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January 16, 2013

Violence

Dear Washingtonians:

The White House has released a PDF file of President Obamaís executive orders and proposed legislation regarding guns: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/wh_now_is_the_time_full.pdf.

This is not a subject we would normally cover in themail, because it is a national, rather than local, issue. But there was an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on January 15 by Jeffrey Scott Shapiro about gun laws in the District of Columbia, http://tinyurl.com/bfb4bo7. Shapiro succinctly summarized his position and the article in one brief paragraph: "As a former prosecutor in Washington, DC, who enforced firearms and ammunition cases while a severe local gun ban was still in effect, I am skeptical of the benefits that many imagine will result from additional gun-control efforts. I dislike guns, but I believe that a nationwide firearms crackdown would place an undue burden on law enforcement and endanger civil liberties while potentially increasing crime."

Shapiro describes the results of DCís former gun ban: "The gun ban had an unintended effect: It emboldened criminals because they knew that law-abiding District residents were unarmed and powerless to defend themselves. Violent crime increased after the law was enacted, with homicides rising to 369 in 1988, from 188 in 1976 when the ban started. By 1993, annual homicides had reached 454." And he describes the results of the partial reforms in DCís gun laws that followed the Supreme Courtís decision in Heller: "Since the gun ban was struck down, murders in the District have steadily gone down, from 186 in 2008 to 88 in 2012, the lowest number since the law was enacted in 1976. The decline resulted from a variety of factors, but losing the gun ban certainly did not produce the rise in murders that many might have expected. The urge to drastically restrict firearms after mass murders like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month and in Aurora, Colo., in July, is understandable. In effect, many people would like to apply the Districtís legal philosophy on firearms to the entire nation. Based on what happened in Washington, I think that would be a mistake. Any sense of safety and security would be a false one."

President Obama calls his proposed gun restrictions "commonsense" and says that if they will save "even one life" they will be worthwhile. But Shapiro says, based on his experience with the comprehensive DC gun ban, that targeting and restricting gun ownership doesnít reduce gun violence. Weíre about to have that debate again nationally. What is your evaluation of the effect of DCís gun laws on crime and violence here?

Gary Imhoff
themail@dcwatch.com

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The Privileged World of DCís Elected Leadership
Dorothy Brizill, dorothy@dcwatch.com

In his January 12 column, http://tinyurl.com/aymxrg7, Washington Post columnist Colbert King noted that the Districtís councilmembers complained about security and ticket arrangements for next weekís presidential inauguration. As the Districtís elected officials, one would assume that their concerns would focus on the security and ticket restrictions that were being imposed on all District residents and visitors on January 21. Instead, as King notes, councilmembers bitched about their own inaugural arrangements ó that they had been provided with only one ticket each to the swearing-in ceremony (provided by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton), and that in order to park their cars near the Wilson Building, they would have to clear the Secret Service checkpoint for the inaugural parade by 9:00 a.m. King quotes Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans as objecting to the restrictions by exclaiming, "We are the council for the District of Columbia." Evans even suggested that the restrictions placed on the council infringed on home rule. King then noted that, "The sense of entitlement embodied in councilmembersí complaints about the inaugural plans reflects the leadersí outside sense of self-importance."

Despite the "inconvenience" (i.e., ticket and parking restrictions) imposed on them, the mayor and the council have made certain that on January 21 they will enjoy themselves and not suffer any hardships. They and their guests will not have to sit in the cold or on hard metal bleacher seats to view the inauguration parade. The District government has erected an expensive ($342,000) temporary viewing stand over the Pennsylvania Avenue steps of the Wilson Building. The viewing stand is fully enclosed, carpeted, heated, and has two wall-mounted flat-screen televisions. There will be 148 seats, evenly divided between the council and the mayor. Access to the stand will be controlled. Each councilmember has been given five tickets for themselves and their invited guests. Access to the Wilson Building itself will also be severely restricted on January 21. The building will not provide temporary shelter from the cold weather or rest room facilities for most District residents. Mayor Gray, however, will be hosting an open house with catered reception for four hundred invited guests, including his cabinet. (In 2009, the mayorís inaugural celebration cost $15,000.) Meanwhile, each councilmember has been allowed to invite fifty guests to his or her office suite, and many are using their constituent services funds to host an inaugural party.

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Wielding Power
Dorothy Brizill, dorothy@dcwatch.com

Many District residents are still trying to determine what kind of council chairman Phil Mendelson will be. How will he manage the institution and lead his council colleagues, who are still reeling from the criminal charges that forced the resignations of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., and Council Chairman Kwame Brown?

Perhaps one early indication of a lack of strong leadership is the fact that there is still no council staff and committee directory, either printed or online, two weeks after the start of the councilís twentieth legislation session, the January 2 swearing-in ceremony for new and reelected councilmembers, and the formal approval of a new council committee structure (PR20-001). Rather than use his position as chairman to impose some order over his council colleagues, Mendelson has allowed them to balk and refuse to move their committee offices, which is contrary to past council practice. For example, as chair of the council Committee on Small and Local Business Development during the last legislative session, council period 19, At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange had a fairly large suite of committee offices, Room 119. In order to accommodate the newly established Committee on Education, Mendelsonís office asked Orange to relocate to a smaller suite. To date, Orange has refused to vacate his suite. Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser is objecting to the new office assigned to her Committee on Economic Development, Room 113; she complains that the suite doesn't have enough natural light. Meanwhile, the relocation of other council committee offices has been held up until the matter can be resolved. An apparent showdown deadline has been set for this week.

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OP Zoning Rewrite
Tom Smith, tmfsmith@starpower.net

The DC Office of Planning (OP) has been holding public meetings, one in each ward, over the last month to sell a series of recommendations to the public that would radically alter the DC Zoning Code. The changes being recommended by OP reflect a commitment to foster new growth and development in the city, including its residential neighborhoods; discourage automobile use throughout DC; facilitate the expansion of institutions located in residential neighborhoods; and limit the input of neighborhood groups in the zoning process. OP argues that the majority of the zoning code will not change, so residents can be assured the rewrite will have minimal impact. However, the recommendations proposed so far are likely to impact a significant number of DC residents, making OPís claims disingenuous, if not misleading. DC residents deserve better from OP Director Harriet Tregoning.

We donít need "sales" meetings to learn about the zoning changes; we need public forums in which city planners disseminate accurate information, not talking points, and get additional input from residents ó before these changes are considered formally by the DC Zoning Commission. We need to understand more clearly what OP is proposing, OPís assessment of the changes, and the basis for that assessment. DC residents deserve a mayor and council that will do their job to ensure effective oversight of OP and promote a dialogue with taxpayers on zoning issues. The mayor and council should join together to ask the Zoning Commission to delay any consideration of OPís proposals until more efforts have been made to engage concerned residents in an honest dialogue about these zoning changes and the impact on all of our neighborhoods.

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The Zoning Rewrite
Linda Schmitt, Neighbors 4 Neighborhoods, lschmitt1@aol.com

1) The Office of Planning was told to make the Zoning Code easier to use. Instead OP jumped ahead to change how and where we live. The ZRR (Zoning Regulation Rewrite) would make it difficult to use a car for everyday life. Reductions of parking spaces in "transit zones" (a half-mile-wide area around Metro stations) makes access to public transportation difficult. Inserting minihouses in residential zones would make quiet residential areas more densely populated. Changing the "uses" allowed in homes would quickly broach the dividing line between residential and commercial activities. Scaling back parking spaces for new construction in all zones will make car use impossible.

2) Land Use guidance in the Comprehensive Plan has been cherry-picked by OP to pursue a developer-friendly ZRR. OPís mantra is, "Letís leave it to the market," meaning developer profit margins replace public policy decisions. And if the reader is not up to speed on the ZRR, itís because there hasnít been a credible public outreach to ask "the big questions" (do we want these things?) so policy can be developed. One town hall per ward is supposed to do-it-all for everyone. Two hours to cover a 900 page Code.

3) OPís process divides the population, encouraging a younger cohort to view older residents as anti-growth, anti-environment, and out of touch. After decades devoted to the health, growth, and well-being of children and grandchildren, it is an affront to deem the this generation as uncaring or irresponsible. This generation marched in civil rights crusades, populated the Peace Corps, and helped create concepts like affordable housing and environmental protection. OP exploits differences in age to its own ends rather than conducting their work to bring the city together around shared concerns.

4) We recommend the ZRR be placed on hold until the administration and the council develop a thorough public outreach to contact all citizens (including those without computers) to pose these changes, and provide means for the public to help OP build a practical, realistic, resident-friendly Zoning Code.

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State Boardís Proposed Graduation Requirements, III: Competency Credits
Erich Martel, ehmartel at starpower dot net

The introduction to the proposed new graduation standards states: "[T]he State Board sought to strike a balance between traditional classroom learning ó the acquisition of knowledge ó and skills that students can creatively and critically apply in the real world," and "The DCSBOE recognizes that time-in-seat is not an accurate measure of academic attainment, nor whether a student has acquired the skills they need to succeed. Consequently, our recommendation also reflects an interest in moving towards a competency-based system ó where focus of a studentís education is on achieving specific skills that may be acquired through learning or performance outside the classroom."

I examine the requirements below, piece by piece. SBOE proposal: "[T]he State Board sought to strike a balance between traditional classroom learning ó the acquisition of knowledge ó and skills that students can creatively and critically apply in the real world." Problem: the statement is meaningless. The aim of all "traditional classroom learning . . . and skills" is ultimately for students to "apply [them] in the real world." If the SBOE writer really meant, as is implied and written, that "classroom learning" or "knowledge" is separate and divorced from "skills that students can creatively and critically apply," then this is a serious error. Human beings learn skills in the process of learning content knowledge.

SBOE proposal: "Time-in-seat is not an accurate measure of academic attainment." Problem: this is a classic "straw man argument" intended to deceive readers by inventing a fake problem and then demolishing it with (in this case) educational jargon. "Time-in-seat" means the length of a course, typically two semesters, worth 1.0 Carnegie unit or credit. As a subjectively charged term, however, it falsely implies that students are graded by time in class rather than tested mastery of subject matter. High school subjects or courses consist of content, information that must be learned to the point of mastery, as demonstrated on teacher or school system tests. Over decades and, in some cases, centuries, the average length of time required for a prepared student to master new course material has become fairly well established.

The real problem is not that students are forced to sit for two semesters in class when they could master the material in a few weeks or months, but that the majority of DC students need more time, because they havenít mastered preliminary content knowledge and skills. In addition, many students who are ready to learn are forced to be in classes where student peer disruption wastes valuable learning time (This, by the way, will get worse, if the chancellor continues to treat it as a teacher "classroom management" issue and the charter high schools use DCPS as their safety net).

SBOE proposal: "Skills needed to succeed" Problem: the purpose of a well-rounded high school education prepares students to succeed in gaining admission to college and then graduating. Succeeding in a course means mastering the course material. By mastering all of the required graduation course material, a student has, generally speaking, mastered the "skills needed to succeed." That is what the high school diploma is intended to mean: Prepared to succeed at the next level. Whenever educators use the term "skills" without direct connection to specific discipline or area of knowledge, it is empty jargon meant to sound erudite and intimidating.

SBOE proposal: "[We recommend] a competency-based system ó where focus of a studentís education is on achieving specific skills that may be acquired through learning or performance outside the classroom." Problem: "competency-based system" means getting credit for courses by doing something other than meeting the specific requirements of a course. Most academic courses (English, math, history, government, science and health) require written demonstration of mastery. Others require some written demonstration of mastery (foreign language, music, art). Problem: if the "focus of a studentís education is on achieving . . . skills . . . acquired through learning . . . outside the classroom," what is the point of the classroom? Based on my experience exposing the fraudulent graduation of students at Wilson HS (2002 and 2006) and reporting Chancellors Rhee and Hendersonís use of credit recovery courses (totally ignored by the SBOE) to inflate graduation rates, I can say that the effect of these "competency" proposals will be to graduate more unprepared students with diplomas that will land them in remedial college classes that carry no credit and from which most will drop out. There are some situations that could allow for students to receive credit for courses outside the classroom. This includes ELL students with certified mastery of their home language. Any such competency would have to be certified independent of DCPS and the charters; the logical body is OSSE.

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When Will President Obama Support DC Statehood?
A. Loikow, aloikow@verizon.net

On January 12, Mary Cheh and Phil Mendelson visited the White House and talked to the Presidentís staff about getting the President to agree to put the DC "Taxation without Representation" license plate on the Presidential limousine. They delivered the plates to David Agnew, President Obamaís Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. A White House spokesman said President Obama "supports full representation for the people of the District of Columbia, including voting rights, home rule, and budget autonomy."

However, no one mentioned giving the people of the District of Columbia all the same rights as other Americans, which only happens if one is a citizen of a state. When will our elected officials really ask for all our rights and demand statehood? Getting a vote in Congress, without statehood, would be like getting a vote in the British Parliament in 1775. The District would still be a colony and we would not have the right to self-government. Freedom is an all or nothing proposition. For the people of the District of Columbia, all these partial measures (voting rights, home rule, and budget autonomy) mean we are still colonists and not full American citizens. It is a trap to think one can be a "little free" and it is okay. You are either a free person with the right to self-government in all its aspects or you are not. It is just that simple.

The people of the District of Columbia need to elect people who understand the difference between being free American with the right to self-government ó in all aspects ó and a colonist ruled by others. If they only ask for license plates, they donít get it.

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Attorney General Nathan on Not Prosecuting David Gregoryís Violation of DC Gun Laws
Earl Shamwell, earlshamwell47@gmail.com

I am perplexed by Nathanís reasoning. He seems to be saying that in the exercise of his prosecutorial discretion relative to the enforcement of a criminal statute, he will consider whether the alleged perpetrator was exercising another constitutionally protected right. To me he is raising a defense that would ordinarily be resolved by a trial before a judge and/or jury and not by the prosecutor who is charged with enforcing the law equally without regard to the status of the accused and any possible defense he may have. This is enshrined in the equal protection and due process clause of the Constitution ó the 5th Amendment as applied in DC.

Even more strange to me is the fact that in my view this law on magazine capacity infringes on the 2d Amendment as enunciated in the Supreme Courtís Heller decision, because Nathan has decided, at least for David Gregory and his elitist journalistic ilk, that the law presents as an "unreasonable" regulation constitutionally speaking.

If I were representing any person ( not in Nathanís protected class) charged with this violation I would first and foremost argue selective prosecution and or that my clientís action was protected nonverbal speech ó that is he was protesting the existence of the law by having the prohibited magazine in his possession and was trying to inform the public of his position. I think Nathan may have de facto abrogated this law by protecting Gregory.

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Gun Control and Carl Rowan
Richard Stone Rothblum, richard@rothblum.org

I wonder how many people remember when the prominent columnist and gun-control advocate Carl Rowan shot a teenager who was "streaking" through his back yard swimming pool. DC at first declined to prosecute him for having an unregistered handgun, to say nothing of shooting someone who was not threatening him. He was eventually charged, but got off when the jury failed to convict in spite of overwhelming evidence.

On another subject, I will be 73 next week, and I bicycle wherever I can ó at least twice a day. I use the car only for really long trips or when I have to carry things that would be impractical for the bike. Carrying groceries is not a problem. I could never get interested in exercise for its own sake. By combining commuting and errands with biking, I have managed to keep up an exercise program that I would not otherwise have had the will power to do. In many cases, I also save time. A bike is usually the quickest way to cover short to medium distances in the city, and that is not even counting the time saved looking for parking. Metro and buses are not even in the competition.

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Wrong About Irv Nathanís Decision
Henry Callis, hankcallis1971@gmail.com

[Gary Imhoffís] rant [themail, January 13] about Irv Nathanís decision not to prosecute David Gregory for using the illegal high capacity magazine for a prop on television is just plain silly. Nathanís decision makes sense, as he stated, because "under all of the circumstances here a prosecution would not promote public safety in the District of Columbia nor serve the best interests of the people of the District to whom this office owes its trust." Gun laws are aimed at promoting public safety. Here, no one reasonably believe that public safety was ever at issue by Gregoryís using a prop on TV any more than it is when explosives, high speed car chases or otherwise normally illegal things are done in the making of a film or TV show. That being said, I have no doubt that Wayne LaPierre would have been given the same treatment because his handling of a high-capacity clip on the same show, for the same reason, would have been equally harmless. Let me be clear ó I think that Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are wrong about 95 percent of the time, including in their opposition to a ban on assault weapons, but I still would not support the prosecution of LaPierre for doing what Gregory did. Prosecutions in either case would be an expensive waste of time because public safety would not be at issue. Prosecutors have discretion for a reason, and it was wisely used in this instance. You and your conservative friends at the Washington Times and elsewhere, who you admiringly quote, are so caught up in the politics of the underlying issue that youíre letting it cloud your judgment of a rather simple commonsense decision.

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InTowner January Issue Uploaded
P.L. Wolff, intowner@intowner.com

The January issue content is now posted at http://www.intowner.com, including the issue PDF in which will be found the primary news stories, community news, letters to the editor, and museum exhibition reviews ó plus all photos and other images. Not included in the PDF but linked directly from the home page is the new What Once Was feature (this month about what was known as the "Seven Houses" on Pennsylvania Avenue), which has succeeded the long-running Scenes from the Past, as well as Recent Real Estate Sales, Reservations Recommended and Food in the íHood.

This monthís lead stories include the following: 1) "Mexican Cultural Instituteís 16th Street Mansion Near Meridian Hill Park Now Designated as a DC Historic Landmark"; 2) "Kalorama Road Neighbors Seek to Overturn Condo Project Approval"; 3) "Historic Anderson House to Offer Special Tours of Rooms Not Seen." Our editorial this month focuses on due process coming to the ABC licensing process (From the Publisherís Desk). Your thoughts are welcome and can be sent by clicking the comment link at the bottom of the web page or by E-mail to letters@intowner.com.

The next issue PDF will publish early in the morning of February 8 (the second Friday of the month, as usual). For more information, either send an E-mail to newsroom@intowner.com or call 234-1717.

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CLASSIFIEDS ó EVENTS

Inclusive Schools Capstone
CStevenson, anjinsan@geotrees.com

On February 4, 8:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., the District of Columbia will host its first-ever Inclusive Schools Capstone Event, a one-day conference dedicated to empowering our community with tools to support students challenged by disability, gender, poverty, cultural heritage, and language. Enjoy dynamic trainings and best practice workshops from the Districtís top education professionals and learn how parents and educators can work with their school to create inclusive learning environments. Learn about local resources in the eventís exhibit hall and speak one-on-one with organizations providing support to District students.

The event will be held at the Marvin Center, The George Washington University, 800 21st St. NW. Free and open to the public. Free Lunch Provided. Participants must register at: http://www.cvent.com/d/fcqxxd/4W. Learn More at www.osse.dc.gov/ISW or call 741-0271.

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