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Category: politics (Page 2 of 26)

why dc doesn’t need udc

On today’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, Tom Sherwood called the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) a “backwater school.” This didn’t go over well with some of DC’s old guard politicos. One of them, Eugene Kinlow, demanded (via Twitter) that Sherwood apologize and then said the following:

“Educating people who might be the first in their families to attend college, creating a college based on open access and lifelong learning, a highly regarded low cost law school and creating a community college is taking up the rear? Typical DC Elitist!”

But Tom Sherwood is right: UDC is an institution that has no clear purpose and should be re-evaluated as to its mission and goals.

UDC has three core elements: a traditional four-year undergraduate school, a law school, and a two-year community college. All of these schools are available at low cost to DC residents, which appears to be a benefit to those most in need of financial assistance. They also give a very “state-like” look-and-feel to the District, which longs to be more than “the last colony” in the United States.

Yet to my eye, of all these schools only one should continue: the community college.

Why? Let me explain:

First things first: college education is not a right. Access to the education is a right, but receiving a college education isn’t. College – and in this case I mean an accredited, four-year degree-granting institution – shouldn’t be a given simply because a student has met the minimum requirements of graduation from high school. The sense that college is a right is a byproduct of the so-called “generation of entitlement” – the same movement that always asks “what about me?,” creates grade inflation throughout the educational system, and causes folks to look down on available, if not exciting, jobs because they are “below my station.”

But college is never a given, and not everybody should go into a four-year college – or even any college – if college won’t help them or is too academically challenging.

But for those who are college material, DC isn’t hurting for opportunity, nor are DC residents without affordable options without counting UDC as one of said options.

The District is home to many well-regarded and accredited undergratuate institutions. Within DC’s boundaries, Georgetown University, The George Washington University, American University, Howard University, Catholic University and Trinity University all offer Bachelor’s degrees that are held in high regard. Spread your reach a bit outside of DC and Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore), University of Maryland (College Park), George Mason University (Fairfax), The United States Naval Academy (Annapolis), and Marymount University (Arlington) all provide well-regarded undergraduate education with full accreditation of their programs.

The same can’t be said for UDC. While certain programs receive accreditation, the whole school has had a tenuous relationship with such status over its history. And like much of the District’s public education system, a lot of money is poured into UDC without much in the way of positive results.

As for UDC’s law school, while I admire its affordability, law school degrees often carry more weight and perceived legitimacy depending on the reputation of the school. And in a town where Georgetown, GWU and American University all feature highly-respected law programs, UDC’s program pales by comparison in terms of reputation.

Why talk of reputation? Because in the real, cutthroat world of business, reputation matters. And in DC and the surrounding area, where connections are the secret gold, attending a school with a top-notch reputation makes a big difference. School with good reputations have alumni networks that open doors. Yes, it’s unfair, but it’s a real-world concern in many fields.*

And when it comes to both four-year undergraduate education and law school, UDC’s reputation is anything but stellar. As mentioned earlier, the undergraduate program dodges the accreditation bullet time and again, which hurts the school’s reputation both within the DC area and, especially, in the national and international realm. And the law school, while a bargain and somewhat well regarded in certain legal circles, still doesn’t have the reputation – and thus the connection possibilities – of its fellow DC-area schools, not to mention law schools across the U.S.

But UDC’s supporters continue to beat the drum of affordability, which is a legitimate concern in a city where many college-eligible students are discouraged by soaring tuition and fees.

A fact that a lot of UDC’s boosters fail to mention is that DC residents, with few exceptions, qualify for in-state tuition reciprocity at four-year state colleges and universities throughout the United States. So if affordability is bandied about as an barrier to access, it shouldn’t be: the University of Maryland is one of these reciprocity-granting schools, and it is on Metrorail’s green line, which is about as accessible as can be. And getting in-state tuition at heavy-hitting schools like the University of Illinois, Penn State, University of Massachusetts, Arizona State University and the like is nothing to scoff at!

Furthermore, financial assistance – in the form of scholarships, grants, fellowships, student loans and the like – is available to almost all college students, especially those with the greatest financial burden. Some schools are even “need-blind” in terms of admissions: if accepted to one of these schools, the school will fund the tuition that the student’s family can’t afford without question.

So if DC student does well in high school, earning good grades in tough courses, opportunity is there, even without UDC entering the picture.

And what of UDC’s mission, then? What of the students, as Kinlow mentions, who may be the first in their family to attend college? Or of the students who otherwise couldn’t get access to college because of academic disadvantage?

This is where UDC does have a single, important mission: creating and running an excellent community college. Community colleges are an essential stepping stone for entry into competitive four-year colleges and universities for students who may not have excelled in high school, those who dropped out and then received a GED, or those who aren’t yet ready to commit to the challenge of a four-year program. Community colleges focus on core curricula, and receiving and Associate’s degree (especially one with excellent grades) from an accredited community college usually leads directly to enrollment and, eventually, completion of a four-year program. Most often, the core curriculum represented by the Associate’s degree counts toward the first two years of core curriculum work at four-year institutions. Furthermore, most of the top-tier four-year institutions (including heavyweights like Williams and Amherst Colleges, perennial top-10 schools in the US News rankings) primarily accept transfers from community colleges.

If UDC were to be reorganized into a leading two-year community college, helping elevate students into four-year degree programs, providing vocational education for those who need a leg up to get into certain fields, and offering DC’s students the chance to become competitive in the world of higher education, they would realize this core part of their mission in ways more far-reaching than now:

“[to] prepare students for immediate entry into the workforce, the next level of education, specialized employment opportunities and life-long learning.

A District of Columbia Community College that is truly a leader in two-year colleges would serve as an ideal model for other cities: providing its students the tools and knowledge to excel throughout life, whether its looking toward a more advanced level of education or simply building a solid academic base upon which to build a better life. Having a highly-regarded, solidly accredited two-year college trumps the current, under-performing reality that is today’s UDC.

So jettison the four-year undergraduate program and reconsider the law school, instead focusing DC’s tax dollars on a top-notch community college. That is the gateway to opportunity for the people of DC. And for DC residents who want a four-year education off the bat: take advantage of the financial resources available, throw yourself into the application, reach for the stars.

But if the current UDC model is perpetuated, the District’s land-grant university will remain, as Sherwood suggests, at the bottom of a very deep stack of institutions of higher education. It’s not typical DC elitism, Eugene – it’s the hard truth.

* – I attended a school – Connecticut College – that is very often confused with a larger state university that is well known for its championship basketball teams, and while many people recognize the quality of the college I attended, just as many disregard it when they learn that it isn’t the more widely known state school. Reputation does count, and it can open doors on its own, unfair as that may seem. The real world isn’t always fair.

can we just send the committee of 100 out to sea?

Seriously, that the Committee of 100 has influence on DC politics is frightening. They wield power over old-school DC politicians in a way that drags the District and its citizens down by the balls, advocating governmental moves that would hurt the city and its potential for future growth and livability.

Here’s how they describe themselves:

“The Committee of 100 advocates responsible planning and land use in Washington, D.C. Our work is guided by the values inherited from the L’Enfant Plan and McMillan Commission, which give Washington its historic distinction and natural beauty, while responding to the special challenges of 21st century development. We pursue these goals through public education, research and civic action, and we celebrate the city’s unique role as both the home of the District’s citizens and the capital of our nation.”

The thing is, both the L’Enfant Plan and McMillan Commission failed to predict how DC would develop in the post-WWII era – in other words, they’re still married to the “car is king, damn the cyclists and pedestrians” and “big box stores and strip malls are the best thing for retail” schools of thought.

And just yesterday, they asked Vince Gray, the Mayor-Elect of DC, to fire Gabe Klein and Harriet Tregoning, two of the best assets from the outgoing administration of Adrian Fenty. They argue that moves made by Klein and Tregoning were made unilaterally, without community input and without a vision for sustainability.

While I appreciate their right to express an opinion on these matters, they are wrong and what they suggest would not benefit the District or its citizens.

In particular, they single out Klein’s multi-modal approach toward running the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Klein is the first DDOT head to think beyond the single-occupant car, and he has made the District a safer place for those who use mass transit, bicycles and their feet to get around their neighborhoods and the city. In a world where petroleum prices continue to rise (and one where the supply of crude oil is declining at an ever increasing rate), Klein’s philosophy is somewhat self-sustaining: safe and reliable mass transit, protected bike lanes and safe parking for bicycles, and well-paved and properly-lit sidewalks and multi-use paths allow the citizens of the District to minimize their use of private automobiles for day-to-day transportation. Sure, there are parts of the city where the idea hasn’t quite caught on, but cultural change takes time.

But the Committee of 100 thinks that such change is irrelevant, even dangerous. They seem to move forward by looking squarely in a rear-view mirror. And what else would you expect from an organization whose membership is comprised entirely of old-time DC political cronies who relish having one of their own taking over as Mayor? Give a little bit of relevance, a little bit of power, and watch DC’s government become increasingly out-of-touch with reality.

So, in trying to be honest about their goals, their mission should read:

“The Committee of 100 advocates reactionary and irrelevant land misuse in Washington, D.C. Our work is guided by outdated values inherited from the L’Enfant Plan, McMillan Commission and the 1980s, and seeks to keep Washington mired in 20th century design philosophies, while responding to outcries from citizens who still think that Marion Barry was the best Mayor the District has ever had. We pursue these goals through public misinformation, rhetoric and public shouting matches, and we celebrate the city’s unique ability to be both the dysfunctional home of the District’s citizens and the crumbling capital of our nation.”

Frankly, the best place for the Committee of 100 is on a barge, floating somewhere in the Atlantic where they can’t insert spanners in the gears of progress.

And if you’re reading this, Mr. Gray, I hope that you have a fair enough mind to ignore the Committee of 100’s suggestions about Klein and Tregoning. If we lose their intelligence and vision, the future of DC, both short-term and long, is far, far less bright.


That’s what was yelled at me as I sat at a traffic light near Union Station last Friday.

I’d just dropped off sprite an an hour too early for either of us. Our car bears only one bumper sticker: a circa 2004 “Dean for America” badge.

And one recently-arrived member of Glenn Beck’s idiot zombie army noticed the sticker and yelled the first thing that came to mind.


Amazingly coherent at the time, I turned to this guy and replied in kind:

“…and proud of it!”

This caused the idiot zombie to recoil for a few seconds, the pepper me with accusations that:

1. I must not understand the U.S. Constitution; and

2. I must not value freedom or being taxed without representation.

I addressed these in reverse order. Firstly, I asked him if he knew the full context of the Boston Tea Party, and whether he grasped that I, as a DC resident, was truly taxed without representation.

Again, he recoiled.

And then I told him that I respect his Constitutional right to express his beliefs and assemble peacefully with like-minded individuals. I also mentioned that he should respect my right to disagree.

(Did I mention that this was an 80-second light?)

And again, the idiot zombie recoiled in anger.

I then added, as the light was only seconds from turning green:

“Welcome to the District of Columbia. Enjoy our city, and please leave your money here.”

The final response?


getting diabolical (and other thoughts)

Must be the heart of cycling season, because the insanity is stepping up a notch.

This weekend I’m taking on the “Diabolical Double” at the Garrett County Gran Fondo. It’s a tough course: 125 miles with almost 16,000 feet of climbing, most of it in short burts of 12-16% grade. It’s insane, and should be a great challenge.

– – – – –

This hot and sweltering weather is not a lot of fun for me, but I’m making do. Our garden is flourishing, and we’re trying a new crop this year: peanuts! We may have a crop come fall – yum!

– – – – –

The DC political season is in full swing, and a PAC that I helped found, DC for Democracy, just held its endorsement vote for various offices’ primary elections. The meeting to vote was orderly and had great discussion – totally impressive, and the results of the vote showed a measured and thought-filled process of voting. Kudos, DC4D, you’ve grown up nicely.

– – – – –

I’m loving the FIFA World Cup! The competition has been compelling and a lot of fun to watch. It’s great to see Team USA perform beyond expectations, and the same goes for Japan. Personally, I’m rooting for Germany, and have a soft spot for The Netherlands, my fatherland.

And how can you not like the drone of the vuvuzelas? My friend, David, isn’t fond of them (at least when it comes to his podcast, The FredCast), but I think he’s missing out on a goldmine. Listen to the possibility! (This is an AAC file that works in iTunes, FYI.)

austerity 101 for dc politicians and voters

Let’s make this really simple:

The District of Columbia is in a financial mess. We’re spending like mad, yet not bringing in enough revenue to pay for every commitment we have toward programs large and small. This situation stands to leave the District in a long-term financial hole unless something is done to make ends meet.

This is a matter of simple budgeting, from the simplest point of view: more money needs to come in, while less money needs to be spent (i.e. go out). It’s the same kind of budget balancing that most people do in their daily lives.

The problem lies in the fact that, when others’ money is involved, most people don’t see it as a big deal if programs bloat out of control while folks who can afford to pay more into the system continue to get a kid glove treatment. And these programs come in all shapes and sizes, from those that are smart long-term infrastructure investments to those that are tired systems that need to be retooled, rebooted or cut altogether.

Adding a further spanner to the works is that this is an election year for half of the DC Council, as well as the Mayor’s office. So there are certain issues that are political “third rails,” even if these things are necessary.

I’m glad that I’m not running for office, because this is what my budget would’ve proposed, in part:

  • Creation of new tax brackets for those earning $100,000 and up, with brackets lines at $250,000, $500,000, 750,000 and $1 million plus. Those brackets would pay higher taxes than now, thus bringing more funding into the government’s general fund. CM Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) proposed something akin to this, but was shot down.
  • A per-ounce tax on sodas (both sugar-sweetened and diet sodas, as neither formula has any nutritional benefit) that would fund higher quality school lunch programs that cook fresh, seasonally-appropriate food. CM Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) proposed this, and it is in the current budget proposal.
  • A 10¢ per bottle fee for all non-reusable plastic containers, whether for beverages, detergents, etc., that would be used for implementation of clean energy technologies throughout District infrastructure. This expands on a proposal that was bandied about by CM Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).
  • A complete overhaul of Department of Motor Vehicles and DDOT auto registration and parking fees. Double base registration fees, and calculate the base fee not only on gross vehicle weight but also EPA fuel economy, with small discounts for use of hybrid, electric and ULEV technologies. Increase annual residential parking pass fees to a minimum of $150 per year, and charge extra for parking permits for cars over 16 feet in length (e.g. $250 for many mid-size SUVs, $350 for full-size SUVs and trucks). Use these fees to fund the development of alternate transportation infrastructure, including bike lanes, bike racks, streetcars, Metrobus/Metrorail, and pedestrian-only zones in Downtown and other high-traffic zones.
  • Do a complete analysis of each DC government department’s staffing and infrastructure, cutting redundancies and shoring up shortcomings without any spending increase.

This list could go on and on, but the basic gist is this: when a city is in a financial mess, sacrifice and austerity are needed. More money needs to come into the city’s coffers, and less needs to be spent.

Politicians don’t particularly like the concept of asking sacrifice from voters. Sacrifice isn’t popular, and voters like to rally around the pet projects and services they support. Voters are swayed by emotion and direct impact on their lives, and when proposals to cut back or eliminate programs are made it’s seen as political suicide.

Yet in times of financial crisis, doing the right thing for the long-term success of a city trumps short-term placation of the electorate. Get the house in order first, invest in long-term infrastructure, share sacrifice and make sure that everybody in the city is involved.

These are the truly hard decisions. This is what separates future-looking, pragmatic leaders from those who would rather cash in short-term benefits at the expense of long-term stability and growth.

Why am I on this kick? Because there is a choice in the race for Mayor of the District of Columbia (which, in all fairness, will be determined in the Democratic primary in September). One candidate is an often-controversial, sometimes remote and aloof incumbent who has made some incredibly hard choices for the city to help improve its long-term prospects. The other is a more old-school DC politico who, while a popular consensus builder within the Council, is touting a platform that would largely reinstate the same old and tired brand of DC pseudo-populist politics that brought the city to its financial knees many times before.

And the latter introduced a budget before the Council this morning that sacrificed essential infrastructure improvements and needed tax bracket reform to try and win a few votes come September. It was a move that was calculated, and one that failed miserably in the public perception.

And it made cemented my decision on who to back for Mayor: Adrian Fenty.

leaving a better world for the future

Reading stories like this one about how a growing number of U.S. citizens question man’s role in global climate change has me worried about not only the future of the world, but also the level of intelligence and education amongst not only the doubters, but also the legislators who seem to be guided by short-sighted monetary concerns.

Global climate change is real. The scientific community, which used to be somewhat varied in their conclusions on man’s role in accelerating climate change, is now fairly unified in the conclusion that mankind’s largely unchecked desire for big industry and big money has resulted in massive shifts in the ecosystem. The level of pollutants and other substances being introduced into the ecosystem by man overwhelms the earth’s ability to react to these activities, and as such the global systemic balance has been tipped.

According to most scientists, we are at a crucial, final point where global climate change can be slowed down to more “natural” levels, so long as countries engage in serious systemic and behavioral changes. And many countries have started to change their ways and be more future-thinking.

Sadly, the United States has never been willing to be part of needed change, even though we are one of the greatest consumers of climate-negative goods and practices. Why has the U.S. been on the wrong side of this argument? Greed and misinformation, much of which has been perpetuated by non-stop fear mongering on the part of conservative politicians, big (polluting) industry, right-wing noise media, and disreputable scientists.

Americans, by and large, fear sacrifice and change. They may say that “change is good,” but when asked to truly change behaviors and routines, there’s often a sense of “it’s not my problem – let the other guys battle it out.” And the fear mongers lap this up, trying to debunk sound science via obfuscation and the threat that “all the jobs will go away,” or that “your taxes will go up,” or that “you won’t be able to afford the cheap crap you get at Walmart.”

The saddest part is that the supporters of these politicians and industries lap this all up and parrot these ideas AS LOUDLY AS POSSIBLE, as if volume levels were synonymous with truth. It’s a very sad state.

I’m most enraged with the politicians who buy this bunk. They could be leaders, they could think beyond their next electoral cycle and ask the question: are you making the world a better place for future generations? And I honestly believe that very few of these politicians ever ask that question of themselves, or that they truly care about their constituents beyond getting their votes the next time they’re up for election. My message to these politicians: grow a set, be willing to be leaders and vote for the future, not the present.

Yes, there will be sacrifice. Behavioral change isn’t easy, especially on a societal level. There are a lot of modern “conveniences” that are destructive, at least as they are practiced now. However, when asked to sacrifice in the past, the people of the United States have been able to adapt and, in the process, discover that the new ways of doing things are often better and, amazingly, more logical and convenient. It’s simply a matter of being creative, taking initiative, thinking about more than just personal preservation in the here-and-now, and realizing how finite everything really is in terms of the hunk of rock we all inhabit.

I try to do my best to ensure that I leave the world in better shape than it was when I was born. Bit by bit, I’m changing the way I interact with the world to try and minimize the negative effect a modern lifestyle has on the environment. If it means that I pay a bit more to buy food that is produced by more eco-friendly processes, I’m willing to do it (and I do). If it means that I need to pay more taxes to help subsidize the construction of more mass transit and railroads, or to fund the development of cleaner energy sources, I’m happy to do so. If it means that I take fewer long-distance flights, that’s fine. If it means adapting to the different quality of LED and CF lights, bring it on. And if it means not driving my own car for every errand, visit, business trip or vacation, that’s just fine by me.

And I know I’m not alone.

And I hope that President Obama takes charge at the Global Climate Conference. We are at the final bail-out point before climate change will accelerate beyond human control, and the United States has a chance to be a true world leader once more – and to show up the Congressional naysayers who should question why they dare call themselves “leaders.”

sick to my stomach

That a basic, seemingly inherent human and civil right – the right to equality under law – can be put up for a vote is abhorrent to me.

And that rights that have been granted by government can be taken away via referendum is doubly abhorrent.

The scary side of referenda reared its ugly head last year in California, with the passing of Proposition 8, overturning the right of same-sex couples to marry and be equal under the law and to the majority of society. Reactionist and fringe groups rallied support against equal rights, and stripped the rights of millions of Californians via a simple vote.

Human and civil rights, denied.

And it seems that the voters of Maine have done the same tonight, in the form of Proposition 1. Maine’s governor and legislature granted the right for all couples, regardless of gender, to have access to civil marriage. In the same measure, they also preserved religious freedom by not requiring churches to perform marriages that run counter to their tenets.

But on November 3, 2009, slightly over 23 29 percent of registered voters in Maine decided to strip the rights of their fellow citizens. They decided that discrimination is just fine, and that the United States Constitution is wrong, and that all men (and women) are not created equal.

It makes me angry that anybody would vote to deny rights to people simply because they don’t agree with genetics. That anybody would be so twisted with hate, fear or confusion (or a combination of all three) to declare via one of the most basic responsibilities a United States citizen has that there is an under-class of people who don’t deserve the same access to a public and legal expression of love and commitment is something that does not compute with me.

I understand that a belief in God, or in the literal word of The Bible, or in a set of morals and beliefs that denies full inclusion for all members of society is a reality, and that many people ascribe to a life molded around such a code of conduct. But when these people have such myopic views and insist on forcing these views upon all others, I have a problem.

I grew up in a theocracy, where such practices are commonplace throughout the state and local government. As an atheist, I feel most unwelcome in places that force such beliefs and practices upon me.

I believe that love is the answer, that love makes a family, and that a family is not defined by a ratio of women to men. If two people love each other, are committed to each other and are willing to legally declare their love and commitment to each other, who am I to deny them that right?

Indeed who is anybody – individual or government – to deny that right?

Society should embrace those who love each other with true commitment and responsibility. They should allow them to be married – in a civil marriage. Marriage need not be religious to be legitimate, but it needs to be marriage. A civil union, seen by many conservatives as the “equivalent” of marriage, is separate but decidedly not equal under the law or under most societal definition.

I hope that DC’s pending legislation to legalize same-sex marriage equality (with protections for religious freedom) passes into law, and that all people in DC will embrace a society where all men and women are equal under law.

But tonight, Maine just makes me sad, angry, and wishing that fear and division were a thing of the past. Indeed, I feel sick to my stomach over this.

To the voters of Maine who voted NO on Proposition 1, I send my heartfelt thanks, and urge you to continue to fight the good fight.

To those who voted for Prop 1, I hope that you open your eyes to love, equality and acceptance of all people. Because fear, bigotry, hatred and myopia will get you nowhere in this world (or, according to friends of mine who are believers, the world after this one).

standing up with the courageous and the crazy

Last night I decided to take part in DC politics for the first time in a while.

The subject matter? Whether the ability to marry should be extended to all couples, both gay and straight. As anybody who knows me can attest, I’m a staunch advocate for marriage equality – as well as a vehement opponent of theocracy at any level. The bill introduced by the DC Council – B18-482, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 – provides marriage equality via universally accessible civil marriage, while allowing churches to choose to only perform marriages that conform to their core beliefs. The bill isn’t perfect (a sunset clause regarding domestic partnerships should be removed), but it opens the door to equality for my gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer friends and family.

My basic stance is that marriage should be available to all as a basic, inalienable civil right. And civil rights are self-evident and do not, in my mind, require any sort of referendum to affirm. Kirstin and I choose not to marry, even though we have been a committed couple for 14 years, because our GLBTQ friends and family are unable to enjoy the same right as us. Marriage is about love and commitment, and some of the most loving and committed couples I know are denied the right to marry. Sure, civil unions have been offered as an “equal form of compensation,” but as with every similar battle in the history of human rights, separate-but-equal is not truly equal.

This quote, heard recently in Maine where a referendum on same-sex marriage will be on the ballot next week, is my base-level, non-dogmatic response to those who seek to deny the right of marriage equality:

“If you don’t believe [equal rights] are for everybody, then have some of yours taken away and see what happens.” – Paul Roeddicker, Maine resident, Vietnam veteran, devout Catholic.

Testifying in front of the DC Council on October 26, 2009

Testifying in front of the DC Council on October 26, 2009

So I watched the early testimonials as they were streamed over the internet and heard a lot of supporters of this legislation – the final ratio of bill supporters to opponents was in the 8-to-1 zone – and most were passionate without being combative. By and large, the only folks to truly raise their voices were those opposed due to religious beliefs – reaffirming my notion that being loud does not equate to being correct. The chairman of the hearing, Councilman Phil Mendelson, kept the hearing moving at a good clip.

I arrived at the Council chambers just before 7 pm, and there were still some 50 witnesses yet to testify. As the evening rolled along, the testimony continued to pack an emotional punch, both from those who want to have the right to marry and from those to whom same-sex marriage is an abomination. The courage amongst the speakers, both pro and con, was moving: from couples who want to marry, to those who married out-of-state because it was their only option, to clergy and private citizens on both sides, and to the father who brought his young daughter to the hearing to teach her a lesson about how discrimination is wrong (and how the government is there to help the people). It was impressive, to say the least.

Even the most contentious interactions were, for the most part, cordial and professional. The most heated exchange during my time in the room was between the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Councilmember David Catania, co-sponsor of the bill and himself a gay man in a committed, long-term relationship. The parries and gamesmanship were fun to see, with the Archdiocese wanting more leniency to discriminate against GLBTQ citizens, lest they sue to get the right, and Catania saying simply “we’ll see you in court.”

I was not on the evening’s speaking list, but there were a handful of no-shows, and CM Mendelson is known for allowing others to get in their views. So I joined three other people at the panelists’ table to make my opinion known. I was the second to testify, after another supporter of marriage equality took his turn to grill another Councilmember, Yvette Alexander from Ward 7, on her priorities and her definition of civil rights.

It wasn’t my best speech. It was impromptu, with no notes, and I was tired and in need of food, but I came across well to both those in the audience and folks watching from home.

But I sounded downright coherent compared to these two women who followed me.

I really can’t summarize accurately their rambling testimony – you need to watch, listen, and then watch again.

The first woman, a marriage counselor, had a fistful of pictures and papers with her. The pictures were of her family, and one of the papers had some “scripture” on it that resembled the treatise-cum-diatribe on the labels from Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, and she spoke of families, and marriage is there for procreation only, and how things like condoms are “unsacred… dirty, with that slobbery stuff in it…. that can make you sick and itch,” and how God is great and all that, and how it’s important to show kids the mating season at the zoo, and…. and… you get the picture. It was a ramble: disjointed and very much a complementary piece to Dr. Bronner’s label, albeit with less soapy goodness.

But the second woman, Ms. Ernestine Copeland, was the hit of the internet today. She started a sermon that became more and more loud and crazy by the second. I think she was associated with the previous woman, as the testimony turned into a call-and-response show. Ms. Copeland’s God is all about reproduction, and apparently she was in the presence of the devil by being in the room with all of us “heathens.” How about a quote:

”Sodomy and Gomorrah, I keep saying that…. Now how in the world did you get my sisters and brothers to follow your evil and corrupt ways? The demons has showed up! … Mr. Wells, is that your name? Mr. Contella (sic), Mr. Mendelson — y’all sure put the fire to them Christian folks and they buckled. But i will not buckle, this is the word of almighty God. And I tell you what about same-sexual unions, what would they do: They will destroy our society! … Shame on you, shame on you for not standing up for the holy word of God. Shame on you demon, Demon Wells, Contrella (sic) — just ’cause y’all want to practice y’all corrupt and immoral ways….” (trasncript courtesy of MetroWeekly

I could go on, but really, she’s a trip, and is best experienced in full, technicolor glory.

I did my best to keep calm and collected, as did the members of the Council who witnessed this woman’s descent into complete lunatic diatribe. Eventually, her microphone was shut off, and security kept an eagle eye on her after the meeting adjourned for the night.

Those of us who were in a bit of a stupefied awe shared a good laugh and a huge sigh of relief. The hearing certainly saved The Crazyâ„¢ for the end. The DC Council should be mindful of this and sell popcorn and other concessions for the continuation on November 2 – they could make a nice bit of cash from it.

tuesday thoughts: stuff that makes me scratch my head and say “wha?”

Here are a few things that have me asking what’s the matter with society:

  • Please, please, please send Marion Barry to the political pasture – preferably to jail! His continued “devil could care” attitude toward paying back taxes sets a ridiculously bad example, and violates his current probation. That the people of Ward 8 continue to vote for this guy – who brings zero to the table in terms of valid, progressive legislation – is simply sad.
  • If politics between the United States and Russia have devolved to this level, I hope President Obama knows what’s in store with U.S.-Russian relations. The world is too small for such silly arguments – especially when the entire “functional world” is barely bigger than two city buses!
  • Then again, right now is as good a time as any to ponder the other G20 – the one in Glasgow.
  • We’re still dangling the bailout carrot in front of GM and Chrysler – why, exactly, I do not know. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see the business cycle actually play out, where big companies can – and do – fail every so often? If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that past failures of giant corporations have often brought about new creativity and innovation that, in the long run, has helped the economy diversify, grow and prosper. So let’s stop propping up these ancient Goliaths, Mr. President, and let them fail and rise from the ashes as new, fleet, innovative and future-looking enterprises. The Big 3 are dead! Long live their progeny!
  • And while I commend the newly-enacted changes in Utah’s liquor laws that abolish the arcane and less-than-welcoming “private club” system, one of the other plans of the newly-signed legislation is simply baffling: the requirement that all mixed drinks be prepared “out of sight of persons under the age of 21.” What the hell? This is progress? This is obviously the direct result of the meddling of the LDS Church, to whom I say this: remember that those things you repress become your secret vices (read: internet porn, betting on horse races, high-stakes gambling, lottery, et al).

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the coming of spring to the District. The grass is no longer dormant, the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are rising from their winter slumber in the soil, and the magnolias and cherry blossoms are quickly reaching peak beauty.

And with all these wonders come the things that we DC residents both love and hate: the tourists who can’t buy a clue. They block the escalators at Metro stations and stop to gawk and talk in the middle of busy sidewalks. They overrun areas that are usually the domain of DC locals (e.g. Hains Point during the Cherry Blossom Festival) and take away all of the elusive parking places throughout downtown and Georgetown. They cut off cyclists and pedestrians as they try to navigate our sometimes baffling streets, and get confused when locals give them directions that wouldn’t make sense to non-locals.

And they bring us the money that we desperately need to keep our city going. So welcome, fair tourists! Enjoy your stay, but keep an eye on how the locals do things, and try to emulate us. We all learned the hard way, in the beginning, so a bit of copycat behavior might save you some awkward humiliation.

monday musings (tuesday edition)

Since we last met, I’ve been skiing in Colorado (great time – proper post coming soon, though the new header image is from this trip) and spent a weekend in Chicago, where sprite had her annual meeting (inconveniently planned to occur on her birthday). There are plenty of pics from both adventures over at my Flickr page, so have a look around.

Let’s muse, then:

  • So it seems that Chrysler – who already received $4 billion in loans from the TARP fund – needs an additional $5 billion to stay afloat. GM wants another $16.6 billion. Sorry, Detroit dinosaurs, but we need to cut you off. Y’see, I remember how things used to be in the land of business: those that could adapt to changing circumstances survived, while others failed – no bailout needed or expected. Note that you don’t see Studebakers, or Cords, or Nash Ramblers in the dealerships these days – there’s a reason for that, as their parent companies failed. And yes, many people lost their jobs as a result of these failures. But somehow, the United States survived, and the fittest of the automakers lived on to see another day.

    The issue, as I see it, is that the “Big Three” of Detroit failed to see the folly of their ways. When customers demanded fuel-efficient and reliable cars, the folks at Ford, GM and Chrysler kept on producing big, hefty, inefficient, unreliable cars that didn’t appeal to many buyers. Sure, there was a certain pride in “buying American” (a trait to which I don’t really subscribe in these modern days), but the buyers looked to the cars that looked forward: Honda and Toyota hybrids, well-engineered German models, and high bang-for-your-buck units from South Korea. All the while, Detroit over-expanded and watered down its offerings.

    Even now, the “Big Three” refuse to do a proper culling of their models and workforce to appeal to the modern economy. If they would simply specialize in their unique strengths (Ford = trucks, Chrysler = vans and the basics of the Jeep brand, GM = ummm, something), plus one “character car” (Ford = Mustang, GM = Corvette, Chrysler = Viper or some very-capable Jeep), then perhaps there would be reason to have optimism. And this wouldn’t require any federal funding to happen: it’s just a matter of cutting costs – and personnel – at all levels, top to bottom.

    Furthermore, the UAW is standing firm on post-war, sweatshop-based tactics toward job protection, moves that do not endear them to me or to the economic realities of today. Look at the most productive and motivated auto workers these days, and you’ll see that they work for Toyota, Honda, Nissan and BMW – most of which are not beholden to the UAW and its yesteryear-leaning tactics.

  • And this leads to my next point: unions need to look long and hard at how their European counterparts handle employment and worker protections. Note that the European labor unions do not rule the roost at the places where they are active. Membership is optional, and you’ll see both union-affiliated and non-union workers standing side-by-side at factories, all happy in their choices. Compare that to the United States, where unions like the UAW create all-or-nothing situations for potential employees.

    Unions have served a purpose throughout the history of the United States. They helped improve worker conditions and defend workers’ rights during times of sweatshop tactics and excessive child labor. They helped set proper safety standards, and helped negotiate living wages. Like the “Big Three,” however, most unions in the United States have failed to adapt to the new realities of the market, both locally and globally. They are paranoid and protectionist to a fault, and while there are some that still act as fair players in the grand scheme of business and societal welfare, there are others that fear any change.

  • And that brings me to the basic reality that the United States now faces: change. The voters called for it in the 2008 elections, and the current economic crisis demands it of all citizens, rich and poor. The America many have known is a relic of a decadent past, and we need to move forward to a leaner, more efficient, more inclusive and less divisive way of life. It means walking instead of driving to the store, it means less spending on frivolous items, it means setting up the basics that many societies take for granted as true civil rights – universal healthcare being paramount above all else, especially for those 18 and under. It means investing in the future: in post-oil energy, in mass transit and infrastructure improvements that will connect our neighborhoods without requiring low-occupancy cars to get from point to point.

    These are all changes to the old “chicken in every pot, two cars in every garage” post-war dream that continues to be bandied about by nostalgia buffs and social conservatives. It was a great dream, but it’s time to wake up to reality – and reality demands that we change our ways. It will involve sacrifice, no doubt. But these changes are simple to integrate into daily life: walk, bus, train or bike to places you would normally drive; use canvas, cloth or reusable composite bags for shopping needs; turn off lights, computers and appliances that aren’t in use; set thermostats lower in the winter and higher in the summer (dressing in layers is chic, after all); eat locally and in season whenever possible; hang dry your clothes. These are just a few things – little things – that most people can, and must, do in order to help enact real, tangible change.

  • And speaking of reusable bags, the Trash Free Anacostia movement is one I really support. It calls for a 5 cent fee for any plastic or paper grocery bag issued by a store, thus encouraging reuse of bags instead of introducing them into the ecosystem, where they often end up as waste – in DC’s case, that’s usually in the river ecosystem of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.

    Frankly, I think a 5 cent fee is too low – it should be more like 35 to 50 cents per bag – and should be used in conjunction with a 5 to 10 cent credit for bringing your own bags to the store. This kind of system works well in Europe (where else?), and has really changed how people shop: they buy only what’s needed, and think about what they realistically can carry. Yet this isn’t necessarily a limitation; rather, it’s a call for personal creativity.

    And while people will grouse about this adversely affecting the poor: it’s a one-time charge to get a reusable bag (most retailers change between $1-2 for fairly large, durable bags), and in DC, it’s not difficult to come upon tote bags and duffels, as they’re handed out at myriad free events throughout the District.

    So I applaud Councilman Wells’ efforts on this, and am in support of this first step toward a new mindset in American commerce – one bag at a time.

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