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Category: politics (Page 1 of 26)

Lennon's bloody glasses

what would john lennon think?

Thirty six years ago today, John Lennon became, as Jimmy Breslin wrote on deadline for theĀ New York Post, “another person who died after being shot with a gun on the streets of New York.”

And I wonder: what would John Lennon think about the recent turn of political events here in the United States? Certainly he would think of Trump as a charlatan, a fraud, a madman bent on marginalizing and trouncing his enemies, all while distorting (or flat-out ignoring) the facts to his own benefit.

So while I want to believe the optimism of “Give Peace a Chance,” “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” or “Imagine,” I think that one of John’s more venomous songs, “Gimme Some Truth,” is the right choice for this time. It was written during the throes of Nixon, Whitehouse, Vietnam, and the Cold War, and has one simple demand: the truth.

As is customary, Yoko Ono tries to turn the anniversary of her loved one’s murder into a call for peace – in this case, for better gun control.

R.I.P. John Lennon (1940-1980)

getting locally (and not-so-locally) political: nov 2014 elections

As I did before the April 1 primary, I’m delving into local political endorsements. For my #projectfemur, cycling, skiing, coffeeneuring, and random post fans, I’ll post something a bit more to your liking later this week.

To carry on with the political stuff, go below the fold…

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getting locally political

I was once a more active political creature in DC. These days, I pick my battles a bit more judiciously, preferring to expend my energy toward things that keep me interested, where the frustrations can lead to progress.

But this current Democratic primary season (yes, I’m a Democrat, though one who’s seldom in lock-step with the local or national party systems), I’ve heard a lot of people try and bend ears with their endorsements. And now, it’s my time to do the same.

(For those looking for #projectfemur updates, more are forthcoming.)

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my 30s: a look back

I turn 40 today. Frankly, it’s not a birthday that’s weighing on me like my 30th did – it’s just another day to me, this time around.

But a lot has happened to me over the past decade, and since I’m feeling a bit put out by other things in life right now, I figured it would be worth a trip back through time to see where I’ve been and what I’ve done, just as a reminder.

  • Settled into DC (2003)
  • Settled into Georgetown U. (2003)
  • Helped two presidential campaigns (2003-04)
  • Run for political office – and won (2004)
  • Traveled to England and Wales (2005)
  • Traveled to Austria and Germany with my mom (2007)
  • Rode up Mount Shasta (2008)
  • Ski trips to Colorado (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
  • Cut off my long hair (2008)
  • Traveled to France (2008)
  • Rode from Boston to Windsor for a beer (2009)
  • Testified in front of City Council (2009, 2011)
  • Traveled to Iceland (2011)
  • Chaired my favorite bike club, Potomac Pedalers (2011)
  • Traveled to Louisiana (2012)
  • Groomsman in two weddings (2005, 2013)
  • Many concerts: Simon & Garfunkel, U2, Thomas Dolby, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Paul Simon (solo), Pink Martini, The Beach Boys, Retro Stefson, Erin McKeown, Nellie McKay, Sloan, The Pipettes, Polyphonic Spree, Elvis Costello, and many, many more
  • Seeing awesome plays written by my friend, Michael
  • Excellent beers, including the rebirth of brewing in DC
  • Birthdays, holidays, picnics, and other random occasions hanging out with friends

So a lot of things – a lot of great things – have happened over the past decade. Yes, there have been setbacks and sadness, but the good has outweighed the bad, all in all.

choices & the fiscal cliff

I’m totally baffled by the tempest in a teapot that’s being stirred up by the media over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Fueled mostly by conservative pundits and Tea Party sycophants, and aided by a complacent media, it seems that the average U.S. taxpayer should be in a state of panic.

The thing is: yes, taxes could go up and paychecks could end up smaller. But making smart and simple choices in life can make it all academic, in the end.

Really – it’s simply a matter of choices.

If no agreement can be reached before January 1, 2013, many taxes will roll back to the levels they were at under President Clinton. These rates are lower than they were under Reagan or Bush for a majority of taxpayers.

For example, a person earning $62,000 per year would see their income taxes increase approximately $1,900 in 2013 – an average of $36.56 per week. That’s not a ton of money, by-the-by, if you look at it, and it’s easy to save this amount by making discretionary – i.e. not necessary of basic, day-to-day existence – spending choices.

A big choice that many people make each working day is to buy a coffee or related beverage at Starbucks or a similar purveyor of high-end coffee drinks. Your average latte costs between $4 and $5. If this expense is completely skipped for a work week, that’s $20-25 saved. If you also get a donut, scone, or breakfast sandwich with this – let’s say it’s another $2-4 for this – that’s another $10 to $20 saved per week, and the $36.56 weekly tax expense is covered.

Even if you cut back one, two, or three of these discretionary beverages, that’s money saved and tax “hit” blunted. And, frankly speaking, with a little practice it’s possible to make a top-notch espresso, latte, or cup of coffee at home for a fraction of the cost of the coffee house.

The same rule applies for buying lunch from a local deli, bodega, restaurant or food truck: save $10 per lunch, and it adds up.

Post-work drinks? Buy a six-pack or bottle of wine and enjoy it at home, and invite your friends over. Remember: each single bottle of beer or glass of wine at a restaurant or bar typically covers the price of the entire six-pack (beer) or bottle (wine).

Yes, this can affect others in this supply chain system – namely the baristas, wait staff, bartenders, and shop owners. So combine bits and pieces: give up a coffee here, a beer there, lunch from the food truck elsewhere. Don’t completely abandon your local haunts – just cut back a little. They’ll understand. If you keep track of the money, the savings will add up.

And then there’s the discretionary expense that riles me more than most things: cable TV.

I understand: there is some great writing on cable TV. Some of the shows are really awesome.

But most cable packages have you paying for a lot of channels you’ll never watch, as well as channels that you can pick up for free with a simple antenna, over the air.

Yup: there is still such a thing as free TV, people! And most of it is full, 1080p or 1080i high definition!

For free! Over the air!

Do I practice what I preach? Yes, though I could do better. I brew my own coffee, both at home and at the office, though I do enjoy an occasional flat white from Filter, or a gingerbread latte from Starbucks. I eat out for lunch more than I should, though I try to stick to cheap, healthy stuff (no food trucks regularly serve my office’s neighborhood, anyway). I’ve never subscribed to cable. I do subscribe to Netflix.

I save additional money by riding my bike to work, something I’d do even if I lived further away from my workplace than I do now. That’s let money spent on gas, parking, and other car-related things.

These are all choices I make. I do them to save money and simplify things.

And with the looming “fiscal cliff,” I’m prepared.

Life is a series of choices, some of which are harder to make than others. Some of the choices I’ve made would be very tough for others to do for themselves, and that’s OK.

But challenges, like a tax increase, require an ability to think creatively and, occasionally, make choices that feel like sacrifices. But part of being a responsible adult is making the tough choices that aren’t necessarily the easiest or more pain-free – sometimes, choices will seemingly hurt.

But saving money here and there means that, down the road, there will be funds to spend on other things, whether practical (e.g. a new house or car) or fun (a vacation or concert). It also means having a rainy day fund in case of emergencies – not a bad thing to have.

Now this could all be an academic discussion if the various areas of the U.S. government can come to an agreement on avoiding this “cliff.” But so long as the Tea Party remains as inflexible as C. Montgomery Burns, and as long as Democrats remain similarly inflexible, it’s best to be prepared to make choices.

vote yes on no! (election 2012 live[ish]blog)

7:35pm

Polls are closed in Virginia. Results from there are… forming.

But I vote in DC. I arrived at my polling place at 7:02am ad found a queue of over 100 people waiting to cast ballots.

And by 7:30am, I was done and out. Many ovals were filled with the standard golf pencil: Obama/Biden, Grosso, Beatty (simply because a moderate Republican would provide a needed check in the otherwise mono block DC Council), Strachuzzi (because we need new approaches within Congress), Mendelson, et al. I voted for the weak-sauce ethics reform measures because they are, at the very least, a step toward meaningful ethics reform in the DC government.

My reward? A flat white from Filter – yum!

I worked all day at the office.

Now I head to watch the returns with friends dating back to the days of Howard Dean. I’ll keep you posted by updating this post.

8:12

At Tunnicliff’s, drinking a lager. Talking heads on TV are vamping because there isn’t anything to report. Whee. Drink.

10:25pm

Trusty’s has been good. Once the trivia game broke up, it got quiet. Watching results pour in with relative peace. Nice to see Warren, Baldwin, McCaskill, Sharrod Brown win. Interesting to see the national popular vote juxtaposed with the Electoral College.

12:35am

At the White House – four more years!!!

random thursday rant

A few random thoughts about recent happenings in DC:

I’m dismayed that the DC Council’s monthly breakfasts tend to be lavish affairs, especially when the Council is dealing with high levels of unemployment, corruption, and whatnot. Yesterday’s breakfast had a rather flashy spread, complete with individual glass bottles of Voss sparkling mineral water. This water isn’t cheap, and it’s very sad to see such wasteful spending, especially when DC Water is promoting reusable bottles filled with DC’s perfectly drinkable tap water.

So I ask: as the monthly breakfast duty rotates amongst Council members, who went to these wasteful lengths? Hey, DC press (I’m looking at you, DeBonis, Sherwood and Suderman): let’s not allow this to simply pass us by.

(As an aside, this kind of over-the-top, lavish catering reminds me of my time on the DC Democratic State Committee, when the committee was planning its trip to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. One of the DCDSC’s national committee liaisons spoke of “wonderful, catered breakfasts with crispy bacon, eggs, all the trimmings,” and the need for an exorbitant budget to pay for all of this opulence – for a group that didn’t really have a purpose for being at the convention, other than to cast a ceremonial nominating vote. Otherwise, the Democratic National Convention is all about networking and trying to land a political appointment – whatever. And these funds were raised through less-than-legal means, in the end – DeBonis’ write-up is a good place to start on said research. Needless to say, I was very happy not to run for reelection to such a corrupt – and, in the end, pointless – organization.)

———

Word is the Lincoln Theatre on U Street is running out of funds, and needs a quick injection of $500,000 (give or take) to continue operation. This historic building is owned and operated by the District, and I’ve seldom seen it actually host events. From what I can tell, this so-called “hybrid community-commercial venue” is mis-managed, in part by its non-communicative board of directors (who apparently haven’t directly asked the Mayor for assistance, or even a meeting to talk), and in part by its insistance on hosting “multi-cultural experiences and programming.”

Here’s the problem with the latter portion: this charter is essentially code for preserving a culture that has long since left the U Street corridor. Yes, it was the “Black Broadway of DC” in its heyday, a magnet for performers like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway. And the majority of programs booked in the Lincoln try to preserve the historic African-American heritage of the U Street corridor, or play to international arts events.

But over the past 15 years, U Street has changed. It is no longer a neighborhood dominated by one culture, but a melting pot of urban renewal. The old guard establishments, like Ben’s Chili Bowl and Bohemian Caverns, has been joined by thriving new ventures, like Marvin, Nellie’s, Busboys and Poets, and numerous other restaurants, bars and shops. International music and theatre is embraced by performance venues like GWU’s Lisner Auditorum, Warner Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s two indoor performance space, as well as other venues in the greater DC area. As people are priced out of the U Street housing market, they often take the culture with them to their new neighborhoods.

A quick study of how many nights the Lincoln is booked for events shows it booked an average of 30-36 days per year – less than ten percent of the time. For any performance venue, this is not an admirable record. And the few times the Lincoln hosted events that were a bit outside of their typical bookings – a LGBT film festval and fringe theatre events, to name but two – there were many obstacles that stood in the way of any perception of success. These obstacles included veiled prejudice with regard to the LGBT festival and mainstream music bookings, as well as negative neighborhood perception on the part of fringe theatre. And those who have worked at the Lincoln have few positive things to say about the management and staff at the facility, ranging from cries of indifference to non-timeliness of essential technical staff.

To put it bluntly: the place is mismanaged on many levels, to its detriment. And DC is now in the midst of renovating the old Howard Theatre, likely embarking on the same path to disrepair.

The solution? The DC government should convert the Lincoln into a stand-alone, non-profit entity. It needs to be weaned from the teat of the DC taxpayers and find its own feet. Such a quality venue, with lovely architecture and a size that’s bigger than many clubs and fringe theatres, yet smaller than places like National Theatre, would be best managed by a firm like IMP (which already does occasional bookings for the facility) or a local guild of theatre companies. This facility needs to be booked more than 65 percent of the year to be relevant or solvent, and it needs management that actually is in tune with the people who now frequent the U Street corridor.

I’m not advocating complete abandonment of the mission of preserving the history of U Street. I’m simply encouraging the Lincoln to embrace the changes, as well: to offer all of Heinz’ 57 varieties of wares, not just things that no longer resonate with the locals.

As far is the Howard is concerned: partner with Howard University and a firm like IMP now, get a game plan in place that is forward thinking in terms of the needs of the city and neighborhood, and don’t step on the toes of your U Street neighbor to the west.

———

The DC government also announced that, unless a little over $300,000 can be found in the budget, it will shutter MLK Library on Sundays, thus closing the only DCPL location that operates on said day. While I grew up in a city where the public library was never, ever open on a Sunday, MLK is a vital “third space” for the DC community.

So where can $300,000 be found? Well, Councilman Harry “Tommy” Thomas, Jr., wrongly spent approximately $300,000 of city funds on his own, non-constituent expenses. He has promised to pay them back, so why not have him pay them directly to DCPL to keep MLK open? Seems like common sense, and makes lemonade out of lemons.

(And naturally, since this makes sense, the DC Council won’t do it.)

———

And finally: I’d really like to see Tommy Wells get more aggressive within the Council. Sure, the rest of the Council let you down, and in a perfect world it would be wise to sit back and let wounds heal.

But if the culture of corruption and ineptitude that has been the hallmark of the current Mayor and Council is any indication, now is not the time to be quiet, Tommy. Get angry! Get aggressive! Carry that big stick and use it. Your constituents didn’t vote you in to be a soft voice, but to call out the bullshit when you saw it. So….

Just do it!

Hold your colleagues accountable! Point out when things don’t make any sense! Be a champion for sanity in government! Take on the mantel of moving the city into the future, while many of your colleagues want to drag it back into the past!

Seriously, Tommy, you’re one of the few – if not the only – Council member with whom I don’t really have a beef (the same definitely can’t be said of my Ward’s Councilman, Jack Evans). You’ve had plenty of time to lick your wounds and brush off the dirt from being smacked down – now is the time to get back to fighting!

Ahem….

ten on tuesday: headlines from the year you were born

I’m not a regular player in the “Ten on Tuesday” game, but this week’s topic is a good one. So, just like Sarah, I plundered the Internet to find some tidbits of intrigue from my birth year. And, just like Sarah said, I don’t remember any of these things actually happening, though many of them affected me and helped form the person I am.

1. Pink Floyd releases The Dark Side of the Moon. (March 1)

One of my favorite albums of all time, really turned me on to both prog rock as a teen and the lyrics (written by Roger Waters when he was 29) are wise beyond their years. I can’t wait for the immersion version box set of this album to come out later this month, because it should sound lovely and provide a ton of excellent live tracks and outtakes.

2. Supreme Court rules on Roe v. Wade. (January 22)

I’m a firm believer in the rights of women to have the final say on all of their healthcare choices. As a man, I have no right to tell a woman what she can or can’t do with her own body. Abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

3. President Nixon suspends all U.S. military operations in Vietnam. (January 15)

This senseless war had deep impact on my teenage years, as the baby boomers started to make sense of its aftermath via movies. And the anti-war protest songs make up a great deal of my favorite songs of all time. Less than a month after Nixon ended operations, the first POWs were released.

4. The World Trade Center opens in New York City. (April 4)

We all know the fate of these twin towers. But on this day, they were a symbol of new optimism in a world that was just getting its global trade system back in order after World Ward II. (Note: just one month later, the Sears Tower opened in Chicago, beating the WTC for right to “world’s tallest building.”)

5. Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees becomes the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball. (April 6)

Worst. rule. change. ever. Thanks for nothing, George Steinbrenner. The DH was brought about as a way to try and drum up fan support for MLB. Unfortunately, it ended up contributing to pitchers who are as wide as they are tall, with precious few skills other than throwing a ball. Thank goodness the National League hasn’t fallen for the DH (save for spring training and inter-league play at AL ballparks).

6. Skylab is launched. (May 14)

As a kid (and heck, even now) I was a huge fan of outer space, NASA, astronauts and everything associated with them. Skylab paved the way for the Space Shuttle and in the International Space Station – not a bad track record for a flawed space station. The Skylab exhibit at National Air and Space Museum is one of my favorites.

7. Secretariat wins the Triple Crown. (June 9)

The horse that many consider the greatest of all time won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes in 1973. Sure, I’m not a big fan of horse racing, but it’s still quite the achievement for a young horse.

8. Gen. Augusto Pinochet leads successful U.S.-backed military coup in Chile. (September 11)

Proof positive that, throughout the years, the United States isn’t always on the “right side” of history.

9. Nixon orders the “Saturday Night Massacre.” (October 20)

Sure, there were plenty of Watergate moments I could have chosen in 1973. But this one is the first one that raised calls for Nixon’s impeachment. I mean, on November 17 he famously proclaimed, “I am not a crook!”

10. The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from DSM-II. (December 15)

One of the landmark decisions in the ongoing quest for recognition of and equality for the LGBT population of the United States – and an appropriate ending to this list, given today is the day that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” finally became history.

another angle on the tommy wells demotion

A quick thought about the whole, ill-advised shakeup within the DC Council that found Tommy Wells suddenly on the outs with Chairman Kwame Brown:

Wells, in his role as Chair of the Transportation Committee on the Council, worked hard to improve transit infrastructure throughout DC. In particular, he worked had via his (now former) position on the board of WMATA to expand Metro commuter services to Wards 7 and 8 on the east side of the Anacostia River.

In other words: he was working to improve the overall livability of these Wards, which often complain of being Balkanized and held in lower esteem by the rest of the city and city government.

And this, to a politician from one of said Wards, is electoral kryptonite.

Why?

Because the politicians who are successful in these Wards – from CMs Alexander (Ward 7) and Barry (Ward 8), to Chairman Brown and, to an extent, Mayor Gray – rose to success by leveraging their Wards’ second-class status. Their continued electoral success hinges on the status quo remaining just that.

And what does Wells do? He looks to change the playing field by improving Metro and DDOT services in these Wards. And while this is a popular move amongst many in said Wards (and likely amongst a majority in the Wards west of the Anacostia River, where improved transit and transportation infrastructure has made these areas desirable places to live and work), it’s seen as an affront to the old-guard political machines of Wards 7 and 8, as well as the old-guard relics who dominate the DC Democratic State Committee.

So, aside from the fact that Wells blew open the SUV buying scandal with Chairman Brown (which eventually steamrolled into a full-tilt federal investigation into campaign finance irregularities with Brown’s recent elections for At-Large Council and Council Chairman), he also was working to destroy the political backbone that brought Kwame Brown, Yvette Alexander, Marion Barry and other Ward 7 and 8 politicians into power.

So what does a threatened animal do? In this case, Brown fought back, but in a way that is the embodiment of petulant playground politics. In the role of school bully, he took Wells’ “toys” (i.e. the Transportation committee and WMATA board position) when Wells threatened to undermine part of the bully’s turf.

Frankly, I hope that this serves as a wake-up call to a new political guard in Wards 7 and 8: a group of open-minded, progressive leaders who truly embrace bringing the east side of the Anacostia out of its Balkanized past and present, instead looking toward a future where there one city isn’t just a political catchphrase, but a comfortable and accepted reality.

(In particular, I’m looking at you, Veronica, to lead in Ward 7!)

I tip my hat to Tommy Wells for keeping his commentary almost exclusively constructive and positive. Having just heard him on Kojo’s show, he was the epitome of class, accepting his new committee chairmanship (of the Libraries, Parks and Recreation, as well as Planning), and reaffirming his “loyalty… to the residents of the District.”

We haven’t heard the last of this – not by a longshot.

things i used to love

A post on NPR’s All Songs Considered blog has me thinking about things I used to love (or, at the very least, like) but don’t anymore. The NPR post speaks specifically of bands, and I’ll start with that.

U2. This is a tough one for me, because I really like U2’s music. But I have a tough time getting too excited about their latest releases. I guess that No Line On The Horizon just left me… wanting. Wanting the band to be less ponderous, sounding more fresh. They always release a single that suggests a turn toward something new and different (e.g. “Vertigo” or “Put On Your Boots”), but the rest of the album sounds like the same-‘ol, post Achtung Baby U2. They’ve done well by this formula – I really like All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb – but they seem to be coasting along these days. And the new songs I’ve heard from their current tour don’t suggest anything new coming along anytime soon.

But the real point of my bringing up this post is to discuss something else where my support used to be somewhat strong, but has since waned:

Instant-Runoff Voting. I once was a believer in IRV. I even thought that it had a place within a PAC I helped form here in DC, to be used for endorsement of candidates – though even then, I was a bit skeptical about its merit. My biggest problem with IRV is the false sense of support it can create for the victor. I think that IRV (in a modified form, but still IRV) was suggested for the PAC because, under more traditional voting systems, the group seldom came to enough consensus to endorse candidates and initiatives in local politics. So IRV was a means to bring about endorsement more-or-less for the sake of endorsement, even if the bulk of the membership was divided.

Since IRV became the law of the PAC, endorsements have been handed out in many races. But these endorsements are often hollow. The IRV system can be played via political gamesmanship (e.g. not ranking all candidates, instead ranking just one and selecting “no endorsement” as the other option – a valid tactic, but one that can force a particular outcome). When the system is played, the outcome is seldom one of consensus; rather, it’s one the divides membership, dilutes support for the endorsed candidate, and makes the PAC and the endorsed look weak.

This folly was brought to the fore in my mind today by a post at Greater Greater Washington that suggested that IRV could be a solution to the quandary posed by the upcoming special (and open) election to fill the At-Large Council seat vacated by Kwame Brown. An IRV poll was part of the post, and wouldn’t you know it: supporters of two leading candidates embarked in the same political gamesmanship that makes IRV farcical in endorsement processes. Any “victory” in this flawed poll (it also allowed unlimited casting of votes by individuals, which is a flaw in the polling software used) is a hollow as an IRV victory would be in a real-world election.

Are current election models perfect? No. But IRV is not a great solution, either, and has the likelihood to produce hollow victories for candidates who will enjoy little real-world support.

So IRV, it was an interesting relationship, but I think that the promise of instant results and guaranteed compromise outcomes doesn’t really work in most real-world situations.

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