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December 11, 2002

Definition of Success

Dear Real Successes:

Yesterday, I went to the Cato Institute forum that was advertised a couple issues ago in themail (available in audio and video at Casey Lartigue, a Cato policy analyst, made the presentation that you would expect from a libertarian organization, advocating charter schools, vouchers, and basically anything that would provide students in DC with an alternative to the public schools. Virginia Walden-Ford, head of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, also supported making more options available to students and parents. And Peggy Cooper Cafritz, the president of the DC Board of Education, made a presentation that basically defended the public schools as they are, and rejected any of Lartigue's and Walden-Ford's alternatives. “We will not have people taking potshots at the system,” Cafritz said, “without offering solutions.” And, since she didn't accept Lartigue's and Walden-Ford's solutions, she implied that they weren't offering any. “We are radically transforming the system,” Cafritz insisted, “and we won't give the citizens Band-Aids to respond to political carping.”

But Cafritz really got nasty in the question-and-answer period, when she made the false statement that Lartigue's paper referred to the public schools as “inherently unfixable,” and charged that the paper (“The Need for Educational Freedom in the Nation's Capital,” was “full of slick lies . . . nothing but slick lies.” At that, the Chairman of the Cato Institute challenged Cafritz to document her charge. He said that if she could identify any errors in the paper, those errors would be corrected on the web site, and that Cato would issue a public apology; but said that if she couldn't identify any errors, he would expect a public apology from her. Cafritz then picked up the paper, waved it, and said that right in the first two sentences she found slick lies: “The public school system in the nation's capital is failing. Teacher incompetence, bureaucratic corruption, crumbling infrastructure, violence, lax academic standards, and wasteful spending are among the litany of problems plaguing the District of Columbia Public Schools.” The school system, she insisted, isn't failing; there is no corruption in it; the infrastructure is no longer crumbling; in the last two years the schools have been turned around; DCPS is a success.

Ms. Cafritz obviously doesn't understand the difference between a difference of opinion and a lie, but there is a more serious problem with her remarks. They reminded me that Mayor Williams had continued to insist just the day before, on Monday, that the DC HealthCare Alliance is a success. If the public schools in DC and the DC HealthCare Alliance are what our political leaders define as successes, what on earth would they recognize as failures? If they don't recognize failures when those failures slam them in their faces, how can we trust them to repair those systems and run them? A reformer who loses the ability to recognize when reform is needed, who instead identifies with and excuses the problems, loses the right to call himself or herself a reformer.

Gary Imhoff


At Last We Can Be Like Suburbanites
John Whiteside, johnwhiteside at earthlink dot net

So this morning I needed one simple home repair item. I was passing near the new Home Depot on Rhode Island Avenue so I stopped in. There amidst the acres of stuff, I was totally unable to find what I wanted, so I flagged down an employee -- no small feat -- and asked for help. I was sent on a wild goose chase, and asked again. Still no luck. The store is enormous and understaffed, just like every other Home Depot I've ever been to.

The mayor is very excited by big box stores in the District (and hey, there is an upside to that kind of commerce coming to town). But it sure would be nice to see him show up at the opening of Logan Hardware as well as Home Depot, or Sparky's as well as Starbucks and Caribou. Those local merchants are the lifeblood of our community. If I wanted to spend my money at big box stores and be treated poorly, I'd move to Loudoun County. During the season of massive shopping (and after), let's be sure to support the merchants who are a positive part of our community, even if the mayor doesn't seem to know they exist.


The Brazil Bonehead Award
Ed Johnson,

I bet not many themail subscribers also get the Brazil Bulletin, but I can assure you it's worth it for the entertainment value alone. In Councilmember Brazil's December 6th missive, he gives a “Bonehead Award” to Peter Agelos (better known to most people as Peter Angelos; hopefully the plaque will have his named spelled correctly) for “...his efforts to keep baseball out of the District.” Do you suppose the award comes with Grand Prix tickets, or just the warm glow of getting the recognition?

While I do have fond memories of my father taking me to see the Senators, I think I would have been just as happy if we'd gone to see the O's in Baltimore. Or drag racing. Maybe if we can convince Mayor Williams and Councilmember Brazil that grocery shopping is a sport, then the Sports Commission could turn their attention to bringing quality grocery stores to our neighborhoods. I'd be glad to draft a letter for them in support of that! In all seriousness, how many DC residents flock to the 'burbs to do their shopping, where there is better choice, better quality, and better service for so many things? More than the number of potential season ticket holders for a baseball team I'll bet. DC residents pay almost half the city's tax revenue, so why is it that so many of our officials keep proposing the building of more office buildings, stadiums, and convention centers? We have the wherewithal to support retail in our neighborhoods (look at the Fresh Fields on P Street), but getting a new grocery store or pharmacy is more elusive than a hospital. Imagine what decent retail could do in a neighborhood — residents would spend their income here in the city (and pay sales tax), walk instead of drive, and create real jobs instead of growing the subclass of office building cleaners any more.

I hope someone will nominate me for a Brazil Bonehead Award, I can't tell you how proud it would make me!


Conference without Conferring
Dorothy Brizill,

On Monday, the District government held a healthcare summit that focused on "the status of hospitals in the District of Columbia." Two future summit meetings will seek input from community health care providers as well as from the District's health care "consumers." Monday's summit was billed as a closed door meeting at which the Mayor, the City Council, and officials from the ten hospitals that service the district (Children's, George Washington, Georgetown, Greater Southeast Community, Howard, Providence, Sibley, Washington Hospital Center, Medstar, and Prince George's County) would enter into an open dialogue. However, after about an hour, the Mayor and all the senior staff from the executive office of the mayor abruptly left, to return only for the closing plenary session. The Councilmembers who attended (Cropp, Allen, Chavous, Catania, Patterson, and Graham) and the hospital officials were clearly angry, believing that the Mayor was signaling a lack of interest in their positions. Because there would be no opportunity to discuss the healthcare crisis with the Mayor, all of the Councilmembers except for Linda Cropp refused to remain. Sandy Allen was the only Councilmember to return for the closing session.

The most important presentation at the conference was by Robert Malson, head of the DC Hospital Association ( 2002.ppt). Using hard data, DCHA detailed the ripple effect the closure of DC General has had on all hospitals across the District, and on the service that they can provide to all patients — proving without question the existence of the crisis that has been dismissed by the administration and the Washington Post as mere “anecdotes” or “gripes.” Go through the short PowerPoint presentation, and think about its implications for the next time you or a loved one -- not just an uninsured resident east of the river — needs emergency care.


How to Fight an Automated Speeding Ticket?
Phil Greene,

My wife was recently ticketed for doing 37 in a 25 mph zone, on Western Avenue about halfway between Massachusetts and Western. She never even knew she was ticketed, the ticket arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, it was one of those automated tickets where the radar clocked her alleged speed and the camera snapped the photo, thereby recording her vehicle type and license tag. It's similar to the red light camera but for speeding. Does anyone have any advice in arguing this ticket?


DCPS’s Staggering Survey
Susan Ousley,

Parents got, on short or no notice from DC Public Schools central, a “Staggered Bell Survey.” It purports to ask us what we think about different school start times. If you can figure out how to respond to it or even understand it, I hope you'll tell all of us. It has a Reading Ease Level of 50 percent, at a 10th Grade Level, not counting grammar, punctuation, and capitalization problems. There is no way to give useful comments and certainly no way that it can be tallied, as it is set up.

“Set up” is perhaps the operative word.


New York’s 311 Help Line
Gabriel Goldberg,

In about two months, New Yorkers with questions about city services, ranging from heating to parking to taxes, will be able to dial 311 rather than thumb through the 11-page directory of city phone numbers ( What a concept.


The Library and the Snowstorm
Dodie Butler,

One of the first things I did last Thursday morning during the snowstorm — about quarter after 7 a.m. — was look out our front window to see how much snow had fallen. There was a lot of snow. And the lights were on at Takoma Branch Library and custodian Jerry Berry was already at work clearing the way to the handicapped entrance on the east side of the building!

He was out there working long before the library would open its doors, making sure that patrons and passersby heading to work could safely travel both library property and adjacent sidewalks. The snow didn't stop for hours, but the sidewalks were still clear when I got home from work (via Metro) at the end of the day, so Mr. Berry must have been working continually to keep them clean. I also understand that librarian Helen Hiltz came in by subway to open up the branch on time, and was joined by Elissa Webber. Along with Mr. Barry, they made it possible for library staff who lived distant from the library or had travel difficulties to use leave and stay home, while making sure that Takoma DC still had library services.

Thanks to Jerry, Helen and Elissa. I am sure a lot of people were very glad to be able to go to the library on a snow day. Takoma Branch Library was a real good neighbor to us all last Thursday.


DC Snow Removal by Good Citizens
Peter Luger, lugerpj at georgetown dot edu

Below is the DC law requiring owners, tenants, occupants, and lessees to remove snow from sidewalks.

§ 9-601. Removal from sidewalks by owner or occupant of abutting property [Formerly § 7-901].
It shall be the duty of every person, partnership, corporation, joint-stock company, or syndicate in charge or control of any building or lot of land within the fire limits of the District of Columbia, fronting or abutting on a paved sidewalk, whether as owner, tenant, occupant, lessee, or otherwise, within the first 8 hours of daylight after the ceasing to fall of any snow or sleet, to remove and clear away, or cause to be removed and cleared away, such snow or sleet from so much of said sidewalk as is in front of or abuts on said building or lot of land.
(Sept. 16, 1922, 42 Stat. 845, ch. 318, § 1; 1973 Ed., § 7-801; 1981 Ed., §7-901.)


Dueling in the District
Bill Adler,

While looking through the online database of DC laws (don't ask), I found this interesting law. Consider it a warning to anyone who is thinking of settling a dispute, be it an argument with a neighbor or a difference of opinion over Klingle Road, through anything other than peaceful means. I guess this law is a holdover from the days when Members of Congress didn't get along so well.

§ 22-1302. Dueling challenges.
If any person shall in the District challenge another to fight a duel, or send or deliver any written or verbal message purporting or intended to be such challenge, or shall accept any such challenge or message, or shall knowingly carry or deliver an acceptance of such challenge or message to fight a duel in or out of the District, such person shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.


DC Should Lead the Way
Scott McLarty,

In his introduction to the December 8 themail, Gary Imhoff writes that “the national battle between conservatives and liberals, in which DC is a pawn, is waged as an all-or-nothing fight over privatizing or governmentalizing practically all elements of Americans' health care.” This is incorrect. Single-payer national health insurance does not socialize health care, despite the charges of free market defenders. The single-payer model converts coverage, not treatment, to public ownership, under which health care providers, whether public or private, would still compete for customers. (Public facilities like DC General would still be vital in many financially stressed urban and rural areas.) Health care would be guaranteed regardless of employment, income, residence, age, or prior medical condition. It would be financed through progressive taxation, with most working people paying vastly lower rates than they do now for private coverage.

The US, with 43 million people who lack health insurance, is the only industrial democracy that doesn't guarantee its citizens health coverage — a national policy that has turned DC into a disaster area, with short life spans for African American men and infant mortality rates surpassed only by Haiti in the western hemisphere. Meanwhile, Repubs and many Dems worship at the altar of privatization, although the altar is often a facade for subsidizing cronies, such as Williams' precious Doctors Community Health Care. Al Gore's recent endorsement of single-payer might be a foot in the door and an opportunity for people to learn about it. (Here's a start: The privatization cult is on a rampage: Bush contracting out government work; growing pressure to privatize water globally under free trade pacts, causing epidemics in Bolivia and Ghana; schemes to turn Social Security into private investment. Canada's single-payer system is likewise under attack from the privateers, who are trying to ax its budget while calling it a failure. (Ask any Canadians if they'd prefer the US system.) We can get genuine universal coverage in the US, but it'll take an angry citizens' rebellion. With the collapse of health care in DC, we're in a position to lead it. The next time someone dismisses national health insurance as socialism, imagine what would happen if we all depended on private “Fire Dept. Insurance,” and 43 million Americans lacked coverage. The next time someone objects to “rationing” under single-payer, consider how private HMOs and insurance firms restrict treatment, prescriptions, referrals, etc. -- and how DC HealthCare Alliance has rationed prescriptions out of existence for DC seniors on Medicare. Some things, like fire departments, health coverage, education, streets and highways, retirement security, parks, and other vital services and resources, shouldn't rely on the profit motive.

[All right, it's my fault; my message opened up the debate. But I'll also close it here. Debates over national health care, as over all other national issues, can be shoehorned in themail only when the main subject of the message is local. — Gary Imhoff]


Ambrose and Mirel Urged to Halt Blue Cross/Blue Shield's Departure from Children’s
Melody R. Webb,

As you will recall, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Children's will be shutting the doors of the Children's National Medical Center (Children's Hospital) to those who carry Blue Cross Blue Shield at midnight on December 31. Thus, regardless of what option or type of plan you have, beginning January 1, 2003, you will not be able to use any of Children's facilities, specialty doctors or services if you are a BCBS HMO and FEP Basic Option patient. If you are a PPO, POS and FEP Standard Option patient, you will be required to pay additional, out-of-network fees. Thousands of DC area children will lose access to the area's topnotch, comprehensive health facility uniquely designed and staffed to handle the specialized needs of children. It will further diminish the pool of health providers for children. It will lead eventually to more expensive health care for members of all health plans.

The question is why? As we continue our talks with officials, we are beginning to question whether this departure is linked to the January 11, 2002, filing of our local BlueCross company, CareFirst, to obtain for-profit status. CareFirst/BlueCross, in order to convert to a for-profit company, must receive government approval. Upon conversion, the company would be sold to WellPoint Health Networks, a California based private company, for a price of $1.3 billion. Should the conversion and merger be approved, experts question the future rates and the continuing care for those with individual coverage plans or small group plans, generally less desirable subscribers to large for-profit carriers. BlueCross asserts that it is converting in part to offer higher quality services at more affordable rates. Forcing members to leave Children's may save money but it also compromises the higher quality services. Further, one of the requirements for approval is that BlueCross must demonstrate that the proposed conversion/merger will improve health care and otherwise serve the interests of subscribers. However, in the assessment of the CareFirst Watch coalition monitoring this process, “the proposal filed with state Insurance Commissioners makes no guarantees — much less demonstrates any likelihood — that the accessibility, availability, and affordability of health coverage will improve.”

We contend that this departure from Children's is the first step of many that will erode the accessibility, availability, affordability, and quality of healthcare. Sadly, this first step is being made on the backs of our children. Under regulations, the DC Insurance Commissioner is required to weigh the community impact of BCBS' conversion plan. Well here it is: the first evidence of the community impact we can anticipate. Ambrose and Mirel need to scrutinize it carefully. Mirel and Ambrose must open their eyes to the community impact that has already begun; for this is the future for profit Blue Cross BlueShield members. Commissioner Mirel and Councilmember Ambrose must challenge BlueCross to demonstrate how this departure from Children's will improve health care in this community. Either you or someone you know will be affected by this! Please write a letter of your own or E-mail our default form letter to stop this. Here is how: visit



The Christmas Revels: A Victorian Entertainment
Connie Ridgway,

I am performing with the Christmas Revels this year and hope you can join us in celebration of the 2002 winter solstice: comedy, melodrama, carols, and dancing. Upcoming performances at Lisner Auditorium 21st and H Streets, NW, December 13, 7:30 p.m.; December 14, 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; December 15, 2:00 p.m. Family Friday nights: all children’s tickets 50 percent off!

Call Ticketmaster, 432-SEAT, or go to Tickets also available at Lisner Box Office, 994-6800. For information about The Washington Revels, call 723-7528 or go to



Bookkeeping Service Wanted
Jon Katz, jon at markskatz dot com

Downtown Silver Spring law firm seeks efficient, can-do bookkeeping service or contract bookkeeper for all the firm's bookkeeping needs. Approximately 8-15 hours needed weekly. Significant experience assisting law firms is preferred. Please fax your credentials and letter of interest to Jon Katz at 301-495-8815. Our firm's information is at



Volunteer Needed
Scott Burr,

We are in need of someone who could head up a sponsorship program we have developed. The program allows local businesses and community groups to sponsor a Little League or Babe Ruth team for a fee. The Group would get a picture of their team, their name on the jerseys, and a trophy if the team wins. The volunteer position would help recruit sponsors and assist in allocating funds to the teams. If interested, please E-mail or call Scott Burr (703-684-7702 w., or John Vocino (512-7209,



Bancroft Knitting Program
Peg Blechman,

Starting in January 2003, the Bancroft Knitting Program will continue as part of the after school program at Bancroft Elementary School in Mount Pleasant. This is an educational outreach program of the Potomac Craftsmens Guild, a guild of women fiber artists (spinners, weavers, knitters, quilters and needlework artists) in the Washington metropolitan area. Members of the Capital Crocheters and Knitters will be teaching students in grades 2-5. If you'd like to make a tax deductible contribution, please send it to Potomac Craftsmens Guild c/o Gayle Roehm, Treasurer, 8028 Fenway Road, Bethesda, MD 20817.



Firewood Sources
Gabe Goldberg,

I'd like to buy firewood. I don't need a whole forest, but I'd like to buy it more efficiently than three designer logs at a time festively wrapped and wildly overpriced at Fresh Fields. I'd like it delivered and stacked under the deck. I'll appreciate suggestions for sources, I'm just east of Annandale on Route 236.


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