Earlier this week, I was talking to a neighbor of mine in Adams Morgan. The usual stuff—the Mayor, the budget, the at-large election, the government shutdown, the weather—almost everything but Charlie Sheen. And like a lot of people in my neighborhood and across the city, he’s interested in the Mayor’s budget proposals—as well as the mayor’s perceived and otherwise problems. Or, as one of my other neighbors put it: “He hired the guy, that’s it.” And everyone thinks there’s going to be trouble over the budget. Over what? The total of $187 million in spending cuts? Well, yeah. Gotta do it. The $18 million in cuts in education as well as public safety? Well, that’s troubling, sure. How about the $113.4 million cuts in social services. You’d think that might be a little controversial, given that it’s the biggest percentage of cuts in the budget and is bound to hurt a lot of those who have the least already. Alas, no. The biggest political struggle is going to be over the tax increases for those earning more than $200,000 a year. That’s the big divider in the budget issue, the big combat zone when it comes to the city council, which has to approve the Mayor’s budget, and now likely to be a big topic on the campaign trail for the at-large city council seat. It’s a city divider in a way, but maybe it shouldn’t be. The Mayor’s hiring scandal is a potential city divider and continues to be so. Councilwoman Mary Cheh’s hiring hearing commenced into part two this week, with the appearance of former Gray Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall, who was fired in the wake of controversy and investigations surrounding the hiring (and then firing) of Sulaimon Brown, the former mayoral candidate who has accused the mayor of “being a crook.” According to written and television reports, Hall said that she had not spoken to the Mayor about hiring Brown, as she had been asked to do. Brown showed up at the hearing but left after he decided that it was “a witch hunt,” going to what he thinks might be the friendlier atmosphere of a U.S. Attorney’s investigation and a congressional committee. Yet to be heard from are Brown and Lorraine Green, the Mayor’s close advisor and longtime close friend who ran his campaign, and who appears to be at the center of the controversy. Still not heard from in any definitive way is Gray himself, who has yet to make any aggressive attempts to clear up the unanswered questions surrounding the controversy. When it comes to the budget, and to the budget battles on the hill which may yet (as of this afternoon) cause a government shutdown: if people with nothing are going to see drastic cuts in safety net services, why shouldn’t people with a little and a lot more than everybody else do a little and a lot more of their share? Of course, President Obama made this a campaign lynchpin and instead ended up having to extend President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy a little while longer. And tax cuts for the wealthy seems to be a core value for the proposed 2012 GOP version of a budget. What is it about everybody sharing in sacrifice during hard times—you know, state budgets imploding, bankruptcy, high (if declining) unemployment—nobody is appalled about the idea of the rich getting richer and not even paying their fair share. Why, in short, should General Electric, with profits in the billions for 2010, not pay ANY taxes? Because loopholes exist that allow them to do that? What would happen if you tried to end the loopholes? Stuck pig time, that’s what would happen. It’s all perfectly legal. Where did we get this notion that raising taxes is a discussion and vote killer? Why, in short, aren’t people doing Peter Finch’s out their window about this—and about CEO’s who have prospered mightily during the upward surge of the DOW, the fact that the only person going to jail during the economic collapse was Bernie Madoff? They’re angry all right—stoked by the Tea Party. They’re mad at teachers, policemen and firemen, not billionaires who outsource jobs that should have stayed here. Not only that, but you rarely hear about corporate excesses—no taxes?—because corporations like GE own quite a bit of media outlets, notably NBC. According to a Washington Post story, the GE tax situation has rarely if ever been mentioned on the nightly news with Brian Williams. Shouldn’t Brian Williams say something about Brian Williams not saying something? I’ve always felt when network news—especially millionaire star reporters, pundits and anchor people—tackles such issues as tax policy, they should first preface anything they might have to say by stating what their yearly income is—how many millions—and how they might profit or lose money from the tax policy under discussion. Fat chance on that one. But the NFL football players, another group of overpaid millionaires, are on strike for their fair share of billions in television contract revenue, thus making a joke of the collective bargaining process that’s such a combative issue in the national politics. And speaking of the nightly news on NBC, how about that Donald Trump? Two evenings ago a major segment of the news showed a poll, which showed that Trump, who cast about his usual rumors of a presidential run like pearls before media swine, is second among potential candidates for the GOP nomination, and something of a darling of the Tea Party. Mind you, this was something like an 8% thing, right up there with such stalwarts as Romney, Palin, Bachman and Huckabee, and for something light years away. But still. Turns out, as NBC political expert Chuck Todd pointed out, that Trump, who managed to go broke in Atlantic City just like all the other suckers, had a taped interview with Meredith Vierra set to air the next day on the Today Show (on NBC), in which he revealed himself to be something of a birther, asking the president to produce a birth certificate and expressing his doubts about Obama’s citizenship. This plays well with the tea party, but it’s not news. What it was was a plug for the Today Show disguised as news. I expect Billy Bush to someday become the anchor of the nightly news, because he’s really good at this sort of thing, with the added gift of having no shame whatsoever. As I write this with one eye on the Internet, there’s still no word on a settlement on the hill. But they’re close. The only hitch: that dratted Planned Parenthood thing which is not about cutting spending and, of course, who gets the most blame if a shutdown occurs, which is not about spending either. It’s about politics and politicians. Only lawyers are detested more than politician, and on the hill, that’s a twofer. Where is H.L. Mencken when we need him? Dead, still. And sit down, Bill Maher. You’re not it.
Has President Obama, in the hot political jargon of the day, regained his mojo? In other words: is the Barack Obama of the presidential election campaign back in full view? I write this not knowing what has been said in the State of the Union Address scheduled to be given by the President tonight (I wrote this on Tuesday morning, January 25), an address that is to be given in a new atmosphere of politeness. If the Dems and the GOPs haven’t been speaking with each other, they will at least be forced to sit with each other for the duration of the speech, which could get awkward. The President’s long-standing unwillingness—some have said inability—to fight with the GOP toe-to-toe seems to have paid some dividends. The new age of cooperation, and a growing political assurance on his part, let the President come out of the ashes with some momentum after the Republican’s spectacular victories in the mid-term elections, which saw them regain control of the House of Representatives. Eager to extend the Bush tax cuts—largely benefiting the wealthy—the GOP bartered away opposition to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, went along with the nuclear arms reduction treaty extension, and extended unemployment payments and allowed benefits for 9/11 survivors. As they say in politics, you never know what can happen; things can change on a dime. And the shocking, tragic shootings in a Tucson, Arizona Safeway parking lot gave President Obama the opportunity, and perhaps the responsibility, to reemerge as the inspirational leader of the country, the great uniter. While liberals and conservatives were shouting at each other, the President rose above us all with great heart and inspiring rhetoric, asking us to look to our better selves. He was moving and convincing; he eulogized the victims and placed no blame on the National Rifle Association or anyone else for the tragedy. He was the President many of us have wanted him to be for some time, and the State of the Union address is another opportunity for him to rise to the occasion. It is an opportunity to test and be tested by the new Republicans in Congress. There are some, like Mitch McConnell of the Senate, who insist that the main GOP business is to make sure that Obama doesn’t get reelected, a purely political goal not appreciated that much in troubled times. Obama showed his statesman-like qualities during the State visit of the Chinese President who, when pressed by Obama, admitted that China might improve its human rights policies. When is the last time a President has been able to negotiate with China on human rights? More than that, Obama is looking to the future of foreign and national investments to put large dents into the deficit, as opposed to wholesale cuts in spending programs. Here the GOP has to deal with its Tea Party firebrands, some of whom wouldn’t mind cutting out the Department of Education, slashing social security, and burning the health care legislation on the steps of the Capitol. We’d like to think that the President has found a way to use his special gifts: his ability to inspire the people, to negotiate and work with opponents, and persuade those remnants of moderation in the GOP ranks to resist the slash and burn tactics that come from the Cantors andthe Tea Party maximalists. Can he do it? Stay tuned. In fact, tune in, and let me know what happened.
In its third year, FotoWeek DC has already proven to be one of the most comprehensive and innovative photography festivals, not only in Washington but the world. The week-long festival takes place November 5 – November 13 and is comprised of programs that include monumental photo projections on the façades of DC’s famed architecture, all-night photo experiences, evocative exhibitions of award-winning images, as well as lectures and workshops led by internationally renowned photographers. During the festival’s inaugural year, its awards competition was limited to the metro area. Theo Adamstein, President and Founder of FotoWeek DC, quickly realized that, in order for the festival to reach its full potential, they needed to think on a larger scale. “Photography is a universal language,” Adamstein said. “No matter where you are, how you grew up, if you can snap a photo, you can communicate.” The competition’s international appeal is evident, as this year FotoWeek DC received over 6,500 submissions from 34 countries. The International Awards Ceremony will kick off the festival on November 5, preceding the much anticipated launch party at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art & Design, the festival’s official partner. Taking into account the broad, global scope of entries, the events this year will highlight the shifting growth of FotoWeek DC as a hallmark for the photography industry. It is clear there is a greater emphasis being placed on key genres such as social justice causes and environmental issues, as well as fine art. NightGallery, an exhibition which projects colossal images onto the façades of significant local architecture, will be showcasing these themes. “NightGallery is a visually dynamic theater, presenting large-scale projections of powerful photography that address important issues and themes from around the world,” said James Wellford, Senior Photo Editor of Newsweek Magazine and curator of the show “Projections of Reality,” which will be featured in NightGallery. “The images offer the opportunity to experience a series of visual stories that poignantly reflect upon our shared human condition.” Wellford is accompanied in the NightGallery exhibition by three other distinguished photographers: Cristina Mittermeier, Executive Director and a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and curator of the environmental program “Life Live Here”; Andy Adams, Editor & Publisher of FlakPhoto.com; and Larissa Leclair, photography writer and curator, whose fine arts show will feature work published on FlakPhoto.com over the past four years, entitled 100 Portraits — 100 Photographers: Selections from the FlakPhoto.com Archive. The NightGallery exhibition will be on display at eight Washington locations, including the Corcoran, whose programs will include “The City Unseen,” and “Literary Adaptation: 1920 – Contemporary Times,” both produced by nineteen students from the school’s BFA program. Along with the Corcoran, NightGallery can be seen on the Newseum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, American Red Cross, National Museum of the American Indian, Satellite Central (3333 M Street NW), the Human Rights Campaign building, the House of Sweden, and Dupont Circle, located right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the city. NightGallery literally turns an entire city into a massive canvas of work. By partnering with FotoWeek DC, the Corcoran will serve as FotoWeek Central. It will be open to the public at no cost during FotoWeek, including Monday, November 8 and Tuesday, November 9 — days when the gallery is typically closed. Visitors will be able to view the award winning work from the International Awards Competition, listen to lectures by renowned photojournalists, and participate in workshops or portfolio reviews, where amateur and professional photographers can register to have their work critiqued by some of the best in the business. A second location, the aforementioned Satellite Central, will feature FotoWeek DC programs as well. The 7,000 sq. ft. building will house a series of events to complement those taking place at the Corcoran. Satellite Central will showcase projection theatres, exhibitions, lectures, FotoBooks, special events, a thumbnail display including every photo submission to the International Awards Competition, and the 10-hour photo marathon known as NightVisions. Photographers from any background can burn the midnight oil from 8pm on Saturday, November 6, to 6am on Sunday, November 7, for NightVisions. Participants will literally create a photo exhibition from start to finish overnight by taking photos, editing, having them judged, and printing by the next morning. The purpose of the NightVisions program is to recreate the adrenalin rush of a photo student’s end-of-term all-nighter or a professional’s laser-focused intensity against a drop-dead deadline. “It’s all about sucking it up, creating an image, meeting the deadline, and doing something great,” declared Washington photographer Peter Garfield, one of NightVisions’ originators. With the plethora of programming and partners involved with FotoWeek DC, this festival has evolved into something larger than life. Whether you are a photographer trying to make it big, a professional hoping to learn from the best, or just a casual passerby who is moved by a giant image you see on a building, the beauty of this festival is its accessibility, connection to people, and the power of telling a story without words. 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“Ask not what your city can do for you,” said DC Mayor Vincent Gray at his inauguration two weeks ago. “Ask what you can do for your city.” Gray’s reiterating of President Kennedy’s famous speech reminds us that 2011 cannot only motivate personal improvement, but also inspire contributions to our community. Adopt five New Year’s resolutions to do just that: Donate Food - Hunger is a huge problem in Washington. A down economy and high unemployment have left over 600,000 DC residents hungry, including an estimated 200,000 kids. The Capital Area Food Bank collects and delivers food to 700 partner agencies. “It's life’s most basic need," says communications manager Shamia Holloway. But for the primarily "working poor" population who struggle with child care, transportation and rent expenses, "it's the easiest budget item to cut.” Ironically Americans waste, on average, a half a pound of food daily. So donate produce or nonperishable items to the Capital Area Food Bank, Martha's Table, or another worthy organization that serves the city's hungry. Volunteer in the Schools – More than half of DC public schools’ third graders read below grade level. Mount Pleasant resident and Obama canvasser Mark D’Agostino saw this as a challenge. After the 2008 election, he and a few friends used their volunteer list and free weekends to start the Grassroots Education Project. About 60 volunteers help Tubman Elementary School students learn to read on Saturday mornings, often searching for books that target kids’ interests. “It’s really inspiring to see the initiative they show and how much they enjoy working with the kids,” says D’Agostino. It’s effective too; twice as many children in the program achieve grade-level reading compared to those not in it. DCPS certifies volunteers who want to work with kids and e-mails them opportunities, suggesting they then coordinate with local schools. Green It Up – Exposure to nature has been linked to stress reduction, a longer attention span and more creativity. But many in the US are getting out less. Residents in one of America’s greenest cities have no excuse not to visit and live off the land. Bike on the Rock Creek Park or go hiking at Great Falls. Sign up for a plot in one of over 50 community gardens in DC or the suburbs, or build a backyard vegetable garden. Compost. The benefits? Relaxation, fresh vegetables, camaraderie and, of course, keeping DC beautiful. Appreciate the Arts – DC’s cultural scene is thriving on the whole, but some organizations are struggling. Fortunately, Washington will have especially compelling historical, political, cultural and literary offerings in 2011. Bring a friend to enjoy the city’s many scenes. Glance at Richard Avedon’s pictures of President Kennedy or immerse yourself in India during The Kennedy Center’s March festival. Watch the civil rights movement unfold at the National Museum of American History, or listen to indigenous voices speak about climate change at the National Museum of the American Indian. Laugh through the Folger’s “The Comedy of Errors,” or contemplate the cost of your iPhone at Woolly Mammoth’s upcoming production of Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”. The result is a spiritual yet paradoxical reward: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” said monk Thomas Merton. Tip Well - DC had the greatest income inequality of large cities, according to a DC Fiscal Policy Institute study that analyzed census data from 2000. Since then, the city has seen stock of low income housing drop and a tremendous influx of high-income neighborhoods, says DCFPI Director Ed Lazere. Help out by emulating New York, which has a culture of extensive and generous tipping. Tip staff members who keep you glamorous, fed, healthy and safe – and don’t forget the workers mostly behind the scenes. The benefits will accrue to overqualified staff, underemployed citizens and those otherwise struggling. Enrich others as well as our schools, theaters, museums and parks in 2011. Keeping DC growing and green will benefit both Washington and Washingtonians. [gallery ids="99588,104934,104929,104943,104924,104947,104919,104951,104955,104939" nav="thumbs"]
What a breathtakingly beautiful photograph by Jeff Kouri, which graced the cover of the January 12-25 edition of your newspaper! Having rowed for the Georgetown University crew for four years as an undergraduate, the image stirred wonderful memories for me. Unfortunately, the boathouse featured in the image was misidentified as belonging to Georgetown University. In fact, Georgetown’s crews do not have a boathouse. The more than 200 men and women rowers associated with crew—the largest athletic organization on campus—tow out of Thompson’s Boathouse, a fine but seriously overcrowded structure, which is home to several other college and high school programs. Astonishing as it may sound, for nearly forty years Georgetown University has patiently, sensitively, legally and expensively sought to acquire the land and proper permits to build its own boathouse, upstream from the boathouse pictured. These good faith efforts have been denied at every turn by a small but effective group of “concerned citizens” hereabouts. It is my prayer that this injustice be redressed sometime in my lifetime. We always appreciate the voice of the community here at the paper. Questions or comments? Email us at: Editorial@Georgetowner.com
Mayor Vincent Gray, who has presented himself as a big supporter of the arts, has nonetheless seen fit to include a six percent ticket tax on all ticketed arts events in the District of Columbia as part of his 2012 District of Columbia budget proposal he sent to the city council. That includes, we presume, all live performances and arts events throughout the District at any venue holding ticketed arts events and performances. While it’s as yet unclear as to what this includes, it likely encompasses major venues like the Kennedy Center, all of the District’s theater groups (Arena Stage, Source Theater, etc.), its dance groups and any ticketed music. Does it include theater and performance events held in schools, museums and churches? But in short: If you’re buying, you’re paying the 6% tax. Washington’s arts and theater community such as the Helen Hayes Awards, Cultural Tourism DC and the Cultural Development Corporation have mounted campaigns to stop this from happening. The proposal, which becomes part of the Fiscal Year 2012 budget unless the council disapproves or eliminates it, comes in a climate that’s been difficult for the nonprofit arts and cultural community, which has seen corporate giving decline and grants from state and federal government sources cut heavily. Especially at the federal government level, tea party mania to reduce government size and spending has hurt the arts throughout the country. The Helen Hayes Awards has argued against the proposal, arguing it would reduce the number of theater patrons facing choices on spending, which in turn would endanger arts organizations heavily dependent on ticket income. Fewer theater and performance patrons means fewer patrons for Washington’s large restaurant community, which has drawn heavily from those patrons. If people stop eating out, the District would actually lose money from the loss of anticipated restaurant tax income. We could not disagree more with the proposed tax, of which the income generated to aid the District’s budget deficit would be negligible. This proposal could indeed damage the performing arts in Washington, and especially its smaller theater and dance groups—not to mention arts education in the schools. Mayor Gray probably cares about the arts in the District, but this tough love for the arts community, which generates positive tourist income and a highly respected reputation, is not the right cut to make. While cultural institutions have benefited mightily from the Meads, the Kogods and the Harmans of our community, this sort of thing from the local government seems to be part of a prevailing national mood: When times are tough and the economy is bad, why miss an opportunity to make the arts community take a hit? I’m sure its not the intention of DC government to do such a thing, but the tax proposal echoes more sinister cuts and outcries from the conservative GOP stalwarts who would like nothing better than to see the government out of the grant business for the arts, and would love nothing more than to eliminate Public Broadcasting, NPR and support for art exhibitions and performance pieces they detest or don’t understand. This kind of anti-intellectualism has always been a part of the American cultural mosaic in some way or another. What do the arts do here in DC besides bring in tons of tourists? In hard times like these, they lift our spirits. They provoke us to think and imagine when we most need to, reminding us of the lofty flights of achievement of which we are capable. In the arts, both high and popular, we find reflections of our better angels and our inner selves. We find beauty amid economic struggle. We find created beauty and poetry. In the 1930s, in the worst times this country had experienced, the government, far from cutting support for the arts, created programs that enlisted poets, playwrights, actors, painters, sculptors and educators to create works of art that became shared experiences for We The People. Evidence of that national spirit, presided over by President Roosevelt, can be found in memoirs, in collective memories, stories, novels, paintings, films, compositions and plays from that era that amount to a kind of golden age. Governments did not hike taxes on ticket prices to movies, to plays or to concerts. You could make a fair argument that because the arts were so accessible to even the poorest, the national psyche weathered the debilitating effects of daily life in hard times. If you want to voice your opposition directly to the ticket sales tax, you can go to the Helen Hayes Awards website, which includes a petition, an opposition letter template and information on the tax and its effects. Visit HelenHayes.org. The council is slated to hold final votes on the budget May 26.
Here we are, into the first spring of the Vincent Gray Administration’s rule. And where are we? Mayor Gray just got through delivering his 2012 Budget to the City Council and, no surprise, it’s what he describes as a “tough budget”—one that seems to try to be a balancing act between trying to use spending cuts (big time in the social services arena) and tax increases (an increase for individuals earning over $200,000), along with some other strategies and proposals bound to make somebody unhappy somewhere. The first DC Council meeting on the budget was held on Wednesday, April 6. The mayor’s budget delivery came shortly after his State of the District speech, one that predicted trouble ahead in terms of the budget, but lauded the district for its progress on many fronts, and still pursued the mayor’s pursuit of his One City dream. There’s also an election campaign going on: the race to fill the at large city council seat vacated by the current City Council Chairman Kwame Brown. A number of candidates are vying for that seat in a campaign that now looms as a very important race indeed, maybe more important than originally anticipated. Oh, yes, we forgot something. We’re still in the midst of an unresolved political/policy/government/Gray administration scandal, which hangs like a sorry cloud of bad weather in the midst of the first spring of the Gray Administration. No need to go into much detail here except to note that the feds, the U.S Attorney’s Office, the House oversight committee and the city council are all looking at front-page Washington Post allegations made by Sulaimon Brown, who’s alleged that Brown’s campaign promised him a job and gave him money to continue his attacks on Mayor Fenty at candidate forums throughout Brown’s unsuccessful mayoral run. Underlying these charges have been the high-profile criticisms of Gray’s hiring practices, which saw close associates and friends (his chief of staff, since fired) among them, filling jobs at over-the-cap salaries, sometimes with their relatives. Those practices are the subjects of two council hearings headed by Ward Three’s Mary Cheh, the second of which was scheduled for Thursday. Not much other than the hearings—Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall was fired right before she was scheduled to testify—has come to the surface on the scandal. That’s because nobody’s talking, especially Gray, who did not address the issue in either his State of the District speech or his Budget report. Yet the scandal lingers, along with the troubled Chairman Brown over ordering up two bling-type vehicles for his official uses. At large candidates have not been shy about calling for a need to reform political and policy practices at the executive and legislative level without necessarily getting too specific. Not only that, but there’s been a noticeable power vacuum growing on the council and in the city’s political leadership. The major voice on the council isn’t Brown, but folks like Jack Evans, Mary Cheh, David Catania and Marion Barry—for better or worse—with Barry trying out his old race-based scare tactics, or as we called it last time out, divide and con. This situation doesn’t bode well for budget discussions. We know Mayor Gray would like to appear to be above the tumult, investigations and scandal to better focus on the business of government, but he stood a lot better chance to provide forceful leadership on budget matters the day after his inauguration than he does now. Brown, for one, is at best hedging on the tax raise for the $200,000 plus club, probably on principal but also because he’s going to need some help just to keep his grip on the council as a chairman. Evans has considerable clout on budgetary matters with his history and expertise and his solid standing in the business community, so he can put up a serious challenge to the proposed raise in taxes on parking garage fees. Probably nobody is going to like the dollar jump in connector bus prices, and the Human Services sectors is slated to provide over half of the cuts in agency spending. Nevertheless, there’s no getting around the budget and its big deficit—it’s a must-do thing which the council and the mayor will have to come to an agreement on, lest the control board returns. But the Mayor’s description of a “tough budget,” in which sacrifices are to be made by everyone, gets tainted by the ongoing scandal and the furor over the hiring practices. While much has been corrected in that arena—cuts in the salaries and firings—the issue itself hasn’t been adequately addressed by the Mayor, who, while inviting investigations, has said precious little about it. This strikes many as a hunker-down attitude, as if the stress of pressing issues will make everything go away. And there’s Barry, talking about “the spoils of victory” and conspiracies, as if Tammany Hall were alive and well at the Wilson Center. We forgot to mention that there’s a poll. Specifically, the Clarus Poll, a research and polling center which polled 500 DC residents and came up with this: Mayor Gray’s approval rating is 31% and his disapproval rating is 41%. His lowest ratings are in the arenas of “appointing the right people to city jobs” (17%) and “living up to high standards of ethics” (23%). Gray might well be thankful for the presence of Chairman Brown, who got an even higher disapproval rating (43%). Mayor Gray’s response to the poll was strangely optimistic: In a press release, he said, “I view the Clarus Poll as a barometer of public opinion. The results present an opportunity for me to identify areas in which to win back the confidence of District of Columbia residents. I appreciate those who still stand with me and will continue to work hard to earn the favor of those who may have doubts.” When it comes to the at large council race, the Clarus Poll showed former Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Orange leading with 28%. Trailing far behind are Sekou Biddle, currently filling the vacant seat on the council with 6%, Republican Patrick Mara with 6%, Ward One activist and ANC commissioner Bryan Weaver with 3%, Josh Lopez with 3%, Dorothy Douglas 2%, Tom Brown 1%, and Alan Page with 1%. As a result, this is the first time that Vincent Orange has led in a poll in his last two tries for office. But don’t be alarmed. Forty Nine Percent of those polled are undecided on the election, which is April 26.
Wall Street can do it. Wall Street owes us. After all, we’re in a national financial mess because of Wall Street. As SNL’s Oscar Rogers says, it’s time for Wall Street to “fix it!!” How can Wall Street “fix it?” Merge the US and China. If Wall Street can take a batch of loans from nannies and strawberry pickers who buy $700,000 houses on $14,000 annual incomes with no down payment and convince the world that the batch is no more risky than US Treasury securities, it can do anything. A merger would solve our budget problems. Let’s examine the synergies – a fancy word for win-win. The US needs China to make stuff for it. China needs US consumers to buy the stuff it makes. The US buys a lot of stuff from China. Then China sends the money right back, admittedly as a loan, but it does send it back. The US hates taxes. China’s national tax burden is lower than the US, finally proving that President Reagan was right – lower taxes are the best way to grow an economy. US manufacturers like low cost land, lower regulatory restrictions, and cheap labor. China has all that. China’s economic growth rate is 9%. The United States growth rate has been anemic. Average the two, and we’re probably close to the Fed’s target of 3%. The Chinese control exchange rates and interest rates. The Fed tries to control those in the US, but the average is probably healthy for both. Chinese students love science and technology and American students love Chinese food and art. Chinese students make good grades, so US schools would report vast improvements. Chinese students love US universities and US universities give boatloads of PhDs to Chinese students. US kids like to have sleepovers and Chinese parents don’t let their kids sleepover, but since we’re 9,000 miles apart, that shouldn’t be a problem. As an accounting professor, I know most people hate accounting. Though the percentage of students majoring in accounting has dropped by more than half in the past 20 years, a large percentage of US accounting students and most new accounting professors are Chinese. Even so, most people think accountants can always make the numbers come out right. Consolidation accounting is very difficult to understand, but the basic idea is that when the same company buys and sells to itself, the amount owed and the amount due cancel each other out. So, merge the US and China. The US deficit goes POOF! Completely offset by China’s surplus. Hooray for accounting! Maybe we can even shed that image of being boring. TV glamorizes doctors and lawyers, and even bachelors and letter-pickers. Imagine a TV show about accountants. Never mind. But, our time has arrived on the biggest stage of all. Wall Street is always looking for the next big deal and this would be the mother of big deals. This is a win-win-win. Everyone gets what they want. Wall Street fees and bonuses will make $100 million bonuses look like chump change. The US budget gets balanced. And China doesn’t have to worry about getting repaid.
This is the time of year when Americans think about presidents—two of them, specifically—and make a holiday out of it. We call it President’s Day. Usually, it’s about George Washington, the first president, and Abraham Lincoln, the most haunting, memorable president. This year, it’s worthwhile to think a little broader, farther and wider. Things are happening. For instance, we’ve been thinking a lot about Ronald Reagan on the occasion of the centennial of his birth. The remnants of his family, friends and associates, their memories and stories still fresh, have been talking and writing. It’s also been the 60th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, and again, memories and meaning were on the airwaves and in the newspapers. Celebrations were held at the Kennedy Center and the National Archives where Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s surviving child, presided over music and introduced the digitalization of the JFK library. In this country, presidents are ever on our minds, including and especially the current one: President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, and the first African American President of the United States. It’s worth thinking about how we feel and think about our presidents—all of them— although its fair to say we hardly think of many of them at all; and that includes both ends of Tippecanoe and Tyler too and the middling to obscure presidents of the 19th century. When is the last time you’ve had a chance to use Chester Arthur in a conversation, or sung the praises of Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan, who, when it came to slavery, was like Scarlett O’Hara? We’ll worry about it tomorrow (meaning, he passed it on to Lincoln). So, who do we think about? The exultant, vocal members of the Tea Party think and talk a lot about the Founding Fathers—sometimes as if they could read their minds and were on intimate terms with them. In knowing Washington (who just had a 900-plus page biography written about him), John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, I defer to the Tea Partyists. I know one thing about them, and that is that not a’ one of them dreamt, thought, or talked about becoming President of the United States, which is now a cherished dream and opportunity among the entire American citizenry instilled from birth. “Some day, you too, can become President.” When our first batch of presidents was young and childlike, there were in fact no presidents. There was no United States of America. There were only kings, emperors, a few prime ministers, empresses, shoguns, Pashas and fact totems and powers behind the throne, and scattered parliaments here and there. The president is an invention—our invention. The Head of State as a man (or woman today) of the people, representative of and obligated to the people, doing the people’s work at their sufferance. But make no mistake about it: when someone becomes president, he becomes someone else, he becomes history, fable, legend, sun king. To regular folks, he becomes myth and savior, priest and devil all rolled into one. Listen to the talk about Kennedy and Reagan these days. They have moved beyond their own history, achievements and failures, into something much larger. This town is full of statues, of course. Memorials, metaphors and mulch. A bust of JFK sits, wounded-like on the red carpet of the Kennedy Center, which seems appropriate. Reagan’s memorial is a multi-purpose building housing offices, think tanks and every which kind of function. We have the spear of the Washington monument, the rotunda that is the Jefferson, and the Lincoln Memorial. It’s interesting who we remember and how. There’s a certain commonality among the men we remember most: they seem, and are often remembered as, unknowable. Reagan’s family members and associates, while extolling his chief virtue, which was communicating a boundless American optimism, also remembered a distance within him. JFK’s chief vices were personal, but what’s remembered was an ability to inspire people with rhetoric and vision. One of his biographies was titled “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.” And that’s probably true. Bill Clinton is well remembered today because of his unquenchable thirst for experience and love of the people, a quality that persists as he remains among us. It’s interesting that George W. Bush, whose presence at the recent Super Bowl was hardly noted, has written an autobiography, perhaps prematurely. We don’t know them. They become changed people. We see their hair change color, and we watch them in crisis, publicly, every day, at press conferences, waving to crowds, collapsing into the presidential bubble that even a visit from Bill O’Reilly can’t dent. I don’t think any of us have ever seen a man endure such a public embarrassment as Bill Clinton did during his impeachment trial, and yet he overcame that bit of history almost in triumph. Richard Nixon, the only man to ever resign the presidency, somehow came back to achieve a distant stature as a member in good standing of the Wall Street legal establishment, and a painful puzzle in history. The presidency, you have to think, is a kind of trial by fire for an individual, and a good part of it is beyond the President’s control. Think about Obama for a moment: in the wake of his State of the Union message, he appeared buoyant, on the rise in the eyes of the people. Then Tunisia and Cairo happened and has engulfed his attention with results that remain to be seen. Many of us will have actual memories of several presidents, living and not. It was, for me startling to see a video clip during the JFK library press event showing JFK and Eisenhower talking in the most casual way during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which seemed only like a possible nuclear Armageddon for most people who were alive then, including me. Ike was my first president, and all the rest followed. But I find myself thinking often, not of them or the Founding Fathers, but of Lincoln. I suspect that’s true for many folks. We gather in his presence often, the place where we try to find succor, inspiration, hope. The place where we can be safely defiant and insurgent in our discontents. I think Lincoln—also unknowable, but not unaffecting—lived the most intense presidential life in the space of four years that any one person could reasonably fold unto himself. I do not think there has been a man who has experienced more pain, more suffering, and, perversely, historic glory, than Lincoln. He seems a personal man who kept his own pains and memories secret, but took on other people’s sufferings because the moment—that great shattering civil war—demanded it. And it showed in his face, his choice of reading (Bible and Bard), his own words and writing, which were clean like an arrow to the heart. He was, as Whitman wrote, our captain and remains so. He is the ghost in our history, it’s still restless soul. I think we see that on the Mall, at certain times in our history, in the coil of history’s movement. He is not a Republican or Democrat, not a Methodist or a Jew, not a frontiersman or an urban legend. He is, for want of a better word, the President as hero. And you know what they say about nations and heroes…
In this age of wall-to-wall news, the results of a special April 26 election to fill a vacated at-large city council seat in Washington, DC is a small matter, probably not worthy of national attention, and barely noted even by city media. Yet, in Washington, the election on Tuesday, won by the ever-present, two-term city council member (1998-2006) Vincent Orange, is all of a piece. There is a serendipitous, recurring quality to the campaign, which could be said to have begun in early January when Sekou Biddle, a board of education member, was appointed to the seat vacated by Kwame Brown, who had handily beaten Orange in a race for the city council chairmanship back in November. Our city is the poster child for the notion that all politics is local. People who live here live in distinct neighborhoods, in areas with distinct qualities, atmospheres, residents and histories. However, the elephants in the Washington neighborhoods are the White House next to Lafayette Park, the Capitol Building, and the people who work in it. Those two places, the members of Congress, the government and the President all make us the center of the world, and entangle our daily lives and local politics in larger national and international issues. The at-large council race didn’t concern too many people in the beginning, nor did that state of mind change—in the final tally of votes, it showed that 9% of eligible voters took part. It did not concern Mayor Vincent Gray or Chairman Kwame Brown much, except that they supported Biddle for the interim appointment, which in the end did not help Biddle. Folks did come out to throw their hat into the ring: Sekou Biddle, of course; Bryan Weaver from Ward 1, a liberal community activist with smarts to spare; the youthful Republican Patrick Mara, who had once run for an at-large seat before, in which he managed to beat veteran Carol Schwartz in the GOP primary only to lose to well-know independent Michael Brown; Josh Logan, the young, Hispanic Fenty operative; and inevitably, there was Vincent Orange, not in the least deterred by his previous electoral setbacks. The campaign did not really get rolling until the last two months, with forum after forum popping up all over the city. In such a race, barring some shocking revelations, forums are the medium and the message rolled into one. Elsewhere things were not so quiet. Mayor Vincent Gray’s inauguration had been a big success, a one-city dream launched in spite of a looming budget crisis. However, things unraveled after that. Unsuccessful mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown unleashed a stink bomb of a scandal with charges of payoffs and job promises by the Gray Administration, all the while the council investigating Gray’s hiring practices. Kwame Brown, meantime, had his own troubles over ordering up a fully loaded SUV for himself amid questions about missing money from a 2008 campaign. Investigations, as they say, are ongoing. The scandals, as they are now lumped, had an effect on the campaign, which eventually had the candidates attacking the ethics of the city council, the administrations, and calling for ethics reform. The once-red-hot education reform issue was still talked about, but at the national level. Bigger news tends to flatten council races and local governance: the crisis in Japan sucked the air out of local matters for weeks, while the Middle East spring of revolutions and upheaval in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and other places took up everything else for a while. Today there is a daily standing headline in the Washington Post: “Turmoil in the Middle East.” Besides causing all kinds of havoc in the White House, there is this: the Exxon Station at the end of Lanier Place in Adams Morgan is now selling regular gasoline at $4.45 a gallon. No one knows exactly why, except Glenn Beck, who says it’s the Federal Reserve that’s at the bottom of all financial plagues. During the courses of the campaign, we have lived through Ann Hathaway’s Oscar gown changes, Lady Ga Ga, Justin Bieber (one of Time Magazine’ s l00 most influential people), and yes, Charlie Sheen and one more yes, Donald Trump. Lest you think this is of no importance and without connection to politics or daily lives: Sheen, full of tiger blood and whatnot, had a tour date at the DAR, was an hour late, and got a full-scale police escort which he tweeted about. Not only that, but he agreed with Donald Trump that he had problems with the president’s birth certificate. We will survive Donald Trump, of course. The president has now seen fit to present his long-form birth certificate, berating Trump and the birthers for “the silliness.” Trump is not satisfied, but he wants to run for president anyway. This in spite of the fact that he appeared to have no clue what the constitution said about privacy. You can suspect that the only time Trump is being genuine is when he stands in front of the mirror in the morning and says “I love you.” Trump has had low points, but as one GOP said, “you can’t fall off the floor.” Actually, Charlie Sheen proved that you can. He was dumped by one of his porn star consorts. Then there was the budget crisis—not ours, which is coming up in a hearing soon—but the nation’s. There was a big scare covered to within an inch of its reality by the local press: What will happen if the government shuts down? Well, for one thing, your trash doesn’t get picked up, which surprised many people who did not know how closely we were sleeping with the enemy. A breathless near-midnight watch produced a tentative agreement signed on by the President and both parties (with major grumbling by the Tea Party house members). For the District, the result was a kick in the butt: the loss of abortion funding, the inclusion of a Boehner private school funding project, the loss of funding for needle exchange programs. The mayor and a number of council members were so incensed that they got themselves arrested in protest, and were forced to stay incarcerated until 3 a.m. Mistrust was running so strong however, that many locals saw this as a political ploy, especially for Gray who needed a good showing somewhere. Biddle also took the jail route. Ward 8 councilman Marion Barry abstained this time. You can see how the shadow of the budget debate might darken the thoughts of local politicians. What will the city be forced to give up next? Baseball tickets? Home Rule? With the election looming fast, interest did not materialize in any strong way. If campaign signs are a measure of community interest, this is what it looked like on Lanier Place: Several signs for Weaver (he is, after all a local boy), one for Biddle, a number of those ubiquitous “Don’t’ Tread on DC” signs (which now reek of irony, given the voter turnout), and a goodly number of “Scoop your Dog Poop” signs. The election was held with another horrible and deadly weather story in progress in the South. The turnout was low. Vincent Orange was back on the council. So it goes. All the news that wraps around itself.