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July 27, 2008

Let Him Enforce It If He Can

Dear Enforcers:

I really do want to get on to other subjects, but at the DCist site Martin Austermuhle responded to what I wrote in the last issue on DC’s gun laws, Martin wrote, “Our problem with Imhoff’s logic is that he doesn’t see any difference between what Congress can do and what Congress should do. We’ve long known that Congress can act as a benevolent dictator (or not so benevolent, depending on the member playing the role) when it comes to the District’s local affairs, but we’ll never argue that it’s right that they do so. Yes, the Supreme Court ruled that handgun ownership can no longer be banned, but they didn’t spell out exactly which regulations and restrictions are permissible. And yes, the DC council is playing dumb, making only the most incremental changes and running the risk of years and years of litigation. But that’s how democracy works — legislative bodies legislate, the judiciary weighs the constitutionality of their actions. Just because Imhoff disagrees with the DC council’s actions — even if he believes they are not living up to the spirit of the court’s decision — doesn’t mean that Congress should suddenly step in and legislate for us. If anything, it means that Imhoff should start writing letters, lobbying council members and even threatening to run himself should the council not act. If he’s not willing to work within the District’s democratic process, than he should be ready for the Pandora’s Box he’s willing to open by saying that in this case it’s OK that Congress legislate for the District from up on high.”

There are two problems with Martin’s problem with my logic. The first is that he apparently believes that, except for the courts, the federal government should not act when a state or a federal district like DC violates the constitutional rights of its citizens, and that the courts should be left alone to enforce their decisions. In 1832 the Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee tribe was a sovereign nation, and that the government could not expel the Cherokee from Georgia unless they signed a treaty agreeing to move. One of the many variants of what President Andrew Jackson famously said after that ruling is, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it if he can.” That defiant attitude was echoed by many southern states in the wake of the Court’s school desegregation ruling, and by the District government in the wake of the Court’s Second Amendment ruling in DC v. Heller. In the Cherokee case, the Supreme Court’s ruling was not enforced, and Jackson and his generals were never punished for the injustice of the Trail of Tears. In contrast, in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, although there were many court cases for decades following the decision, the president and Congress, not just the courts, took active roles in enforcing the ruling against local and state governments that resisted school desegregation — Eisenhower even reluctantly sent the National Guard to Little Rock. Martin apparently thinks that Eisenhower was wrong, and prefers the Jacksonian approach of seeing whether the Supreme Court has the power to enforce its own decision.

The second problem is that under the article of the constitution that created the District of Columbia, Congress does have exclusive, total, and ultimate legislative authority over DC. That is a fact. You don’t have to like it, but it can’t be wished away. It does no good to say that Congress shouldn’t fulfill its constitutional duties. If our city government insists on passing laws that violate the constitutional rights of its citizens, it is deliberately provoking Congress and inviting it to act. It is the one opening Pandora’s box. It is also sabotaging DC’s efforts to attain statehood or a vote in Congress. As commentators on Martin’s article have mentioned, DC Vote is doing a nationwide tour seeking support for their efforts to get a Congressional vote. How effective will its tour be when groups that support the Second Amendment start organizing to meet DC Vote at its appearances, asking why the city is defying the Supreme Court’s ruling? In how many states will defying Heller make DC’s cause more popular? In addition, Adrian Fenty is doing a national tour campaigning for Barack Obama. How long will Obama continue to use Fenty as a surrogate after the press asks him whether he supports Fenty’s position on gun laws?

Joel Lawson sends a follow-up to Ed Barron’s posting on harassment of photographers at Union Station. It’s a report on his blog about Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s hearing on the issue,

Gary Imhoff


Single Sales Bans
Jack McKay,

Bans on the breaking up of six-packs of beer by liquor stores to be sold as “singles” are increasingly popular, with bans already in place in Wards 4, 7, and 8, and bills now in the council for bans in Ward 2, part of Ward 6, and in Mount Pleasant (Ward 1). These bans are aimed at indigent drinkers who want to, or can afford to, buy only one bottle of beer, then take it onto the street for open-air drinking. These problem drinkers are notoriously badly behaved, getting drunk, sleeping on park benches, and using alleys and gardens as urinals. Single sales bans are supposed to end this noxious behavior.

Ah, but does such a ban “end” the bad behavior, or does it merely shift it from one place to another? No one believes that merely eliminating cheap singles will reform problem street drinkers and put a stop to their bad behavior. But our councilmembers imply that it does, noting the improvements where bans are in place, and never admitting that the sole goal of a single sales ban is to make these unpleasant men go somewhere else, away from the complaining residents. One Mount Pleasant resident at recent council hearings revealed the truth: after the ban went into effect, his neighborhood drunks “evaporated, they went away, and we don’t see them any more.” Well, I’m sure that’s happy news for him, but presumably these men are still out there someplace, drinking and littering and sleeping and urinating. Is it acceptable public policy to solve my problem by taking it out of my back yard and putting it into yours?

Our District councilmembers have been unwilling to face up to the real problem: a population of problem drinkers, many of them homeless, forced out of shelters and onto the streets during the day, with no access to toilets, and nothing to do but sit on park benches and drink the cheapest alcohol they can find. On July 23, the Mount Pleasant ANC, by a unanimous vote, called on the District council to give up the bogus single-sales bans and instead look for a more responsible solution to the problem. Curing these men of alcohol addiction is not realistic, but we could mitigate the neighborhood nuisance factor by providing daytime shelters, where they would no longer be an unpleasant presence in our parks and on our streets, and would not be using our alleys as public toilets. Unsatisfactory as that may be as a solution to the problem, it beats simply shoving the problem population from one neighborhood to another.


Showdown at the DCPS Corral
Dorothy Brizill,

Reforming DC Public Schools: publicly DC’s elected leadership tries to give the appearance that they are united regarding efforts to reform DCPS. However, when it comes to implementing that “reform” agenda, relationships between the Fenty administration and the city council have become increasingly contentious.

Skirmishes: in recent months, there have been several skirmishes between the council and the Fenty administration that have pierced the thin veneer of cooperation. For example, in the spring the council was angered by the lack of transparency and detail in the FY 2009 budget the mayor and Chancellor Rhee submitted to the council. Council Chairman Vincent Gray refused to move Fenty’s nomination of Robert A. Wines to the State Board of Education (PR17-645) after a disastrous roundtable confirmation hearing in March at which Wines showed no knowledge of the public school system or the mayor’s reform proposals, gave evasive answers, and displayed no background in education. The council failed to approve Fenty’s selection of Dr. Kenneth Wong and Dr. Rick Hess to serve as the independent evaluation team to do the annual assessment of DCPS as required by Section 204 of the Public Education Reform Act of 2007 (PR 17-765) because of concerns that they were not truly neutral and independent and because of questions about the outside funding for their salaries and the work of their evaluation team. And in June the council balked when the mayor submitted thirteen school modernization contracts totaling $81 million and two reprogrammings of funds totaling $124 million because they were sent to the council late with insufficient documentation, and the administration refused to provide witnesses to answer questions at two separately scheduled hearings.

War: now the Fenty-Rhee-Reinoso team may be on a collision course with the council over the proposed contract that Rhee will submit to the Washington Teachers Union (summary at Rhee is seeking to bypass WTU’s Executive Board and Delegate Assembly and take her proposed contract directly to the union membership. To accomplish that goal, Fenty and Rhee have launched a public relations campaign, both nationally and locally, to discredit the union and badmouth Washington teachers. The contract is a real union buster, asking current teachers to give up job security in exchange for potential pay bonuses. The government will not fund the bonuses, however; Rhee and Fenty are seeking startup funds from foundations such as Gates and Broad and the District’s business community, such as CareFirst and developers. As a result, funding for the possible bonuses will only be guaranteed for the first year of the contract, while teachers will have given up tenure and job security, both for themselves and all new hires, permanently. However, the council has traditionally been very pro-union, and if councilmembers don’t come out against these provisions in negotiations with teachers they will signal to all government employee unions that they can’t be trusted to support them against Fenty’s future union-busting initiatives.


Teachers Just Vote No!
Candi Peterson,

I never thought that I would see the day our Washington Teachers Union would be offered a proposed contract that seeks to eliminate the due process rights of teachers. In a climate in which teachers are frequently disrespected and anti-teacher and antiunion rhetoric is regularly espoused by our chancellor and the mainstream press, I am not surprised this is happening. This year Chancellor Rhee’s office fired seventy-eight probationary teachers in June without regard to their certification, work performance, and annual evaluations. I am fearful that teachers giving up seniority and tenure rights on both the red and green tiers will lead to massive terminations.

Our proposed teachers contract is full of dangerous pitfalls ahead on both tiers. The red tier, which is being sold as the safe tier, takes away teachers’ seniority rights. If teachers are excessed (eliminated) on this tier, which they frequently are, they can find another teaching job only with the mutual consent of a willing principal. Under the current contract, they must be placed in another job if they are excessed without the consent of a principal. If they don’t find another job, initially they can chose to quit with a one time $25,000 bonus, retire early, or hang around to try to find a job during the next year. Should they not be able to find a job within one year, teachers will be fired without any financial incentives. Unlike what the Post reports, all teacher raises and bonuses on both tiers will be based totally on private funds, which are not recurring. If the union fails to vote for this contract, our chancellor states that teachers will receive no cost-of-living raises. No credible school system seeks to maintain and attract a cadre of teachers as career professionals using these draconian methods. Vote no on this contract and support going to an impasse in the name of fair and collective bargaining! Write to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten at and to Mr. George Bordenave, AFT/WTU National Representative, at to voice your concerns.


Update on Student Efforts to Reinstate Dr. Siebens at Wilson High School
Sarah Cox-Shrader,
Hanna Mahon,

Our last posting [themail, July 23] alerted readers to the testimony by Wilson students before the DC city council on Friday, July 11, in an effort to reverse the decision to remove Dr. Arthur Siebens, Wilson High School’s dedicated and beloved biology teacher. Four of Dr. Siebens’ students also testified the next day, July 12, before the city council at its monthly youth hearing. Two students testified explaining their reasons for supporting Dr. Siebens’ reinstatement, and two students sang one of the songs composed by Dr. Siebens to help his students learn biology concepts, “The Nephron’s Like A Grapevine” (to the tune of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”), which teaches about kidney function. They also sang “Do You Know How Much I Miss You?” which was written by Dr. Siebens as a tribute to his students. Following this testimony, councilmembers were very supportive of Dr. Siebens. “I wish we had the authority to be able to hire him back, because I would in a New York minute,” said Chairman Vincent Gray. “Everything we have heard thus far would suggest an egregious error has been made here and that our young people are going to be deprived of a wonderful teacher, role model and somebody who loves his students,” added Gray. Excerpts of the comments and questions from Chairman Vincent Gray and Councilmembers Cheh and Alexander are available at

The students have also created an online petition for current and former Wilson students and their parents to support Dr. Sieben’s reinstatement. The petition provides additional information about Dr. Siebens and the decision to remove him from the Wilson faculty. Launched on Thursday, July 17th, the petition already has over five hundred signatures. The petition is at Petition signers have left comments as well, including the following representative sampling available at


Rhee Has It Right
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

The only way to improve the results in DC’s schools is to get good teachers in every classroom. Some schools in NY City have shown incredible performance gains in those schools where teacher tenure was bypassed and non-tenured teachers were placed in the classrooms. That means getting rid of tenure and replacing it with a merit system that rewards performance. School principals can only make their schools work right if they can put good teachers in every class and get rid of those who cannot perform. School Chancellor Rhee is offering raises to teacher who can demonstrate good performance. This is just what the Teachers Union is fighting against, and if the union prevails our schools will never improve. Parents and taxpayers have to choose between teacher tenure and better schools for our students.


The Many Facets of Freedom
Phil Shapiro,

While teaching a videoblogging class for SALSA, the Social Action Leadership School for Activists, it occurred to me that I need to practice more of what I preach. So I composed this new freedom song that connects the civil rights movement to the free software movement. I uploaded a video of this song to YouTube and added lyrics underneath: (See

When I shared this song with Malcolm Wiseman, a freedom fighter right here in themail, I was pleased that he enjoyed the song. Malcolm has been fighting for voting rights in DC from way back in the last century. He’s also a huge fan of Linux and free software. This is no coincidence.

Astute viewers will notice that I packed a bunch of allusions into this song. Some of these allusions are “double allusions,” alluding to more than one reference. The first person who correctly identifies the double allusions to “rice” and “Sun” gets a free meal with me at the Lebanese Taverna, in Woodley Park, which is my favorite restaurant in DC. My graduate students at American University were able to recognize most of the allusions in this song, but then again they had been listening to me preach (I mean teach) for several weeks.


The Fenty Administration Alone Is Not the Problem
Qawi Robinson,

Fellow DCWatchers, I must say that the July 20 edition read more like satire from the Onion than what I’ve come to expect. It was satirical in the sense that we all are passionate about our causes, but collectively we have not fully come to the realization that the current Administration cares less for citizens and familles than it does for corporate and Congressional pressures. The good legacy that many of us, as citizens, left in previous decades is slowly being eroded by careless actions by some politicians. To blame Fenty solely for this is missing the point. This style of governing was in effect prior to his administration. The only difference is that Fenty does more photo ops, is less tolerant of other’s mistakes and more tolerant of his own. Time and time again the collective voices in this newsletter have stated what most people already know — that good, bad, or indifferent, DC is changing. Only time will tell if this “change is what we can believe in,” to borrow from a campaign slogan.

Before Rhee, DCPS was systematically disassembled by financial and occupational corruption, elimination of full representation on the Board of Education, and apathy (from students, parents, teachers, and WTU). Based on this, it is no wonder that Rhee will continue on this path. She is yet another in the long line of “fixers” who have ideas to repair a system that is a shell of itself in the first place. The only difference between her and previous superintendents is that she can exercise more power because of Fenty’s backing and the WTU President’s catering to her every whim/firing/downsizing. All of this is done under the guise of reform. “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” It is unimaginable to think that just twenty or thirty years ago, a publicly elected school board along with several superintendents of schools, and committed teachers were able to produce countless college and trade school bound scholars. DCPS has been called bad for so long that we don’t even remember when we were the envy of the metropolitan area. What changed? We (as a community and city) stopped giving a “you know what,” which grew into apathy, which ultimately put us in the mess we are in. The challenge now is to show the public and the current administration that not only parents care about DCPS, but those in the community do too.

I also noticed that no one in themail has reported or commented on the Director of CFSA stepping down. Some would say good riddance to a bad agency, but with the morale low and the turnover rates high, not having capable people (or in some cases any people) surely affects the community, which in turn affects the schools, which in turn can affect crime, policing, and eventually the city.


Interesting Response to the Supreme Court Ruling
Bob Levine,

Here is an interesting response to the Supreme Court ruling on the DC gun ban. It’s short and clever and from NPR:


DC Log Cabin Republicans Endorse Carol Schwartz and Christina Culver
Chris Scalise, president, DC Log Cabin Republicans,

On July 23, the DC Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) for reelection in the Republican primary and the general election, along with Christina Culver, candidate for Ward 2 DC council for the November general election.

Our members made a good choice by endorsing Carol and Christina. They share a desire to want to move our city forward with commonsense reforms while protecting and expanding rights for the gay and lesbian communities. The DC Log Cabin Republicans will be there in full support for Carol and Christina on primary day and this November’s election day.”


Join DCVote at the Democratic and Republican Conventions
Eugene Dewitt Kinlow,

Going to one of the conventions? DC Vote’s staff and supporters will be spreading the message of DC voting rights to delegates from the across the country. We will have the unique opportunity to educate and engage thousands of new, politically-active supporters. We’ll be at the Democratic National Convention, in Denver, Colorado, August 25-28, and the Republican National Convention, in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota: September 1-4.

If you’ll be at either convention, sign up at to receive all the latest updates on our activities including invitations to some great events and opportunities to volunteer with DC Vote.


Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, the WMATA Board, and Representing the Citizenry
Richard Layman,

Despite Dino Drudi’s reasonable point [themail, July 16] about appointing at-large councilmembers to such positions as the WMATA Board, to ensure that all of the city’s residents are heard and represented, I believe that I am heard by Councilmember Graham with regard to transit and WMATA issues, although I now live in Ward 4.

Certainly, Councilmember Graham’s advocacy for all riders vis-a-vis the recent fare hikes was not focused only on his Ward 1 constituents. In fact, his strident advocacy for bus riders in particular was noticed and appreciated in many quarters of the city. I still appreciate Councilmember Graham’s advocacy for bicyclists, who live in all wards and throughout the region, for extending the hours that bicycles would be permitted on the subway, as well as for adding bicycle racks to all Metrobuses. I also appreciate his advocacy for extending subway system hours on Friday and Saturday nights.

Clearly, Councilmember Graham represents all of the city, and looks out for regional interests as well, in his service as one of DC’s representative on the WMATA board of directors.


Right to Bear Arms
Ron Linton,

So if understand you, I have a right to bear any arms, under any circumstances, in any manner, as long as it is in self defense, where I believe myself to be threatened. But this leaves out the rights of those who believe the Second Amendment was designed to allow them to gather up their neighbors and go overthrow any tyrannical government. In today’s world that would require substantially more than just an automatic handgun. I want to keep my tank in the garage and mount my cannon on the front porch. And as for self defense, if I see a group coming down the street that I believe is threatening, I’ll lob a few rounds of grape canister at them.

Of course this is nonsense to the extreme. But so is most of the debate from both sides of the issue. The writers of the Second Amendment hardly had the foresight to visualize the nature of arms in the twenty-first century. If they had, might it not be reasonable to assume they would have written something different from what they did in a world of muzzle loaders, single-shot pistols, and five pounders?

A lethal weapon is a dangerous instrument and arms fall into that category. Some are opposed to even police having arms as a routine matter. There are enough examples of emotionally impulsive use of a firearm resulting in fatality that suggest great caution. What is missing here is a discussion of the requirements for the maintenance and use of arms of every nature. I don’t see that happening. If one is going to be allowed to have and use a dangerous instrument, then we need to have rules that govern the responsibility of the individual with the weapon. This is not an either “nothing” or “all” situation. It is one that calls for a deliberate and careful postulation of rules.

[It is a common argument that the Second Amendment is outdated and outmoded because today’s rifles and pistols are improved from 18th century rifles and pistols. But when the Bill of Rights was written, the only mass media were newspapers and pamphlets printed on hand presses. Since then, electronic presses, movies, radio, television, and the Internet have been invented. Do those mechanical advances make the First Amendment obsolete? Should freedom of the press be allowed only to those who use hand presses, or do the principles in the Bill of Rights remain valid even in the face of technological change? You can guess what I think. — Gary Imhoff]



Fun Family Films Under the Stars, July 29, 31
John A. Stokes,

The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will hold “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” its 2008 Family Movie Night Season, this summer. “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” which continues until late-September, will afford residents of all ages and families of all sizes the opportunity to enjoy viewing the free, family-oriented films in DPR’s outdoor settings. As in previous years, viewers are invited to bring their own snacks, chairs, and blankets. This year, District residents will have a greater selection of viewing locations. Movies will be shown from 8:45 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Community members who arrive early enough for each screening will have the opportunity to place a vote between two movies that may be shown that evening. The movie that receives the most votes will be shown.

Tuesday, July 29, Hamilton Recreation Center, 1340 Hamilton Street, NW
Thursday, July 31, Guy Mason Recreation Center, 3600 Calvert Street, NW
Thursday, July 31, Stead Recreation Center, 1625 P Street, NW


National Building Museum Events, July 30-31
Jazmine Zick,

Wednesday, July 30, 6:00-8:00 p.m., Outreach Program: Investigating Where We Live Exhibition Opening Reception. Join us for a visual journey as middle and high school students reveal their fresh perspectives on three of Washington’s vibrant and historic neighborhoods. This student-designed exhibition features photographs, writings, and artwork developed over the course of the IWWL program. Free. Registration not required.

Thursday, July 31, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Origins of the Bauhaus. Martin Moeller, National Building Museum senior vice president and curator, uncovers the complex origins of the Bauhaus, the sometimes surprising work of its students and faculty, and its lasting legacy. $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


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