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May 4, 2011

Broken Promise

Dear Promise Keepers:

Martin Austermuhle, below, taunts me enough about statehood to make me break my promise not to publish another message about statehood until and unless something happens. So I’ve published his message and my reply below. Now, really, this is it. Write about something else, please. Something you’re interested in, something about your neighborhood, something that I haven’t covered in themail before. Start your own conversation.

Gary Imhoff


Council Bill to Add Slogan to Flag
Kathryn Pearson-West,

[Re:, “Council Introduces Bill To Put ‘No Taxation Without Representation’ On DC Flag”] Do we really want to turn our DC flag into a billboard? A flag should be a source of pride, not an advertisement or source of sloganeering or a show of victimology or something short of a neon light. Besides, the proposed flag looks ugly and too busy. Anyway, as someone said years ago, the slogan should be “taxation demands representation.”

Furthermore, if a poll were taken today, the leadership would find that not everyone in the city is excited about statehood, though most support a vote in Congress. Our proud flag should not be dishonored with what seems like graffiti on a memorial. Would you put text on the flag at the Iwo Jima statue? Bottom line — it’s just tacky! Find another way to make a point about the citizens’ lack of representation in Congress.


The Low Priority of Statehood
Deborah Bradford,

So I’m right. Norton needs to go, and we need someone else. Until then we won’t get statehood! Let’s get her out!


Our City, Our Decisions
Martin Andres Austermuhle,

In your two opinions on how to best gain statehood [themail, April 13 and 20], you’ve implied that the District simply has to be less radical to achieve equality. On April 20, you laid out your case about how the District is on the fringe of US politics by citing a number of initiatives and pieces of legislation that you seem to think are radical, including medical marijuana, needle exchange programs, and same-sex marriage. Interesting choices, especially seeing as none of them is particularly radical anymore, nor would they put us on the fringe of US politics.

Let’s consider medical marijuana. Currently, seventeen states including the District allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Amongst those states are Arizona and Colorado, which I don’t think anyone would paint as being particularly extremist. The District’s medical marijuana initiative was overwhelmingly approved by the city’s voters in 1998. Not one voting precinct in the whole city voted against the idea, and it was only set aside because right-wing Republicans disagreed with the idea. Interestingly, one of those Republicans, Georgia’s Bob Barr, reversed positions in 2007 and is now an advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana. The city’s program is extremely limited in scope and restrictive as to who can qualify; there’s simply nothing extremist in how Mayor Adrian Fenty and now Mayor Vince Gray have crafted the strict regulatory scheme that will govern the program.

How about needle exchange programs? Also not particularly extreme. In February, the US Surgeon-General released a statement vouching for programs as vital in lowering drug abuse and preventing the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS. determined that a demonstration needle exchange program (or more appropriately called syringe services program or SSP) would be effective in reducing drug abuse and the risk of infection with the etiologic agent for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. “The Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, VADM Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, has determined that a demonstration needle exchange program (or more appropriately called syringe services program or SSP) would be effective in reducing drug abuse and the risk of infection with the etiologic agent for acquired immune deficiency syndrome,” read the statement. Given that roughly 20 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in the District are contracted from dirty needles, providing clean needles to at-risk populations is an absolutely vital — not extreme — public health tool. And same-sex marriage? Again, not really very extreme anymore. Polling consistently shows that younger generations are supportive of same-sex marriage. Moreover, in the year that the District has allowed same-sex marriages, nothing truly extreme has happened to the traditional conception of marriage. (I recently married, and I can safely say that my heterosexual union was completely unaffected by any same-sex marriages.)

As you can see, the District might lean left in its politics, but it’s not really on the fringe of US politics as you imply. I think you’ve simply mistaken what you disagree with and what’s truly on the fringe or what might be seen as extremist. Every fight for civil rights and equality requires multiple strategies. Simply being nice, hanging American flags on all of our porches and repealing any and all District laws that could seem vaguely extremist or offensive will do no more for the cause of DC voting rights, self-determination, and statehood than getting our elected officials arrested on a weekly basis and badmouthing Congress. Could we have a bigger presence on the Hill, dedicated to lobbying? Sure. Could we be nicer about it now and then? Of course. But approaching Congress with our tails between our legs asking for forgiveness for being so extreme isn’t an recipe for success — it’s simply giving up and pretending we’re something we’re not. We gained the right to govern for ourselves in 1973, and we should govern for ourselves as we best see fit for our city and our interests. If that offends the sensitivities of certain members of Congress (ironically enough, the extreme ones on the fringes of US politics), so be it. We can’t go about giving up one set of God-given rights in hopes of gaining another. That, Gary, is extreme, and we shouldn’t accept it.


The Extreme Fringe
Gary Imhoff,

Here’s what I actually wrote in themail on April 20: “Over the past several months and years, DC government has worked to convince the nation that our highest values and legal priorities are government financing for abortions, especially for poor black women; legalizing marijuana, with medical marijuana as the opening wedge; facilitating the use of injectible illegal drugs by providing free hypodermic needles to addicts; preventing poor children from receiving financial aid that could enable them to attend private schools; legalizing gay marriage and forbidding the participation of Catholic church organizations in governmentally financed social service programs (though, interestingly, not forbidding the participation of Islamic mosques) because of their support for traditional morality; and even refusing a floor vote in the House of Representatives for our Congressional delegate, if the cost of that vote would be that the DC government could no longer deny its citizens their Second Amendment rights. Those may be the highest values of DC’s elected officials and voters, but collectively and taken as a package they place us on the fringe of American politics, far to the left of all states and all but a few municipal areas.” I left out, but should have mentioned, online gambling, too.

I argued that taken as a package these five positions put DC on the left fringe of US politics. Martin Austermuhle ignores two of these positions, and argues that for the other three, taken one by one, he can find a minority of US states and jurisdictions — sometimes a small minority and sometimes a substantial minority — that has adopted one or the other. Then he cites the policy arguments that have been used to justify some of these positions. And thus he concludes that taking these positions puts DC squarely in the US mainstream. Martin makes two other mistakes of analysis. First, he believes that if a higher percentage of a younger generation takes one position and a higher percentage of an older generation takes a different position, then the position of the younger generation should be given greater credibility and will eventually become the majority. What he ignores is that young people change their minds about many things as they mature, and that the same person will take different political positions at fifteen, thirty, forty-five, and sixty.

Second, Martin believes that the ideology of his crowd, politically oriented twenty-somethings in Washington, DC, who are to the left of the Democratic Party, is the norm. Martin is like Pauline Kael, who in 1972 famously said, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Martin doesn’t know anyone who wouldn’t consider the constellation of political positions I mentioned to be just middle-of-the-road common sense. Anyone who disagrees is a crazy extremist, whose positions are to be dismissed. The United States outside DC is a strange place.

Whether he admits it or not, Martin and I agree. I don’t think statehood advocates are willing to pay any significant price to get statehood, and he’s not willing to give up anything to get it. For him, DC shouldn’t have to do anything to become one of the states, except perhaps to yell at Congress, disrupt traffic on some of our streets, or deface our flag. Instead, he demands that the US change to accept DC’s politics. Good luck.



Distributed Generation Workshop, May 7
Sandra Mattavous-Frye,

The Office of the People’s Counsel will hold a distributed generation workshop, “generating electricity near where it will be used,” on Saturday, May 7, 9:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m., at Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Place, NW, Room 152A. Distributed generation can be thought of as the process of generating electricity at or near where it is to be used. Distributed generation may be used for an individual home or groups of homes that have solar panels on their roofs or small diesel, natural gas or propane generators serving one or multiple homes. Distributed generation also allows alternative electric power sources such as wind power generation, hydropower generation or geothermal generation to be included on the grid.

In the District of Columbia, around eight hundred residents are either in the process of generating their own electricity or have completed the installation of electric generation equipment. A common challenge for these customers is getting their new equipment to work seamlessly with PEPCO’s metering and billing systems while remaining connected to PEPCO in the event of an emergency or to sell excess power to the grid that can serve other customers. The Office of the People’s Counsel’s Distributed Generation Workshop is designed to bring together many of the experienced practitioners from the alternative energy industry, utility and regulatory representatives and consumers looking to take full advantage of these new service options.

Invitees are the Council of the District of Columbia, the DC Public Service Commission, the District Department of the Environment, the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative, PEPCO, PJM Interconnection, SolarCity, Sol Systems, Standard Solar, US Department of Energy, and WDC Solar. For additional information, please contact OPC at 727- 3071. Disability accommodations or language/sign interpreter services are available upon request.


DC Builds: Build It and They Will Ride, May 11
Stacy Adamson,

A panel discussion on how Washington, DC, can become more bikable will be held on Wednesday, May 11, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Washington has increased the number of bicyclists traveling for transportation by adding bike lanes and bike share stations throughout the city. The district’s bicycle infrastructure aims to create sustainable, multi-modal transportation options, reduce congestion, and decrease pollution, but how should the district expand biking infrastructure in the future? A panel of experts discusses how Washington, DC, can become more bike-friendly while exploring potential implementation challenges including ease of use, safety, connectivity, and how the economic downturn affects planning, design, and construction of new bicycle facilities. The panel will be Jennifer L. Toole, AICP, ASLA, principal, Toole Design Group; Shane Farthing, executive director, Washington Area Bicyclist Association; Jim Sebastian, supervisory transportation planner, Active Transportation Branch, District Department of Transportation; and moderator Barbara McCann, executive director, National Complete Streets Coalition. For more information, contact Stacy Adamson,, 272-2448, ext. 3458.

At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW (Judiciary Square Metro, Red Line). $12, National Building Museum and Washington Area Bicyclist Association members; free students; $20, nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.



Colleague Seeks Room for Rent
Joan Eisenstodt,

A professional friend, in the DC area for up to six months, wants to rent a private furnished room with private bath and kitchen privileges in a private home. He’d like to be near a Metro or a bus to Metro.

I can vouch for him.

He’s having a challenge either finding something decent or finding someone who will respond to postings. Any leads you have would be appreciated. You can send leads to me (please and thanks) and I’ll send on to him.


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