FBI in Boston and Connecticut governor John Rowland, and several other Connecticut political slimeballs.

Projections are that there will be claims of executive privilege and state secrets, and that the investigation will likely extend beyond George Bush's presidency. Still, the jails will be ready to embrace all whom Durham is able to identify as culpable. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of justice is long, but sure.

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