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August 13, 2014


Dear Washingtonians:

Three articles to read: Lucia Moses, “One Year In: 10 Ways the Washington Post Has Changed Under Jeff Bezos,”; Megan McArdle, “A Streetcar Named Progress,”; and Dana Milbank, “Americans’ Optimism Is Dying,”

Moses makes ten brief points that don’t lend themselves to summarization, so read the whole thing. McArdle gives her theory of why building streetcar lines may be attractive to cities, and she’s worth quoting at length: “One of my favorite former colleagues, Emily Bobrow of the Economist, explains why streetcars are a bad idea. The short version: They don’t move faster than buses, at least not in the US, where they’re rarely given dedicated lanes. And because they require a big fixed investment, they’re very expensive, and inflexible, compared to buses. So why are cities suddenly going streetcar-mad? Oh, you can cite the small advantages of streetcars — they’re less likely to give people motion sickness, for example — but these advantages don’t really seem to outweigh the huge costs. Yet American cities are laying streetcar track as fast as they can get financing. My theory is that for cities, the high investment, as well as the inflexibility of the routes, may often be a feature rather than a bug. Building a streetcar is a way to attract investment to an area where you would like to encourage rapid development. And the reason that it’s attractive to investment is that once they’ve been built, the streetcars can’t be moved.”

Milbank calls attention to a poll that shows a sharp drop in Americans’ optimism: “It has been slipping for some time, really, but a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this month put an exclamation point on Americans’ lost optimism. When asked if ‘life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us,’ fully 76 percent said they do not have such confidence. Only 21 percent did. That was the worst ever recorded in the poll; in 2001, 49 percent were confident and 43 percent not.” Milbank being Milbank, his preference is for a partisan political theory of why Americans’ optimism is falling so precipitously. I lean to a simpler economic theory. People fear that their childrens’ lives will not be better than theirs for a simple reason: it is very likely that they won’t be, and our political and academic class seems to be satisfied, if not actually pleased, with that prospect. Economically, for the past century, Americans aspired to own their own homes, preferably with yards and with a bedroom for each child. They aspired to own an automobile. Politicians encouraged them, and worked through laws and tax policies to help people achieve their aspirations. Now politicians and “thought leaders” tell people their aspirations and hopes are impractical, unrealistic, and bad for the earth, and that they should be satisfied with small apartments not large enough to accommodate families and with bicycles and buses for transportation. Who wouldn’t be discouraged?

Gary Imhoff


Undergrounding Electric Power Lines: Update
Dorothy Brizill,

From July 21 through July 29, the District’s Public Service Commission (PSC) held seven community meetings to receive comments from the public on the first three-year phase (2015-2017) of Pepco’s and DDOT’s plan to underground certain electrical power lines and fund the one-billion-dollar project through a surcharge to be assessed against Pepco customers. The goal of the project is to address the problem of power outages in DC and to improve the reliability of electrical service. During the first three years of the project, from 2015 through 2017, forty-give electric distribution feeder lines located on poles in Wards 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 will be buried underground in a massive public works project that will require extensive excavation on many city streets.

After a great deal of arm-twisting, the PSC and the DC Office of Peoples Counsel (OPC) have finally made basic information about the undergrounding project available to DC residents and have scheduled an additional community meeting on September 9. This is information that residents and businesses should have had prior to the community meetings in order to make informed comments on the project. On the PSC web site, information on the undergrounding project is at and The DC Office of Peoples Counsel’s web site has also been updated, and now has information on the project at


Why Not Elect the Members of the Public Service Commission?
Richard Layman,

Reading some of the recent postings by Dorothy Brizill, my immediate reaction was that if we want to exhibit best practice democracy, why not elect members of the Public Service Commission, and take the machinations of the city council and the executive branch out of the equation? According to the National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissions, fourteen states elect their PSC representatives,


Washington Post Rave on McMillan Plan
Daniel Wolkoff,

Roger K. Lewis, is an opinion columnist for the Real Estate Section of the Washington Post. He wrote about McMillan Park on August 1, The column should be honest and have a rendering of the monstrous blocks of buildings that are planned for the Park, and not totally eliminate a realistic view of the plan. The massive transportation problems, that DC Zoning Commissions severely questioned, with twenty thousand more cars added to the thirty thousand that are now crowding North Capitol Street daily, should not be overlooked.

Whether this is an opinion piece, editorial, or news item, Lewis excludes all kinds of negatives about the plan, and the question of using public land for public needs just goes unanswered, as do questions of gross malfeasance in office, theft of services, unequal distribution of resources, and what any gracious healthy city needs in open and green space. Residents can’t find park space in overbuilt NOMA even with the fifty million dollars called for in the plan, so what kind of corruption of sound planning practice covers McMillan with dense concrete buildings, violating all environmental common sense?


About Gun Rights and Democratic Rights
Jack McKay,

It seems to me that the crucial “right” in this matter is the right of us residents of the District to decide for ourselves, through our elected representatives, what our local laws and regulations will be. That’s what home rule is supposed to be about, and that’s what the American Revolution was fought for.

Democratic self-government is not something to be tossed aside frivolously, in favor of a “right” created just a few years ago. The legal right to keep and bear arms became an individual’s right only in 2010, when the Supreme Court “incorporated” the Second Amendment in McDonald v. Chicago. For more than two hundred years before that decision, the Second Amendment was the right only of states, not of individuals.

McDonald v. Chicago, and District of Columbia v. Heller before it, explicitly stated that the individual’s right to weapons was not unlimited, and that localities may impose reasonable restrictions on keeping and carrying guns. The principal right at issue here is that of democratic government: we, the people, should be able to decide what gun regulations best suit the District of Columbia. That’s far more important than anyone’s supposed right to carry guns on the streets of DC.


Second Amendment Interpretation
Andrea Rosen, Ward 4, Chevy Chase,

[Re: Gary Imhoff, “The Dangers of the Bill of Rights,” themail, July 27] Wow, I didn’t see that coming — that you’re a defender of the armed-to-the-teeth interpretation of the 2nd Amendment!

Does my memory fail me, or did the residents of the District of Columbia vote overwhelmingly to impose the strongest gun controls in the nation on themselves? That is self-regulation, not government regulation. When a group of old Catholic men decides to reverse precedents established by earlier Supreme Court decisions by reinterpreting the 2nd Amendment in favor of the gun lobby, and to reverse laws enacted through direct democracy, that upends the Constitution. But then we are not protected by the Constitution, because we are a democracy-free zone without voting representation in Congress. At every turn, the popular will is negated.


[Opponents of Second Amendment rights are reviving the theory of States Rights, that individual states or the District of Columbia should be able to nullify rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights of the federal Constitution in the name of making their own separate democratic decisions. The theory of States Rights simply doesn’t work any more; it was discredited and finally decided by the victory of the United States over the rebellious southern states in the Civil War. Neither an individual state nor the District of Columbia can reject, modify, or restrict a right guaranteed to the people by the Constitution.

[The right to keep and bear arms was universally recognized as an individual right, rather than as a right of states, from the time that the Second Amendment was written until the twentieth century. A few scattered state court decisions in the first decades of the twentieth century treated it as a right that was limited to formally organized state militias, and opponents of individual rights seized upon that argument to limit the applicability of the right, but the Supreme Court never denied that the Second Amendment recognized an individual right. In the two decades leading up to DC v. Heller and in the Supreme Court’s decision in the case, the evidence for both sides of the argument was exhaustively examined. In the Heller case, all nine justices, both liberal and conservative, recognized that the right to keep and bear arms pertained to individual citizens, not just to formal state militias, although the Court divided five to four on other issues.

[The judge in the case gave the DC government time to bring its gun laws into conformity with the Constitution, and delayed the implementation of his order so that the DC government could comply. My guess is that, just as it did in the Heller case, the city council and mayor will delay, grumble, and grudgingly and reluctantly obey the Constitution, but most likely make the minimum concessions that they feel they can get away. — Gary Imhoff]


InTowner August Issue Content
P.L. Wolff,

The August issue content can be viewed at, including the issue PDF in which will be found the primary news stories and museum exhibition reviews — plus all photos and other images. Not included in the PDF but linked directly from the home page is Stephen A. Hansen’s “What Once Was” feature — this month about a slave owner whose fine house and businesses were located in what today is Kalorama Park. This month’s lead stories include “Corcoran’s Move to Dissolve Legally and Transfer Art & Building by Cy Près Proceeding Challenged in Court; Decision Very Soon” as well as previews of plan for early September’s Adams Morgan Day and the 17th Street festival.

The reviews of exhibitions at American University’s Katzen Center (only through Sunday, August 17) and at the Phillips Collection are found at PDF pages 6 and 7. In addition to these, a review of a stunning show at the Museum of African art (also (only through Sunday, August 17) is posted in our web site’s Art & Museums section at The title of our editorial, “Homeless and Affordable Housing Require Urgent Attention Immediately, Not Later” speaks for itself. Your thoughts will be most welcome and can be sent by clicking the comment link at the bottom of the web page or by E-mail to newsroom[at]

The next issue PDF will publish early in the morning of September 12 (the second Friday of the month, as usual). For more information, either send an E-mail to newsroom[at] or call 234-1717.


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