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July 24, 2005

Subway Surveillance

Dear Subway Riders:

The District of Columbia government and WMATA fear that they are falling behind New York City in the race to appease terrorists by destroying American freedoms ourselves before the terrorists have a chance to. WMATA, with the encouragement of the city administration, is seriously considering instituting random searches of Metro riders. This is certain to be politically popular because the resultant humiliation and inconvenience of subjecting citizens to searches by armed police authorities — without any reason to suspect those citizens of any crime — will fool a lot of people into thinking that they are safer. The less liberty, the less privacy, the less freedom we have, the greater our safety and security will be, right? Certainly, the Chinese must think so. But if random searches of subway riders are a good thing, why should those searches be limited to subway riders? Wouldn’t random searches of cars on the streets and pedestrians on the sidewalks be even better? And if that would be better, why shouldn’t the police conduct random searches of our homes and workplaces, without the bothersome necessity of having to actually suspect us of any wrongdoing? If we’re better protected by having the police inspect whatever we carry with us, why wouldn’t we be even better protected by having the police inspect whatever we have in our houses and apartments? Why should we be satisfied with halfway measures?

The answer is that subway searches will do nothing to increase our security or safety. Security expert Robert Schneier, in a widely circulated comment on his web site on July 22, pointed out the real terrorists’ response to the subway searches: “Okay guys; here are your explosives. If one of you gets singled out for a search, just turn around and leave. And then go back in via another entrance, or take a taxi to the next subway stop” ( Only the innocent will be hindered. Schneier’s conclusion: “It's another ‘movie plot threat.’ It's another ‘public relations security system.’ It's a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won't make us any safer.” And for those who ask what we should do if we don’t do that, Schneier has an answer: “Counterterrorism is most effective when it doesn't make arbitrary assumptions about the terrorists' plans. Stop searching bags on the subways, and spend the money on 1) intelligence and investigation — stopping the terrorists regardless of what their plans are, and 2) emergency response — lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what the plans are. Countermeasures that defend against particular targets, or assume particular tactics, or cause the terrorists to make insignificant modifications in their plans, or that surveil the entire population looking for the few terrorists, are largely not worth it.”

Gary Imhoff


Emergency Communications for DC Area Residents
Bill Adler,

The recent London bombings have raised all sorts of questions and concerns about safety in DC, especially: How do we communicate when all else fails? When the Internet, cell phones, and the telephone system aren't working, the DC Emergency Radio Network, DCERN, can be used to communicate with family, neighbors and others. DCERN uses off-the-shelf FRS and GMRS radios that can be purchased at Radio Shack, Best Buy, and elsewhere. FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) radios are handheld two-way radios that run on batteries and don't depend on cell phone networks.

DCERN is self-activating and doesn't require any special training or equipment, other than an inexpensive FRS or GMRS radio. When other communication networks go down, or if you need to communicate outside and your cell phone's not working, just tune your radio to channel 1 and talk. DCERN works a little like a relay, with people passing information down the line. Somebody will be there. For more about the DC Emergency Radio Network, visit


Irresponsible Financing
Laura McGiffert Slover,

In its July 17 editorial [], the Washington Times demonstrated that it is completely out of sync with the needs and desires of Washingtonians by denouncing the School Modernization Financing bill. The bill, which would infuse one billion dollars into modernizing and rebuilding DC’s crumbling school facilities, was introduced last month by Ward 4 councilmember Adrian M. Fenty and supported by seven other council members to address the sad fact that well over 80 percent of our school buildings have been deemed to be in terrible condition. On July 7, over forty concerned citizens, parents, and school advocates testified on behalf of this bill in front of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. There was universal agreement that these dollars are absolutely necessary to overcome the years of delayed maintenance and failure to modernize our school buildings that have left us with a nearly $2 billion challenge. Yet the Times calls Mr. Fenty’s bill “irresponsible.” It seems to me that what is really “irresponsible,” especially in this time of surplus, is to continue to allow our children to attend class in deteriorating school buildings, with leaking roofs, peeling paint and erratic heat and air quality.

Why is ignoring our crumbling infrastructure so irresponsible? The current economic development has attracted numerous new residents to the city. Housing costs have skyrocketed, and downtown is booming. But those residents expect more than shopping centers and baseball. They require schools for their children (their number one asset), and if they can’t find them in DC, they will move out of this city to find them. Far too many of my friends, who are young, educated, and unwilling or unable to pay astronomical private school costs, are fleeing the city as soon as their children become of school age. They go to Bethesda, Silver Spring, Fairfax, etc., and they take their money and their tax dollars with them. It is no surprise that DC is becoming increasing polarized into a city of haves and have-nots. Those in between, like many of my friends, are leaving in search of real value: homes near excellent schools.

The Times makes a few irresponsible claims of its own, primarily that the School Financing bill would threaten the District's standing on Wall Street by bringing our bond rating under scrutiny. According to a July 15 article in the Washington Post by Steven Pearlstein [], Mayor Anthony Williams has plans to subsidize -- with taxpayer dollars -- a number of typically private-sector developments, including the new baseball stadium, the new convention center hotel, the new Skyland Shopping Center in Southeast, and most recently the new National Capital Medical Center, on the site of the old DC General Hospital. The City has also issued $347 million in revenue bonds for DC private and charter school construction projects since 1998. This raises two points. First, it shows that the money is there; Mayor Williams just hasn’t made it a priority to spend it responsibly on our school facilities. He is too busy acting like a real-estate developer pursuing high-profile projects. Second, it suggests that if DC’s bond rating raises some eyebrows, it’s all these other pet projects — that predate this school financing bill — that we should be pointing the finger towards.

The bottom line is that our school facilities are atrocious, and none of us in good conscience would want to send our children into those buildings. Many are simply unsafe; the rest are simply not conducive to the learning we want our children to be doing. Mr. Fenty’s bill takes an important step towards addressing this crisis. The District's chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, has agreed that with minor adjustments the bill would be fiscally sound. The school board has pledged strong oversight, and the still relatively new school superintendent, Cliff Janey, has shown he is serious about strengthening the operations and facilities side of the school system. Given the state of our school buildings and our hopes for our city, it seems to me that it would be irresponsible not to fund a citywide school modernization.


Irresponsible? Hardly
Ed Dixon, Georgetown Reservoir,

A few have posited that the School Modernization Financing bill ( is irresponsible even though nine of the thirteen councilmembers are supporters of the bill. Let’s start with the premise that it is more responsible to fix a leaky roof than to continually change the bucket underneath the hole in the roof. There is probably no agency in the Mayor’s inventory that has buildings in the condition of those in DCPS. For those in doubt, go to to view some of our public school buildings. Changing the buckets in these schools is costing the city tens of millions of dollars every year. That’s money that could be better used to pay off bonds to renovate and modernize them. But we can’t borrow money and back it with money we’re spending so the city has to come up with a separate line item of revenue.

Finance committees are supposed to come up with creative financing schemes to solve these leaky roof problems. The problem is, short of letting this bill leave committee, the Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue has done nothing to solve this costly problem in spite of the experience of its chair. In fact, this bill, which should have been created in the Finance Committee because of its scope (K-12 finance), had to be agreed upon by the majority of the Council outside of the Finance Committee to get it through the Finance Committee. Most of the nine councilmembers supporting this bill agree changes are necessary, several were mentioned during the July hearings, but no one on the Finance Committee could come up with one change before it left committee. This is a committee that engineers creative public financing for law offices, spy museums, luxury condos, private schools, five-star hotels, and baseball stadiums. Yet, somehow dissension arises on this committee when the financing is for school buildings that are supposed to help educate forty to fifty thousand, highly segregated, mostly working class, African-American children.

Many financial reports have singled out the condition of the public schools as a public liability. Among them, a March 2003 Moody’s bond rating report stated, “The rating also reflects the District's need to improve the quality and efficiency of public services, particularly K-12 education, in order to sustain positive trends in the economy and District finances” ( According to Moody’s, the Council has to address the issue of improving the schools. Building a convention center or baseball stadium is not going to change the fact that the schools are falling apart. But dedicating line item revenue streams, like the convention center and baseball stadium have, will. That is what the School Modernization Financing bill is attempting to do. It should be improved and passed by the Council.


A Cheap Getaway
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

For those who want to make an inexpensive trek to the Big Apple you can't beat the Vamoose (honest) bus. The bus leaves from Tenleytown Metro Station (and other stops in DC) at 9 a.m. (and other times) and arrives at Penn Station in New York at about one in the afternoon. This is a long distance, fully equipped bus. You can make a reservation on line and arrive at the bus stop only five minutes before the bus leaves. No hour-and-a-half before departure time, no thirty minutes through security. And for only twenty bucks each way.

Compare that to the $150 bucks each way for flying to LaGuardia or almost that much for Amtrak. And, as for time, you won't beat that time by flying when you add in the time to get to National and from La Guardia Airport to Penn Station. The travel time is only 45 minutes longer than the Amtrak Metroliner. In all, it's a cheap getaway for a museum or show matinee visit to the Big Apple.


Trucks on New York Avenue
Ralston Cox, Dupont Circle,

I did not attend the public meetings about the NY Avenue Corridor Study and do not yet know the details of the plans, but I was struck by Richard Layman's response [themail, July 20] to Len Sullivan's post [themail, July 17] about provisions for truck traffic in that study. Mr. Layman says that the software model used for the study is one created by the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments — the same as that used by all local governments.

If Mr. Layman is correct, I would be interested to know if this software model takes into account the agreement by the Washington Convention Center to have all trucks that serve the Convention Center park in a holding lot in Prince Georges County and travel to and from the Convention Center solely along New York Avenue. The agreement to have trucks transit the city in this manner was but one part of the larger agreement that allowed the Convention Center to move forward at its current location, and could certainly account for quite a bit of truck traffic along New York Avenue. I would suspect that such truck traffic is not accounted for in a somewhat more generic software model.

In any event, the New York Avenue corridor certainly needs improvement. Friends who live along New York Avenue report nonstop bumper-to-bumper traffic traveling west at all times of the day and night from Florida Avenue all the way to 7th Street, NW, especially west of North Capital Street. Here's hoping creative minds -- using the best available traffic information — can come up with solutions that local residents can support. And that will actually get implemented.


The X-2 Bus
Bryce A. Suderow,

On Monday, I waited 45 minutes for the X-2 bus to arrive at 9th and H Streets, NW. Tonight, Thursday, the bus was one hour and 45 minutes late. Every other bus on the line came two or three times. Finally, when the X-2 showed up, there were three X-2 busses stacked up one behind another.

I traveled two or three miles on the X-2 before I got off At each stop, the driver picked up hot, exhausted, and furious passengers. I'm surprised he wasn't assaulted. One angry man launched a torrent of abuse at the driver and then told the passengers, “This is nothing but the n****r line. As long as we pay them a dollar and a quarter, that's all Metro cares about.”


Metro Outsourcing
Harold Goldstein,

My comment about WMATA’s having come into existence because private carriers dropped less used lines [themail, July 13] is historical. The argument that the use on nonunion labor makes outsourcing lines an effective tool could be extended to say that the entire system should be outsourced. Is that the direction we'd like to go? A system with each line run by a different private party, and all WMATA does is run the contracts?

Besides being antiunion, few would espouse this position as desirable. So where do we draw the line? Yes, labor costs more to WMATA, so lets make aim for a situation in which WMATA labor functions efficiently, with appropriate vehicles serving appropriate needs.


A Terrorist by Any Other Name Is What?
Willie Schatz,

I agree with Victoria McKernan's July 20 post that when the blow back comes here, just as it did in London, the only ones who will save us are ourselves. The District government's incompetence with emergency plans and many equally compelling issues has been too well documented in these pages to merit further comment. As we say in the legal profession, res ipsa loquitur: the thing speaks for itself.

But I'm mystified by the last sentence. “For a few centuries ago, the Vikings were the terrorists”? Really? To whom, other than the natives of what is now Greenland?


Solutions to Crime Beyond Law Enforcement
Roscoe C. Wilson, Jr., AMI Schools,

I read with interest the commentary (themail, July 21) by A. Scott Bolden. I applaud Bolden’s vision and recommendation that society take a comprehensive approach to reducing crime and improving education to make our communities safer and more viable. All youngsters want to be successful. And education is the cornerstone of success. As leaders, we must ask ourselves some hard questions when looking for solutions to stemming crime in our communities. First and foremost, we want to know that what we do has a good chance of being successful. And, we must feel confident that our choices are cost-effective.

Research has linked poor academic achievement and school failure to delinquency, teenage pregnancy, adult criminality, lower income, and welfare dependency. It has also long been recognized that forming positive connections with caring adults and mainstream society prevents delinquency during young adulthood. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Washington, DC, created a Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. It supported the use of community-based programs, stating, "the establishment of small community-based facilities to provide intensive services in a secure environment offers the best hope for successful treatment of those juveniles who require a structured setting" (OJJDP, 1995).

With a success rate that far exceeds most programs, AMI has been operating programs for delinquent youth and their families since 1969. The AMI programs simply embrace those characteristics that make good families work -- warmth, structure, support, and discipline, with everyone having a say-so and an important role. Most of our students come to our AMI schools being at least two grades behind their peers, and come up to their appropriate grade level in six to nine months. And over 70 percent of them never get in trouble again with the law. Education and community-based support is the key to success. Let’s work together.



Urban League Benefit Events, July 28-29
Julius Ware,

On Thursday, July 28, at 8:30 p.m., the National Urban League will be hosting a benefit concert featuring India Arie and Brian Mc Knight at the Warner Theater, 13th and E Streets, NW. Tickets $35.00, open general admission; $50.00, premium reserved seat; $75.00, premium reserved orchestra seat; $125.00, premium reserved orchestra seat and VIP Reception (sold out).

On Friday, July 29, Hip Hop innovator Doug E. Fresh will host an After Party; "6 Minutes Your On!" At Club Nine, 999 9th Street, NW (lower level of the Renaissance Hotel). Cost: $25.00.

In support of The Greater Washington Urban League, the Urban Roundtable will be selling tickets to these events. Part of the proceeds benefit the Urban Roundtable's scholarships and programs. For more information, go to our web site,, or call our hotline, 265-8200 ext: 277. Please get your tickets early, because they will go fast!


Where Do We Go from Here, July 3
Dorinda White,

The East Capitol Center for Community Change (ECCC), a Ward 7 community based nonprofit organization, in partnership with Chronicles of Truth Productions (COTP), presents the hit stage play, “Where Do We Go From Here?” at the Publick Playhouse, 5445 Landover Road, Cheverly, MD on Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. The play features the lives of two married couples and deals with strengthening marriages and families using Biblical principles. The couple, portrayed by local actors, takes the audience through the joys and hardships of marriage and family and shows how love, pain, hurt, trust, betrayal, repentance and forgiveness will and can occur. The audience sees how it’s possible to build a family that is strong, resilient and committed despite the ups and downs of everyday life. For more information visit and for tickets call 301-277-1711.



ANC Part-Time Administrative Assistant
Roger Moffatt,

ANC6D, serving SW Waterfront and Near SE, seeks a part-time administrative assistant. Approximately ten hours weekly, maximum forty hours monthly, majority between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Start at $12 per hour. Must work well with public and know DC government operations. Five years office experience required. E-mail resume and cover letter to, or send to Roger Moffatt, 1301 Delaware Avenue, SW, #911, WDC, 20024. Resumes must be received by August 11.



Photos of the Kenesaw Apartments
Mara Cherkasky,

I'm looking for old photos of weddings or any other events held at the Kenesaw apartment building on Sixteenth and Irving (it's now called the Renaissance). Actually, a photo of any of the public areas of the building would be fine. I'm working on the Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail, and if someone out there can come up with something, I'd be very grateful.

[This classified ad was run in the July 20 issue of themail, in which my careless acceptance of the spell-checker’s suggested change turned the Kenesaw into the Knees apartment building. Sorry for the error. — Gary Imhoff]


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