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June 18, 2008

Looking for Loopholes

Dear Loopholers:

This past Monday, we testified at a hearing that Councilmember Phil Mendelson chaired on the three most troubling “public safety” initiatives that Mayor Fenty, Acting Attorney General Nickles, and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Lanier have introduced: the “Safe Homes Initiative,” the “Video Interoperability for Public Safety” program, and the “Neighborhood Safety Zones Initiative.” There was major news to come out of that hearing that all other news outlets seem to have missed, and we’ll get to that last. But first, we want to make a point that Gary made in his testimony at the hearing. In the early days of Home Rule government in the District of Columbia, for all its faults (and there were many, many faults), the city government was dedicated not only to protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of its citizens, but also to expanding those rights. We had administrations and city councils that looked on the Bill of Rights as the foundation of government, not as an impediment to government. Today, in sharp contrast, we have a mayor, attorney general, and police chief dedicated to looking for loopholes in the Bill of Rights, seeking ways to erode our civil liberties and civil rights in the name of “safety” and government effectiveness.

If you didn’t attend the hearing or watch it on television, do watch the last hour and a half when it is posted on the Office of Cable Television’s web site, (We’ll post the exact URL and time marks when OCTT puts the hearing on line.) That was when Acting Attorney General Nickles and MPD Chief Lanier responded to questions, and both their answers and their demeanor were astonishing. Lanier at least kept up a mask of affability until the last half hour, when her impatience and sharpness began to show. But Nickles came with an arrogant, quarrelsome, nasty, hostile, and uncooperative attitude from the beginning. The government witnesses showed their intention to be uncooperative at the start, when they came with no prepared testimony, something that troubled even those committee members who wanted to work with the administration by striking a compromise between honoring constitutional rights and violating them. Nickles displayed his attitude of being above, not just the Constitution but even the rules of the committee, by announcing that he wouldn’t be bound by the clock and the time limits set for councilmembers’ questioning of witnesses. It was a relief when Councilmember Mary Cheh had her first ten-minute round of questions for Nickles, and if you have just ten minutes to spend watching the hearing, spend them there. Cheh, who teaches constitutional law at George Washington University, took Nickles to school, and she was as good as John Houseman’s Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase, toying with a hapless, incompetent, and ill-prepared Law One student. She exposed the shallowness and vacuity of Nickles’ legal analysis, and she did so without the personal attacks and ill temper that she has sometimes used against witnesses with whom she disagreed. It was masterful.

Now for the news. Chief Lanier announced for the first time that the stated reasons for instituting a blockade of the Trinidad neighborhood were not the true reasons, or at least not the major reason, behind the cordon. There was another, more important, reason, she told the committee, but she could not reveal what that reason was. If the committee members knew what she knew, she was confident that they would agree with her actions, but she couldn’t tell them what she knew. She had, she said, specific information that there were specific individuals who were going to enter that neighborhood to commit a particular crime. Preventing that crime was the real reason for quarantining Trinidad. No lesser measures — tracking those specific individuals, warning the intended victims of the crime, etc. — would have sufficed to prevent the crime. Only a full-scale lock down of the neighborhood and lockout of other citizens was enough. But councilmembers would have to take her word for it, because she couldn’t tell them anything more. Prior to that hearing, the administration had already put out two conflicting stories about the origin of and purpose for the blockade. The first story was that it was a reaction to the violence in Trinidad over the weekend of May 31 and June 1; the second was that the administration had been planning the blockage for two months before that time. Now we have the third story, that the blockade was to thwart a particular planned crime; were the police aware of that planned crime more than two months ago? If you’ll buy this latest change in the administration’s story this late in the day, we’ll forward you some E-mails from Nigeria that will let you in on a scheme to get rich overnight.

Neighborhood Safety Zones items, now including the Office of the Attorney General’s two legal analyses, are at

Gary Imhoff,
Dorothy Brizill,


Paul Basken,

[“Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Two Years,” by the Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, NCEE 2008-4023, June 2008], out June 16, seems to suggest little benefit to students from the DC voucher system.


PEPCO Accountability, Too
Ted Gest,

Dorothy Brizill, in her post on the Friday the 13th fiasco [themail, June 15], focuses on the DC government’s lack of coherent response. Fine, but let’s return to the source: PEPCO. I was one of the many people affected by the snafu, sitting in my darkened office in Chinatown on Friday morning trying to figure out whether I needed to go home to do urgent Internet work. I called PEPCO and actually got through to someone, but that person was completely ignorant: she told me she had no idea what was going on or how long it might take to fix. This was at about 9:30 a.m.; later I read that PEPCO in fact had estimated a fix by about 10 a.m., which apparently occurred. (I had in fact gone home by then).

Granted that at the beginning of an emergency it isn’t clear how soon the emergency will end, by 9:30 a.m., two hours after this started, PEPCO should have been able to provide more info by phone.

[The DC Public Service Commission has announced an investigation of the PEPCO Outage, — Gary Imhoff]


DC Cabs and Meters
Joan Eisenstodt, jeisen at aol dot com

I saw a poll for the Washington Business Journal that people (who commented) are generally paying less with the meters. I must be doing something wrong. I have yet to take a metered cab that didn’t cost me at least fifty cents extra, versus zone fares, and had more stops at yellow lights and kvetching about turning on the air conditioning and how much it costs to drive a cab now. Sure, I love the safety of stopping at yellow lights, but it seems it seem to be done to drive the fare up and not for safety. And the kvetching — c’mon — I know the drivers want to recoup the cost of the meters and I appreciate that. But in our hot, humid weather, a non-air-conditioned cab is for the birds.


Who Will Be the First?
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Which gas station in DC will be the first to break the five dollar mark for a gallon of gasoline? That’s very likely to happen before the end of this year. My nomination is the Spring Valley Exxon Station at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 49th Street, NW. This station traditionally charges more than twenty cents more per gallon than most other stations in northwest DC, and will be the first, I’m sure, to show $5 on their signs and pumps.


Mayor Adrian Fenty Fears DCPS President Robert Bobb
Jonathan R. Rees,

If you take the time to look at the web site for the DC Public Schools,, you will not find any mention or link to its board and or its president Robert Bobb. This lack of any mention of the DCPS Board or its president is deliberate and orchestrated by a jealous Mayor Adrian Fenty who is afraid of Robert Bobb and the possibility of Robert Bobb’s challenging him for the mayor’s office in 2010.

What you do find is a web site full of propaganda, lies, and self-praise of its chancellor, who never ran a school district previously in her life, just a tiny employment agency to place teachers.

Mayor Fenty’s fear of Robert Bobb is just one aspect of his overall dishonesty, vindictive, unpredictability, erratic behavior and unreliability in the minds of voters and good cause for voters to deny him a second term.


The Problem with Safety
Phill Wolf,

Re “The Problem with Safety,” [themail, June 15]: “Safety” is the “B” in “KGB.”


About the Problem with Safety
Robert Evans,

Mayor Fenty and the Bush administration certainly do seem to share similar attitudes toward executive power and the place and value of civil rights in our society. I have to admit that I originally had great hopes for Fenty and I do still believe in many of his stated goals, it’s his processes to achieve those goals that have made me lose faith in both him and his administration, processes that he didn’t discuss when running for office, though I’m now sure he had already thought about them.

Fenty’s grandiose claims and delusion of executive privilege and power are reflected in an arrogance and belligerence toward both the council and the DC citizenry in general, but — at least so far — habeas corpus seems safe in DC and to my knowledge no secret detentions have taken place here — yet, but “the end justifies the means” does seem to be becoming a common thread in some Fenty administration actions.

The one good thing to come out of this is that I will not make the same mistake twice. Before voting again for anyone based just on rhetoric and their stated goals, I will be sure to research deeper into how they intend to achieve them and the basic principles behind their well-spoken words and promises. “Fool me once, sham on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”


Follow the Money
Beatrice Irby Smith,

Just like that rat Williams was a plant by the Washington Post, the present administration is getting its initiatives for safety from higher-ups in DC. As “Deep Throat” advised, follow the money. Just who stands to gain from enacting these three “safety” initiatives.

Come on people, where is our present day Bernstein and Woodward? Have all the investigative journalists sold out?


The Public Safety Hearing
Carolyn Steptoe,

[An open letter to the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary] I must make two observations: a) I find it troubling, troubling that the Interim AG, as a private sector partner at a law firm of high-tier stature, would reduce himself to such unflattering public displays of professional intolerance, impatience, smugness, and childish flippancy when addressing the council, particularly towards Councilmembers Mendelson, Cheh, and Thomas. I was frankly shocked at his inability to maintain professional decorum and civility while discussing his legal basis for concluding the constitutional viability of the Executive’s initiatives. It appeared bad form that in attempting to justify the legal counsel he provided the mayor about these initiatives, the AG’s crassness and dismissive contempt resonated towards DC councilpersons. I found the same held true from Chief Lanier. Is that what the DC Council can expect when they have questions about initiatives stemming for the mayor — contempt, belligerence, and indignation? Completely bad form from public officials and servants.

b) As to the “one tool in the toolbox” song many councilpersons sang during yesterday’s and previous public safety hearings. It might be helpful if these councilmembers recognize this song deafens one’s knowledge base and intellectual sensibilities about the very real potential of class action lawsuits. Checkpoints, video surveillance, anti-loitering, and safe search initiatives are all “public safety” measures currently enthralled in lawsuits. More lawsuits is not a toolbox in which the District wants to continue to find itself. Public disdain towards those who helped violate civil liberties might be another toolbox in which some may find themselves.

I want to please thank Councilmembers Mendelson, Cheh, Thomas, and Barry for their questions, analysis, and perspective during yesterday’s 2:00 p.m. public safety hearing on the Executive’s initiatives and their impact on civil liberties. Councilmember Mendelson, thank you for your demonstrated research, analysis, and critical case study. It was necessary and poignant, especially as you countered what I saw as the arrogantly absurd contentions of Attorney General Peter Nickles on the constitutional validity and procedural rationale for the “public safety initiatives.” I also appreciate the various “successful” policing correlations (or lack thereof) you addressed to Chief Lanier. The public heard en masse from yesterday’s policing and legal panelists that, among other things, the checkpoint initiatives violate constitutional law, do not reduce crime (more visible police presence does). We also heard persons were still able to bypass checkpoints and drive into the Trinidad neighborhood. As Dorothy Brizill noted, besides the potential legal ramifications of these initiatives, tourism and the overall public relations image of the District could likely plummet. [Finished online at]

Further, as a District resident, I was honored that the illustrious and inimitable John Payton, Director-Counsel and President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, testified yesterday. I personally sent him and other legal, civil rights, and public policy persons E-mails requesting they testify. It appears your committee did the same — excellent! I was also pleased to see Deborah Golden, Esq. (Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights) testify as a public witness against the initiatives. It was helpful to hear that not only is Ms. Golden a civil rights attorney, but that she is also a bona fide Trinidad resident who shared both the legal and neighborhood side of these checkpoint initiatives.

Councilmember Cheh, thank you very much for your vehement and thorough dissection and analysis relating to illegality of checkpoint seizure. It is important that we the public — and obviously too the AG — know that the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, ruled in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 121 S. Ct. 447 (2000) that the “Fourth Amendment would almost certainly permit an appropriately tailored roadblock set up to thwart an imminent terrorist attack or to catch a dangerous criminal who is likely to flee by way of a particular route.” As you noted, however, in the Trinidad neighborhood the MPD ‘s checkpoint primary purpose is for “ordinary crime control.” According to the Supreme Court, this checkpoint purpose does not meet the constitutionally sound emergency situations that permit checkpoints. Therefore, these efforts are unconstitutional. Thank you again for your constitutional law expertise and opinions. Might I say that I am confused as to why the mayor, AG, and/or Chief of Police did not first confer with you (or one of the many constitutional law experts in the city) before effectuating these initiatives? Many of us know that it is one thing to be an attorney, and it is quite another to be a practicing attorney expert in a particular area of practice. An antitrust attorney knows little about constitutional law, and a wise one consults the other for practice-related advice.

Councilmember Thomas, thank you very much for hosting the Trinidad healing session last Friday. I attended this forum and can attest to the community’s disapproval of the measures which you presented via statistical community surveys. I also want to thank you for your efforts to maintain neutrality and public decorum in the face hellish violent crime escalation in our Ward — and even worse hellish Executive initiatives misguidely presented to you and then heaped upon the most vulnerable residents of our Ward. I applaud your for your comportment and continued gracious demeanor. Councilmember Barry, thank you for your support against the initiatives’ constitutional viability.


Who’s in Charge?
Charles Cureton,

What type of people are “running” DC? It appears that the police chief, mayor, and anyone associated with them feel they can dictate whatever they want to the citizens. If crime is such a high priority, maybe basic police work is in order, not taking away the rights of honest citizens. The courts should put the maximum sentences on those convicted of crimes, particularly serious and violent crimes. Also, why not place photos of those arrested or convicted of crimes in newspapers and on TV for all to see. This could help deter their activities, when they are aware citizens know who they are and what they look like. This is not a violation of “civil rights” since a person has no expectation of privacy when a photo is taken. Security cameras are a prime example of this. Those who own a residence in other areas but have a rented apartment or house simply for convenience should resign their position and leave, or buy a house in DC and live there as required by law. Guess those people don’t feel safe living in DC, yet they are willing to take away rights of DC citizens and property owners for their own reasons, whatever those may be. Of course, this is nothing new for DC. I remember ex-mayor Marion Barry and his debut on TV involving crack. All I can say is I wish DC the best of luck in getting its problems resolved or kicking them out of office.


Mendelson Not Solving Gun Problem
Matt Forman,

Steve Lanning shills for Phil Mendelson in the last issue of themail [June 15] with a post that is remarkably similar to an E-mail Phil himself sent me in response to the Washingtonian article and my post suggesting that Phil is doing little to solve the gun problem. The best Steve (and Phil) can come up with is that as chair of the Judiciary Committee, Phil passed a bill two years ago that the mayor proposed (after Phil watered it down during a year in committee), he put another mayoral proposal on hold, and he introduced a single bill himself? And he doesn’t bother to say whether there is any evidence that these few measures have in any way been effective? The results speak for themselves. On a regular basis we now awake to news that half a dozen shootings had occurred the night before.



Life in the Negro Baseball League, June 21
Ed Bruske,

Saturday, June 21, 2:00 p.m. Film Series: There Was Always Sun Shinning Someplace: Life in the Negro Baseball League, 57 minutes, black and white, 1984. Admission free, Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW. Narrated by James Earl Jones, this documentary features interviews with baseball Hall of Fame stars Satchel Paige, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Buck Leonard, Judy Johnson, Monte Irvin, and Ray Dandridge. Praised by the national press, this compelling film chronicles the rich history of the Negro Baseball Leagues that flourished before Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues in 1947. The exploits of these talented athletes during a time when baseball was a segregated sport are vividly brought to life.

There Was Always Sun Shining Someplace contains rare historical footage showing the ballplayers as they traveled the back roads of America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Latin America. It is an unforgettable journey. (A program collaboration of the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum and The Historical Society of Washington, DC.) or 383-1828.


Financial Strategies for the Business Owner, June 21
Barbara Conn,

This seminar addresses the financial concerns of the small business owner. A major focus will be the importance of addressing business and personal financial needs as an integrated whole. Business structure impact on taxes will be also covered. In addition, retirement plan options, transition planning, and protection issues specific to the business owner (such as key person insurance) will be discussed. Brian Thoms, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) practitioner with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., America’s largest financial planning firm, will lead the seminar.

Gather your colleagues and spouses, and your questions, and bring them to this Saturday, June 21, 1:00 p.m., gathering of the Capital PC User Group (CPCUG) Entrepreneurs and Consultants Special Interest Group (E&C SIG). These monthly events are free and open to all. This month’s event is at the Cleveland Park Branch Library (first floor large meeting room) at 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW (between Macomb and Newark Streets), just over a block south of the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station on the Red Line. For more information about the event, the speaker, and CPCUG (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization), visit To RSVP, send an E-mail to


National Building Museum Events, June 21, 24
Jazmine Zick,

Saturday, June 21, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., ARCHitecture Family Day. Come celebrate Eero Saarinen’s legacy at the ARCHitecture Family Day! Create your own St. Louis Arch with Legos, put on a shadow puppet show, and enjoy a dance workshop! Special drop-in exhibition tours available throughout the day. Free. Drop-in program. All ages.

Tuesday, June 24, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Engineering Saarinen’s TWA Terminal. Eero Saarinen’s former structural engineer, Abba Tor, P.E., F.ASCE, and Martin Moeller, the Museum’s coordinating curator for the exhibition Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, recount the pre-computer age engineering of JFK Airport’s iconic TWA Terminal. $12 members; $12 students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


The Devil in the White City, June 23
George Williams,

Monday, June 23, 7:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, Social Sciences Division, Room 221. All the World’s a Stage Book Club. Different countries, times and lives. Each book is an adventure. Discuss the book, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson.


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