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January 13, 2010

The FOIA Isn’t Much Help

Dear Freedom of Information Requesters:

The Washington Post’s local news web site, DC Wire, has reproduced by mitosis, and given birth to a new local news web site with the same DNA, but devoted solely to schools, the DC Schools Insider, So far, Bill Turque is the only poster on the site, but he’s doing a bang-up job. Stories already include the system’s losing track of special education students that it had removed from private school placements and supposedly enrolled in the public system, and DCPS’s refusing to release its preliminary enrollment estimates for another two months. “The Freedom of Information Act isn’t much help,” Turque writes. “It requires a response within 15 working days, with the government getting an extra ten days if needed. The District’s fidelity to this requirement is pretty much nonexistent. I’m still waiting on two requests I filed September 25.”

The start of this blog is great news for people searching for news about DCPS, at least when the Post has a good reporter like Turque on the schools beat. But, as one commentator to a story on DC Schools Insider wonders, will it be good news for the general public, or will it just mean that even less critical coverage of DCPS will appear in the print edition of the newspaper, with the excuse that it’s still available online? In the not too distant future, will most important news stories be available just on the web, and will the Post be reduced to a printed index, tabloid-sized like the Express, with one-paragraph stories that link to fuller coverage online?

Josh Gibson has a funny retort to my recent comments on some local issues that are presented by their advocates as “environmental.” Just to irritate him further, here’s an article in the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education on what I characterized as hairshirt environmentalism: Asma postulates that environmentalism is a secularist religion, complete with the same religious guilt, self-loathing, self-denial, and self-righteous resentment of others who don’t share orthodox beliefs.

In the last issue of themail, I gave a link to the tape of the city council’s hearing on contracts that was held on January 8. Apparently, that link wasn’t working reliably, and a few people got messages that the file wasn’t available. If you wanted to see it, but couldn’t, it seems to be working fine now:

Gary Imhoff


A District Attorney for the District of Columbia
Jack McKay,

Whether the DC Attorney General is nominated by the mayor or chosen by popular election, he’s at least answerable to the District. What’s more important is that this officer is limited to the prosecution of only minor crimes — e.g., disorderly conduct — whereas the prosecution of all serious crimes is in the hands of a presidential appointee, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. Does this matter? I guess I never paid much attention until a matter of a guy firing seven bullets one night into the window of a neighbor’s occupied bedroom, an act of extraordinary violence in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Identified by the occupant, the man was arrested a day later and was to be charged, according to the Metropolitan Police, with “robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon.” Well, guess again; the US Attorney’s Office (USAO) saw fit to charge the man with a mere “misdemeanor theft.”

Stunned by these trivial charges for a crime of exceptional violence, I pursued the matter, only to find that the USAO plainly works for the Justice Department, and the White House, and is in no way answerable to the people of the District of Columbia or their elected representatives. Our complaints about their decisions in this violent incident were dismissed with unconcealed contempt. They weren’t willing to take this crime seriously, apparently because they disdained the character of the victim, and that was that.

Coincidentally, there appeared in the January 9 Washington Post a report on Donald Gates, imprisoned for 28 years for a crime he did not commit, put there by bogus “expert” testimony. Who prosecuted this innocent man, while the actual murderer of a young woman in Rock Creek Park went free? The US Attorney’s Office, of course. Halfway through Mr. Gates’ prison time, a Justice Department review raised questions about the validity of that conviction. The USAO ignored this, leaving poor Mr. Gates in prison for another decade. Now that he’s finally freed, after half a lifetime in prison, is the USAO apologetic? Not detectably: “unfortunately, the criminal justice system is not infallible,” says the current acting US Attorney, Channing Phillips. Don’t blame us, blame “the system.”

Evidently the creators of Home Rule considered the District incapable of managing its own criminal prosecutions, and so substituted this Federal office for a homegrown District Attorney, such as every other jurisdiction in the country has. No doubt our own DA would be imperfect as well, but at least he would be answerable to us, the people of the District of Columbia. Delegate Norton has introduced, for the fourth time, a bill in Congress that would allow us to have our own DA. Given the state of Congress, it’s now or never for this effort to succeed.


Charter Schools vs. Public Schools
Phil Shapiro,

Here’s an interesting comparison of annual-yearly-progress (AYP) of DC charter schools vs. DC public schools: Food for thought.


Gary Really Is an Environmentalist
Josh Gibson, Adams Morgan,

Skeptical readers of themail, having suffered through Gary’s diatribes on the bag tax, Healthy Schools bill, and sidewalk smoking legislation, might leap to the conclusion that he is not an environmentalist.

Quite to the contrary: he recycles the same tired bullsh*t week after week.


DC Nanny State Nuisance Bag Tax
F. Lancaster,

Add to the list of aggravations to customers and stores: just try now to make use of what used to be the efficient self-checkout lines at your favorite grocery store. Hmmm. . . . How do you get a bag for your three items. Walk around the store to scavenge one? Interrupt and hand a nickel to the clerk in that old-fashioned checkout lane? Beg, borrow, or steal a bag? Must be driving merchants nuts even more than customers!

Bob Levine nailed it [themail, January 10]: “Congratulations, DC city council, on another really stupid idea that makes life in DC harder.” And drives more business to VA and MD.


Heartfelt Thanks
Phil Shapiro,

Heartfelt thanks to all the folks who sent me E-mails with older laptops they want to donate. Someone also asked if I’m able to place laptops that need repair. As it happens, some of my friends are fairly adept at repairing laptops (both Windows and Mac), and they often donate their time to help me with the volunteer work I do. So yes, laptops that need some repair are of use, too.



Department of Parks and Recreation Events, January 15
John Stokes,

January 15, 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m., Lamond Recreation Center, 20 Tuckerman Street, NE. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., field trip for ages five through twelve. Participants will visit the Anacostia Black History Museum and participate in a workshop tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For more information, call Mike Thompkins at 576-9541.

January 15, 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m., King Greenleaf Recreation Center, 201 N Street, SW. Dr. Martin Luther King Appreciation Day for ages six through twelve. Participants will read a poem, look at memorabilia of Mr. King, and watch a film. For more information, call Mr. Henry T. Moton IV, Site Manager, at 645-7454.

January 15, 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m., Kalorama Recreation Center, 1875 Columbia Road, NW. MLK Day Celebration for all ages. From January 11 to 15, participants can add their dreams to the “Share Your Dream Board.” Popcorn will be served. For more information, call John Borges, Site Manager, at 673-7606.

January 15, 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m., North Michigan Park Recreation Center, 1333 Emerson Street, NE. Teen vs. Staff Bake Off for ages fifteen to nineteen. Teens will assist staff in a cookie/pastries bake-off to see who has the best recipe. For more information, call Joe Clark, Site Manager, at 541-3522.


Taxes: What Every Entrepreneur and Consultant Needs to Know, January 16
Barbara Conn,

Is your business paying more in taxes than required by law? Whether your business grosses millions of dollars each year or you are just getting started as an independent consultant, you probably hire an outside accountant to handle tax return submission. The ultimate responsibility for paying appropriate taxes, however, is yours. Do you have the basic accounting knowledge needed to supervise the work of your accountant? Do you stay current on tax law changes? Because tax return deadlines for corporations and individuals are approaching, the focus of this presentation will be on income tax compliance and preparation rather than on tax planning and consulting issues. This presentation will alert you to mistakes and oversights that can cost you money, and to tax law changes you need to know about.

Gather your colleagues (whether consultants, small business owners, entrepreneurs, soon-to-be small business owners, freelancers, or free agents), and your questions, and bring them to this Saturday, January 16, 1:00 p.m., gathering of the Capital PC User Group (CPCUG) Entrepreneurs and Consultants Special Interest Group (E&C SIG). There will be a handout. 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 seminar, the speaker, and CPCUG (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization), visit To RSVP, send E-mail to


State Board of Education, January 20
Beverley Wheeler,

At the first regularly scheduled public meeting of the new decade, the DC State Board of Education (DCSBOE) will vote on the new president and vice president who will provide leadership for the State Board for 2010. The State Board will also receive two presentations from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). The first will discuss the District’s Race to the Top application. Additionally, OSSE will provide an update on Special Education. Finally, the District’s Teacher of the Year finalists will provide a short presentation to the Board.

The public meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 20, at 5:30 p.m., at 441 4th Street, NW, in the District of Columbia State Board of Education Chambers, located on the lobby level of the building.

Constituents who wish to comment at the hearings are required to notify the State Board of Education in advance by contacting the Executive Director, Beverley Wheeler, by phone at 741-0884 or by E-mail at,  twenty- four hours before the scheduled meeting time. Please provide one electronic copy and bring fifteen copies to the hearing for the State Board members to view. The meeting will air live on District Knowledge Network (DKN) Comcast Channel 99 and RCN Channel 18.



Volunteers for National Cherry Blossom Festival
Danielle Piacente,

Participate in the nation’s greatest springtime celebration, March 27-April 11. We need friendly, helpful, and reliable volunteers to join the 2010 National Cherry Blossom Festival Volunteer Corps! Individuals, local businesses with community service programs, and community service groups are welcome and encouraged to participate. The volunteer program is supported by Guest Services, Inc. Volunteers will assist in all aspects of Festival events and programs and help serve the community and visitors during the two-week celebration. The Festival runs from Saturday, March 27 through Sunday, April 11. Volunteer positions are available immediately and throughout the duration of the Festival calendar.

To view specific volunteer opportunities and download an application, visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival web site at For more information, call 661-7595 or E-mail

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is Washington DC’s and the nation’s greatest springtime celebration. The 2010 Festival is March 27-April 11, and features signature events, daily cultural performances, art exhibits, sport competitions, and more. The National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the 98th anniversary of the gift of the cherry blossom trees and the enduring friendship between the citizens of the United States and Japan. For schedules and information visit or call the Festival hotline at 877-44-BLOOM.


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