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January 31, 2010

Alarm Bells

Dear Bell Ringers:

As the saying goes, everybody has an alarm clock; they just go off at different times. The Washington Post headlines today its latest local political poll, which shows that more and more people are waking up about Mayor Adrian Fenty ( Tomorrow, the Post will print the similar results of its companion poll about Michelle Rhee ( Today’s story, and most commentary I’ve heard about it, finds mysteries in the racial disparity of opinion about Fenty and the fact that most people report they’re satisfied with city services, yet are dissatisfied with Fenty. Let me suggest an explanation. Washington is supposed to be a recession-proof city, in which government growth during bad economic times keeps the city prosperous. Yet our unemployment rate has been over ten percent for months, and among black males in wards east of the river it has been around thirty percent. To quote the slogan made famous in the first Clinton presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.” In addition, of course, to the fact that Fenty is an arrogant son-of-a-bitch who is contemptuous of the city council, the citizens, and the law.

Victorino Matus has a story in the Weekly Standard about Council Chairman Gray’s and Councilman Evans’ January 4 letter to President Obama inviting him to a reception in his honor at the Wilson Building ( The White House answered the invitation with a form letter that essentially said, “t’aint likely,” which led to Gray’s outraged E-mail to Evans: “This response is beyond belief. Our reception at city hall! The person obviously did not even understand our request.” Matus’ comment on this: “I think he did. It’s called taking your votes for granted.”

Random thought: I’ve been reading for months about how city and state Tea Party movements nationwide are moving the Republican Party to the right and promoting conservative candidates within the Party. I haven’t heard a word about any local Tea Party movement, or of any efforts to promote conservative candidates within the DC Republican Party. The local party strikes me as being moderately conservative on economic issues, at least in comparison with the local Democratic Party, but as being as liberal as the Democratic Party — and more liberal that most state Democratic Parties — on social issues. Am I wrong? Would a conservative Republican Party do better in DC elections, or would it do even worse?

In the last issue of themail, I singled out Harry Jaffe’s column in The Examiner as an example of the excuses that Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s apologists were making for her latest smear about DC teachers. I didn’t mention the slanted Washington Post editorial about the smears,, because that kind of unbalanced commentary about Rhee and Fenty is simply what everyone has come to expect from the Post’s editorial board. But that editorial has engendered its own controversy, which is worth pointing out if you haven’t been following the story. Eric Wemple of the Washington City Paper broke the story,, that Post education writer Bill Turque committed honesty in his online blog by explaining that the editorial board got Michelle Rhee’s story first because Rhee can be assured of a friendly reception from the board. That resulted in Turque’s blog item being pulled from the web without explanation, being rewritten, and then being reposted without any acknowledgment of the alterations. Wemple got some of the explanation and preserved the original version of Turque’s blog post,, and Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander followed up by revealing ( that Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt was annoyed by Turque’s telling the truth about editorial writer Jo-Ann Armeo’s bias in favor of Rhee — a bias that is obvious any regular reader of the newspaper — and complained to Managing Editor Liz Spayd, who discredited the paper by pulling the column, rewriting it, and reposting her tamer version without notice to readers. Alexander wrote the facts of the events, to his credit, but bought into the unbelievable corporate line that the editorial board’s coverage of Fenty and Rhee has been objective. Even so, Alexander’s column has been relegated to publication only on the web; his print column today is on a controversy over a story in the marriage notices.

Gary Imhoff


Snail Mail
Virginia Johnson,

Has anyone else noticed that mail seems to be taking longer to arrive these days? I know that shipping rates have gone up. But I didn’t know that delivery has been cut back. It used to take my regularly sent letters about two to three days to arrive. Now it is taking four to five. Has anyone heard anything about this?


More Bogus Parking Tickets
Jack McKay,

I complained in the January 21 issue about the parking enforcement folks having a great difficulty understanding that cars can extend beyond “no parking to intersection” signposts, and yet be legally parked. That’s been the law at night since 2002, and all day as well since 2006. That very morning I found another Metropolitan Police $30 souvenir on my windshield. My scorecard: four of these bogus tickets dismissed, one non-dismissal on appeal (eighteen months and counting), and now a brand new one added to the stack.

But wait, there’s more. The District recently decided to jack up their parking meter revenues by extending parking meter hours to 10 p.m. in certain high-traffic neighborhoods. Our little business strip in Mount Pleasant was not on the list, but our parking signs got those 10 p.m. stickers anyway, much to the dismay of our business owners, who aren’t happy about their customers staying away to avoid parking tickets. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has promised to come back and remove those bogus 10 p.m. stickers.

But wait, there’s more. There used to be a handicapped-reserved spot outside a Mount Pleasant facility that served handicapped people. That service moved away long ago, and we got that parking spot freed up for regular use seventeen months ago. But surprise, the handicapped-only signs suddenly reappeared, for reasons unknown even at DDOT. Drivers hardly noticed them, but the parking enforcement sharks certainly did. One very unhappy victim asked me piteously for help with his truly brutal parking ticket, $250. For low-income workers, that’s food and rent money gone. Why such a vicious fine for parking in a handicapped spot? Surely a fraction of that amount would do the job. In this case, it wasn’t even a legitimate handicapped-parking spot. It was all a mistake, and that poor fellow is going to have to pay a wicked fine for the District’s bogus handicapped-only posting.

Parking restrictions are supposed to serve the public good, e.g., by promoting rapid turnover of customer parking spots. Unfortunately, all too often it seems that the purpose of parking laws is to extort as much cash as possible from hapless residents.


How Google Sees the Future of News
Phil Shapiro,

See the YouTube video clip starting at this point (New York Times and Washington Post mentioned).

What will happen to newspapers in the age of the iPad? Will they be able to survive? I hope they do, but realistically things are not looking too good.

Their ability to adapt and think anew tends to be pretty poor. Will a phoenix arise from their ashes? If so, what will that phoenix look like? In what ways will the phoenix engage with community in ways that newspapers never did?


Reports of Spingarn’s Principal Termination Being Investigated
Candi Peterson,

Reports circulated Saturday on The Washington Teacher blog that a longtime DC principal has been reassigned to head Spingarn Senior High school, which is located at 2500 Benning Road, NE. According to anonymous sources, Spingarn’s principal, Blanca Reyes, and assistant principal, Morrall Thompson, were terminated by Rhee and company last week. Insiders report that under the helm of new leader Principal Blanca Reyes the school was chaotic and she (Reyes) was frequently out of sight and in her office. Reyes is reported to have had great difficulty in managing the school as well as had problems relating to the Spingarn staff and student body due to her thick accent which made it difficult for students and staff to understand what she was saying. Reyes, who began as a principal last August, laid off fifteen of Spingarn’s veteran teaching staff in October. These teacher and staff layoffs led to a Spingarn student-led walkout to the DC city council last October.

Gary Washington, formerly the principal of Choice Academy, located at 1401 Brentwood Parkway, NE, is reported to have been reassigned to take over Spingarn Senior High, which is confused yet again by this game of musical chairs when it comes to replacement of DCPS administrators. Well that’s to be expected, especially given that Chancellor Rhee changes DC principals quite frequently.

Here’s what one DC insider shared via E-mail: “Yes, Gary Washington will be the new principal at Spingarn High School. He didn’t have any choice. Gary must take control and proceed on Monday with the staff, students, and parents to gain order. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any information about the ex-principal of Spingarn in the Washington Post. Rhee’s new leader, Blanca Reyes from Spingarn High School, was forced to leave Friday afternoon. Most likely former Principal Reyes will pop up somewhere else in DCPS like Noah Wepman, former CFO, who is still working for DCPS on the ninth floor. These folks really don’t get fired, they are hidden and protected. Rhee has failed again with another ‘New Leader’ who is clueless on how to manage an urban high school.”


Louise G. White,

I could take your diatribe against Rhee [themail, January 27] more seriously, if you also acknowledged that she has made significant strides in improving the schools, and has been very courageous and determined in opposing entrenched powers that have been preventing serious change for years.


Defamation in themail
Ed Dixon,

Thanks Gary [introduction to themail, January 27]. I’m just waiting for this nightmare for the teaching corps to end at this point.


Rhee’s English
William Haskett,

This is not the first time that the implications of English have tripped people: I am tired of hearing that denial of scholarship money for private school attendance is unfair. . . . Put in the word “some” and you are correct, leave it out and you aren’t. Not every student, but a fraction of the whole is benefited, leaving the others (i.e., more than “some,” but larger in numbers) outside the box of privilege.

Similarly with Ms. Rhee. She fired teachers for “x” reasons, without saying “some,” and we have the broad-bush libel that everyone was covered by x, when not everyone was.

I propose that we erect a monument to “some,” even though it ruins the game of unfounded allegation.



“Re-enslavement Revisited” Opening Reception at DC Public Library, February 1
George Williams,

On Monday, February 1, at 6:30 p.m., celebrated artists Terry Dixon and Robert Morris will discuss their mixed-media exhibit at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library entitled “Re-enslavement Revisited.” Inspired by Douglas Blackmon’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, the exhibit depicts African-Americans being forced to work for free from 1865 to 1945 through abstract digital images with acrylics, oil pastels, and inks. In addition, the exhibit features video interviews of Blackmon discussing how state government and judicial systems worked with major industrial corporations to continue what amounted to slavery. The exhibit, which runs through February 28, is part of the DC Public Library’s Black History Month celebration. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is located at 901 G Street, NW, near the Gallery Place and Metro Center subway stations.


Guys, Guns, and Garages, February 3
Johanna Weber,

February 3, 6:30-9:00 p.m., Guys, Guns, and Garages Film Series: The Driver. Directed by Walter J. Hill (1978, R, 91 minutes). Getaway driver Ryan O’Neal stars opposite Bruce Dern as a cop determined to catch his “cowboy.” CAR; Choreographer Kate Watson-Wallace (2008, 30 minutes). Complete dance performance recorded at the 2007 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. $10 members, $10 students, $12 nonmembers. Member Special: $15 for all three films! Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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