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September 5, 1999

Workers of Washington, Unite

Dear Laborers:

Happy Labor Day. In honor of that, may I make a request? People routinely ask for recommendations for workers and services of various kinds — in this issue alone, there are requests for recommendations for a seamstress/tailor and for a landscaper/gardener. I know that you are answering these requests privately, but often you are not sending your recommendations to themail to be published to the entire list. Please, when you have a really good recommendation, send it to themail, too. If it's published here, then it's always available in the archives, and months from now people who remember that a seamstress or gardener was highly recommended can search the archives to find them. Thanks.

I'm calling a recess in the statehood/voting rights debate. Everybody has one more turn in this issue, and I think we're at the “as I said before” stage of the conversation. Please don't hesitate to start this subject up again when the court decides the pending cases, or when there is something new to be said.

Gary Imhoff


I Don’t See a Difference
Nick Keenan, Shaw,

Has the Williams Administration improved things? Not on my block. For years we have struggled to get the city to do something, anything, about nuisance properties. In the second half of 1998 we had two fires in nuisance properties, which damaged five houses. So far in 1999 we have had — envelope please — two fires in nuisance properties, five houses damaged. So on one block, in one year, we have had four fires which damaged ten houses. No one was really surprised by these fires — these buildings were all disasters waiting to happen — and until the city forces the owners of these properties to take responsibility for them we will continue to see more disasters.

The Williams Administration's response to this situation has been exactly the same as the Barry Administration's: do nothing and dodge the issue. There may be someone at DCRA who answers the phone, and there may be someone who returns phone calls, but if there is I can't find him. In the past two months I have made over a dozen phone calls to people at all levels at DCRA, and left all kinds of voice mail and messages, and I have yet to actually talk to a human being. Nothing is being done; nothing has changed.


Getting Better
Lenora Fuller,

I see improvement across the board in my community. The Police Department is much more responsive. So are other departments including DCRA and DPW. There is still a lot of work to be done to improve the quality of life, but generally, I think the city's new leadership team is making progress.


Summer Mobile Force
Bryce A. Suderow,

I'd like to see people from around the city submit stories to themail on what they have seen of the operations of Chief Ramsey's Summer Mobile Force. Here on Capitol Hill, they have not been a resounding success. At 10 p.m. on the night of July 27th, a member of the mobile force was out ticketing cars in the 200 block of Kentucky Avenue, a middle class block south of Lincoln Park. Citizens demanded she stop writing tickets and asked her why she wasn't arresting the drug dealers operating four blocks away at 15th and C, SE. She called for backup and pretty soon there was a confrontation between jeering citizens and four police cars, cops on scooters, three detectives and the the unit's commander. Sharon Ambrose's aide, Amy Mauro, held two meetings with citizens and the police to discuss the situtation. The police replied to citizens that they would pursue any and all violations of the law, which meant they would continue to ticket middle class citizens and leave drug dealers free to operate. People who want to read Duncan Spencer's column on this incident in The Hill of August 11th should contact me, and I'll E-mail it to them.

The chief has claimed that this Summber Mobile Force is supposed to be located at potential crime spots in the underclass areas of this city in order to prevent crime, especially murder. But that is not where these cops have actually been, I am told. For instance, there's the scandal where between two and ten officers of the Summer Mobile Force took a boat ride on the Potomac on the Harbor Boat while on duty — that case is being investigated by Sgt. Richard Moats. (Can't someone force the police to divulge the findings of the Moats' investigation?) Other stories indicate the officers are mostly raising revenue for the city by ticketing the cars of middle class citizens. And still other tales reveal that the summer mobile force shows up in a neighborhood AFTER people have gunned down. (Whatever happened to using community policing to prevent crime?) As far as I can see, we're being asked to pay for another of the Chief's public relations gimmicks. Nearly 200 officers are getting $50 an hour to serve on the task force, and that translates into a whopping bill for the city. And exactly what are we getting for our money?


Spam from Previously Reputable DC Company
Austin Kelly,

I was shocked and disgusted to log on to one of my business accounts this evening only to find a heaping serving of spam from Crestar Bank, of all places. Sent from, one of the longest running spam outfits on the net, thrown off more service providers than I can count. Contained the usual spammer lies, like “we only send this to people who want it.” Crestar's just lost any hope of ever getting my business. Or the business of the corporation on whose board I sit, if I have any say in it. If anyone else in the DC area got this crud the appropriate places to complain are, where Crestar's web site is hosted, and, which ultimately provides the connectivity for


Poetic Justice
Alan Abrams, Takoma DC,

A propos of the renewed debate on statehood/voting rights — the more things change, the more they stay the same. From The Devil's Dictionary of Ambrose Bierce (1911):

WASHINGTONIAN, n(oun). A Potomac tribesman who exchanged the privilege of governing himself for the advantage of good government. In justice to him it should be said that he did not want to.

They took away his vote and gave instead
The right, when he had earned, to EAT his bread.
In vain -- he clamors for his “boss,” poor soul,
To come again and part him from his roll.

Offenbach Stutz.


DC Statehood and the US Senate
David Sobelsohn,

Mark Richards asks what Maryland and Virginia have to lose if DC becomes a state. One easy answer: the current strength of their representation in Congress. It seems trivial in the House. But the U.S. Senate is as great an affront to democracy as DC's disgraceful disenfranchisement. The Senate is a malapportioned monstrosity in which a minority of Americans wield 82% of the power. Yes, that's right: the 41 smallest states collectively, with less than half the population (126 of 260 million), elect 82 of 100 Senators. Even worse, the 26 smallest states, with only 18% of the population (46 million), control a Senate majority (52). That means, for example, the Senate can confirm a Supreme Court justice against the will of over 80% of America, as expressed through their duly elected Senators (the House has no say on judicial appointments). (The Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas by a vote of 52-48.) Admission to the union of a new, small state — DC would rank next-to-last in population — would further exaggerate this malapportionment. By contrast, MD currently has about 1.9% of the nation's population and 2% of the Senators; adding DC would only bring MD's population up to 2.1%, and have no effect at all on the weight of VA's votes in the Senate.

DC's disenfranchisement violates basic principles of democracy because we have no vote, not because we lack our own state. Retrocession would correct the violation without adding to the violation of democratic principles reflected in the organization of the U.S. Senate.


Kings of the Hill
George S. LaRoche,

In response to: “DC Voting Rights: the Marbury Lesson,” by Tom Matthes, Mr. Matthes is certainly correct about one thing: you can't control what a court might do. Sometimes, judges have been just as politically focused as Mr. Matthes, and like him, they have been known to ignore the actual arguments and issues in a case (especially a case challenging Congressional power over the citizens of the District) in order to reach a result they thought politically prudent. Just as Mr. Matthes is well within his rights to assert that the District cannot govern itself, the judges are entitled to their political opinions; unlike Mr. Matthes, however, they are sworn to uphold the Constitution and not simply use their power to shape the debate.

We have EVERY reason to hope — and are quite confident — that these judges are following the actual arguments before the Court, are reviewing the actual evidence, and will rule on the merits of our case, rather than impose their politically charged views on the people of the District. And since Adams v. Clinton doesn't ask (or want) the courts to order Congress to DO anything, period, much less impose any form of political structure on the District, there is NO risk that the court will appoint itself “King” of the District, supplanting the current “King Congress.”


DC Voting Rights: Deconstructing Adams
Tom Matthes,

George LaRoche was angry when confronted in these postings by the fact that Adams vs. Clinton asks the courts to amend the Constitution. He seems angrier still after the Web site on the case, which he recommended, has been quoted to prove it. His response is twofold. First, he disowns the quoted text, which currently reads: “If Plaintiffs win: Congress will be forced to stop segregating DC from the rest of the US. DC citizens can choose to either join a state or become a state. Until the time DC citizens either choose to join a state or become a state, DC would manage its own affairs.” Mr. LaRoche calls this “some text he [Matthes] quotes from the web site.... It's clearly from an explanatory flier prepared by a neutral third party, providing a very general overview of the case.” But this spin is destroyed by the indignant defense of the case filed by Mark Richards: “I developed the one page flier on the two DC lawsuits.... The flier was reviewed and approved by both Rob Wick (Covington and Burling — for the Alexander case) and Mr. LaRoche (for Adams).” Mr. LaRoche cannot disown the text if he approved it. Second, Mr. LaRoche tries to deconstruct the language of the text Mr. Richards posted on the web. Ever since Aristotle developed the syllogism, debaters and lawyers have used the word “if” in arguments reading “If A, then B.” (“If you eat your vegetables, you can have dessert. If you get the most votes, you will win the election. If you win
the breach of contract lawsuit, the court will make the defendant pay damages or jail him if he doesn't pay.”) LaRoche rejects this long-accepted use of the word “if.” He writes, “The plain inference of this heading is that the text which falls UNDER the heading concerns what might happen AFTER the 'if.'” His use of the word “might” seems to imply that Mr. LaRoche doesn't expect that, as the text declares, “Congress will be forced” to let DC become a state or join another state, which suggests the plaintiffs are wasting their money. But then Mr. LaRoche contradicts himself: “The plain language indicates that the only result of a 'win' in which the COURT would have a role would be restraint on Congress from segregating the District from the rest of the United States. Adams v. Clinton asks the Court to restrain Congress from exercising certain powers over the people of the District, insofar as and because those powers violate the citizens' constitutional rights.” So Mr. LaRoche agrees with me after all. Adams vs. Clinton “only” (LaRoche's word) seeks to amend by court order the powers of Congress to exercise legislative authority over DC (Article I Section 8) and to admit new States (Article IV Section 3), the right of a State to refuse to let its borders be altered without its consent (also in Article IV Section 3), and the exclusive power of Congress and the States to amend the Constitution (Article V). Therefore, the Adams case asks the courts to declare the Constitution “unconstitutional,” a logical impossibility. If these arguments prevail, the Supreme Court justices will rule as oligarchs. There's also the question as to whether, if DC voters reject statehood or joining another state, the district will become an independent republic de facto, although that does not appear to be the intent of Mr. LaRoche nor of Mr. Richards. But can they control the will of courts freed from the constraints of our written Constitution?

Mr. LaRoche's posting does appear to get one thing right, when he says “Mr. Matthes' arguments otherwise are merely political.” Arguments about amending the Constitution are indeed political, but not “merely political.” Amending the Constitution is the ultimate political issue in our democratic republic, harder to achieve than removing the president from office, which is why the Constitution delegates that power to the elected representatives of the people and denies that power to the courts. Dear readers: we are about to mercifully escape from a decade in which independent prosecutors like Kenneth Starr and Lawrence Walsh have been accused of politicizing our American system of justice and the courts created to guarantee it. Thankfully, that abominable independent prosecutor law has expired. Haven't we had enough of efforts to politicize the courts? Ever since the 23rd Amendment was ratified (giving DC three electoral votes), we have known what is required to obtain votes in Congress for DC and that is to amend the Constitution again. Why waste time, money and energy with lawsuits that are logical impossibilities? For better or worse, changing the status of the national capital requires the consent of all the people. These lawsuits force Americans who cherish the Constitution to oppose you. The damage to your good cause is incalculable.


The History Behind the NJ Quarter
Peggy Robin,

A quick but important correction to David F. Power's account of George Washington's victory at the Battle of Trenton, which, he tells us with a bit of excess regional pride, is a story that “every Philly-area child learns ... in 3rd grade.” The British king whose mercenary army lost the Revolutionary War was King George III, the infamous mad king — not King George VI, who was king of Britain during World War II, brother of the abdicated King Edward VIII, father of the present-day Queen Elizabeth II, an upstanding national figurehead, and by all accounts, a pretty good guy.


Re-Calculating the Cost of Automobile Transportation
Rob Pegoraro,

Richard Stone Rothblum wrote that “the cost of additional mileage is only gasoline and some portion of maintenance.” This would be true if his car doesn't depreciate in value when it's driven — a neat trick indeed. Parking is whole 'nother ball of wax, which is why Metro would be a good deal for my commute at twice the fare.

He's correct, however, that many mass-transit systems require subsidies for both operating and capital costs (some do make a profit, such as the MTR in Hong Kong ( ). Metro is budgeted for $300.4 million of “local operating subsidy” on top of $349.4 million in revenue for both bus and rail in FY 1999 ( ). Rail, incidentally, seems to do better than buses, with Metrorail fares predicted to cover 65 percent of operating costs. [Disclaimer: I write about computers for a living, not railroads. Speaking only for myself, blah blah blah.]


Calculating the Cost of Automobile Transportation Revisited
Harold Goldstein,

Richard figures costs for gas at .04/mi, and suggests that maintenance is another .04/mi — probably a bit low since gas has increased much slower than hourly maintenance costs. But the real omission involves parking costs, which can be as much as $10/day but generally at least $5/day, and that essentially quadruples, at least, his estimation of car costs and clearly gives the advantage to transit. Additionally car insurance is higher if you indicate a regular commute of 10 miles.

Richard also indicates that the only way public transportation can compete is by (justifiable) massive subsidies. Of course that is true, but studies have shown that when the infrastructure is taken into consideration the automobile receives even more massive subsidies. Fully one quarter to one half of all law enforcement costs (that's police and courts) is attributed to the automobile . . . that's a subsidy. Fully one third of all public land is used by the automobile; without the auto our tax base would be much higher. And pollution costs ... try 10 billion a year nationally; a figure held valid 10 years ago. And there are the obvious costs of street and road maintenance, and don't even suggest that the gas tax goes anywhere near paying this. Yes, public transit hasn't paid its way since, approximately, 1972. The automobile, on the other hand, has never paid its way.


Eighteen Percent Interest on Delinquent Property Taxes
Carl Bergman,

Kenneth Nellis asks if the city's 18% interest rate on late property tax payments is justified. It is. The old appointed council set a high rate on purpose. DC's delinquency rate, especially among large property owners, was high. It was cheaper, in effect, for these owners to borrow from the District than from the market. By setting the rate at 18%, the council ended this involuntary lending and forced compliance.


Short Question
Kelly Parden,

What ever happened to submissions to themail that were “...reasonably short -- one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal...”? This is getting ridiculous!


Public School Visions and Problems Addressed in September Edition of NARPAC, Inc., Web Site
Len Sullivan,

The National Association to Restore Pride in America's Capital has revised its web site (See “What's New?” at ) with new headline summaries, five new relevant web sites, and new correspondence, this month to DC Councilmember Chavous suggesting major changes to the elected school board. NARPAC is kicking off an essay contest for high school kids in the region, asking them to describe how they would like to see the capital city develop over the next ten years. First prize is $1000. (Lurkers excluded.) There is also a review of the new Brookings study report, “A Region Divided,” which agrees with some of the conclusions, but takes exception to some of the analysis.

Triggered by recent events, NARPAC offers a summary of the school system's continuing problems and what might be done about them. Its latest editorial view is entitled “Washington DC in 2010 — Still an Urban Ecological Morass?”, and wonders how what the high school students would like to see compares with what they are likely to see. It suggests that the best place to start would be a tough new approach to school board oversight, but that improvements to the health system and police department should not be far behind. Site is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your convenience.


Seamstress or Tailor Sought
Valerie Kenyon Gaffney,

ISO a very good seamstress or tailor to alter my wardrobe. I went down a size, but my clothes didn't. Prefer someone who will give me a “volume discount” since my wardrobe is extensive. Referrals to


Gardener/Landscaper Wanted
JK Ross,

Seeking recommendations for gardener/landscaper due to the untimely passing of Phillip “Pete” Walker. Please E-mail JKR at



Panasonic Shiatzu Massage Lounger EP 582a
Louis Mitler

Massage lounger in good condition, purchased in 1989 for $1,890. Best offer. 202-362-3929 or E-mail.


Free Playsets for Backyard
Norm Linsky,

We have two colorful outdoor toys that are free for the taking. The first is a miniature plastic house, suitable for kids 3 to 7 years old. Perfect for the backyard. The other is a small plastic slide set, for the same age group. Both are in great shape, and we'll help you load them (or even transport in our van). Our kids grew up! Norm & Susan Linsky, 202 362-0694


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