Even after mortar attack, the show must go on

The Second Amendments, the bipartisan rock band made up of five members of Congress, were forced to scramble for cover during a surprise mortar attack in Iraq over the holiday break.

The Second Amendments, the bipartisan rock band made up of five members of Congress, were forced to scramble for cover during a surprise mortar attack in Iraq over the holiday break.

During a codel trip from Dec. 26 to Jan. 3, the band played six gigs for American service members at bases in Germany, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. The five rockers — Reps. Jon Porter (R-Nev.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) and Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) — along with non-band members Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) and Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), spent their days touring hot spots and collecting information and their nights entertaining the troops.

Thanks to the music, “numerous soldiers said it felt like they were back at home,” Porter said.

But they experienced a close call at appropriately named Ballad Air Base when an insurgent mortar shell exploded close to where they were set to play later that night.

The members were whisked to a bunker for a half-hour, where they listened to a few more shells detonating.

“Which is odd, because they usually hurl projectiles at us after we’re done playing,” deadpanned McCotter. “It was like playing in a biker bar in Detroit.”

But — damn the torpedoes! — the show went on as scheduled. “I guess courage is contagious,” McCotter said, in a nod to the troops he met at the base.

The smallest crowd the band played to on its tour was about 100 soldiers, and the largest was nearly 600.

The band’s half-hour sets included everything from “Mustang Sally” to the Beatles to George Strait to a few holiday tunes. But the song that received the strongest reaction from the military crowd was Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” according to a source who went along.

Many of the bases had their own sound equipment, Porter said, but the trip still involved schlepping a lot of gear from place to place. “We’re our own roadies,” he said.

McCotter said his fondest memory is of New Year’s Eve at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. After two sets, “the troops stood up and spontaneously shook our hands,” he said.

The codel also met with a MASH unit working in the devastation of the Pakistani earthquake and became the first congressional delegation to observe the Afghani Parliament.


Lobbyist-artist wins first local show of work

Lobbyist Dan Berger, the “K Street Picasso,” will display his paintings in his first-ever show, beginning later this month at Palette restaurant.

Berger, a longtime adviser to Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) and a lobbyist with America’s Community Bankers, has been painting in his spare time since the birth of his daughter, Shelby, in 2003.

Among the mostly abstract pieces are works entitled “Is Maureen Dowd Necessary?,” a play on Dowd’s recent book, Are Men Necessary?; “Michael Moore’s Soul”; “An Ode to Austin Powers”; and “A Politician’s Nightmare.”

“I paint what I’m feeling at the moment,” Berger said. “When I did the ‘Is Maureen Dowd Necessary?’ painting, I had just finished listening to her pontificate about someone in her usual combative, yet sharp, style. So I created a piece that, to me, reflects her persona: sharp, unstructured and angry. But my daughter Shelby is my muse, so I prefer colorful, textured and happier works of art.”

Palette, in the Madison Hotel, displays the work of local artists on a seasonally rotating basis. Berger will host an opening reception for his show at the restaurant on Jan. 30. The show runs through April.

Berger said he’ll donate most of the pieces to a silent auction benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

Berger isn’t the first K Streeter to put his canvasses up in a downtown restaurant. Gerald McPhee, a lobbyist for Occidental Petroleum, showed several of his own paintings last year in the bar area at Restaurant Kolumbia on K Street.


Rep. Jackson may be called in trial of Moore’s son

The son of Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) is among five men on trial this week in Milwaukee for the election-night slashing of Republican tires. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney are on the witness list, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Moore’s son Sowande Omokunde; Michael Pratt, the son of former acting Mayor Marvin Pratt; and three other defendants are charged with criminal damage in the destruction of tires on vans outside a GOP office on election night. The vans were going to be used to transport voters and poll watchers to polling places.

The Journal Sentinel reports that no witness can place the men at the scene. They were allegedly heard, however, making statements in the weeks prior about “planning high jinks on GOP headquarters dubbed ‘Operation Elephant Takeover’” and boasting that night about what they had done.

A spokesman for Jackson said he has not received a subpoena to testify, and further, “while he was in Milwaukee on Election Day, he has no knowledge of any such incident occurring.”

Moore’s office did not return a call asking what her role would be.


Smith tapes segment for Oprah

Not many Americans could get a member of Congress to cut short a codel to Africa. President Bush and Oprah Winfrey are two of them.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) returned to Washington from Africa yesterday — three days early — to attend the White House signing of his Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Then, with a production crew from “Oprah” in tow, he made his way back to the Hill to tape a segment for an upcoming show about his bill and how he worked with Oprah to get it passed.

In a show earlier this year, Oprah investigated trafficking and discussed the importance of Smith’s bill, which directs the executive branch regarding the prevention and human trafficking and prosecuting offenders.

She encouraged her viewers to write their members of Congress regarding the legislation. She also wrote her own letters to members. Smith believes her effort gave the bill a “kick start,” said his spokesman, Brad Dayspring.


Shivering beyond BlackBerry range

It’s not “March of the Penguins,” but it’s close.

As part of a junket involving little luxury, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.) have been in Antarctica this week to meet climate researchers from the University of Maine.

On the itinerary: a visit to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station; a helicopter tour of the Dry Valleys, Lake Hoare and the Antarctic ice edge; and other scientific outposts.

In New Zealand, they were scheduled to view Canterbury Plains, Rakaia Gorge and numerous glaciers from the air.

Some staffers made the trip, but aides left behind cannot contact their bosses.

“We have not had contact with them because there is no communication there — cell phones, BlackBerrys” said Collins spok-esman Kevin Kelly.


Then and now: Abramoff and Court TV

Jack Abramoff’s connection to Court TV is simple: He’s a news story, thanks to his myriad legal woes.

But in the late ’90s, the down-and-out operative had a different association with the cable network: In a cruel twist of irony, he was its lobbyist. Abramoff took in $340,000 from Court TV during 1998 and 1999, according to lobbying disclosure forms on file with the Senate.

Later, Abramoff took on Primedia as a client, after the media conglomerate hired Court TV head honcho Steven Brill to an executive position.

Court TV did not return phone calls.