John Boehner is just another Tom DeLay

Rep. John Boehner came to Washington after the 1990 elections claiming to be a great reformer. In reality, he is just another politician on the take, out to milk the system for all he can.

I met Boehner at a reception for new members of Congress in December 1990. At the time, I was Vice President for Political Programs for the giant National Association of Realtors and controlled the largest political action committee (PAC) in town. Boehner had his hand out to every PAC, mine included, and made it clear he would vote the right way in exchange for maximum campaign contributions.

“I know your issues,” he said, “and I can support. I trust you can see your way clear to support me?”

Boehner made his name as a member of the “Gang of Seven,” a group of Congressional “reformers” who took on the House Bank that allowed members to overdraw their checking accounts at will and without penalty and helped expose Democratic powerhouse Dan Rostenkowski’s “cash for stamps” scam that cost him his seat in Congress and sent him to jail.

But while Boehner campaigned as the great reformer, he worked the system behind the scenes, scamming it for campaign cash and favors, cozying up to the same lobbyists and dealmakers as fellow Republican Tom DeLay. In 1992, he argued publicly for the elimination of PACs because they gave most of their money to the Democrats who controlled Congress. After Republicans took control in 1994, Boehner changed his tune and became a leading advocate of PACs and the money they could dump into the coffers of the new GOP leadership.

Boehner joined with DeLay and other Republican leaders in browbeating lobbying firms into hiring more Republicans and threatened PACs with exclusion from GOP briefings and events if they did not donate more to GOP candidates and causes.

His style was smoother than DeLay, the GOP pit bull who openly bullied and once told me “fuck the law. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the law.” Boehner would smile and talk in diplomatic terms but the smile masked a ruthlessness that said “play ball our way or you don’t play in our ballpark.”

“Make no mistake about it,” he told me in 1991. “We will remember those who helped us and those who did not will find themselves outside looking in. That’s the way the game is played.”

Boehner quickly learned how the game is played in Washington. Since 2000, he has allowed special interest groups to finance 41 trips for he and his family to Rome, Venice, Paris and Edinburgh, as well as domestic resort spots like Boca Raton, Fla., and Pebble Beach, Calif.

He often goes on the floor of the House of Representatives to praise the liquor industry for what he calls their “untiring efforts” to fight underage drinking and drunk driving. The industry bought these paid advertisements from Boehner with more than $200,000 in campaign contributions.

He is a big booster of Sallie Mae, the federal agency that provides government-backed student loans. His daughter works for Sallie Mae’s collection agency and employees of Sallie Mae have kicked in $120,000 to Boehner’s campaign PAC since 1989,

Boehner heads up efforts on the hill to limit lawsuits against the health care industry. In return, insurance companies for health care groups have contributed $2 million to Boehner.

And, yes, Boehner accepted $30,000 in campaign contributions from corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s tribal clients in the two election cycles. Unlike other members of Congress, Boehner has refused to return the tainted money.

Boehner rents his $1,600 a month Capitol Hill apartment from veteran lobbyist John Milne, who just happens to represent clients who have benefited from legislation Boehner sponsored as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

And Boehner’s former chief of staff, now an aide to White House political guru Karl Rove, helped plan a congressional junket to the Mariana Islands with Abramoff.

With all this baggage, the GOP picked John Boehner to replace the corrupt Tom DeLay as the number two Republican in the House.

And they “punished” Tom DeLay by giving him a highly-coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee along with a spot on the subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department – the same Justice Department currently investigating DeLay for his many wrongdoings.

Republicans call this “reform.” I call it business as usual.

They came to praise King and bury Bush

George W. Bush’s pathetic attempt to turn Coretta Scott King’s funeral into a politically-advantageous photo op fell flatter than his State of the Union speech Tuesday — a textbook example of just how out of touch the President has become with the American people.

“This commemorative ceremony this morning and this afternoon is not only to acknowledge the great contributions of Coretta and Martin, but to remind us that the struggle for equal rights is not over,” said former President Carter, who remarks brought loud cheers. “We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, those who were most devastated by Katrina, to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans.”

Carter’s comments ring true about Bush and his right-wing Republican followers — a group of rabid racists whose tokenism only deepens the racial divide in this country.

But Carter drew even louder cheers when he compared King’s struggles against FBI harassment and surveillance to Bush’s use of the National Security Agency and other government agencies to spy on Americans.

“It was difficult for them personally,” Carter said of both Kings, “with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance, and as you know, harassment from the FBI.”

Bush tried his usual plastic smile but his body language clearly showed discomfort as speaker after speaker zeroed in on the hypocrisy of his Presidency — one that talks unity but practices division.

He offered phony applause when the Rev. Joseph Lowery, King protege and longtime critic, who cited Coretta King’s opposition to the war in Iraq and scored the administration’s phony commitment to helping the poor.

“She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar,” Lowery said. “We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.”

When Bush’s turn came, the audience, for the most part, sat on their hands, offering only muted applause for his seven-minute eulogy. It was a pitiful performance by a President whose legacy is marked all too often by shameless self-promotion.

But Bush, despite his clumsy attempts to put on a strong public face, should realize he is living on borrowed time, not only as a lame duck President but as one who could well face impeachment if enough Democrats win seats in this fall’s House and Senate elections.

There is little doubt that George W. Bush will go down in history as one of the most controversial, morally-challenged, dishonest Presidents to serve at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What remains in doubt is how his Presidency will end and whether or not there will be an America left to put that painful memory behind it.

Is John Boehner just another Tom DeLay?

020506boehner.jpgOver the years, new House Majority Leader John Boehner (right) has built a political empire with similarities to the fundraising machine of the man he’s replacing, Rep. Tom DeLay.

The Ohio congressman, who won an upset victory for the House GOP’s No. 2 post, has distributed roughly $2.9 million to Republicans from his political action committee since 1979, according to the campaign finance Web site Political Money Line. Some of the recipients this week returned the favor in voting for him.

Boehner (pronounced BAY-nur) is an avid golfer with a perpetual tan, and, like DeLay, he has played host at many fundraising golf outings. Some of his staff members, following the career path of those who worked for DeLay, have become Washington lobbyists.

Boehner, 56, was characterized as an agent for change by Republican supporters who elected him over Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri. But like DeLay and Blunt, Boehner has connections to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

He accepted at least $30,000 in political donations from Abramoff’s tribal clients between the 2000 election cycle and 2004.

Forbes has the full story.

Pete Hallman’s legacy: “If you’re going to say it, say it right”

Most men would have told a bothersome 14-year-old boy to get lost when that kid started hanging around his office and begging for a job.

Pete Hallman was not most men.

The Editor of The Floyd Press, a broadsheet weekly published in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia, took an interest in the bothersome kid with a beat-up twin-reflex camera and a burning desire to become a newspaperman.

“You’ve got to really want it to make it in this business,” he said. “This business is for people who can’t possibly do anything else.”

So he let the kid hang around and work in the ramshackle two-story building that housed the newspaper on South Locust Street in Floyd. When the kid tried to write a story, he would gruffly explain what did and didn’t work, how it could be tweaked to become worthy of publication in his newspaper.

“Just because this is a hick newspaper doesn’t mean we publish crap,” he said. “Make it worth someone’s time to read. If you’re going to say it, say it right.”

Hallman printed The Floyd Press every Wednesday night on a flatbed press in the basement of the building on Locust Street, producing the six-to-eight pages of community news, legal notices, editorials and ads that make up a small weekly for a rural mountain county.

On other days of the week, the same press cranked out legal forms, business cards and other business print jobs for the community. Job printing kept most weekly newspapers out of the poorhouse. The Press was no exception.

“It’s a profession but it’s also a business,” he said. “Don’t forget that.”

Hallman’s mother often complained to anyone who would listen that her son too often forgot the Press was a business but he shrugged off her comments and did things his way.

“We provide a window into the county,” he told the kid. “It’s our job to make sure the window is clean and provides a clear view of what happens around here.”

Hallman taught the kid to operate the clunky old Linotype machine that produced hot metal type, how to use leading to make a six-inch column of type fit into a six-and-a-half inch hole in the page, how to set headlines using the type from drawers in a rickety wooden cabinet in the back of the composing room.

On many Wednesday nights, the kid and Hallman’s son, Randy, would sort papers into mail bags and take them to the post offices in Floyd, Willis and Check so they could be delivered on Thursday.

As Editor of the local paper, Hallman held strong opinions on how local government did its job and wasn’t afraid to call someone an idiot.

“Call it as you see it,” he told the kid. “Don’t play favorites. If you’re going to say it, say it right.”

Hallman’s wife, Ruth, taught English and journalism at Floyd County High School. She also took an interest in the rough-edged kid, giving him a spot on the school newspaper and letting him use his rudimentary photographic skills as school photographer.

Sometimes, the teachings of the Hallmans clashed. Pete told the kid to write like people talk. Ruth taught English and tried to drill the proper use of language into the kid’s stubborn head.

The Hallmans were more than mentor and teacher. They became an extended family for the kid, welcoming him into their home, treating him like one of their own. Yet they weren’t always sure what to make of their adopted prodigy.

“I’ve been proud of you, exasperated by you, grateful to you, mad at you, amused by you, confused by you,” Ruth Hallman wrote in the kid’s high school annual. “You have to learn – the hard way – to see all sides of a problem, but you are learning.”

When the kid wanted to learn more, Pete Hallman called Fred Leoffler, State Editor of The Roanoke Times.

“Got a kid up here with more ambition than brains,” he said, “but he still might make a good correspondent for you.”

Leoffler agreed and the kid started filing reports from the county for the daily newspaper in Roanoke. Later, when the kid applied for a fulltime reporting job with the paper, Pete Hallman wrote a recommendation.

“God knows I’ve done all that I can do,” he said in typical Pete Hallman style, “Maybe you can turn him into a newspaperman.”

The kid left Floyd County in 1965 to pursue his dream of becoming a newspaperman. The Hallmans left shortly afterwards, selling the paper, and moving to Xenia, Ohio. Randy went on to work for The Richmond Times-Dispatch and gained fame as an auto racing writer covering NASCAR. The Press went through several owners over the years and now belongs to the giant Media General newspaper chain (which also owns the Richmond Times Dispatch).

The paper moved out of the old digs on Locust Street long ago. A few years later, bits and pieces of that building went on sale. An old type tray from that building now hangs on the wall of the kid’s den, a reminder of his first, real, newspaper job and the man who coaxed, bullied and encouraged a young man who wanted to write and take pictures.

Pete Hallman, 77, died Thanksgiving day. An email from Randy brought the sad news.

“All three of us kids were with him the weekend before,” Randy wrote, “so we got to say to each other the things that needed to be said.”

On Saturday, the kid will drive back into the mountains, to a church in Floyd, Virginia, to attend a memorial service for Pete Hallman.

He will try to say the things that need to be said.

And he will pray he says it right.

Because this time, Pete Hallman will not be able to tell him if he says it wrong.

Sex, lies and Bill Clinton


The latest pissing contest to occupy Washington’s political landscape involves President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton over just who is responsible for the corporate greed that led to accounting scandals that have sent the stock market into the crapper.

Bush says the Clinton administration’s cavalier attitude towards truth and obsession with money led to a corporate culture where facts became a disposable commodity. Clinton says Bush, who dumped a large pile of stock before Harken Energy tanked, shows he was part of the problem.

Newly released records show Bush knew Harken was in deep financial trouble and sold his stock before normal investors found out. In the financial world, that’s called “insider trading.” The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Bush’s action and decided not to pursue the matter (which is different than saying he was innocent of using inside information to save his financial butt).

Yet while Bush made a profit while others lost big time on Harken, he wasn’t President of the country at the time. Clinton deserves a big share of the blame because, as President, he exemplified the attitude that existed not only in corporate boardrooms but also in many other parts of society.

Bill Clinton’s legacy (if you can call it that) is built on lies, instant gratification and winning at all costs – the exact ingredients that led corporations to overstate earnings, hide expenses and go for the fast buck.

As President for eight of the 10 years of the go-go nineties, Clinton set the tone for America. That tone came from a man who stood up in front of the American people and lied outright by declaring that he “did not have sex with that woman” and then came clean only when the DNA evidence left him no other choice.

Clinton risked everything for instant sexual gratification from an intern, but his problems went far beyond his sex drive. His win-at-all-costs approach to all things governmental and political meant destroying lives, manipulating history for short-term gain and setting an example that anything was permissible in pursuit of victory.

The greatest example of his legacy could be found at a junior high school in the Washington suburb of Arlington where, during the last year of his presidency, a group of 12 and 13-year-old girls admitted performing oral sex of young male students because “even the President said it wasn’t really sex.”

A survey of high school students that same year showed a majority of teenagers in the country felt lying about their actions were acceptable because the President did it.

“Rightly or wrongly, the President sets the moral tone of the nation,” says political historian Donald Settles. “Americans look to their President as an example. If that example is a bad one, it trickles down and becomes the norm for society.”

Sociologist Anne Martensen believes Bill Clinton proved Democracy was alive and well in America in the 1990s.

“According to most polls, a majority of Americans during that decade admitted cheating on their spouses, lying to their bosses and/or friends, cheating on expense accounts and taxes and other lapses in morality,” says Martensen. “If the polls are true, it means Bill Clinton was the perfect President to represent the majority in this country.”

Just when did our daughters start dressing like hookers?


God knows I’m not a prude. As a teenager, I hid Playboys under my mattress, ogled the lingerie ads in the Sears Catalog and even knew about the secret place at my high school where you could look into the girls’ locker room shower.

On most Saturday nights, I was in the back seat of my ’57 Ford at the Autodrome drive-in in Radford, Virginia, wrestling with some young lady, trying to score the teenage sexual equivalent of a home run (funny how we learned early on to equate sports and sex).

In the immortal words of Meatloaf in his anthem to raging teenage hormones, the goal was to “see paradise by the dashboard light.”

Memories of those angst-filled days came back over the 4th of July weekend while sitting under a refreshment stand tent at a carnival in East St. Louis, Illinois, watching too many young girls parade by in the accepted attire of the times.

After an hour of so of this, I had to wonder: How in the hell does a teenage boy today keep his hormones under control? Lord, I had enough trouble when a glimpse of young female leg above the knee would satisfy the lustful cravings of a young man’s desire.

But now, with bare-midriff tops, low slung jeans, low-cut haltertops, thongs and see through blouses, there ain’t a hell of a lot left to the imagination.

We’re not talking about just 17, 18 or 19 year old hardbodies here, but 12 and 13 year olds wearing shorts low enough for the tops of thongs to show and blouses with enough open buttons to show what they may one day have to show.

Add to that enough navel, nose and eyebrow rings to start a jewelry store and you start to wonder just when it became acceptable for young women to dress like hookers.

Like most men, I enjoy looking at sexy young things, although at my age, “young” begins at about age 45. But I wonder if young girls shouldn’t at least go through puberty before letting all that they may or may not have hang out for public view.

Should a 15-year-old girl be parading around in public wearing jeans cut so low that they require shaving of pubic hair or shorts that ride high enough in back to show off butt cheeks? Are parents allowing this or are these nymphets changing into their CFM attire after they leave home?

If current teenage attire can shock even a dirty old man like me, has it gone to far?

I don’t have an answer. I do find it unsettling. If I had a teenage daughter right now, I’d probably lock her away until a safer age, say about 30 or maybe even 40.

The sounds of thunder

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He snapped awake at 0500, a full 30 minutes before the alarm was set to go off.

For more than 30 years, he awakened at 5 a.m. It didn’t matter which time zone he was in or even if it was daylight savings time. When the big hand was on the 12 and the little one on the five, he was awake.

He crawled into the shower and lay there for 30 minutes, letting the hot water loosen up his muscles and numb the throbbing pain of too many arthritic bones broken in too many places over the years.

The water limbered him up enough to pull on some faded blue jeans, t-shirt and leather vest. It took some effort to pull on the boots, but he managed. Then he strapped on the leather chaps. Three cups of coffee and several accompanying groans later, he headed into the garage where she was waiting.

She didn’t get much use these days, but she didn’t complain. Instead, she waited patiently under the tarp, waited for Memorial Day weekend to come around, knowing he would polish her up and head out onto the open road.

He worked for the better part of two hours, polishing the chrome, checking the oil level and the tire pressures. Then he climbed aboard, kicked the stand, fired her up and headed into the morning air.

Not much traffic on Arlington’s Washington Boulevard on a Sunday morning. A few cars. Some slowed to take a look at the gleaming Harley Road King. Few noticed the gray-haired, middle-aged rider. He nosed into the parking lot of Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike and parked besides a half-dozen other Harleys. He noticed two he expected to be here were not.

“Afternoon, did we sleep in this morning?”

“You know me chief. Just couldn’t get up.”

“We weren’t sure you would make it. Heard you were hard down.”

“Will be in about two weeks. Go under the knife on 12 June.”

“Hip?”

“Yeah.”

He looked around.

“Where’s Crowder?”

“VA Hospital in Albuquerque. He’s fading.”

Damn. Each year, the list of those who don’t make it got longer.

“What about Horsely?”

“Laid the bike down on 50 in Indiana three months ago. DOA.”

Well, at least it wasn’t age. Or maybe it was. A younger man might have survived.

For the next 90 minutes, they ignored the ravages of age and worries about cholesterol and hardened arteries, wolfing down pork chops, bacon, eggs and hash browns, talking about days that have long since passed.

“They say we will have a quarter million out today. Maybe more than a hundred thousand bikes. Kinda miss the old days when there only a few hundred of us.”

“Yeah, at this rate, there will be more out there than who actually served. Getting hard to tell the wannabes from those who were in the shit.”

“I can tell. Always could.”

“Hey, remember the guy who showed up last year with the Vulcan? Thought he was gonna get killed. Bringing a Jap bike to Thunder. Ain’t right.”

“Saw some Jap bikes on the way in this morning. Some German ones too.”

“Yeah, times change.”

They finished and headed up Columbia Pike to the Pentagon, joining a mass of bikes and the thunder of un-muffled exhausts in the parking lot. He opened the saddlebag and pulled out the same American flag and black POW-MIA flag he had used for the past 11 years. Along with a Boonie hat.

An hour later, they were in line, pulling out, headed for the Memorial Bridge and the Mall in Washington. Rolling Thunder was under way.

He’d been on the first one, more than a decade earlier, a much smaller group of riding their bikes into Washington to protest the U.S. government’s inaction on resolving the nagging issue of what happened to too many American servicemen who were unaccounted for Prisoners of War or still listed as Missing in Action.

Back then, the local law refused to cooperate and the veterans groups looked askance as the mostly long-haired group of motorcyclists who looked more like Hell’s Angels than those honoring a forgotten war.

Thunder had grown through the years, along with the awareness that Uncle Sam had not done right by those left behind in Southeast Asia. The longhairs were still there, the heart of the movement, but Thunder now included bank clerks, accountants and the widows and children of men who were left behind. Now they got police escorts and the Vets groups were more tolerant.

As he crossed Memorial Bridge, a number of those in the crowd stepped out to slap the hands of those coming in. A young woman handed him a small American flag. He stuck the flag in his handbrake.

They circled the Mall before parking and heading to the Wall. Officially, it is called the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Those who were there just call it the Wall. It takes a while before some Vietnam vets can go there. Some never get up the nerve.

He walked the length, scanning the dark service for names he knew. He always found them, even when he didn’t want to. A young man who had one day to go when a mortar round took him out. Names and faces that still clear in his memory after 30 too many years.

He knelt and prayed with his buddies before leaving. Then they rode back across the Potomac and visited Arlington Cemetery to say hello to some others who didn’t make it.

People looked at the small group of gray-haired men in their motorcycle leathers and gave them a wide berth, not sure of what brought such a dangerous-looking group out to a place of honor on Memorial Day weekend. But it didn’t take long for the rough-looking crowd to quickly outnumber those in their Sunday best.

Later, they sat at Hard Times Cafe in Arlington and wondered how many more Rolling Thunders it would take before the federal government finally did something.

“How much longer we gonna keep doing this?”

“Until we get some answers.”

Then they parted, promising — as always — to keep in touch during the year but knowing — as always — that they probably would not see or talk to each again until next year’s Memorial Day weekend.

He wheeled the Harley back into the garage, listened to it idle for a few minutes, and shut her down, covering her with the tarp.

Once inside, he unstrapped the leather chaps, took off the boots, and put them away.

Until next year.