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May 29, 2013

Browsing

Dear Browsers:

I like to start a session of web browsing with Arts and Letters Daily, http://www.aldaily.com, which links to serious and always interesting long-form essays about topics in literature, the arts, science, and more rarely politics. Recently, Arts and Letters Daily featured an article in The Baffler by Hussein Ibish. Ibish is a scholar of the writings of the Marquis de Sade, and he starts his article with an amusing and revealing anecdote about the intellectual straight-jacket in which Washingtonís "respectable" opinion is bound, http://www.thebaffler.com/past/united_sades_of_america. "Not long after I took refuge from the academy to work in the policy centers of Washington, I visited one of DCís landmark bookstores, Politics and Prose ó a literary venue known, as its name suggests, for furnishing customers with the conceit that theyíre browsing and shopping in a vaguely subversive fashion. But as I walked up to join the storeís cultivated and edgy communitas, I committed a terrible error: I asked a clerk where I might find the works of the Marquis de Sade. My request made its way up through an increasingly consternated group of shop assistants; I had to repeat it several times before they fully registered what I was asking for. At that point, I was told to leave the store immediately."

From the fury and banishment, you would have thought he had asked Politics and Prose for Mitt Romneyís No Apology: The Case for Americaís Greatness, or for the writings of Pope Francis on sexual morality, or asked Busboys and Poets for a book by Benjamin Netayahu, say Terrorism: How the West Can Win, or Fighting Terrorism. But Sade didnít write about Republicans, America, Catholic morality, or Israel; he merely wrote about sadism, torture, and murder. What could a respectable Washington bookstore find offensive about that?

Gary Imhoff
themail@dcwatch.com

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Mayorís Counsel Orders West End Land Agreement Released
Robin Diener, Library Renaissance Project, rdiener@savedclibraries.org

The General Counsel to Mayor Vincent Gray has ordered the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to release the final, signed Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the West End Library/Firehouse Deal, as I requested on behalf of the DC Library Renaissance Project under the DC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This request appealed DMPEDís decision denying the Library Renaissance Projectís request for the final LDA.

The letter from General Counsel Donald S. Kaufman states that DMPED "shall provide" the final LDA as requested. Kaufman noted DMPEDís claim that it had satisfied the FOIA request by referring Ms. Diener to a draft of the LDA on the city councilís web site. However, the deputy general counsel pointed out that the final Zoning Commission order approving the West End deal says that the LDA "was executed" and therefore exists as a matter of public record.

The letter from Mayor Grayís General Counsel upholding the FOIA law is most welcome. We look forward to DMPEDís prompt compliance and receiving the final LDA. The West End deal involves the sale of three pieces of public land in the cityís highest priced neighborhood ó prime real estate that DCLRP has consistently maintained was greatly undervalued by the city. DCLRP took the Zoning Commission decision to the Court of Appeals where it is being considered. The first question judges asked at the hearing was, "Where is the completed LDA?" For details about the West End parcels deal brokered by the Deputy Mayorís Office of Planning and Economic Development, see http://www.tinyurl.com/westend-vid.

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ďAll In, None Out!Ē
Samuel Jordan, Samuel.Jordan@msn.com

On May 13, the DC councilís Health Committee conducted a public roundtable on the DC Health Benefit Exchange (HBX), a marketplace for insurers to post plans for individuals, families, and small businesses. In keeping with proposed DC legislation, all plans approved for sale in the District will be available for review and comparison with other plans on the Health Benefit Exchange ó unless the insurers have their way.

Missing among the top five favorite stories in the regional media is the critical struggle over the direction of the DC HBX. The roundtable on May 13 addressed many provisions of the proposed District legislation, "Better Prices, Better Quality, Better Choices for Health Coverage Amendment Act of 2013," including advantages for womenís health, basic "essential benefits" insurance plans, and impacts of coverage costs on small businesses. Nevertheless, the key provision marking the line drawn in the sand between insurers and consumers is whether the HBX will post all plans available in the District insurance market or whether insurers will be able to keep plans for small groups and small businesses off the HBX or off the publicly accessible market bulletin board.

"All in, none out!" is a slogan advanced by consumer health advocates and full disclosure proponents. It requires all plans to be posted on the HBX. Unfortunately, we have come to expect the insurance industry to be disingenuous in many matters of policy and regulation of the sector. They didnít disappoint. During the debate on a "unified" or "closed" market, which requires all insurers to disclose the terms, prices, and coverage details of all plans sold in the District to be posted on the HBX ó the "All In" feature ó the insurers and their coterie of brokers and small group and small employer representatives decided to misrepresent the issues in dispute and to promote nondisclosure. [Finished online at http://www.dcwatch.com/themail/2013/13-05-29.htm#jordan]

Instead of supporting full disclosure or transparency and access to all insurance products on the same market board, the keys to intelligent consumer choice, the insurers fought for a "transition period." Rather than acceding to the provision requiring full disclosure, the insurers wanted to "wait and see." If the HBX succeeded after two or three years without full disclosure from all insurers, then the insurance industry would participate fully. An HBX can succeed as a guarantor of consumer choice only if all information is available on the exchange. Anything less is the thicket of chaos and inscrutable fine print consumers encounter at present. To withhold full disclosure on all plans is to continue to suppress competition and to limit access to comparative data ó business as usual. Insurers want an off-the-public record-market for plans sold to vulnerable small employers and small groups, such as nonprofit foundations, professional associations, and think tanks, staples of the DC market, who are at the mercy of brokers who promote their own favorite plans and donít encourage consumer plan shopping.

Only an "All In, None Out!" policy can permit an objective assessment of the Health Benefit Exchange component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). "Some In, Some Out" is a blueprint for failure and maintenance of the existing, deliberately confusing insurance market place. Call and E-mail all members of the DC council and demand passage of the HBX legislation with an "all in" provision and no concessions on the "wait and see" trope from the insurers. Donít be mistaken, the ACA is not single payer, it is "single market." The ACA is not universal health care. It is an instrument for equal information for all consumers, no matter their market niche. It is the first time insurers have been asked to fully disclose.

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Election Manipulation
Jonetta Rose Barras, jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com

Itís a self-serving move, plain and simple. Admittedly, some residents may be suffering election fatigue. But that has nothing to do with when the primary election is held in the District, and everything to do with the spate of corrupt activity that overtook the John A. Wilson Building during the past three years.

"[They] should not be changing election laws or regulations a year out from an election," said Dorothy Brizill, cofounder of DCWatch, a government watchdog organization. Brizill and others are expected to testify Wednesday on "District of Columbia Primary Date Alteration Amendment Act of 2013" before the councilís Committee on Government Operations, headed by Kenyan McDuffie. The bill, if approved, would change the date for political party primaries from April 1, 2014 to the second Tuesday in June ó which is June 10, 2014. "Everybody who signed the bill is running for office," added Brizill. Read more at http://jonettarosebarras.com/?p=3162.

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Reply to Virginia Spatz
Julianne M. Robertson King, kingjulianne@yahoo.com

The recent attacks on Empower DC [themail, May 19 and May 22] by Virginia Spatz revive an unfortunate, time-worn tendency of left-of-center groups to splinter along racial and religious lines and fall apart due to bickering over ideological side issues. Not this time. Although I hesitate to respond to her spurious claims of religious insensitivity, or misguided organizing strategies, I will ask: "Who made her the arbiter of what strategies and techniques are appropriate or effective in the effort to fight the powerful forces of school privatization?" Empower DC has been raising consciousness and organizing on grassroots issues for close to a decade. In contrast, Ms. Spatz seeks to make it about her, portray the victim, and garner the spotlight in order to air some imagined grievance over the mention of Jesus during a fundraiser held in a Baptist church. Hello? If you are filled with loathing toward any religious character other than Moses, if you are uncomfortable with the concepts and deities of other faiths, donít go into houses of worship other than your own. In case you werenít paying attention (and frankly Iím pretty sure that while real oppressed people were getting hosed and attacked by dogs in the street, you were busy launching a doomed attempt to catapult yourself into the ruling class) the invocation of a Higher Being to bring cosmic support to an earthly problem is pretty standard fare for grassroots causes.

Although I canít speak to the value, if any, of Ms. Spatzí previous affiliation with Empower DC , her decision to break ties was hers to make. Why then does she feel the need to elevate her displeasure with the group into a cause? Is she being paid by the Walton Foundation to discredit Empower DC? Is she secretly hoping to be at the vanguard of a new anti-privatization movement created from the ranks of other disaffected souls? Is her paranoid, hysterical, pseudo-liberal, ego-based rant rooted in the fear that the Brave New World emerging from the destruction of DCPS is somehow springing from our collective conscious, so-why-not-pin-the-blame-somewhere-and-Empower DC is-the-only-viable target I can identify? Although Virginia Spatz is irrelevant to the success or failure of efforts to fight school privatization, even she must realize that the only entities that will benefit from her current behavior are the opponents of public education. Is that the plan? Are you willing to be a distraction that shifts focus from the real problems facing students on DCPS? Whoís holding the other end of your leash, Virginia?

[Iíll let this message through, but Iíll repeat an admonition that I have had to issue only rarely in themail. You can attack the ideas and positions that other people write in themail as strongly as you want, but please donít attack the people themselves. ó Gary Imhoff]

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CLASSIFIEDS ó EVENTS

EnergySmart DC Meeting, June 1
Marchim Williams, marchim.williams@dc.gov

The District Department of Environment is in the process of developing its EnergySmart DC Plan. This plan will provide specific short and long term energy goals and strategies for accomplishing those goals that align with the mayorís Sustainable DC and Climate Action Plan. DDOE will host an EnergySmart DC meeting for residents of the District on Saturday, June 1, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., at Watha T. Daniel Shaw Library (at the Shaw/Howard University Metro stop).

As a resident of the District, itís important that we hear from you regarding the EnergySmart DC plan. We want to discuss and hear your recommendations in the following areas: 1) How can the Districtís EnergySmart DC plan help you save money? 2) What job opportunities can we create in DC? 3) How can we use more renewables like solar and wind? 4) Where do innovations and new technologies fit in? Please mark your calendar, and share with your constituents and civic associations, and bring your neighbors with you. We want to make sure that this plan is dynamic and representative of all of the residents in the District. If you have any questions regarding this message, please do not hesitate to contact the EnergySmart DC Public Outreach Coordinator, Chancee Lundy. at 434-8921 or community@energysmartdc.com.

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