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Last Updated: 1999 December 20! Want to jump to the most recent entry?


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SECTION 8 The Congress shall have Power .... (17)To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;
-And;
(18) To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
      - Constitution of the United States, Article I


Happy New Year!
Outlook is Good
Mayor Tony Williams Inaugurated

Get used to it. The two-decade decline of the District of Columbia - under the auspices of Marion Barry - is over.

1999 January 5
On 1999 January 3, Anthony A. Williams took his oath of office in the shining new Ronald W. Reagan Federal Building. I was there, and the atmosphere was one of jubilation. Also sworn in were several new council members. One of the more memorable speeches was given by re-elected at-large Council member David Catania (Republican), now heading the Council Committee on Local, Regional and Federal Affairs, who pledged - among other things - that there would now be a level playing field in town. He also admonished District government workers "some of whom might have benefitted" by corruption and cronyism under the Barry regime, that they could forget any continuation of such practices and that it would absolutely not be business as usual:

"This city and its broken government have not served [District residents] well... Those days are over."

Many stirring speeches were given, with the various speakers delivering some fine rhetoric in some cases, and in other cases the rhetoric wasn't quiet up to speed - but in all cases there was a clear expression of vision. The vision is one of renaissance. Mere revitalization, it seems, just won't do. We agree. When a city the size of Washington has been permeated utterly by a synergy of metastasizing cancers, suddenly cured by some new miracle regimen, still there is vast damage which must be repaired. Pocked through and through by cronyism and ineptitude, the organs of the state now labor and wheeze while the patient soaks in the poisons of a fevered nightmare. The bones are riddled and cannot support the patient. Prosthesis, in the form of the District of Columbia Financial Reform and Management Assistance Administration (DCFRA "Control Board"), has propped the patient up and in fact has allowed it to hobble around. But now it's time for the delicate repairs to the soft tissues, as it were. Pardon us for pursuing this metaphor so assiduously - we can think of none other which would be more apropos.

Mayor Williams notes that things cannot be fixed overnight:

"Within the first six months, is everything going to be fixed? No. But will the people notice better service from this government? Yes."

Under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the new Mayor and DCFRA Control Board Chair Alice Rivlin, most of the powers which formerly accrued to the Office of the Mayor - until Marion Barry's deficiency led to the resumption of Congressional power over the city - will be returned. Mayor Williams has also requested some additional powers. By law, the Mayor's office had been stripped of the authority to hire and fire the heads of various City Departments. As it is, if Mayor Williams wishes to replace any of those agency heads, he needs Control Board approval.

Mayor Williams does intend to make changes. The names are not yet publicly released, but it has been announced that at least some agency heads have been asked to resign. In a conference of January 4, the Mayor announced his keynote of rapid reform, requiring agency heads to deliver to him, before the week is out, their plan to increase delivery of services, within the present budget. Each agency head is to sign a performance contract, outlining goals for delivery of services to the resident.

It must be noted here that during the 1980s, government in the District had become less of a tool whereby the residents pooled their tax resources to deliver large-scale services through the most efficient means practicable, and instead became the largest non-Federal employer in the District. As the Marion Barry & Cronies (tm) administration gave jobs to political supporters, in essence creating the city's largest extended family through patronage, his perpetual return to office became assured. When the DCFRA Control Board took over and placed more managerial power in the hands of then-CFO Williams, one of his first acts was to fire some 140 workers, not so much for non-performance as for being pure deadwood, filling nonessential positions created simply to satisfy the Barry-Cronies(tm) Administration's need to reward the politically-faithful.

Anthony A. Williams, a career government accountant and financial manager, is largely credited with having performed a monumental job, that of making any sense at all out of the chaoses of District bookkeeping. He persevered and has largely restored financial order to the District, and was able to help work out a budget that will leave the District with a surplus, instead of the astounding arrearages seen in recent years. Mayor Williams had no intention of running for Mayor, but was drafted by a consortium of local business and community leaders. Never a politician, but self-categorized as a nerd, Mayor Williams is essentially a quite no-nonsense cost-and-quality man, precisely what the District needs right now.

Mayor Williams is placed in an interesting position. Clearly an intelligent man, he is also possessed of a fine vision for Washington, one which we have always supported. Washington DC is, after all, the Nation's Capital. America is a great nation, with some of the best people in the world, under the finest system of government. America deserves to have the greatest capital city in the world, and this great capital must therefor be the greatest city in the nation. It has very far to go in many respects. Possibly the greatest hurdle is this: in a city that is practically overflowing with world-class institutions of higher learning, the public schools are among the worst in the nation. One cannot expect good governance from a city which cannot read. This is a multigenerational problem. It's given rise to some extremely bizarre cultural irruptions as Mayor Williams noted in his inaugural speech as he dedicated his term to serving the District's children:

"Young people are our future and must be our focus. In the warmth of my home, as in most families, we are taught to see the grace of God in every child's face. But in the cold reality of America's cities, we have been forced to learn the bitter lesson that we are diminished as a people when our children suffer and dispair. We have watched the sons of our city die in pools of blood on their front porches or trade the best years of their lives for a ticket to Lorton. We have seen the daughters of the District plan funerals instead of their careers or become mothers when they need mothering themselves. We have heard the bright students tell of perverse cultures that turn good things like the honor roll into badges of shame. These are the deepest challenges we face as a city. The fate of our children is the final and best measure of whether anything we do is actually worth the effort. We must save the children. Let us put our bodies and souls in motion on behalf of our children."

Clearly able to see through the murk to what's real and what's of value, the Mayor also can see what's of value but isn't real, not yet. The schools need vast improvement, especially in terms of getting the District's teachers paid properly and paid on time and paid on the basis of what sort of education they are actually delivering. As technology explodes into new directions, the District and Capital needs only the best, and the general region outside of the District proper is now exploding into unprecedented prosperity as an information, technology and sciences center. There is a vast need for qualified personnel and the District's educational system must gear up to provide students with the capability to fill that need.

The District's infrastructure is in a horrid state of disrepair, one of the reasons that so much of new business locates in the remote suburbs. As the Mayor notes, "We need to fill the potholes. We need to sweep the streets. We need to exterminate the rats, wash away the graffitti, repair the road signs and collect the garbage. We need to beautify the parks, inspect run-down buildings, organize our records. We need sewers that drain. We need 911 that responds."

The Mayor is certainly aware that he has essentially been drafted as a general in an outright war on Washington-as-it-is. Washington as a city is now much less divided along racial lines than in previous years, which fact is reflected in the membership of the Council. One often hears mention of a "lost generation"; the cultural war looming in Washington is less a war between races, or even income-classes, and more a cultural war of the educated versus the culture of neglect, dispair, and cronyism which is exemplified by the teen-gangster mentality from which a probable majority of local government employees never matured. The Mayor is strongly advised to watch his back. We believe that for every single positive advance made in the District under the Williams Administration, there will be four gangsters/cronies who will have to be dragged off kicking and screaming and swearing revenge. They know full well that any renascence of the District ensures the doom of their way of life. A clean, safe Washington-that-works provides no refuge for their kind, which is why they let the place slide so badly, for so long. Well, in advance, let us wish the resisters and nay-sayers good riddance. They ruined our Nation's Capitol and made it the laughingstock of the civilized world and have efficiently killed off anyone who has tried to repair their damage.

The new government will, if successful at demonstrating capability and direction, inevitably be granted a return to full Home Rule empowerment. Loss of Democracy was in truth the greatest price paid by the residents of the District for having supported the gangsters/cronies for so long. While Congress will always have the final say in the District of Columbia until and unless the US Constitution is amended, it is fitting that the residents of the District will probably soon be accorded the right to vote for voting representatives in both houses of Congress. Freedom is the perquisite of any true civilization and when the residents of the District, through their consent to their new government cleaning house, demonstrate that they are civilized and not a pack of helpless illiterates run by an anarchy of thugs, they will have their freedom, their democracy, and the finest city in the nation.


The Changes Begin
Police Special
Management Upheavals

1999 January 7
After having served for just under a year, Chief Management Officer Camille Cates Barnett PhD has resigned, effective in mid-February.

Her tenure as CMO, a position created under the auspices of the DCFRA Control Board, has not been without controversy. There had been some irregularities which gave the impression of possible improper assignments of high-dollar contracts to former associates from her tenure as CMO in Austin Texas. There have also been ongoing questions as to her effectiveness in visibly improving delivery of city services to residents. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has criticized her for the slow pace of visible improvements in District life. However, knowledgable sources say that there have been marked improvement in the internal operations of many city agencies, particularly in terms of increased efficiencies in communications and accountability. However, there has also been criticism that Barnett had surrounded herself with her own core management clique and had thus "reified" a major flaw of the District government, that of multiple strata of management, each tending to insulate the end-user from their resources.

Commentators note that while both Williams and Barnett have excellent reputations for management, particularly of finances, they evidently have very different styles of goals-assessment. Barnett is known to be more of a "process-in-process" person, in effect instituting seemingly-minimal but widespread functional changes at the bottoms of organizational foodchains and letting the effects propagate. Under this theory, not too different from the Reagan Trickle-Down theory (or mathmatical "chaos theory"), small changes to initial conditions can synergize down the line to create disproportionate results. But the time-scale in question is comparatively long. Mayor Williams appears to have a management style which sets immediate improvements as an immediate goal.

There is something to be said for both styles. Mayor Williams style might possibly be best compared to a military intervention, sure to restore order. Yet as history shows, top-down imposition of structure may often be likened to a pre-fabricated house trailered in and simply dropped on a beach. It may be beautiful but it is also unstable, and may either be undercut or blown away. Foundations are necessary if the structure is to last, and emplacement of sturdy foundations that will not be moved appears to have been Barnett's goal. In any case, while she was able to work no massive visible changes, no grand and obvious works, streets have been repaired, and new parking meters have been emplaced, replacing the decapitated poles from which the junkies had stolen the antiquated meter heads. Also the alleys have been cleaned and a timetable has been established for an ongoing cleanup. Trash collection has been greatly improved and recycling efforts have been reinstated. Also, the telecom systems have been improved as well. Rotary-dial phones had been the standard in District government offices, and the ancient phonelines have proven entirely inadequate to the datatraffic needs of modern offices, and many of those phone systems were upgraded under Barnett's watch.

Barnett, whatever her personal strengths or failings, had ineviably run up against the District government bureaucracy, which has been categorized as "not just a leech on the neck of the city but an ugly and sullen one". Long infamous for incompetence, sloth and indolence (not to mention occasional insolence), the District govenrment probably has no equals in North America when it comes to digging in their heels and refusing to let things work, particular when what's supposed to work is them. With the exception of the police, who have proven surprisingly helpful and polite (at least in terms of giving directions, etc), my personal encounters with the DC government bureaucracy have in general proven to be extremely depressing where not outright frustrating to the point of contemplating suicide; with suicide at least something would actually happen and wouldn't take forever. Barnett is to be greatly credited for having gotten any motion at all out of this vast inert lump known as the District bureaucracy.

No replacement CMO has yet been named. Mayor Williams has sent out feelers examining the idea of tapping the repository of "persons of good conscience" in the non-profit sector, which has over the last few years proven to be one of the few competent elements in the vast mix of entity in Washington. Incredible improvements have been effected by these groups, especially considering their budgetary constraints. In particular, some of these groups, especially the non-profit housing groups, have possibly had the most profound changes on the cityscape. While they cannot pave the streets, they have done much to restore many buildings which had been run down wrecks, converting them to comfortable residences and storefronts. This greatly improves quality-of-life - not only for the new residents, many of whom are first-time homeowners or disabled pensioners - but for the present residents, who no longer have to wonder if the junkies squatting next-door are going to set the block afire by accident. There is a fierce yet compassionate light shining from, and a major intellectual and organizational resource, to be found within, these nonprofits organizations.

We note in passing that court-appointed Public Housing receiver David Gilmore was recently picketed by a group of contractors and subcontractors for an ongoing rebuild of some public-housing projects. Gilmore has refused to pay, citing shoddy worksmanship and flagrant safety-code violations. Many of the subcontractors, it appears, had no qualifications other than being able to swing a hammer, and didn't do that all too well. Gilmore stated something to the effect that when individual subcontractors could demonstrate that they'd done particular work and had done it acceptably, his ofice would pay them directly; he stated directly that in no circumstance would he pay the top-level contractor (Team/Ace, of Baltimore) because in his opinion, none of that money would ever make it to the sub-contractors.

The District's police have been under unrelenting pressure from all sides in the last two years. Massive changes have occurred, including several changes in top management, assorted heads have rolled in the middle-management, it was revealed that about half of District officers were technically unqualified to use their firearms, and to make matters worse, a Washington Post investigation of the last ten years of police shootings revealed that the District's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) led the nation in police shootings, and also in "questionable" uses of deadly force by officers. There was a major concern that undertrained officers had used excessive force and worse, that officers made mistakes which were covered up by internal investigations which dismissed charges against the oficers, suppressing evidence of incompetence, negligence, or wrongdoing.

MPD Chief Charles H. Ramsey, by all accounts a man of integrity, had recently proposed that MPD officers, who are required only to have a high-school education or GED, should in the future be required to have at least a two-year degree or equivalent. DC Councilman Kevin Chavous figuratively shot not only himself, but a large chunk of his part of the city itself, in the metaphorical foot when he objected, effectively, that this would exclude District residents from the police. He did note the necessity of having local officers who lived in the neighborhoods, were familiar with the neighbors, and thus had an investment in the city. However, Chief Ramsey and others noted that the quality (or lack thereof) of communications skills possessed by many officers had caused the dismissal of many cases, permitting offenders to get off scot-free. Ramsey, who has a Masters Degree in criminal justice and acquired his degrees while serving fulltime as a Chicago police officer, has apparently taken the position that if he could do it, so could anyone else. He hasn't directly taken the position that officers presently in the employ of the District should be dismissed due to poor education, only that he believes that a much higher standard should be required of officers, particularly as regards literacy and professional training. He's reported by the Washington Post as saying: "US Attorneys call me and complain about case reports submitted by officers who can't put together two sentences". Chavous is reported as saying that requiring college degrees of officers is particularly demanding and exclusive of "particularly African American males who live east of the river". Chavous, himself black, represents a city ward which comprises most of that area, which is one of the poorest areas of the city, and the most plagued by violence and open-air drug trafficking, and one where neighborhood involvement of resident police officers is probably most crucial to effecting a change in conditions. It is in this part of town that the public schools are the worst, in a system rated second-worst in the nation. In the meantime, reconstruction of the schools continues apace, with among other reforms, a refusal to graduate anyone who can't write coherent English.

Chief Ramsey's calls for increased education requirements, and heightened training of officers, came just hours before District police shot and killed a drunk man on the porch of his parent's home. The grief-stricken parents, who had called to have their son told to "move along", are outraged by the way events were handled. However, from the facts as reported to the Post, the officers acted within reason by firing on the man who had barricaded himself within his parent's house and refused to come out and surrender. Even a witness friendly to Joe Durant Jr. says that Durant claimed to have a handgun, but also says that he never left the doorway of the house and thus could not have been a threat to officers. Could this situation have been prevented if the officers had been given special training, or if there had been on-call a specialist in handling "psychological situation"? Only further investigation will tell.

There will be additional investigation of this, and of many other incidents. Chief Ramsey stated that, among other things, he's asked the Justice Department to investigate police uses of deadly force over the last ten years. US Attorney General Janet Reno has said that she was "already on it". Why? Public confidence simply isn't given to the MPD right now, and even Chief Ramsey says that he doesn't believe that the department has the credibility to investigate itself.

Among other things, citizens action groups have protested the lack of treatment programs for persons having problems with alcohol or drug abuse, both of which social ills are rampant in Washington. During the final years of the Barry-Cronies(tm) administration, cost-cutting in budgets combined radical reduction in expenditures on treatment and therapy programs and facilities, with rampant abuses by Barry cronies who either spent no funds on the intended programs, or who diverted these funds for their own personal misuse. The District most definitely needs to expend a great deal of the budget surplus on outreach to the homeless, mentally ill, and addicted, who are at present seen-to only by charitable groups, outside of actual incarceration in the failing and delapidated St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

It may well be that this recent shooting of a man who was clearly having some sort of extreme psychological/drug problems reflects the District's present attitude towards the "goddamned homeless". In a city which has at last lowered unemployment over the last years from roughly 10 to 8.6 percent, while concurrently deconstructing Welfare-as-we-know it with (officially) the worst welfare-to-work transitional program in the nation, and an inept social-services administration compounding a dysfuntional employment-services department, the homeless abound. Panhandlers are everywhere, or at least they are everywhere in weather less-inclement than has been seen in the last two weeks. Around Christmastime, the weather dropped from freakishly summery balm to a more-seasonable hard freeze, complete with high-wind conditions. The shelters are overflowing, as is any restaurant that will let someone sit and warm up while drinking a cup of coffee. Many of the homeless are homeless because of drug or alcohol addiction, and many of these seem to think they like it that way. But most of the homeless are homeless because they're mentally-ill, and there simply are no treatment resources available. We do hope that Mayor Williams won't forget these people, and won't simply let the cold weather solve the problem for the city. He did, after all, promise to not forget them, and we're all relying on him being an accountant, and not a politician. Politicians tend to conveniently forget their promises, and we will hope that a little thought will add up the human costs of lives spent on the street in the misery of winter, compounded by the miseries of madness and despair... all exascerbated by the revulsion and disdain of the well-employed power elite who generally treat the homeless mentally-ill as lepers, instead of as the people who they, but for the grace of god, might themselves be.

Moving right along, the above-mentioned cold snap has led to water-main breakages all across the region, but particularly in the District. Additional funds have been allocated, and outside contractors are being lined up and indeed some are already on the job. The present state of affairs has repairs continuing around the clock. Also moving right along, the District schools are preparing to fire all of the large number of schoolbus drivers who do not have the proper licenses. On the subject of licensing, etc., we note that an individual contracted to provide snowplowin services to the city was discovered to be operating an illegal dump leaking toxic wastes into the Anacostia river. When his equipment was inspected by police, it was discovered that none of the snow-removal equipment would pass inspection (lax in the District, in any case) and indeed, much of the equipment was inoperable. Please note that the whole present state of affairs - the upheavals and change of power, etc. - in the District is a direct result of an inability to get the streets cleared of snow after a moderate blizzard. So much time and so much hot air later, the snowplows still don't work.

A note is in order about the heads of various committees of the DC City Council.


Slow Going
Still Not Much Visible Change
Calm Before the Storm?

1999 January 22
Incompetence or recalcitrance? That has to be the question Mayor Anthony A. Williams is asking himself.

On January 4, the Mayor, freshly inaugurated, requested that his agency heads should submit, within a week, a detailed action plan on how they would rapidly improve delivery of services to the District. Evidently there are a lot of agency heads who listen to country music, because the plans as delivered amount to a glorified version of the old Nashville standard of "A Day Late and a Dollar Short". As reported by the Washington Post, Mayor Williams said of these plans: "They needed work in terms of their breadth and how deep the reach into the tool kit".

During the first term of the DCFRA Control Board, formed to oversee reform of the District's finances, several management firms were retained to audit and examine several of the District's agencies and also to generate suggestions for reforms. What they saw, in general, was a degree of incompetence, mismanagement and occasional outright malfeasance which was generally considered "astounding". District workers, wherever asked, generally admitted to no awareness, no wrongdoing, and certainly no responsibility. Denial-of-everything had been the order of the day. Yet, despite overwhelming footdragging and naysaying by the District employees, the management-consultant firms have consistently seen through to the dirt. And now that District agency heads have apparently demonstrated that they will be attempting to repeat the former patterns of footdragging and naysaying, the management-consultants will again be offering their services towards the reconstruction of District government. However, where before they had been paid quite-handsomely for their services, they will now be offering their services gratis.

This may, or it may not, turn out to be for the best of all concerned. We at Earth Operations Central have the greatest respect for the competence and ability of the firms involved. We have, however, grave reservations regarding the wisdom of turning the management of the Nation's Capital over to corporate concerns. It has long been noted that there is possibly excessive intertwining between certain elements of the corporate sector and the political sector at the Federal level. This was particularly notable during the Cold War years, when even then-departing President Dwight D. Eisenhower remarked "beware of the Military-Industrial Complex". We cannot possibly imagine that such management-consultancy firms of international reputation and scope as Booz-Allen Hamilton (among others) would fail to simultaneously provide excellent management, and firm steering towards utilization of well-known and reputable private outfits in which they held substantial investments. Washington is, as a town, already well-permeated with lobbyists and other corporate-front conduits, primarily operating at a Federal level. It may be rightly stated that in some regards, the District government has provided a certain element of checks-and-balances on what might otherwise be seen as a corporate overrunning of Federal Washington. Where lobbyists might otherwise have had a field day dancing on the backs of the bruised American taxpayer, they could always be held in check by some lowly District clerk putting the screws to them by making sure that their car remained lost in the impound system, as an example, or refusing to issue a permit which would increase the ability of lobbying groups to have more and better places for unnoticed deliveries of small suitcases full of large bills. Would it make sense to have publicly-traded corporations acting as a check-and-balance on other corporations, or in fact, acting as regulators of themselves? Of course, if this is going to happen in any case, I suppose it's best that the management consultancy outfits provide their steering services gratis rather than charging a fee for this service.

(We at Earth Operations Central will of course, with tongue not entirely in cheek, continue to offer our own opinions on certain matters, particularly as regards low-cost high-performance Information Resources for the District. We'd also like to note that we are not affiliated with any major or minor corporation, own no stock, and in fact barely have a logo.)

In any case, having received the resignation of former Chief Management Officer Camille C. Barnett (some prefer to say she was ousted), in the interim Mayor Williams will also take on the role of CMO. The office of the Mayor is, under the present system, not intended to be a managerial role, but rather is a policy-setting position. However, as Mayor Williams notes that there is "not a readily available pool of candidates who can step up to the plate and [face and surmount present conditions]".

( Earth Operations Central humbly re-announces, for the third year running, that we are ready to face and surmount some of the District's Information Resources present conditions, by supplying Linux operating system and associated software, to provide Internet and Intranet servers. We're too small to sue, but then again, that's because we work so "cheap".)

Mayor Williams has announced that he'll be cutting back on public appearances in order to devote more time to fixing things. In a way, that's good, because things will actually be happening, instead of having us all listening to the awesome sound of the entire District government dragging its feet. It's also not-so-good, because he'll have less time to listen to the complaints of the residents. Of course, by this time there's no doubt that he already has heard a substantial and probably cross-sectional sample of what's rubbing the residents the wrong way. Another possibly bad thing is that as the Mayor dives into hands-on mode, he'll have to increasingly depend on the willingness of staffers to pass-along whatever anyone outside of the office has to tell him.

It's fortunate, then, that Mayor Williams Chief of Staff is one Reba Pittman Evans. Evans (no relation to DC Councilman Jack Evans) has a reputation as being the sort of fiercely competent dragon lady who can tell someone exactly where to get off in the sweetest terms imaginable. She's also a Washington native, has no known associations with any political groups in the District (is this the beginning of a trend we believe should be enlarged upon?) and proclaims her pride in Washington and its people. A former deputy director of operations at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and later acting-assistant Secretary of Agriculture, Evans has developed a reputation for competence which Mayor Williams reportedly noted and tracked as a personal example. According to the Post, she was at one time the District events coordinator and then later the operations director at the Convention Center. We can only hope that she will pass along to the Mayor anything that he needs to hear, and will also have an excellent feel for what the Mayor needs to know.

We note in passing that while the rest of the Washington area, particularly contiguous Montgomery County Maryland, was within the last week rocked by a horrendous ice-storm which caused widespread and prolonged power outages, the District itself came through quite well.

However, during the preceding weeks, from roughly Christmas to mid-January, extreme cold combined with the District's century-old plumbing to cause water-main breaks all over town. While water-main breaks are nothing new in Washington, never before has there been such as spate as in this period. Crews have worked around-the-clock on 12-hour shifts, and staffing levels have been increased.

This last event occurred when it became evident that there were major problems within the Water and Sewer Authority, which had a months-long backlog on repairing leaks and breaks.

Also noted in passing, one week after District officers shot a man to death in the door of his parents' home for allegedly waving knives at officers, MPD Detective Frank Tracy, the union head for DC police officers, denounced coverage of the MPD's police killings rate as "a feeble attempt to depict [MPD officers] as trigger-happy cops who take pride in shooting people, either armed or unarmed". According to Tracy, in the first seven months of 1998, 212 officers were assaulted and in the whole year, there were only 63 shootings by police. Tracy noted that most of the officers - whose careers were tracked in a Post series critical of the nation's-highest police-killings-per-capita city police force - were hired under extreme-pressure circumstances during the Barry-Administration years of 1989 and 1990. At that time, Federal mandates combined with an exploding murder rate in Washington, causing crash-priority hirings without adequate background checks. Detective Tracy has also noted with displeasure that due to the coverage, Chief Charles H. Ramsey found it necessary to call in the Justice Department for an independent investigation, to which call the Justice Department responded with the statement that it would not only assist in such an investigation, but had already launched one even before Ramsey's request.

Roughly a week after Detective Tracy's blast at the press, Chief Ramsey announced that a Department of Professional Responsibility, centrally located instead of divided among the precincts, would henceforth investigate all police killings. The MPD has undergone a great deal of shake-up over the last two years, and Chief Ramsey has stated his intention to buckle down and do whatever it takes to restore public confidence in the MPD. Detective Tracy was overheard to remark at one point that he wishes that the press would, "[l]eave the police alone and write about the dirtbags on the street." While we admire and respect the MPD's rank-and-file, and the job that they do, we have to support Chief Ramsey's, and the Justice Department's, efforts to believably assure us that the the cops on the street aren't the dirtbags on the street. In any case, it's the nature of journalism in general, and journalism-in-Washington in particular, to not report dog-bites-man stories; dirtbags in the streets are considered a given. Uniformly excellent police in the streets of Washington are not, sadly, considered a given. Time will tell as we report how this can be made, whether in perception or reportage or in reality, to change.

Noted in passing, the Right Honorable Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Texas Republican, is now the new Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia.

While on the Subject of Money

Recalculations of the District's financial position indicate that the budgetary surplusses already forecast will increase by roughly $100 millions, according to former DCFRA Control Board Chairman Dr. Andrew F. Brimmer. This will permit the District government to put-paid to some $332 million deficit. According to Mayor Williams, "[a] lot of this surplus will go to a rainy-day fund.

As we we might hope that it shall. During the final days of ex-Mayor Marion Barry's empowerment as top-dog in the City of Washington, we noted a peculiar symptom of the collapse in local government - the programs which showed either the most abusiveness or the most imcompetence were those programs which reached out to the poorest and the most-needy. The saddest part of all was that in many of these programs, the money was there for the asking, in the form of Federal grants, but nobody bothered to ask for the money. This was largely rectified, mostly due to public outcry once the presses informed them of what was happening, but some grants which had been duly applied-for and received, are set for expiration in the near future.

One such grant is the funding for the fight against homelessness in downtown Washington. At the end of 1999 March, the final installment of a five-year $20 million loan runs out. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan, which came as part of an agreement between the Feds, the City of Washington, and its non-profit social-services providers, was intended to add Washington to the list of jurisdictions nationwide where are attempting to develop an improved "continuum of care" for homeless persons. The City of Washington, throughout the program, had increasingly cut payments into this program, in the final years of the near-collapse leaving almost all expenses to the Federal payment, and almost all effective programs were administered by non-profit organizations, which - driven by necessity to occasionally-radical invention - somehow, if barely, coped.

Nationwide, homelessness is radically reduced from the recent high levels seen in the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s. In part, this is due to the rebound in the economy, which is, interestingly, partially tied to Wall Street exuberance over the impending "end of Welfare as we know it", and enactment of laws restricting illegal immigration. Studies have indicated that for every 65 illegal immigrants, 100 Americans either lose their jobs, or are prevented from finding work. Thus, eliminating illegal immigration tends to provide employment niches for citizens, and combining this with the upturn in construction has led to many - who were desperately homeless through no fault of their own - to work, and thence to housing and self-betterment. but there are those who are difficult to help, since they've adapted to the life and/or have fallen into addiction or mental illness.

It must be noted that within the coming year, there will be many persons nationwide - and Washington DC is by no means an exception - who will finally and for all time exhaust their recourse to Welfare. Also note that the City of Washington has the worst national rating for Welfare to Work transition programs. Effectively, it has none.

I call upon Mayor Anthony A. Williams to dedicate a small competent core staff to interfacing effectively with the District's non-profit outreach community, and to earmark and escrow a substantial portion of the District's surplus "rainy-day" fund, securing some of that for those who will - when the economy turns downwards once again as it assuredly shall - be someday in greatest need. I further call upon Mayor Williams to rapidly instantiate some sort of effective Welfare-to-Work training program, so that when it's skills that are needed, and not just warm bodies, those skills will be available.

Dr Brimmer has noted, as have many others, that this budget surplus event is probably not something that will be repeatable, or certainly not to the present order of magnitude. Much of the surplus stems, not from fine-tuned budget trimming, but from lack of services actually delivered. There's lot of work which still has to be done. Look at it this way: If you were "sick as a dog" for a month, at the end of that month you might still have a pocket full of money... but only because you were too sick to leave the house and get your bills paid and shop. You're going to need every cent of that money in your pocket, because you cleaned every shelf in the house bare. The District's in a similar position, budgetarily.

We note that the DC Department of Housing and Community Development has just moved into Round 2 Task Force competition in $15 millions of Federal Grant funds. Please contact:

Ms. Shirley Hilliard at (202) 535-1950


Goals Defined, Teams Assembled
Uphill Battle Against Time
Self-Imposed Deadlines Attainable?

1999 January 28
"I'm simply asking us to do what government ought to do".

That was Mayor Anthony A. Williams, speaking at a news conference on January 27. Trying to deliver on one of his campaign promises, a visible change within six months, he set forth his plans for these improvements. They are to include:

Aiding the Mayor's efforts will be a recently-announced policy team headed by some fairly obscure but high-powered locals drawn from the ranks of various outfits, both private and public sector, including both District and Federal governments. The staff includes:

The Mayor is going to need all of the advice and help he can get. For example, one of the bigger flaps to dog the new administration exemplifies the sort of by-whatever-means footdragging for which the City government is infamous.

One David Howard, 44, head of the constituent services office (Public Advocate, in charge of citizen complaints, etc.) and thus one of the people who would be most-responsible for "changing the way things have been to the way things should be", made a poor choice of words in announcing that the city had very limited funds for assisting residents with emergencies, including such emergencies as fire-victim housing and so-forth. His remark was something to the effect that he'd have to be very miserly. He used a synonym for miserly which sounds unfortunately slightly like a racist epithet, and one of the District workers took it upon himself to broadcast a rumor that Mr Howard was an open racist. This is in contradiction to the statements of camapign co-workers, such as this comment from Ward 8 campaign-coordinator Phil Pannell: "...I never once detected anything racist about him". Pannell (who is black) further notes that as Mr Howard was the Mayor's first openly-gay appointee, "this is really a slap in the face of a constituency that supported him". In a letter from a gay-activism group to the Mayor, who accepted Mr Howard's resignation (which was voluntary and almost instantaneous as the furor erupted) with hardly a comment, we see an echo of our own position regarding the entrenched District bureaucracy:

"By stating that the mere resemblance of an innocent word to a slur was enough to justify the resignation of a valued and much-admired staffer, you have played directly into the hands of the most unscrupulous political vultures in our city..."
One A. Scott Bolden, a political and civic activist attorney, was reported by the Washington Post as saying: "We are a city in crisis. I'm more interested in hearing that the city will be well-governed, well-managed and well-financed rather than the petty politics that seem to be dominating our discussions in the early days of [this] administration".

We couldn't say it better. We won't even try. The fact of the matter is this: Washington DC is a city that has been for far too long divided along lines of class and race and income. "Can't we all just get along?" This is bogus and obstructive and in my humble opinion, it is just far beyond time to lay both racism and reverse-racism in a well-deserved grave. This city just plain needs to get over it. The "race card" that was so well played during the Barry-Cronies(tm) administration is a tired old horse that needs to take a short walk off of a tall building.

There's nothing in this town that's more sad than someone who doesn't get his own way screaming "racist", just to get the town to whip on whoever is foiling the plans of whoever's playing that race card. They say that "violence is the last refuge of incompetence" and this particular ploy shows only enough competence to get someone else to do the fighting instead of taking the blame for one's self.

If I am going to find any fault with Mayor William's handling of the event, it's this: he was reported by the Post as saying that if an investigation shows no wrongdoing, he wouldn't mind if Mr Howard was given another position within his Administration. In my opinion, if an investigation shows that there was no wrongdoing on the part of Mr Howard, that means that there was definitely malicious rumormongering for political infighting purposes by whoever it was who spread the lie that a good man was a racist. And anyone who's willing to spread racism by unfoundedly calling someone else a racist, they should be viewed as the common enemy, sowing dissension where there was only cooperation. Divide and conquer is what this is, but it's a sad and desperate ploy from someone who really needs to admit that they were part of the problem, and not part of the solution.

Yes, Washington has a "racial climate that needs a lot of work", to quote Mayor Williams. And in my humble opinion, the best way to fix that climate is to never reward anyone who plays the race card to remove competition or the potential for improvement.

Mr. Williams has consistently reiterated, in the face of questions that seem really quite ridiculous in this modern cosmopolitan and world-class city, as to whether he's "black enough": "I am committed to representing all of the people of our city and making sure my administration truly reflect's the city's diversity. I am particularly sensitive to the need to include people that have felt excluded from the political process and governance of the city, such as residents east of the Anacostia River."

Regional Issues

A few years ago, the Greater Washington Metrpolitan Region had quite a few problems with the District proper, and the District itself had some problems with the surrounding jurisdictions.

Foremost among the District's concerns was the fact that probably the majority of people who work downtown lived in the suburbs. For quiet some time there had been a call for a "commuter tax", whereby those who used District services such as the police, etc., might contribute towards the cost of such services, even if they were not residents. This was wildly popular downtown and equally unpopular in the suburbs, as might be expected.

Foremost among many of the surrounding jurisdictions' concerns was the crime and voilence which boiled up out of the District, particularly along the District Line between the District and Prince George's County, Maryland. Small communities such as Mount Ranier Maryland were plagued by droves of open-air drug marketeers, who plied their trade in Mount Ranier, only to flee into the neighboring District, where there was no real threat of arrest. Responses to this included congressional extension of cooperative authorities between such agencies as the Secret Service Uniform divisions, the US Park Police, the MNCPPC Park Police, Maryland State Police and the police departments of Prince George's County and various local municipal law-enforcement groups and agencies.

Largely considered a success, particularly in cleaning up some of the most-blighted borderline areas, this short history of cooperation has proved that there is fertile ground for profitable endeavour, if only the Region starts seeing itself as a region, and acts in a coordinated manner.

This would appear to be "in the works". Mayor Williams has recently conferred with leaders from the surrounding jurisdictions to address not only his own concerns, but also some of the concerns of the surrounding jurisdictions. While details are not available, we assume that among other things an increased cooperation will be arranged between the City of Washington and the Maryland suburbs, particularly with Prince George's County. "PG" County was Maryland's first majority-black county, and while the District was undergoing a massive population loss within the last decade (having lost one-sixth of the residents over a seven year period), "PG"'s population swelled. Prince George's County Maryland was a primary destination for the departing black middle-class of Washington, and while their homes may be in PG now, the hearts of many remain in DC. It was, some will argue, this vast exodus of the black middle-class which sounded the final alarm in Washington.

Washington, like most American cities, had experienced the so-called "Edge Cities" effects. Edge Cities effects are well-understood. Early in the lives of cities, the amenities (such as factory or office employment) which make city-life preferable to rural life are gathered in one place, forming a city core. As the city evolves, land prices are less-expensive towards the edges, and there is a trade-off between commuting times to the central amenities, and the larger properties afforded by the lower real-estate costs. When enough people live in the outlying areas, amenities concentrate there as well as, and more affordably than, the downtown core areas. Normally, the downtown cores tend to lose amenities to the less-expensive suburbs, and these become new urban cores. Over time, the whole region tends to expand outwards, with new growth at the edges and with the center becoming abandoned. If, however, this trend last long enough, the edges of the suburbs begin to meet the expanding suburbs of other cities. The only place remaining for development is the now-derelict city core... and at about this time, the formerly-attractive "new" urban cores of the suburbs begin themselves to suffer senescence.

While room for expansion remained, suburban communities could afford to regard decaying urban cores with some disdain, although they did so at their peril. Effectively, suburban growth became a sort of Ponzi Scheme, wherein one bad check covers another, depending on processing lag to protect against overdraft. Zero-sum games, where one snatches limited resources from another party to their irrecoverable loss, work well in such conditions. However, at a time when limits to growth have been reached, oddly we now see the end of the zero-sum condition. The driving factor for urban flight to the suburbs was essentially land-costs. Land costs are now almost equalized. In this situation, the only zero-sum aspect allowing competition for resources is the consideration of quality-of-life, which for many is "convenience" and "accessability" - and simple geometry indicates that the point closest to all others is the center. The other major concern, of course, which so far has tended to make the suburbs considerably more desirable, is "safety".

The Greater Washington Metropolitan Area has been notoriously lacking in regional councils with any authority, with the main exception being the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) or "Metro". MetroRail runs radially, with assorted rail lines originating in the suburbs, and passing through Washington towards central connections. The suburban bus-lines have been increasingly operated by contractors specific to each county, providing limited circumferential flow as a counterpoint to the MetroBus radial routes. While a majority of the Regional workers commute more than 15 miles to their workplaces, those workplaces tended to be in the suburbs, requiring either an automobile commute, or a lengthy detour downtown by MetroRail, there to switch trains and ride right back out to a different suburb. Recently, however, WMATA and other agencies teamed up to create a circumferential bus-line of limited scope. It is expected that there will be expansions of this service, which terminates at Tysons' Corners Virginia, which is very under-served by public transportation and the scene of daily traffic nightmares. This horrific traffic may be fixed within a decade by the addition of light-rail from nearby Metro stops through to Tysons', but that does nothing to aid the large number of, for instance, DC resident workers who have secured employment at Tyson's Corners, a rapidly-expanding office and retail center.

Mayor Williams has been trying to coordinate with leaders in the surrounding jurisdictions, especially attmepting to link up with leaders in the business community. Increasingly, due to an odd demographic shift, District residents are commuting "against the flow", in particular working in Northern Virginia's burgeoning hightech sector. This demographic shift counterbalanced the exiting black middle-class families with an incoming crowd largely composed of the so-called "DINKs" (dual-income, no kids) and single young professionals. Much of the District's increased civic revenue, outside of gains made in efficiencies in tax-collection and licensing, can be traced to the rapid expansion of this eminently taxable high-income class. However, the traffic across the bridges into Virginia has reached record proportions; "reverse commuting" was practically unheard-of only a decade ago. Clearly, both the District and the Virginia jurisdictions have a vested interest in improving trans-Potomac transportation.

One of the major concerns of the region has been, since the mid-1980s, the immense amount of crime in the District, and the question of how to halt its exportation to the suburbs has long ocupied the thoughts of regional administrators. So long as Marion Barry and his crony-riddled and dysfunctional police force continued to essentially either look the other way at the District's criminal combines or proved inept at the task of actually making a dent in the level of violence in the District, regional administrators gave no thought at all to cooperation with the District government. However, by 1997, it had become clear that multi-department task forces are becoming successful at eliminating the so-called "border jumper criminals" who had a very successful niche based on flight across jurisdictional lines.

We propose that these lines of communication between the suburbs and the District proper should be aggressively expanded, as many of our regional ills can be likened to "border jumper crime"; it's been too easy to say "their problem now" once the jurisdictional line is crossed. But the problem is this: after a suitable wait, the problem comes right back... or we may ourselves have to cross that line and now it's our problem. For any problem which is regional and not purely-local (and little is purely-local these days) we need regional cooperation and perhaps even Regional Authorities.


Caesar! 'Ware the Ides of March!
Progress Slow - But Ongoing 295 Shopping Days left until Y2K

1999 March 11
Within the Week, the District government under Anthony A. Williams passed a test, the failure of which test is generally considered the "straw that broke the back" of the former Home Rule government in the District, that of Marion Barry.

It snowed six inches, and the District's streets were promptly plowed.

To readers outside of the District, the thought of a major city being paralyzed by any snowstorm of less that four feet might seem ridiculous, but it actually happened here in late 1996. The snow remained on the streets of the District until the "January Thaw" of 1997. In the surrounding jurisdictions, all primary roads had been cleared within 24 hours of nearly three feet of snow, and most secondary roads were cleared within another 24 hours.

It's indicative of how far the District has come since Congress asserted its Constitutional right of final control over the District, and emplaced the DCFRA Control Board.

Other indicators have been appearing during the last month or so. One is the completely revamped Official Washington DC Homepage. Another is the rather informative site operated by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

To assist in finding information on these sites, I have instantiated the Washington WebSpace Search Engine, a public service of Earth Operations Central and TJH Internet SP - and yes, of course it's Linux - and of course, as always, it's free.

District Revitalization Indicators:
Improvements

No Visible Improvement, or Past-Problems Noticed At LAst

Evidently the improvements outweight the failures, as the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight voted to yield back to Mayor Anthony Williams powers which they had stripped from Marion Barry, including the power to hire and fire agency heads, and to direct day-to-day operations of the District Government. The House of Representatives unanimously confirmed the committee's recommenations on 1999 February 9. The Senate confirmed on February 23.

DC Sparkle

The US Department of the Interior has announced their so-called "DC Sparkle" initiative, which will focus on beautifying the District's parks. Most of the parks in the District are managed by the National Park Service. Over five millions are expected to be spent - in particular the scenic and historic Meridian Hill (Malcolm X. Shabazz) park will be getting a face lift. Also scheduled is considerable work in Rock Creek Park.

Control Board Issues

Evidence continues to mount that an overconfident element of the local-politics community believes the Control-Board period to be already over and done-with, and has apparently embarked upon a campaign to spoof Congress into thinking that sufficient restructuring has occurred within the District of Columbia.

While overjoyed by the District's sudden lack of a deficit, and a brimming surplus, we note with some dismay that very few of the overconfident faction downtown remind themselves that the vast majority of this suplus is due to the Federal Government shouldering the responsibilities and costs of operating many of the programs formerly operated by the District, and that this surplus thus does not indicate healthy or robust operational improvements within the District Government itself. It is premature, to say the least, for the District to start counting chickens before they are hatched.

On 1999 February 25, the Washington Post revealed that it had come into possession of a copy of an internal DCFRA strategy document detailing a move to essentially hoodwink Congress into thinking that it was time to restore full self-government to the District of Columbia. We pointed out immediately prior to the appointment of Alice Rivlen to the chair of the Control Board, that something like this was bound to happen as the honorable Ms. Rivlin is an extremely outspoken advocate of Home Rule. This is, as Representative Thomas M. Davis III pointed out immediately, "[t]he worst thing they can do... There is not a hostile environment up here towards the Control Board or the city, and they don't need to be paranoid about it." The Honorable Mr. Davis evidently has forgotten what city he's in.

We believe that Congress, as a National body which has a vested interest in the greater good of the entire Nation, as opposed to being a creature of the Greater Washington Metropolitan culture, must continue to keep a close oversight of District Revitalization.

Noted In Passing

On 1999 February 10, a group calling itself Committee for the Capital City filed briefs before The US District Court. They urged that residents of the District of Columbia should be enumerated as citizens of Maryland and should be entitled to vote as such in elections to Congress. We absolutely support such action and you may wish to read our reasons.

The District of Columbia is Federal Territory ceded by, and entirely lying within the borders of, the State of Maryland. We believe that the Government of the District of Columbia has no say in the matter who shall be entitled to vote in Federal elections, but we hold the position that the State of Maryland has failed in its Fourteenth Amendment obligations to provide equal protection under the law to all citizens residing within its State Lines. Therefor, it is incumbent upon the State of Maryland to extend voting priveleges to all legitimate residents of the District of Columbia, as they reside within the State Lines. Maryland may not like it much but it's signatory to the Constitution and thus bound to extend these privileges to vote in elections for Congressional representation, although due to the Constitution, it may make no claims to sovereignity nor dominion over the Federal District.

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Also noted in passing, a US General Accounting Office report announced that the District was at risk of extreme system failures due to the Year 2000 (Y2K) bug. The Federal response was to throw lots of money at the problem - $60 million - at roughly $1000 per unit, the city could thus buy every single District resident (including babes in arms) a new Y2K-ready Internet-capable computer complete with monitor and printer.

The City's response was to seek approval to authorize the City's Chief Technology Officer Suzanne Peck for full discretionary spending powers without DC Council oversight. We strongly predict that much of the Y2K problem will be fixed in time, with a vast outlay of city financial resources, and we further predict that there will eventually be a minor scandal over payments done under-the-table and kickbacks and other such ploys typical of the entrenched Barry-Cronies(tm) culture.

Among other City responses, it was noted that people should expect some problems, and should stock up on food and water. It was also noted that the District might very well have less problems than might other similarly-sized governments, for the precise reason that the District had so few functional computer-based systems working. Since everything's already done by hand, continuing to do the same old things the same old (broken) way couldn't possibly be any further broken by Y2K.

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Noted in passing once more, we do believe that we shall soon see one of our earlier predictions come to pass over the next year or two.

Never a pretty nighborhood in recent years, Columbia-Heights/Petworth has come into conditions approximating those of a war zone in recent years. The interminable MetroRail Green Line construction has closed streets, isolated small businesses from customers, shaken some houses nearly to pieces, covered the area with choking dust, driven out residents, and turned the already-wild local cultural absolutely feral. Junkies infested abandoned properties, and the Petworth neighborhood even sported a serial-killing suspect, allegedly preying upon the "strawberries" who prostitute themselves for crack, heroin and PCP.

Metro has announced that the new Metro station serving the area, Columbia Heights Station, will open in 1999 September. Some developers from New York and elsewhere are competing to develop some 13 acres of property from roughly 15th and Harvard Streets NW, running mostly northeastwards to roughly 13th and Monroe Streets NW. This is one of the uglier little strips along the 14th Street Corridor at present. It could easily become a new business and entertainment center, complete with a much-needed full-size grocery store, movie theaters, a variety of name-brand retailers, and one of the most-needed things in this part of town - parking.

Contracts are expected to be finalized by mid-April at latest.

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Moving right along, a Barry-Cronies(tm) Administration deal which granted a 99-year lease to a foreign noblewoman, for development of a theme-park in the middle of Washington's eco-damaged Anacostia River, was overturned by the DCFRA Control Board, on the grounds that insufficient financial information had been supplied by the developer's organization. Mayor Williams, now in charge of the disposition of the two islands in mid-river, is said to be considering developing them under an as-yet-unspecified set of recreational and educational programs for the city's children. The islands, presently under environmental remediation (they had for a time been used as hazardous waste dumps), could be reconnected to the mainland by a restored bridge accessible from Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

---

We note finally that the Mayor has evidently decided upon a wise policy of coordination with other regional leadership. Among other things, he's been doing a little coordinating with Montgomery and Prince-Georges County (Maryland) leaders, especially hoping to tie in District Reitalization efforts with revitalization efforts in adjacent Silver Spring, Maryland.

New Mayoral Staff


Abandonment of Responsibility
Legacy of Corruption Imperils Hundreds
Outrage Swells Amongst Community - When Will We See Action?

1999 March 17 - Happy St. Patrick's Day!
We've been saying it for years. Of course, nobody listens to EarthOps, it's known that this page is read solely for amusement value, as the author is well-known to be something of a "talking dog" of the Internet. We've tried really hard to occasionally bring up substantive issues which personally concern us, and in the last year or so we have consistently harped upon the sorry state of affairs in the District government - and the disproportionate impact on those who are most in need of a system that works. Until recently, our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

In a superior demonstration of why the Washington Post was once admired as a top-flight paper filled with top-flight journalists who knew not only what to write, but why to write, this Sunday 1999 March 14 we were presented with the first of a series of articles by one Katherine Boo. She details the horrors which have for years been the lives of the District's most needy residents, the institutionalized mentally-retarded.

Once hailed as a model of de-institutionalization short years ago, the District's retarded wards had been "busted out" of the city's Forest Haven facility in 1991, and were sent to group homes within the community. the city's money was to provide a setting where the disadvantaged could live as people, instead of being warehoused as unwanted objects.

Under the reign of the lax and corrupt Barry-Cronies(tm) Regime, hundreds of cases of abuse and neglect occurred - in some cases leading to horrible deaths - most of which could probably have been prevented had there been a different regime. But the legacy of the Barry-Cronies(tm) administration continues to surface spontaneously, as did the bodies of the dead interred in shallow graves in Forest Haven's grounds, where flooding streams occasionally washed them out of the ground.

Marion Barry once touted himself as the best thing to ever happen in Washington to the homeless and the disadvantaged. In actuality, when he had the city pay for hotel rooms for the homeless, he was simply directing city funds at far-above-market rates to the establishments of political patrons. Oversight was simply lacking. And we may well wonder if he allowed the District government to slip so badly simply because a working government would have revealed the web of payoffs and coverups abused by profiteers.

Marion Barry's dysfunctional government appears to have been the worst thing ever to happen to the District's mentally-ill and retarded.

The Post's investigation details the depth of corruption in the profiteering world of raking off the city, but it's best summed up by one Marcus Veazey, who is supervisor of the FBI's DC Health Care Fraud Squad:

"There haven't been a lot of audits of providers because the city's regulators are understaffed. So you end up with providers who know they're not being looked at. Those who want to get involved in criminal activity, will, because they don't think they'll get caught."

There were, at the time of the Post's investigation, exactly two government officials detailed to detect fraud of the city's disbursment of Medicaid/Medicare funding, overseeing a budget of over $800 millions. To make matters worse, the District government had failed to establish fee and fine schedules for offenses, thus preventing any action against home-care ripoffs and abuses.

The huge pack of leeches battening off of the compassion of the nation, as extended towards the mentally-retarded, have been exposed as being a huge interlocking network of the lowest scum ever to grow on the underside of a rock. Incredibly - or perhaps predictably considering that this was under the Barry-Cronies(tm) administration - companies hired to provide oversight of the health and well-being were engaged in rake-offs, false claims, and misdirection of the retarded into unneeded medical programs, while ignoring the evidence of abuse and neglect by cronies.

After the Post's story was published, the DC Council predictably expressed outrage and condemned the whole sorry state of affairs. There have been, of course, calls for action and a predictable wringing-of-hands - ut over and above all there has been the cry of "we just didn't know".

The DC Council should have known. I have been telling the public, for four long years, that the District government was failing miserable to root out the corruption preventing aid and safety to the most needy. Listen up, and keep repeating this to yourself: Earth Operations Central knew of this. Earth Operations Central told us all of this. We ignored Earth Operations Central. Maybe that's why we didn't know. Maybe we should listen when Earth Operations Central tells us how bad things really are. Maybe if we listen to Earth Operations Central when it gives us early warning we can act before our profound ignorance and lack of caring involvement is plastered all over Page One of the Washington Post.

Earth Operations Central has stated repeatedly that the District Government has followed a consistent pattern of neglect and abuse directed against those most in need of the city's services. The District Government has engaged in practices which have created fertile fields for flourishing corruption, fraud, rake-offs, which practices essentially ensure that most of the money society sets aside for the needy instead goes into the pockets of profiteers vampirizing the desperate. Earth Operations Central heartily commends the staffers of the Washington Post and all other responsible parties for at last daring to confirm that Earth Operations Central knows what it's talking about and never ever lies about Washington's institutionalized neglect of the truly disadvantaged.

We lay the blame for this horrendous and sickening systematic abuse of the mentally-ill and retarded directly at the feet of Marion Barry, and we lay the blame for failing to rectify this situation at the feet of whichever sitting DC Council members didn't bother to check up on those who cannot defend nor fend for themselves. Quit with the crocodile tears and get out in the streets. See for yourself. See what's happening. We do - but Earth Operations Central has neither the power nor the resources to right the wrongs - all we can do is tell you about it, tell you where to look, tell you what you would have been seeing if you'd bothered to care to do so.

We might also add as a parting shot that due to a Federal audit of a grant to the City, for misspending of monies by the moribund St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the mentally-ill, and the Department of Human Services (among others), a $17.1 millions grant was terminated, losing even more financial resources needed by the desperate and defenseless.

On the positive side? Mayor Williams, in his new budget proposal, would increase funding to youth programs, and provide health insurance for about 39,000 uninsured poor.

Budget Issues - and UDC
whole lotta shakeup going on

The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) may be moving - to Anacostia.

Anacostia, the part of Washington south and east of the hideously-polluted Anacostia River, has long been suffering from economic devastation and insulation from the rest of the city. Long regarded as, one the one hand, one of the major hearts of Washington's black community, and on the other hand, as the scariest place within 100 miles, Anacostia has far to go in terms of a Washington Revitalization. There is almost no industry of any sort, not much in the way of shopping, a very few historic landmarks, and in general, the atmosphere has been for decades one of utter desperation. Home to some of the worst poverty in the "civilized world", Anacostia needs an infusion of cash and development in the very worst way.

Anacostia does possess some of the most durable and decent people in Washington. Despite the crime and decay of many parts of the quadrant, there remains a stolid class of holdouts, the working-class of poor-but-honest families, the sort of folks who may be living hand to mouth but wouldn't stoop to welfare, whose kids go to school in hand-me-downs and earn straight "A"s and awards for perfect attendance. Those kids would be destined for college if they could afford it. Maybe they can swing a loan to go to college, but could barely scrape up the fares to ride the MetroRail across town to the UDC.

They may not need to ride across town to attend the UDC. They may, instead, have UDC come to them. Mayor Anthony Williams has proposed shutting down the Upper Northwest campus of UDC, and building a new campus in Anacostia.

Predictably, the pundits of racism have stepped forward with their paranoid cries of betrayal and woe. The general feeling expressed is that UDC is being "sold south". Yet Anacostia would greatly benefit - having the UDC, Washington's only public university, within the quadrant would immediately begin moving cash and businesses into the presently-destitute area. It would also add some pinache to Anacostia, a positive side to the area's present disrepute.

The land on which UDC presently sits would be a perfect site for business development, located in an upper-middle-class neighborhood mostly known for peace and quiet, once the site of a secret underground laboratory in the World War Two years. The site is presently limited, by the terms of the loan of Federal property to the District, to educational uses. Yet it could be developed as a graduate school, or as a facility for cooperation between the medical, research and technical/industrial communities, cashing in on the region's booming biotechnology economy.

At present, the site might be somewhat hazardous to the students - last year a fuel-oil leak of mysterious and unknown source brought the existence of the forgotten underground laboratories back into the light ot public knowledge. They'd apparently been totally forgotten until a leak in an underground fuel-oil tank flooded the tunnels to the point where the oil rose to the surface. The students and staff, rather than alleging racism, might be better advised to thank the Mayor for his concern for their safety - after all, studying on top of a potentially explosive potential-superfund site might be more hazardous than studying in Anacostia.

We have long stated that UDC, suffering deep financial troubles in recent years, should join forces with the equally-troubled District Schools, and specialize in supplying the technical skills desperately needed in the present economic boom, which would remain valuable skills in the event of an economic downturn. UDC, while offering courses in the technologies, has consistently pursued expansion in the less-demanding liberal arts. Williams' budget and proposal would provide for a such a partnership as we have proposed, developing a technologies Magnet School along with a new UDC campus, providing Anacostia with a first-rate educational opportunity from 8th grade to Batchelors of Science degree.

Moving right along, Mayor Williams' proposed budget would bring the District towards the modernizing trend seen in many other cities. The budget includes a proposal to have several city agencies and departments compete against private outfits to see who can do the most cost-effective job of providing certain services, such as street cleaning. The Mayor also proposes that some of the budget be directed into training city workers, many of whom are generally considered to be either unqualified for their jobs, or insufficiently trained in management specialties directly applicable to their particular positions. The Mayor also is seeking greater authority to hire and fire, in particular in middle-management. We note here that reduction in layers of management and reduciton of the general size of middle management has been considered one of the major factors in the revitalization of the greater national corporate economy.

Predictably, the Labor Unions comprised of city employees are not entirely happy with this idea. One of Williams' first acts - when he first came before the public eye back in the days of the Districts impending fiscal implosion - was to fire nearly 500 city workers, in an effort to reduce the total deadwood which had been foisted off onto the public coffers due to Barry-Cronies(tm) patronage deals and Union pressure.

To offset Union concerns, the Mayor has proposed incentive bonuses for effective workers and timely management.


Not Much To Report In Washington
The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same
Murders Up, Case Solutions Down, City Still Spinning Wheels

1999 April 26
It's been a busy month in Washington, as you may well imagine - when Washington goes to war, the place changes from a sleepy southern town to a hotbed of intrigue, military planning, patriotic speeches, and public demonstrations. Yet despite the escalating Federal Factor, life goes on. When the war is over, the District will remain, and return to being a sleepy southern town desperately in need of repair for the damage wrought by two decades of managerial incompetence, entrenched political corruption, and Congressional neglect.

Congress is being rather less negligent about Washington these days. Among other actions, legislation has passed the House which would make it much more difficult for District agencies to take action against whistleblowers who point out shortcomings and wrongdoings by District employees and managers to Federal oversight boards and Federal investigators.

Congress is also working more closely with the City government, and the City government has, in some regards at least, pledged to do more to work with Federal agencies. The Congressional authorities responsible for interfacing between the DCFRA Control Board and the assembled Congress point out the need for a functional unity of the DCFRA, the Office of the Mayor, and the DC Council.

Noted in passing, the Executive Director John W. Hill Jr. has announced that he will be leaving his post to work with Arthur Anderson & Company, consulting for local and state governments. He will be sorely missed but we can't keep him all to ourselves.

One example of how disunity and disorganization have hurt the District is a repeated failure of the City to sufficiently pursue, acquire, and then police Federal block grants. It is, however, a mark of progress that in this year only $22.3 millions in Federal grants were lost. Predictably, most of the losses of funding were for programs which benefit the most desperate and needy in the District, the homeless, near-homeless, and the mentally-ill.

Improvements have been seen, however, in the City's management of group housing for the severely-retarded. A huge furor erupted towards the middle of March when abominable conditions and abuse of the retarded District residents hit the pages of the Washington Post, resulting in the closing of two residences run by one Rollie Washington, who was not even licensed to run a business in the District.

Unity is a definite issue which must be faced squarely by Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Criticized widely for operating in isolation (the polar opposite of his predecessor Marion Barry, a notorious schmoozer), the Mayor has managed to offend a wide variety of student activists, middle management, and many of those who so-ardently supported his run for office. His habitual lack of consultation with the wider community evidently led to his first major faux pas, wherein he proposed that the University of the District of Columbia - under-enrolled and often categorized as producing nothing but the most leftist and alienated of liberal-arts graduates - should be moved into a proposed City Government Center in the District's southeast Anacostia ward. This proposal was greeted with the predictable and anguished cries of the UDC student body (one of whom compared the Mayor to the Devil in a song), the UDC staff and management, all playing the "race card" and muttering about how this was just a move to keep Upper Northwest Washington "whites-only". This preposterous allegation was countered by a certain amount of hope and cheer in Anacostia, which is one of the poorest and most "business-free" zones in Washington. A coalition of citizens' groups and neighborhood activists have formed to fight for the relocation of the UDC to Anacostia. Also proposed was a Technology Magnet School in Anacostia, which would certainly be a boon to both the neighborhood and to the city itself. Specialty public education in the hard sciences is direly needed in the District, which historically has tended to steer the best and brightest into the liberal arts.

Part of the new budget for Fiscal 2000 will also go towards a new junior-high school in Ward 7. There is some concern as to how well the once (and to some degree still) nonfunctional District Schools administrative division can handle the emphasis physical construction. So far, regarding the reconstruction of the academic services, the situation appears hopeful although many problems remain with the special-education division.

Particularly troubled is the supplies procurement process, which is plagued by a lack of communication with the city's procurements oversights office, which was only recently created as a failsafe intended to remedy the appalling corruption of the Barry-Cronies (tm) years.

Noted in passing, the "See Forever" School, also known as the Maya Angelou Public Charter school, reportedly will be purchasing and renovating the five-story Odd Fellows Building, perhaps singularly appropriately named, if retained by the school, which specializes in students who are lawbreakers or deemed significantly at risk of criminality.

Mayor Williams has been handling many of the highest-level posts in the District government all by himself, or leaving them essentially unhandled. His former Chief of Staff, Reba Pittman Evans, resigned with a record severance package which attracted a great deal of fire in the community. Her successor is one Abdusalam Omer, who arrived from Somalia in 1972, and whose subsequent career may be characterized as a genuine immigrant success story. He is by all accounts quite competent, and most-importantly, willing to deliver the truth as he sees it, and not shy about delivering the news or opinion. He was one of the first to predict the imminent collapse of the still-troubled District Schools.

Still, the City is having a great deal of difficulty attracting top-talent, even though the salaries being offered are more than competitive as are the benefits packages and the severance pakages. The record severance pay given to departing District high-level management has drawn a great deal of fire locally. However, it's probably necessary to counter the Fear of Washington which solidly permeates anyone researching the city in consideration of possible employment therewith.

Washington's political culture is infamous worldwide. The common comparison is to "swimming with sharks" though that is a gross oversimplification and in fact a gross understatement. The local political culture is of lesser infamy, but that's simply because it's overshadowed by the Federal reputation. Washington, simply stated, eats people. Chews 'em right up and generally swallows. Government management professionals seeking to advance their careers through a stint in Washington -  thereby to gather to their reputation the luster of glorious success - tend as a rule to flee the town with their metaphorical tails between their allegorical legs, often muttering for the rest of their lives something to the effect that a second American Revolution may be long overdue, though it might possibly be forestalled if the whole Metro Region were forcibly sedated for a few months. Those who survive any positions involving a high profile tend to do so because they're competent and unnoticed, or because they're completely in-cahoots with the culture of corruptors - in short, doing their level best to be a part of the problem instead of allowing any hopes or solutions. It is thus difficult for the city to attract functional top-management. Almost nobody wants to abandon their present administrative position only to gain the reputation of having been run out of Washington - it's not a good career move.

On the positive side, however, the City of Washington has at-last been awarded a "better than junk" bond rating from Standard & Poor's firm. the District's bonds are now rated "BB" instead of "BBB", the lowest possible rating. Concerns remain on Wall Street that there has been astonishingly slow job growth in Washington and considering the recent "veto-proof" decision by the DC Council to field a three-year, $419-millions tax-cut, it's really quite surprising that they raised the bond ratings at all. However, this may prove to be an economic boon as it would lower the District's residential income-tax rate from 9.5 to 6.5 percent. Mayor Williams opposes this on the grounds that while a tax cut would be good, it may be too early-on in the financial stabilization process, and we would tend to agree. Also firmly against a tax-cut for the District is the Deputy Chief Financial Officer, Natwar M. Ghandi, who says that the proposed tax cuts would create a deficit of about $30 millions as early as 2003, even if the economy continues at its present robust pace. No rational person can presume that the present economic boom can continue much beyond 2001, when "extreme readjustments" are predicted by experts, who commonly (if privately) express extreme alarm about over-extension of credit and a near-total lack of cash and metals in private savings.

Mayor Williams has proposed that the DC Department of Parks, as well as the scattered employees and facilities that perform light vehicle maintenance, deliver internal mail, act as couriers and copiers, etc., should compete against private industry in an effort to increase efficiency and decrease costs to the City. As many of the City's workers are working for the City precisely because they're incompetent to find work in the private sector (another legacy of the Barry years), the City will provide additional training and increased resources so that succesful competition won't be impossible for the workers. the workers will be given some time to get up to speed, and demonstrate their worth, in which case they could get raises through "gains sharing", or they could lose the competition and start looking for new jobs.

Furthermore, in probably the most far-reaching step in the Mayor's program of a complete paradigm wrench being thrown into the broken gears of DC Government, the entire staff of the Department of Health and Human Services must re-apply for their own jobs.

Police & Safety Issues
Washington Deadlier Than Ever, Less Murders Solved

Washington's much-touted "new police project", considered absolutely essential to District Revitalization, has run into a few snags. In the first place, where last year had shown a steady decline in crimes, particularly murder, in 1999 we have seen a rather amazing spate of killings over the early months. Homicide is up by nearly 20 percent this year in Washington DC. The "closure rate", which is a measure of whether or not the police believe they know the identity of the perpetrator, is down to a mere 25 percent, the lowest it has ever been and roughly one third of the closure-rate nationwide.

This worries Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey. There alarming intrusions of violence into parts of town which had been formerly considered "safe". For example, in this last week it proved necessary for the 3rd District commander, Jose Acosta, to put a bolstering force in the vicinity of trendy Dupont Circle. There had been a rash of armed robberies in the region in the previous fortnight, some twenty of which were carried out with knives, and some fifteen of which were carried out with handguns.

Also problematic, Dupont Circle was the area where missing INS attorney Joyce Chiang was last seen before disappearing 1999 January 9th. Sadly, her body was discovered April 1, partially clothed on a Fairfax county shore of the Potomac River. Earlier police searches for Chiang had turned up her ID and a jacket near the Anacostia, and divers searching the Anacostia found a body which it turns out was definitely not that of Chiang. No word has been issued regarding the identity of that body.

Suddenly slightly less-problematic are the troubled borderlands between the District and Prince George's County, Maryland. Longstanding non-cooperation between the different jurisdictions had left the eastern District Line a favorite haunt of "border-jumpers", criminals who would offend in one jurisdiction and flee into another. Nearly two years ago, the problem was so bad in tiny Mount Ranier Maryland that the small city's administration placed (and replaced, they were torn down the first few times) grates across all of the alleys and pedestrian passages between the District and Mount Ranier.

Recent coordinated operations between Prince George's County offices and the MPD, combined with deputizations from the US Marshall's Service and the DEA to permit transjurisdicitonal authority, have resulted in hundreds of arrests, primarily for drug offenses, on both sides of the eastern District Line.

We note with some satisfaction that the Metropolitan Police Force --  which became the laughingstock of the nation roughly a year ago due to public revelations regarding such embarassments as their decrepit vehicle fleet, the abominable disarray and non-security at the evidence room, and the dearth or inoperability of police telecommunications --  is now rather well-equipped with an almost-entirely new fleet, functional field telecomm, 180 remote data terminals for vehicles on order and some 300 installed.

Once again, Decentralization of Facilities is the order of the day, with three substations remodelled, with others possibly to be remodelled or re-outfitted in the near future. In any case, an extreme modernization effort is underway. Detectives have been largely redeployed to the district substations. Moving right along, the region's MetroRail subway system has been showing its age. About 20 years old in some parts, and still under construciton in others, MetroRail has indeed been rightly touted as an example of how to run a good subway system. Generally clean, safe, and timely, MetroRail has however been plagued with repeated escalator failures, with several fatalities attributed to people getting their clothing (and the rest of them or chunks thereof) sucked into the infamous comb-plates at the bottom of moving stairs.

Also recently there have been problems with the computerized control systems, forcing operators to manually accelerate and brake the trains, resulting in a high replacement rate for the brakes. Increasing breakdowns and safety problems have provoked massive public resentment, with one incident of passengers refusing to debark a semi-disabled train which attempted to dump them onto an overcrowded downtown platform in rush-hour. The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) has pledged nearly $90 millions towards a rapid and massive overhaul of aging equipment.

Noted in passing, the computer systems at the DC General Hospital are said to be on the verge of complete collapse and are not expected to survive he Year 2000. Patients are said to be at extreme risk by year's end and the problem is not expected to be fixed on time.

Also noted in passing, few improvements have been noted at the District's Department of Motor Vehicles.

Also evidently a lost cause is the city's War On Rats. Adams-Morgan is one of the most infested areas. The city is begging the residents to do a better job of controlling their trash, which nourishes the rats until they are easily the size of a smallish cat. Cat owners have expressed their fear of permitting their felines to go outside.

One suggestion was that the District government should offer a bounty on rats, though the immediate countersuggestion was made, in all seriousness, that at a penny a rat it would still bankrupt the City.

Poverty, Hunger, Homelessness & Outreach

The City of Washington DC still remains grossly negligent in matters of addressing the needs of the poorest, the most desperate, those who might well benefit society if only there was outreach.

It should be noted that rather than address the need for effective community outreach and case management for the homeless and in-particular the mentally-ill homeless, Washinton's policy-makers have moved themselves farther into line with an already widespread and appalling trend. Rather than provide any additional support to the practically nonexistant outreach and case-management system, the police are rounding up the city's mentally-ill street people and are jailing them, generally for nonviolent offenses such as public urination or sleeping on the streets.

Half of the city jail's mental health services referrals have been arrested withn the last week. The responsible officials have not yet been identified, and the office of the Mayor is officially distancing itself. It may well develop that the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) or the Dupont/Golden Triangle are simply moving beyond their original mission of cleaning up the region (and incidentally referring the homeless to service providers) and are simply aiming patrol officers at the homeless to remove them in that manner.

Noted in passing, the city's pitifully small addict rehabilitation program is scheduled to be privatized, and expanded in October as Medicaid coverage of addition treatment is extended to roughly 100,000 low-income residents. The District, with a population of less than 600,000, has an estimated 65,000 substance-abusers, slightly more than one in ten. It was recently noted that a truly massive percentage of the arrests and convictions in the District are directly related to substance abuse problems.

Mayor Williams has proposed an extension of health coverage to nearly 40,000 residents who are childless adults (and thus not coverable under the present system) and to close to 10,000 immigrants. Much of this would be funded by decreased financial support of the Public Benefits Corporation, which DC General Hospital, which is from many reports the hospital of last resort. There is considerable concern that the private hospitals, some of which have world-class reputations, would be reluctant to treat the poor.

The DC Department of Human Services continues to undergo a long-deserved shakeup. Deficiencies have abounded, as have abuses. As noted above, several group homes for the severely-retarded wards of the city have been closed, the relationship with the vendor terminated, and the head of the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administrations, one Francis Bowie, has been removed from control of that agency. Also, one A. Sue Brown was placed on administrative leave pending completion of an investigation of possible unethical conduct in conjunction with the Income Maintenance Administration, which is intended to be a Welfare-to-Work assistance program, and then later fired, along with Deputy Director of Human Services.

Revitalization

The United States Marines have agreed to purchase the moribund Arthur Capper complex in southeast Washington. Located quite near to the Washington Navy Yard, the 13-acre four-tower complex was once one of the most decrepit eyesores at the heart of the most loathsome centers of poverty and despair in the failed Welfare Culture of Public Blight. The Marines are said to intend to build a barracks on the site as well as recreational facilities which will be shared with the surrounding community. The towers will presumably be imploded, as the DC Housing Authority had declared them uninhabitable last year.

The Petworth/Columbia Heights neighborhood, most recently newsworthy as the home of a suspected serial killer, is finally egtting the streets patched up as Metro closes up after years of epic construction that had left the neighborhood looking like a warzone and which practically destroyed most local small businesses.

The area around 14th Street and Park Road NW will be getting a major facelift, and a Revitalization Nexus, probably in the form of some mid-income housing, several stores, possibly a mall, a park. Roughly two million square feet of development potential is available in this area.


Tax Cuts for All
Revitalization And Renovation Continue
Otherwise it's been a very boring month

1999 May 20
Greetings once again, and "Welcome to Washington". Spring has well-and-truly sprung. The famed charry trees bloomed on time and without a hitch, and for the first time in years were entirely in synchrony with the Cherry Blossom Festival. There was a minor mishap with a couple of beavers, who were promptly relocated as soon as they could be apprehended. As you might expect, the absolutely perfect, if rather dry, weather has reduced a sizable segment of the city's residents and visitors to sneezing and sniffling due to the record pollen counts, mostly assorted tree pollens, which approached (and remain at) record levels.

Downtown, at the end of April, Washington was host to the 50-year anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Security was extremely tight, and the affair went off without any significant hitches. In the secured areas, businesses were all closed and goernment workers in the afected area were given the day off. Washington was treated to a sight not seen here since perhaps the early days of the Second World War, to wit, large demonstrations in support of military action overseas. Only about 50 individuals showed up to protest the Balkan airstrikes aimed against the genocidal regime of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic. Most of these demonstrators appeared to be professional provacateurs, and they were rapidly shouted down by hundreds of outraged ethnic-Albanian demonstrators. Police protection was needed by the ani-war demonstrators, not the pro-bombing demonstrators.

However, police protection was apparently quite lacking for the street people who ordinarily call that part of downtown their living-room. Allegations surfaced that ,prior to the NATO summit, the police had for some six weeks been arresting the mentally-ill homeless of Washington, primarily on charges such as public-urination and disorderly conduct, and had been jailing them in the city's criminal lockups. It should be clear to anyone that throwing the insane into jail with criminals is a bad idea, as many of the mentally-ill homeless are almost-totally unable to fend for themselves and quickly fall as prey to those who are mentally-competent, yet criminal in character. Police spokesmem denied the allegations, yet the mental-programs admissions officer of the city jail can point to the records, which indicate that her programs were essentially inundated. The only other explanation is, of course, that a plague of madness is sweeping through the underclasses.

The underclasses, comprised of the homeless, the working-poor, and the former recipients of Welfare, remain under-served, of course. As a rule, they pay little or no taxes, and -- when there were still functional government programs in the District doing outreach -- disproportionately consume public resources. In short, they are a drain on the coffers of the city, still staggering back from near-total financial collapse. Washington is, after all, not a city of the poor and powerless; it is instead a city of the rich and the powerful. The rich and the powerful pay lots of taxes, although they may get much of that back with the aid of a good tax-specialist. The only way to get everyone in the District to pay something into the coffers is to use the only egalitarian tax system known: the sales-tax.

The District has, in recent years, had some of the highest taxes in the United States. With a sales tax of nearly nine percent, the cost of purchase of anything over-the-counter is about five percent higher than the cost of doing business in neighboring jurisdictions. Clearly, District businesses are affected by the high tax rates: they must lower their pre-tax prices so that their prices can remain competitive -- and this reduction in profit margin is added to the redutions already required to attract customers leery of unavailability of parking, street safety, and other such concerns.

Politically the story for the last month in the District has been the sad and sordid tale of Tax Cuts, to wit, a tax-cut over three years, lowering the District's sales taxes to roughly 7.5 percent. We've said it before and we'll say it again, this was madness. It would have been nice if it would have been simply a nice egalitarian cut in sales-taxes, across the board, however this combined Mayor Anthony A. Williams' proposals for tax-relief and tax-credit relief for small businesses and working-poor families with the DC Council's package which was characterized as a Tax Cut for The Rich.

A report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, entitled Rags to Riches to Rags? gives lots of insight into this Coucil-proposed tax cut. Note that the cost to the District is estimated to be at least some $420 millions once fully implimented.

Thankfully, this astonishing 31-percent tax cut didn't make it into law. Mayor Williams denounced it as "grotesque" and we personally would have used much stronger terms... unless there's no single word which simultaneously means "perverted, insane, and recklessly spendthrift".

Apparently, the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority (DCFRA "Control Board") agreed with the opinions of both Mayor Williams and myself (doubtless all unknowing in the latter case). A compromise budget was reached, which included:

The District's poorest residents in all real terms, which is to say the working-poor -- who had no government insurance such as Medicaid or Medicare provided through Welfare or other such programs -- have long had little choice but to suffer through whatever illnesses or conditions could be remedied by either over-the-counter medication or passage of time; else they could go to a hospital emergency-room for treatment, from which they by law could not be turned away. Washington has one of the highest morbidity rates in the nation, although it is possessed of some superior hospitals and masterful physicians. The poor simply haven't had any access to these medical practices, however.

Originally, Mayor Williams had proposed extension of Medicaid to nearly 40,000 residents, but is now hoping to expend such benefits to only some 2500 residents. The idea is that easily-treated or preventable medical conditions will not be left to spiral into emergency situations. Such spiralling due to inability to visit a physician "on the cheap" is thought to be responsible for nearly 40 percent of hospital admissions in the District.

Moving right along, and recalling the revelations, during the last few months, of institutionalized neglect and abuse of the severely-retarded wards of the District of Columbia, we note with some glee that there are ongoing investigations and cascading repercussions for those who had so malignly mismanaged the care of the helpless. I personally have little tolerance for those who take advantage of those who can't take care of themselve, and have even less tolerance for people who manipulate the system to defraud to their own financial gain while shirking the responsibilities they contracted to perform. It's even worse when the oversight agencies -- or elements thereof, said agency being the aforementioned Health and Human Services, whose employees are protesting being required to re-apply for their own jobs (where qualified) -- appear to be in cahoots with the "caregivers" who are milking the system for all it's worth. Note that the city did not issue a single fine to any of the persons shown to have abused their mentally-disabled charges, from 1990 to 1999. The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is hot on the trail and heads are expected to roll.

One Susan Braxtonbrown-Smith, who owned a service (among others) called "Psychological Development Associates, Inc" ("PDAI"), is presently under indictment . In 1998 October, the DC Corporation Council filed civil suit stating that Braxtonbrown-Smith's companies filed some $10 millions in fraudulent claims to Medicaid for services never provided, including psychological testing, medical treatments, and suchlike - one Kenneth L. Strachan has (according to the Washington Post) already plead guilty to charges of conspiracy regarding his actions as chief financial officer of PDAI. Braxtonbrown-Smith herself has been arrested on charges that she diverted some $1.6 millions to her own personal use.

Revitalization Issues

The District of Columbia, during the process of disintegration from the late 1980s through to about 1998, experienced a major population decline due to a variety of causes including fear of crime, and disgust at the low level and low quality of services provided by the City of Washington under the Barry-Cronies(tm) administration. For most of this time, the real-estate market in the District was very much a buyer's market, and few were interested in buying.

One result of this was a surplus of housing, often in the form of abandoned properties which were originally close to marketable, but which simply were passed over by the few who were seeking to buy. Often, such properties became "squats", or were inhabited by homeless persons, or drug addicts, often the same thing in any inner city. Often such squatting reduces the marketability of such properties to utter unsaleability -- but quite often the damage, which usually appallingly noisome, is relatively superficial. With moderate financial assistance, many of these presently-abandoned nuisance properties (many of which are owned by the District government) can be turned into attractive, if modest, homes for low-, moderate-, and middle-income families.

In recent years, buoyed up by the economy and returning reassurance in the stability of the District, the real-estate market for homes in the District has become a very tight seller's market. So how are the locals to get their own homes before even the ickiest of abandoned shells is snapped up by the rich and the speculators?

Please see "House Washington: The District of Columbia/Fannie Mae Homeownership Initiative". In brief, over four years, a billion dollars will be invested to aid small householders, first-time buyers, and low-to-moderate-income families.

Other incentives are at long last finally coming into play. The once-notorious and long-trouble Clifton Terrace development is to be sold to new management. Clifton Terrace is located between 13th and 14th Streets NW, perched atop the high hill where the upland peidmontaine falls to the downtown riverene levels, and the south-facing apartments have quite a view. Once one of the most desirable digs in Northwest, hard times and then bad times came upon Clifton Terrace, involving no less a personage than Mary Treadwell, once wife to Mayor Marion Barry. To shorten the story, what was once posh became slosh, with Clifton Terrace becoming one of the city's largest and most dangerous open-air drug markets, with the sound of automatic-weapons fire echoing frequently, with handgun fire coming almost hourly.

The new developers seeking to close the deal are Community Preservation and Development Corp. of Bethesda Maryland, and Marleton New Jersey's Michaels Development Company. They'll be putting in some 21 millions, offset by $9.2 millions of federal grant monies. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a major player in the District Revitalization strategies, will sell the building for a nominal fee of one dollar. The developers are required to maintain the property for the next 20 years, and will maintain 156 rental units for low-to-moderate-income families, and will reserve 76 condominium units. We expect that these last, if south-facing, may be in high demand due to the southward view. On a clear day, you can see most of the city, and Clifton Terrace is located almost exactly midway between the "U" Street/Cardozo Yellow Line MetroRail station, and the new Columbia Heights station, scheduled to open before year's end (September 18, tentatively).

Moving right along, we note that the unemployment rate in the District has fallen to an eight-year low, a mere 7.2 percent in March. With tourist season in full swing, it may drop quite a bit lower. Considerable new construction may combine with redevelopment and renovation citywide, to promote a great deal of new hiring, particularly in day-labor for men who would otherwise be essentially unemployable.

Demolitions have begun along New York Avenue Northeast, where some hideous wrecks of abandoned houses have been an eyesore for years. Mayor Williams showed up for a symbolic and ceremonious driving of the bulldozer through the first house to be demolished, an appropriate alternative to a groundbreaking ceremony. In the general area of New York Avenue and First Streets NorthEast, there is much hustle and bustle and construction of a new and improved and actually handsome portal to Washington. Local construction wunderkind Douglas Jemal has completed a FedEx hub at New York Avenue near "P" Street NE, and is said to intend to turn the rest of this once-thriving warehouse district into a new hub of a revitalized Washington. He's famous for putting his money where his mouth is, and has made many millions doing just that. I expect to see massive and rapid changes, and constant ones as well, along the entire New York Avenue corridor for the next few years. By 2002 it should all have come together quite nicely.

We note that a long-overdue cooperation agreement to clean up the Anacostia River has been entered into by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland. The Anacostia, which originates in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland, is potentially a beautiful aquatic resource, and in fact the Northwest Branch near Norbeck Maryland was once considered a premiere trout stream. It is hoped that the river can be made safe for fishing and swimming within five to ten years. Within the District, the Anacostia is largely a placid estuarine, tidal at the confluence with the Potomac at Hains Point, and home to the Washington Naval Yard, which is under emergency orders from the EPA to clean up its facility and accelerate remediation of polluted Naval facilities which contribute to degradation of both the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, as well as the Chesapeake Bay.

Education and Neighborhoods

A total of 17 sites have been opened citywide staffed by teachers or specially trained aides, offering computer-based learning to District students and adults. This after-school service is offered by a variety of City agencies, the MPD Boys and Girls Club, and the DUNN Computer Corporation. Mostly based at public libraries and public schools, these centers will increase public access to remedial and additional education. Also, in an upcoming second phase of the project, Welfare mothers will be trained as student aides. This is an excellent idea, and ideally there will be some expansion of this phase -- computer skills are in short supply right now, and a good low-end computer job would probably be ideal for people in the transition from Welfare to Work.


Summer Swelter
Still Little Real Progress, Violence and Police Special!
Mayor Under Light Fire From All Quarters

Pardon the delays! The little voices in my head combined with inauspicious horoscopes and bad feng shui to make me a lazy and disordered person. Finally, I was able to shake the influences of festering lameness with an eccentric howl of surrealist angst sufficient to exorcise my demons, and start working my way through back issues of the Washington Post, so as to present to you a relatively coherent overview of the last month and a half.

The Region

1999 July 10
Welcome to Washington, and I hope you can stand the heat! Ordinarily it's the month of August that lives in foul memory of those fool enough to visit our city in the Dog Days, but this year summer came early and with a vengeance. It really wasn't too bad until the July 4th Weekend, when record heat swept the region, always known for a hot and sticky summer. July 5th brought a high of 103 degrees, and there is still no rain in sight. The Potomac River is running at approximately one fifth of its normal flow, wells in the region are beginning to tap out, including the fabled Monocacy head, the largest artesian flow east of the Mississippi. This has had a salutary effect on the Chesapeake Bay, say scientists, as the low flows and complete lack of flooding is allowing for a great deal of sedimentation, making the Bay the cleanest and clearest it has been for years, with many marine species rebounding rapidly although the Bay is far from the fecundity which once made it fabled as The Grail to those who plough the sea. However, many tributary rivers and their feeder creeks and streams are experiencing major fish-kills, this year due rather to the high water temperatures which can hold less oxygen, rather than to pathogens such as pfisteria piscicida. Local land farmers are in general about to give up -- this is the second year in which there is no chance of a profit, and possibly not even a chance of a crop. The region is under offical "severe drought" conditions, and it's the second-driest year on record in Maryland. Pray for Rain.

The Mayor and The District

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has come under fire from several quarters, for a variety of reasons.

First, there is this nagging little issue about his having accepted $40,000 in fees during his campaign, for writing a few papers for a well-known local consultancy, Arthur Anderson Company, and also for NationsBank. That he took the fee isn't really an issue to most people; that he failed to report it properly is. For this he was fined $1000 by the DC Office of Campaign Finance, which so far as I know is a first in this city. Payment of this fine appears to wipe this single smudge from the Mayor's slate and we may well again address him as Your Honor. The city does not need to see the saint tarnished.

While mixing my metaphors, and before I continue, please let me remind the reader to refresh their knowledge of Aesop's Fable of "King Log and King Stork". In brief, frogs at a certain pond demanded of Jove that they should be given a king. Annoyed by the croaking of the frogs, Jove threw a log into the pond with a great splash. The frogs were amazed and thanked Jove and granted all obeisances to their new king, but once the ripples had died down, they began to nudge and poke and then to clamber over their king, for whom they had lost all respect for it basically did nothing. Again the frogs ceaselessly importuned Jove for a new king, one truly worthy of their respect. Jove, tiring of the ceaseless croaking, sent them a new king: a great stork, which made short work of gobbling down all of the frogs.

Mayor Williams had promised to provide a certain degree of reform to the community which elected him within 100 days. Largely, his promises were fulfilled. However, many of those were essentially cosmetic in nature, a bit of a face lift. Some of the improvements were indeed helpful, such as improved trash collection (including 28 new "packer" trucks), deployment of snow-clearing equipment when required, working parking meters all over town, and increasingly one is seeing various DC Government websites popping up, along with consolidation of various agencies' once-scattered offices into One-Stop Shops. This is all well and good, but there are many major agencies which have no hand at the helm other than that of the mayor. Much of the city has been coasting on inertia -- it's not going downhill quickly, but it's still not climbing out of the ruts into which it fell during the days of the Barry-Cronies (tm) regime.

Violence once again has topped the headlines, especially towards the end of June. Two separate gun battles erupted, in particular the city was outraged when a 55 year-old grandmother in the East Capitol Dwellings interposed herself between children and a gunbattle and was shot dead for her bravery. This is the Washington that doesn't make the evening news; and as a local preacher screamed to the mourning congregation and family: "How many more must die!" In an unrelated incident, a mother and her child were shot as they sat on the steps in SouthEast, having made the poor choice of sitting next to someone for whom the thugs were gunning. In yet another incident, just up the street from fashionable Adams-Morgan, gunfire erupted between two rival Latino youth gangs, the BU and La Mara R. A dozen bystanders were shot. That the BU circulates in the urban hell around 14th Street and Park Road NW is small surprise to anyone, but that La Mara R ("R Street Clique") runs over the very fashionable and upscale 17th and R Streets NW neighborhood comes as a complete shock to local residents. That two Latino gangs should show up at the schools-out party at the Latino Youth Center should surprise none. That they should have a shootout when they did show up also should be within reasonable expectation and there should have been a police presence.

The police presence is to be increased. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey declared (for all the good it will likely do) "Our goal is to dismantle the gangs in the District of Columbia... [t]he days of them being able to just shoot up and down the street is over. These little street thugs out there committing crimes randomly, shooting, causing injuries to innocent bystanders... has to stop."

We note here that despite some of the most prohibitive laws restricting handgun ownership in the nation, completely disabling the ability of citizens to defend themselves, handguns have never been more available in the District. Of course, one cannot expect the law-abiding to arm themselves in defiance of the law, and once also cannot expect violent criminals to abide by those laws. We also note that during the late 1980s, the police force had almost 1800 more police officers than it presently has. The number of gangstas regularly carrying weapons of firepower equal -- or superior -- to the police is possibly twice that of the numbers which can be fielded by the MPD and the MPD may be considered to effectively be hobbled by considerations such as for the Bill of Rights. We do not advocate that the District residents should arm themselves with some nice deer rifles and snipe the little bastards dead where they stand, since that would just mean that the cops would have to work overtime and they'd be gunning for the homeowners instead of the gangstas. However, with the District's dismal "closure rate", it might well be easy to get away with. Washington's police have controlled the streets at no time since about 1982. By the way, there are only about 130 shopping days left until "Y2K".

During the recent attempts by national legislators to greatly restrict the Second Amendments rights of Americans to keep and bear arm, a Virginia legislator had introduced an amendment to the House bill which would have permitted law-abiding District residents to keep handguns at home, and to carry unloaded weapons for "legitimate transactions" such as travel to gun shows or to arms dealers. The bill was soundly defeated, thankfully, although we must decry the fact that District residents are still being kept unConstitutionally disarmed, and thus illegally prevented from forming a well-regulated militia, so necessary to the security of a free State. Everyone law-abiding in DC want to fight crime, but mostly they can be armed -- against automatic-weapons packing thugs -- with only harsh language.

One way that the police under Chief Ramsey have striven to increase community involvement is through the development of a list of "Most-Wanted" criminals, which will be posted both in the neihborhoods, and also on the Web. In particular there will be a focus on gangstas and habitually violent criminals. Additional measures include many more officers on the streets.

But where will those officers be, and what will they be doing? In particular, the force aims to begin vigorously enforcing teen curfew laws, recently upheld by higher courts, although a similar Chicago law was recently struck down by the Supreme Court. It must also be noted that many teenagers really don't have many places to be other than the streets, as there are not many facilities dedicated to providing them someplace to be other than at home watching television, assuming for now that they have a home, or that the home has a television. Outreach in the District has been a fairly low priority for many years. Even playgrounds are hard to find, and almost none of those have any security at all.

Also, while Federal money has at least upgraded the police vehicle fleets (see the management-consultant's reports cited in the DCFRA pop-up window) from their former ridiculous state, institutional restructuring in such facilities as the police training academy are lagging; this sort of thing takes time, no matter how much money you throw at it.

The Mayor's response to all of this was to actually toss on some street clothes and come on out to the sites where people get shot. Mayor Williams has been in Washington for only about four years, and he has lived in a nice safe condo in a nice safe neighborhood and worked in a reasonably safe office. I've been in or about Washington for almost all all of my adult life, and I know what goes on -- Mayor Williams, as the local phrase has is, "just don't know". This is in fact one of the persistent complaints about his administration, a perceived disconnect from the neighborhoods. I realize that it will be difficult for the Mayor to get out to the town when half of it remains a no-mans-land of entrenched poverty, violence and despair, without taking along a battalion or two of cops, which will inevitably attract a media circus probably no smaller nor disorganized than that which tagged along for his attendance at the crime scenes and funerals after this last spate of violence. But Mister Mayor, with all due respect, you need to get out and meet more people. I can guarantee that the self-serving DC Council, should you depend on their informations, will lead you down their own garden path. Try to get more of a connection to the community, and my advice would be to not speak so much to the leadership of this and that little grass roots organization; rather speak to the people whose lives will be most impacted by whatever reforms, elected to perform, you will choose to better impliment if you are better informed.

Reforms

Moving right along to the subject of Reform and District Revitalization, the US Senate largely approved the District's budget for Fiscal Year 2000. Some changes were made, in particular an immense fifteen-percent raise for the DC Council was slashed back to five percent. Also in the works were additional shiftings of funds to the police department, at first considered objectionable, but quickly accepted when news of the spate of shootings broke. Among other things, efforts were made to free up some extra cash for immediate improvements in the District, concurrently with an accelerated pay-down of the City's extreme debt. Also there was considerable debate over the wisdom of the City initiating a rather immense tax-cut, before any substantive improvements had actually been made in reorganization of many badly-ailing agencies, or any serious improvements in infrastructure for which Federal funds have not already been dedicated. To be fair, the DC Council adopted wording on the tax-cut provisions to allow for elimination of the tax-cuts should there be an economic downturn, or disruption of provision of services to city residents.

We note with some dismay the passing from office of Richard Montielh, who was a leading light and spearhead of the reorganization of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The District has for some years been exceptionally slack in accessing readily-available grants money, and the DC DHCD was one of the most egregious offenders. Mr. Montiehl was extremely dogged in his pursuit of such grants, and was as dogged in getting the money out of the coffers and into the communities. After cleaning house within the department upon his arrival (firing 70, rehiring only 35 according to the Washington Post of 1999 June 24) and hiring such outsiders as former HUD special assistant Marc Weiss, he secured outside consultancies to assist in a complete overhaul of internal operations. Excelling by the strategy of basically ignoring the entrenched incompetence of departmental staff, he worked directly with community groups and local grass-roots leadership to draft an economic and community development strategy which will probably guide the city's growth for years to come. He also assisted these local groups and developers in direct application for Federal grants, as well as local organizations which are in the position to make grants. In the end, however, he suffered the fate of anyone who tries to reform the entrenched culture of cronyism and under-the-table sweetness deals: His own staff sabotaged him by providing him with bad budgeting data, placing him in the situation where he had to use the next year's money to pay the last year's grants, some of which remain unpaid. Mayor Williams passed him over for a top-level post, and Mr Monteihl tendered his resignation. We hope that he will continue to serve the community from the other side of the desk, as a developer, community leader, or "rain maker".

Community Development, particularly in the District of Columbia, is a thorny problem with many facets, all of which need to be worked concurently. Washington in particular is beset with a vast array of "problem properties". Special problems call for special solutions, and one of the most interesting and effective approaches is being effectively fielded by one James Delgado of the Building Inspector's office of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). He's closed down crack houses and storefront dealerships right and left, working in conjuntion with the police. The DC Building Inspector can make calls anytime, readily secure a warrant, and based on what he sees, provide officers with probable-cause for immediate entry. However, oddly enough his superiors at DCRA seem to have it in for him. I wonder why. Please see the excellent article by Peter Perl, in the 1999 June 27 Washington Post Magazine.

Another angle of attack is to take the boarded up building in decrepit neighborhoods and get people living in those buildings, and fixing them up. In the last weeks, several hundred properties, particularly along the 16th Street NW corridor which was so badly scarred during the 1960s riots, have been released to "homesteading", where the properties can be purchased for as little as $250, provided that the purchaser live there for five years minimum, and restore the property to satisfy building and safety codes.

Schools

Nationwide, in an effort to bolster dismal standardized-test scores, many school systems radically expanded their summer school programs. The District schools were no exception. With a great deal of fanfare, Superintendant Arlene Ackerman had announced that she would get the program up to speed, to help prepare students for their next year. She's of a mixed mind about the public response to the program. Where she had geared up for some 35,000 students, enrollment was a mere 20,000. However, this does permit a much lower student-to-teacher ratio, which will hopefully leave the remedial programs students in much better shape to compete.

Supt. Ackerman, whose department had long been plagued by lawsuits involving the moribund special-education division, settled two major suits by reaching an agreement as to some 700 hearings over issues of special education, by summer's end. Additionally, some 400 decisions which were resolved but never implimented will be in fact implimented under a protocol which permits monitoring of compliance in definitive stages under specific time constraints. Also, special-education experts will be brought in and empowered. Noted with glee, some additional $116 millions has been freed up for capital improvement of the decrepit public school. Also noted with glee, it appears that at last District Schools teachers will get performance-based pay, with simplified dismissals for non-performers.

Appointments

The Mayor has named many new heads of agencies, yet there remain significant gaps in agency leadership.


1999 July 12
Health and Medicine

Washington's hospital and health care system is long overdue for an overhaul, and it may be that there's little that can be done which would not grossly impact the most-underserved residents.

The health care system is burdened by many factors, but probably the single greatest issue is that of preventative care. Due to the very high percentage of persons covered primarily under Medicare, there has been very little emphasis on any form of preventative medicine. Instead, the poor (and often poorly educated) wait until preventable conditions go from bad to worse, and wind up at the hospital seeking emergency care. Washington desperately needs a variety of local clinics, where minor care is accessable at low, or at no, cost to the patient. Hospitals themselves rely on a system of triage, where an able nurse sorts out those who are in immediate dire need from those whose complaints can wait a bit. Local clinics might very well act as a sort of triage system, treating those who can definitely wait, immediately, and sending those with severe complaints either to an emergency care facility, or setting up near-term appointments with practitioners who can treat what is not an emergency, but which might soon become one if left untreated.

But who would run such a system? The matter remains unclear. Mayor Anthony A. Williams had proposed an expansion of the public-health system in the District, which would have greatly increased the number of indigent and low-income persons covered, primarily through the establishment of local clinics. Yet there are major political obstacles to such a move -- first, many of the local hospitals, particularly cash-strapped DC General, are largely dependent on reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid. While their staff would be the first to admit that it would be a better use of facilities to treat as outpatients those persons with minor-care needs, the administrators might confide that a loss of the indigent emergency-care walk-in billable trade would be a devastating blow. Only some half of the city's inpatient beds were used last year, and indigent walk-ins are eminently profitable compared to the traumatic-care cases. The city's traumatic-care facilities are categorized as exceptional and well-distributed -- both Maryland and Virginia tend to send their major trauma cases directly downtown. It has been suggested that it might make the best sense for several of the hospitals to consolidate their organizations and unify some of their central operations, particularly concentrating on the more-modern physical plants, while turning over their aging facilities to minor-care and preventative health operations. The main sticking points appear to be turf-wars of institutional prestiege, an unwillingness to redefine service modalities, the issue of possible city assumption of aging facilities, and the question of who would assume control of operations of such minor/preventative care institutions.

Some suggest that Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) might move to fill the gap. Yet as much as money is a concern of the traditional hospital system in the District, money is even more the concern of the HMO, which are generally public-stock companies which tend to maximize profits, occasionally to the detriment of the patients, sufficiently so that the nation's doctors have voted to unionize rather than allow managerial decisions to comprimose patient health by not permitting doctors to practice to the best of their ability. Recently, many of District Medicaid enrollees have been shifted away from the traditional fee-for-service modes, and have been enrolled in HMO. This is probably the closest thing to the desired local-clinic mode, but there is again the question of whether or not acute care needs might be denied. HMO are notorious when it comes to coverage of patients' acute/emergency care at facilities outside of their own corporate umbra. In any case, there are a great many District residents who are not even covered by Medicaid, nor any insurance whatsoever. It is for this last group that there remains such a desperate need for pre-acute pre-emergency care.

The Mayor has, we believe, a good idea on the right track, regarding the local clinics. We expect that there will be a final resolution in the following shape. The city will assume some debts and assist in some restructuring of the aging hospitals, rather than pay directly for care as is presently done in many cases. The aging hospitals will probably consolidate to some degree with other organizations, buying into cooperative development of the modern and proposed facilities. The city will aid the placement of low-cost clinics throughout the city, probably mostly staffed with nurse-practitioners, who are specially trained nurses who can prescribe some medications for certain conditions. At the clinics, anything that's too complex for the nurse-practitioners will probably be referred to hospital facilities operated in conjunction with the city. HMOs may be forced to compete, not only to give lower prices, but also for delivery of increased services.

At present, talks concerning possible consolidations are underway between various city authorities and three major hospitals, all of which have been dedicated to serving the poorest communities in Washington. Greater Southeast Community Hospital, Howard University Hospital, and DC General Hospital all aging and cash-strapped. Howard is the teaching hospital for the excellent-if-not-prosperous black university. DC General is the central hospital facility for Washington, including the largest (and some say best) trauma facility in the region. Greater Southeast is probably the greatest concern, as it is the only major health facility east of the Anacostia River, and it will probably turn out to be the spearhead of any major changes in the public health system serving the indigent and poor, and may turn out to be the centerpiece for whatever system emerges. Already bailed out by the city last month, and operating under the auspices of a bankruptcy court, Greater Southeastern is in a position to be developed as the central hub of a local-clinics network. There are very few non-emergency medical facilities available to anyone living "across the river" and it may well be that it arrived in bankruptcy court simply because the dearth of non-emergency care clinics has forced so many to seek care in the emergency ward, from which none may be turned away, regardless of their ability to pay the generally-high fees. It's clear that changes will have to be made, in such a way as to neither cripple the ability of doctors to provide quality care as needed, nor to restrict public access to minor/preventative care.

But who will make this happen? The District remains without a director of the Health Department. Despite many interviews with many very well-respected medical administrators, no one has been retained to do the work. As with many positions with the District Government, whoever fills this seat well knows that the seat is a hot-seat, wired to some of the highest-voltage politics in Washington outside of the purely-Federal. Mayor Williams, despite his general intelligence and accounting skills, simply is not a doctor and cannot safely make decisions regarding people's health. He also cannot continue to fail to make decisions.

Finding someone to simultaneously keep the Mayor informed as to the medical practicality of his political solutions, while competently pressing such solutions as are decided, will be no easy task. The directorship of the Health Department has been a revolving door since 1990. All former directors admit that the Department has immense problems, including antiquated equipment and the traditional District plague of an entrenched and resistant bureaucracy unwilling to change with the times. The general consensus in the medical community is that anyone willing to take the position will be facing the uphill battle of their lives, and may reasonably expect to be chewed up and spit out by any efforts to reform. Yet reform is long overdue, as is a modernization of the public health laboratory.

Washington leads the nation, to misuse the term "leads", in almost every area of public health. It has the greatest infant mortality, one of the highest rates of homicide, the lowest life expectancy and highest incidence of cancers, one of the greatest incidences of mental illness, the highest rate of mentally-ill incarcerated for criminal acts, the highest incidence of alcoholism outside of Native Reservations, scores among the top three for per-capita substance abusers and teen motherhood, and in general, the town is Just Sick. The problems facing any new Director of Public Health are profound in depth and vast in scale. We do not envy whoever decides to take this challenge.

Noted In Passing

The general consensus appears to be in favor of abandoning a fairly-silly idea which would have created an underground "transportation center" downtown near Mount Vernon Square. Intended to have some 7200 public parking spots, and other facilities such as parking for tour busses and other private mass-transit vehicles. As the facility would have been constructed with Federal funds covering 80 percent of the cost, and as the facility would have been in the basement of a proposed downtown sports arena touted as bringing baseball back to Washington, there has been considerable support. However, given the considerations of traffic-flow impact as well as pollution impacts, we must agree with such worthies as Ralph Nader, and remark ourselves as being also opposed, with a possible exception: If the parking is reserved for vehicles certifed as either non-polluting or minimally-polluting, such as electric vehicles or hydrogen-turbine or hydrogen/oxygen fuel-cell powered vehicles, we could support the facility, unreservedly.


Dog Days Are Here!
Flurries of Activity
Budget Bills Pass House, Details Released

1999 July 25
Despite slightly falling rates of reported crimes (murders this year are running about one percent lower than last year), Washington remains a dangerous place.

The District of Columbia has an interesting system for regulating the movements of those who are awaiting trial. Rather than be subjected to requirements of bail or bonds, which are locally seen as discriminating disproportionately against the poor and indigent, the District courts often remand pre-trial defendents to the custody of "halfway houses", where they are permitted to leave the premises during the daytime, and required to be in at night. However, these halfway houses are also the destination of many of those convicted of misdemeanors. They are also used to house penitentiary convicts preparing for parole.

The District's halfway houses have of late come under scrutiny and fire due to a riiculously high rate of "walk-away", where inmates released in the day simply refuse to return at night. It's bad enough when it amounts to jumping bail, possibly less of a problem (other than the flouting of authority) if it's a misdemeanor walk-away, but some of the highest-profile crimes in recent times have come from pre-trial detainees who have simply walked away to carry on with their lives of crime.

Alternatives under consideration are a possible segregation of inmates according to their status (pre-trial or post-conviction) and the offenses with which they've been charged or of which they've been convicted. Also under consideration are technical means, similar to the elecronic bracelets used by those serving "home detention" sentences. Also under consideration are changes to the present law, and in fact the whole system may well be scrapped or highly modified. We'll keep you apprised of any substantive changes.

Noted in Passing: The District's troubled Lorton Reformatory, located across the Potomac river near Lorton Virginia, is scheduled for closure in 2001. Fairfax County Virginia has publicized planz to turn the property, which abuts the Occoquan River, into a wildlife sanctuary and parklands, with as many as 1500 homes being developed as well.

Also noted in passing, local residents who want to be notified by e-mail of crime reports may wish to take a look at CrimeReports.Com which cooperates with the Metropolitan Police Department, as well as other police departments.

Also noted in passing, one of the Metropolitan Police Department's expert witnesses, former detective Johnny St. Valentine Brown, has resigned in disgrace after it was alleged that he lied under oath regarding his credentials. He has testified that he has a doctorate of pharmacology from Howard University, which says they've never heard of him. This could be a problem with the records department at Howard University, it must also be noted.

Revitalization, Reform, Home Rule

There are pleasant signs that Democracy may be returning to the District. Congress does have total control over the District, but outside of near-disasters such as were visited on the District by 20 years of mismanagement under the Barry-Cronies(tm) Regime, Congress would prefer to let locally-elected democratic institutions do the administrative and managerial work, rather than have to step in and micromanage and be distracted from their business of serving their constituents.

First, the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District approved the $4.7 billions Fiscal 2000 District budget which was hammered together by the DC Council after substantive negotiations between the DC Council, the DCFRA Control Board, and Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Measures approved included a controversial tax-cut of some $300 millions spread over the next five years. Less controversial, but certainly noteworthy, elements of the budget were:

Quite controversial and of long standing were the issues of Medical Marijuana and Needle Exchange Programs. At the last election, District voters were given the opportunity to vote on whether or not very small amounts of marijuana could be exempted for use as medicine. Marijuana is accepted as being of medical use as an alternative/adjunct to other therapies -- for example, it's useful in restoring an appetite to persons undergoing certain chemotherapies. However, Congress managed to pass a law in last year's budget which prohibited the city from using any city money to count the ballots passed, so there's at present no way to know whether or not the referendum passed. In this year's budget, there is no such prohibition and at last the voters will know which way the vote went.

The District is also to be permitted to use city funds to provide a needle-exchange program, whereby addicts may exchange their old, probably infectious, hypodermic needles for new sterile syringes. This will hopefully slow the growth rate of HIV/AIDS in the District, which is seven times the national average, and the highest in the nation in terms of new infections.

Schools

It's been a very nasty time for the District's Schools. Ordinarily, during the summer months, schools are the farthest thing from people's minds. However, this is not the case in the District of Columbia.

On July 23, months of acrimony came to a head and boiled over within the DC Board of Education ("School Board"). One of the first agencies reduced to an advisory role by the ascension to primacy of the DCFRA Control Board, the School Board was long characterized as being an ineffectual hotbed of "gimme" politicking, producing little or no valuable leadership while presiding over one of the nation's very worst school systems. While most school boards spend most of their time developing and promoting educational policy, however sound, the DC School Board has barely even pestered their overseers at the DCFRA. Many have questioned whether or not the School Board was worthy of continued existence as presently constituted.

On July 23, one day after DC School Superintendant Arlene Ackerman consulted with the DCFRA, seeking a new contract with a $20,000/year raise, which contract would also make it impossible for the School Board to summarily dismiss her once they regained authority from the oversight agency, the Board of Education dismissed their president, Wilma R. Harvey, a 14-year veteran of the Board, in a 6 to 5 vote. Interestingly, this doesn't appear to be anthing out of the rule book, "they just done it". Harvey is taking the whole matter to court.

The increasingly angry public view of the whole sorry state of the District's Schools is that the Board isn't "about" the education of District students, but rather "about" who's top dog.

All of this comes on the heels of extremely controversial news that for budgetary reasons, the Superintendant would be closing most of the school buildings, and doing clean-up before the fall session begins. However, many of those schools are part of programs which assure that children living in poverty get at least one nutritious meal a day. The closures will last for three weeks.

It has also been noted that the Schools have been very delinquent in selling off their old unused school buildings, authorized over two years ago by the DCFRA and then delegated to the Schools. This comes on the heels of revelations that the City proper has been locked up in leases for properties which are unocupied, and which have been vandalized and reduced to eyesores. The city is in many cases unable to extricate itself from the leases because of "return in good condition" clauses. A move is afoot to require the City to divest itself of all leased space which is not presently occupied by the City. We believe that this is an excellent idea.


Dogged Again Dog Days
Deserted in August, the August Desert

1999 August 19
Welcome back once again to the chatty and opinionated Welcome to Washington pages!

There will be more to come tomorrow, the 20th -- this is a lot of catch-up to do at one sitting. Tomorrow's report should provide lots more detail in the catch-up.

Ordinarily, the month of August is one of extreme diffidence, sleepiness, and sweltering. Yet we've seen a sudden flurry of business not-quite-as-usual. Normally, when Congress winds up their session, the whole town goes to sleep and nothing gets done, largely because there's nobody to do it. Anyone with any sense who can get out of Washington for the month of August does so -- it's become almost a tradition for various radio stations to play the wonderfully-spooky "This Town/Ghost Town" by the reggae band The Stranglers. If you hate crowds and don't mind the heat, August can be almost magical in Washington, as the place depopulates to the level you'd expect after a major plague. Well, it's not the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse traipsing through, not just yet, but remember that if you visit now, you might want to be sure to carry lots of water with you, because it is so hot and so dry you might almost think you were in Austin, instead of Washington.

Again, pardon the delay in reporting, I have been exorcising my mental illness, poor judgement, bad feng-shui, general laziness, bad breath -- and other personal and lifestyle flaws -- by spending much of my time in the tinder-dry woods of Rock Creek Park, building little rock and gravel dams to impede waterflow in an attempt to promote water-table replenishment. But at last, and for now, back to the news.

The Region

Regionally, in case you haven't been watching the news, we are experiencing the most severe drought since the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s, and by the end of the year, unless we get a few hurricanes to drop their load right on top of us, we'll be equal to that infamous drought.

In Maryland, there are statewide mandatory water conservation measures in place, with car-washes required to recycle at least 80-percent of their water, and to close one day a week. Watering of lawns is prohibited, although suburban gardeners are permitted to hand-water their gardens. Around the region, farmers have given up and have ploughed their crops under, and are selling their livestock only halfway through the year. Expect to see a lot of non-veal calf meat on the market; the poor little things are just too expensive to feed on hay, now that the pastures have wilted. Suburban lawns are a lovely shade of brown all over the region, and many of the deciduous trees such as oak are beginning to turn colors and drop leaves and in some cases branches. The stage is set for a regional Urban-Forest Conflagration, and drinking reservoirs are reported to be below the 10-week reserve and wells are drying up all over the contiguous Maryland counties. The District, and Alexandria/Arlington VA all draw water from the Potomac, and seem to be relatively unconcerned as to their water resources. However, in suburban Maryland, water consumption is reported to be down by almost 20 percent.

While not exactly pertinent to the region, or not obviously so, we note with some dismay that the top-half of the front page of the Washington Post for 1999 August 12 reflects the events of the previous day: "Millions Marvel at Solar Eclipse", "Tornado Slams Salt Lake City", "MD, more of VA named Drought Disaster Areas". With all due sensitivity to various readers' various religions, I may hazard to guess that either people are not paying appropriate attention to their deities, or to the commands and precepts of their deities, or perhaps it was just Cosmic Tantrum Day. May I suggest a moment of prayer or contemplation towards the goal of oneness with the forces to which we look for guidance?

Noted in passing -- for the 34th consecutive month, District water supplies have met or exceeded Federal Standards.

------

The Brookings Institute Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy has released some fine work by their own staff and other contributors, in a forum called the Washington DC Initiative. Please read it! While most of the solid data upon which the various studies are based are only so recent as 1996, well before the major crises of the last few years -- with all of the various issues of suburban immigrant encirclement of the Capital, DCFRA Control Board issues, middle-class flight from the District to the surrounding suburbs, "yuppie gentrification" of formerly-blighted downtown areas, etc. -- still these are worthy studies and will provide much food for thought, and a clear picture of documented trends in the region. Failure to consider post-1996 events and trends will of course amount to a failure to keep up with the news; howeevr, failure to study this recent information will leave planners wallowing far into the past. 1990 was -- due to the recent changes in the economy, the border overrunnings of early 1996, recent economic strength, and the looming collapse of the Us banking system due to gross overextension of personal credit to almost any consumer -- simply too long ago to base any plans on. These studies, while not entirely current, admirably fill much of the statistical, social, and demographic gaps since 1990, covering the entire Greater Washington Metropolitan Region.

The District, In General

Right now, there is an intense debate going on the dc.general UseNet newsgroup on the subject of City Planning, Urban Design, Transportation Needs, and such lofty topics. Interestingly, we're getting some exceptional quality of postings from some people of clear competence. It is highly recommended that any interested parties at least read the City Planning discussion threads, if not actually participate. Also please see any of the I-95 or Woodrow Wilson Bridge threads.

We will attempt in the next few days to gather together some of the more salient points from some of the better posters and contrast and compare various visions from this thread.

In the meantime, if you visit the District, don't expect to find much parking downtown. The commuters have all of the spaces and most of the garages completely filled by as early as 8:00AM. Expect to walk, or take the scary Metrobus.

According to Dorn McGrath, a professor of Urban Planning and Development at George Washington University (as reported by the Washington Post), since the initial layout of the city by the visionary L'Enfant, the District has never had any comprehensive design plan.

Professor McGrath said, according to the Post:

This is not a grown up city... Planning is not DC's strong suit. They don't have a plan at all. They have a bunch of deals, and that's how they figure everything out. What they urgently need is a plan.

Several Washington area planners are intending to get a very nice set of proposals and alternatives, and some philosophies of design together into a nice website. We'll let you know when and as it comes about. Don't you think that the District of Columbia, the city as well as the Federal Enclave, deserves something better than "a bunch of deals" creating a hodgepodge of development, all willy-nilly and generally to ugly effect? Don't you think that we need vision, A Vision, and a Plan for growth, revitalization, and rennaisance?

And now on with the show.

District Governance and Revitalization

The District of Columbia government, no less so than the Federal Washington bureaucracy, has tended to go where the business was best, while negotiating contracts for various services, rather than restricting itself to "homegrown" services providers. This will henceforth be rather less the case, due to legislation recently signed into policy by Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Generally viewed in an extremely favorable light by all concerned -- with the exception of contractors based outside of the District proper (such as myself) -- the legislation would create a list of roughly 850 businesses based in the District, which would be pre-approved to provide recurrent services or products. The policy requires businesses to have their headquarters in the District, and to pay District taxes, to be considered as "District-based".

"We're sending millions across the border", Mayor Williams is reported as saying, by the Washington Post. But under the new policy, about 80 percent of the $735 millions of government contracts available in Fiscal 2000 -- roughly 600 millions -- will be awarded on a fast-payment track solely to District-based businesses, vastly improving the odds that the District won't remain the victim of so-called "suburban tax siphons".

While on the subject of contracts, a study by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) slammed the DCFRA Control Board for not adhering to its own rules for contracting, particularly in the very early days of the DCFRA, which had just been formed to seize organizational control in the District, in order to prevent an impending slide into financial ruin, social collapse and probable violent anarchy. Given that the law which created the DCFRA Control Board gave them only 30 days to acquire management consultants, it's rather forgivable that the DCFRA followed orders and threw money at the problem without all due diligence to protocol and procedure. For at least this once, throwing money at a problem in DC got results.

Noted in passing, Standard and Poor's Corporation has rated the District's bond issues at BBB, a major increase since the days when Marion Barry's escapades and those of his cronies had reduced the District's bond issues to "junk" rating. In order to cover old debt, pay for new improvements such as school renovations, police and fire department info/comm and training system upgrades, street and traffic light repairs,asbestos abatement, and some playground upgrades.

Law & Disorder

This has been a very fun month for the Metropolitan Police Department.

First and foremost, there was that little business of the Neo-Nazi demonstration. After staffing some 1500 officers to keep the demonstrators from the crowds of counterdemonstrators, most of whom state that they eschew violence but who were (based on past performance) probably mostly there to riot, the Neo-Nazis decided to do a no-show, with only four arriving, who promptly took one look at about 1500 cops corralling about 15,000 counterdemonstrators, and decided to head back home. Impromptu celebrations broke out, with little or no violence and few-if-any arrests.

Police Chief Ramsey provided us with some empirical data of how long someone can drink the DC water before developing mental processes that are "real different", through his statement that he was considering a lawsuit against the Neo-Nazis for their failure to appear and demonstrate their right to free speech. He later decided against this approach.

Also considered a resounding success, and far less whimsical in tone, has been the District's "gun buyback", where anyone who surrendered an operable handgun, assault-style rifle, or sawed-off shotgun was paid $100 in cash per weapon. The city expended the entirety of a grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, to the tune of $30,000, $20,000 of the department's own money, and now the chief intends to spend some $100,000 in seized drug monies to buy back, in all, some 1500 guns, more if he can get more money.

Moving right along -- A group of experts from several cities which have had major successes in combatting urban crime and violence in such cities as New Haven CT, and Boston MA, met with District leaders and made the following recommendations:

In a related matter, MPD announces that it will, as of 1999 September 7, begin enforcing a curfew which prohibits youth under the age of 16 from being in public places between the hours of 11:00PM and 6:00AM Sunday through Thursday, and between the hours of Midnight to 6:00AM Friday and Saturday. The 1995 law was suspended 15 months later as unConstitutional, but that ruling was reversed and the injuntion lifted in early August of this year.

Enforcement this time around will include, upon detention, immediate contact of parent or guardian (who can be fined up to $1000), and failing that, overnight detention for the youths, who can be fined up to 25 hours of community service. Exceptions for curfew violation include attendence at chaperoned school events, errands requested by parent or guardian, travel to and from work, and emergencies.

Noted in passing, there have been requests for a an officer or officers to be permanently posted at the Columbia Heights Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), which was recently the site of a shootout between rival Latino youth gangs, "Mara R" ("R Street Crew") and the "Brown Union", a gang centered in the general neighborhood of 14th Street and Park Road NW. Four bystanders were injured. One Mai Fernandez, deputy director of programs at the LAYC, has suggested that there's a need for expanded outreach, especially to educate the kids that they do have alternatives other than being gangstas. We concur. See remarks above regarding the successes of engaging youth in erosion remediation, neighborhood clean-up, and so forth, as produtive diversions for idle youth. We would also hasten to add that becoming familiar with areas outside of their own "turf", and in fact developing pride in the greater community and environment, should favor the process of Becoming American, and successful and estimable ones at that.

After the previous spate of shootings in Columbia Heights, Mayor Williams and Chief Ramsey toured the area, and announced beefed-up patrolling of the area, which evidently resulted in a major increase in arrests for such quality-of-life crimes as public urination. However, violence remains, within the exact areas given increased policing.

My own conjecture is that the recent completion of most of the surface work in the vicinity of the soon-to-open Columbia Heights Metrorail Station (Green Line) has combined with the fencing-off of the vacant lots in the area -- prior to potential development of those lots into a major retail mall -- has increased the competition and level of desperation amongst the area's criminals, some of whom are some scary monsters indeed. I'd hazard the guess that as pressure mounts on youth gangs such as the Brown Union or Mara R, they will increasingly be brought into juxtaposition with the adult street criminals. Conflicts may be expected to increase in both frequency and severity until new stomping grounds are found, or troublemakers are locked up, or they put each other into the hospital or the morgue.

Life and Heath

The District has long been plagued, almost literally, by a terrible public health system. Rated last -- or near to last -- nationally in terms of life expectancy, maternal mortality, infant mortality, teen parenthood, single parenthood, drug abuse, cancer, chronic and debilitating diseases, number of residents with no health coverage, Washington is just plain unhealthy.

It has also been come to be known amongst medical professionals as the professional kiss-of-death for anyone attempting to assume the leadership of the nearly-dead public health system. Repeatedly, over roughly the last two years, attempts to retain a Director of Public Health Services have come to naught. Quite commonly applicants have been interested, have entered negotiations, tentatively accepted the position, and having at last found out exactly what they were about to tackle, have walked away without a backwards glance.

At last, someone has accepted the position. Dr. Ivan C. Walks, 42, a neurophychiatrist with experience in government, private practice, and health-care management, is to be paid the controversial and huge sum of $198,000 per year plus an additional $30,000 in benefits.

Walks, most recently an executive at a local managed-care company, was formerly a mental health commissioner in Los Angeles County, California.

Moving right along, we note with some cheer that Mayor Williams has directed that a compilation of records of HIV-positive or AIDS patients in the District of Columbia will be keyed around so-called "unique identifier numbers" instead of listing patient names. The database is intended to help determine the successfulness of programs designed to slow the spread of HIV. It must be noted that the District has 10 times the number of new cases as the national average. While this is indeed a good precedent regarding medical privacy, we believe that due to cultural considerations perhaps-unique to the District, it may be a grevious mistake. While Gay Rights activists and Privacy activists rightly state that the "unique identifier" system protects their privacy and tends to immunize them against potential harassment, the present system which apparently has no master list associating names with the unique identifiers provides no potential recourse for the identification of persons who knowingly and/or willfully pass on their infection. The medical community will have its work cut out for it, in the detective work required to identifying such creatures as are willing to cheerfully condemn others to a lingering death to satisfy the urge of the moment, when a name-number master-list might enable a rapid tracking of the routes of dissemination of the HIV plague.

We note with dismay that Congress still refuses to allow the use of District funding for one of the few approaches demonstrated to reduce the rate of new HIV infections, which is the so-called "needle exchange programs" where old used and probably-infected syringes are exchanged for sterile ones.

Schools and Education

Throughout the first part of the month of August, the big story remained that of the School Board.

Last month's probably-illegal ouster of the Board's President, Wilma R. Harvey, caused a huge to-do which amounted to a tempest in a teapot, were it not for the fact that they are in charge of the educational progress of the District's children, or would have been had they not been the very first City Agency disempowered by the DCFRA "Control Board". Essentially amounting to a bunch of bickering hens with nothing left to peck, still this is the quintessence of local District politics: pecking order, pecking order, pecking order.

After refusals of arbitration, a very-tentative suggestion that Harvey be re-emplaced under outside oversight, a profound and studied disinolvement by the DCFRA, the apparent ongoing non-resolution was proposed by Ward 7 City Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, who suggested an unspecified "reorganization" (for which, read "dismemberment") of the DC School Board. Clearly long-overdue, as the District ranks absolutely last place in the country for "places to raise children" -- primarily because of the school-system -- it's not been precisely specified what any replacement systems would be, with almost every aspect of the proposed reorganization left up in the air. Harvey was eventually reinstated, and such power as remains to the School Board will no loner be exclusively in the hands of Harvey as president, but there is expected to be an executive committee composed of Harvey four other members. By mid-September, a restructuring plan is supposed to be finalized and publicized, but don't expect much so long as anything remotely resembling the present system remains.

Last year was the first in which new Schools superintendant Arlene Ackerman's new system of evaluations, of both students and staffers, was in effect. While some students did indeed pursue summer school as a remedy to poor performance, due to their showings on the tests, Ackerman has no such remedy for her staff. She was forced to revise downwards her standards for performance, particularly for the principals. Under her initial plan, something like one-third of the District School's principles would have been reted unsatisfactory, and listed for potential reassignment, early retirement, or dismissal.

The new criteria didn't require adherence to Ackerman's established goals for improvement on the Stanford 9 standardized test scores. Any improvement on the scores would be sufficient. Meeting or exceeding the established criteria for improvement would, however, put principles in line for merit bonusses. Some six principals are in line for dismissal.

Fine-tuning of other elements of the Schools bureaucracy continue, with raises having been delayed, and occasional glitches of the payments process have resulted in failures to issue paychecks in some cases, and underpayments in other cases.

Homelessness, Poverty, Welfare & Work

On 1999 March 17 we reported (along with the Washington Post and other reputable sources) that due to the legacy of Barry-Cronies(tm) corruption, hundreds of developmentally-disabled and severely retarded wards of the city had been living lives of quiet horror in slumlord shambles run by certain contractors to the District.

Eventually, due to public outcry, those contractors were fired, and steps have been taken to provide remedies to the long-suffering wards of the city. There was, it seemed some question as well regarding possibly-improper payments-in-kind by one of the contractors in question to one A. Sue Brown, who was in charge of developing the "Income Maintenance Administration", a welfare-to-work program.

Investigation reveals that Brown apparently improperly awarded a contract to "G&S Associates", owned by one Arthur D. Stubbs, a local dentist. It appears, among other improprieties, that many supporting documents in the G&S application were provided by companies that were also owned by Stubbs. The District has cancelled G&S' contract, and G&S is suing the city over it. Brown was fired in April. Stubbs has been charged with, and settled on, indictments of fraud brought by the regional Blue Cross and Blue Shield organization in US District Court, alleging that he submitted bills for work that was never performed, and that the bills for work actually performed were grossly inflated.

Nationally, Welfare-to-Work programs have grossly exceeded the wildest expectations, with more than half of the states reporting a more-than-fifty-percent drop in Welfare caseloads, including some of those traditionally with the highest caseloads. Much credit for this may be given to the upturn in the economy, which still remains quite robust. (Please see this report from the Urban Institute, which has many other fine reports available.)

However, in the District, the situation looks exceptionally grim. On average nationally, the educational level of not only Welfare recipients, but their children as well, is low. In the District of Columbia, particularly with the moribund schools, the educational level of Welfare recipients is simply bad. Illiteracy abounds, with roughly 2/3rds reading below the 6th-grade level, with possibly as many as half of those being so illiterate as to be unable to read even street signs.

This is particularly problematic in the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area, which has traditionally had a dearth of available positions for anyone not possessed of a college degree, and in fact, is somewhat short of available positions for anyone not possessed of a very high grade-point average at a world-class university. (I myself remain unemployed, due to lack of such a degree, among other factors.)

This regional insistence on education in the skilled sectors is compounded by other factors, such as the reputation for indolence of Welfare recipients combined with the ready availability of immigrant labor in intense competition for low-skilled positions; and, the lack of heavy-industry in the region generally, compounded by the fact that such industry as exists is very highly automated and generally of a very technical nature. Add to this the fact that the regional transportation system is very heavily oriented to the automobile, while most public transportation is designed largely to shuttle suburban workers to the downtown offices where literacy is an absolute requirement of employment.

The District's Welfare recipients have, on average, shown very little interest in moving from Welfare to employment. This assertion can be quite well documented, just give a call to the statistics office of the District Department of Human Services (DHS). Roughly half of all notified to report for an initial meeting and orientation to Welfare-to-Work programs have failed to attend. Also on rough average, actual placement in jobs of former Welfare recipients has amounted to roughly one-tenth of those approached by Welfare-to-Work contractors in Washington. Those who are easily amused may wish to read something I wrote as a satire in early 1995, but which may in fact turn out to be an accurate prediction of how this issue will eventually be resolved.

We would, of course, rather prefer that organizations such as BusinessLINC ("Learning, Information, Networking & Collaboration") would get involved, with larger companies mentoring smaller ones which would simultaneously employ and educate people due to be tossed out of the Welfare system forever, but it would be just too good an idea and so of course nobody would ever carry it out, and of course, Earth Operations Central will get no credit nor payment for it.

In the meantime, there are opportunities to be had along this line for all who want to "go for it". The Small Business Administration has evidently taken a tack parallel to the HUD "Urban Empowerment Zones" which gives grants and tax breaks to anyone developing within blighted communities, with their own new Historically Unterutilized Business Zone ("HUBZone") initiative. From their site:

The HUBzone Empowerment Contracting program provides federal contracting opportunities for qualified small businesses located in distressed areas. Fostering the growth of these federal contractors as viable businesses, for the long term, helps to empower communities, create jobs, and attract private investment.

Noted in passing: At last the Mayor has given a go-ahead for past-due payments to be made to children's services in the foster-care arena. The District's foster-care program has been under the court-appointed receivership of Ernestine F. Jones, as a subset of the general Child Welfare agency. Some foster-care providers had not been paid for months. Sadly, there appears to also be some $13 millions of shortfall in funding for the fiscal-year ending 1999 September 30.

And now we move right along to the probable end result of being totally unemployable and running out of time on Welfare: homelessness.

First please read the report from the National Law Center on homelessness and Poverty: DC's Homeless Families Falling through the Cracks of Welfare Program. the entire report isn't online, but the summary and main points are there.

Our immediate response to the District's failure to aid the homeless is to note with some trepidation, and ironic gloom, that the average DC resident may well be forced to turn to the homeless for survival tips due to the other major failure of the government of the District of Columbia, preparation for the Year 2000.

Y 2 K

The District of Columbia is rated as "failing abysmally" in almost all Y2K conformance efforts, with the exception of their procurements-system, which is said to be on track. According to Ronald L. Hess, assistant director of the US Government Accounting Office's Governmentwide and Defense Information Systems division, "Services are at risk". Virginia Republican US House Representative Thomas M. Davis III is quoted by the Washington Post as writing, in a letter to DC Mayor Anthony A. Williams:

While I am cognizant of the enormous challenge undertaken by the current DC Y2K team ... and while I am aware of the substantial progress which has been achieved in the past year under very difficult circumstances, I remain concerned ... The District has no margin for such schedule slippage.
DC Technology Officer Suzanne Peck, off to a very late start on the effort in June of last year, notes that while repairs on hardware are behind schedule, the report doesn't distinguish between hardware repairs and the essential and much more massive repair efforts of software upgrade. Most of the more serious Y2K glitches are due to high-level software, mostly the venerable (many say "dinosaurian") COBOL programming language, which does not distinguish between centuries, but only considers the decade and year digits in date entries.

Peck admits that in such mission-critical agencies as Employment Services, Personnel, Public works, and the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) are at best about 85 percent completed. She also admits that there are "hundreds" of other projects lagging. Astute readers with good memories will recall that for at least three years, Earth Operations Central/TJH Internet SP) (which would of course be me) has relentlessly and repeatedly offered to help install, teach, develop and assist with the maintainance of the UNIX-like Linux operating system and "X"/GNOME graphic windowing system, which is almost certainly (though not definitively) Y2K-ready.

But of course they weren't paying any attention then and they're not paying any attention now.

I rather predict that they still won't be paying any attention when the District of Columbia's information systems, with the exception of the police department which has gotten all-new computers and software, grind to a screeching halt, or worse, corrupt old data and produce "garbage" output. (My Linux box will be "just fine". Trust me. I've tested it thoroughly.) However, the police are said to have excellent contingency plans for quelling the public disorder which may reasonably be expected to ensue, and the DC government has planned for "warming stations" and so-forth, as well as lots of extra staffing to handle all of the phone calls from panicked residents. We do so hope that the local National Guards Y2K crews will be on full alert, and that local suburban militias will show some compassion when a large portion of the District erupts from the bowels of the city, headed for the hills come sun-up on Saturday, 2000 January 1.


Happy Solstice!
Harvest of Change Comes Ripe

Welcome back again to the show that never ends.

As always, sorry about the delays. This time, I will blame an inauspicious horoscope, bad social policy, too much UseNet, personal poverty, general malaise, and of course my own laziness. Actually, I've been spending a lot of time in the wilderness of a local park, gathering my forces and seeking inspiration while offering fervent prayers for a relief to the drought.

We also wish to advise that as it is once again no longer Tourist Season, tourists  --  or for that matter anyone mistaken for a tourist or simply not of the local "type"  --  are in season. Downtown, this may or may not be a bad thing as quite commonly tourists "don't know nothin' and get in the way". However, we must, as a long-time local, completely decry the way that many locals will go way overboard to get "the damned tourists" out of town. We must also report that the WEIRDCON ("Weirdness Conditions") rating is moving up the charts. Goths are being mistaken by the local psychotics (they abound) for "draculas" (got me stumped) , once again people are acting like anyone they don't personally know is some sort of spy or terrorist, and basically the Inside The Beltway culture and mindset is promoting their insular onieroid psychosis into a pre-millenial frenzy of battening down the cultural hatches of the region. Visitors should beware, or they may be treated to something rather resembling this little short story I once wrote in a possibly vain attempt to describe this annual epidemic of local psychosis. Welcome to Washington, and now on with the show.

The Region

Prayers have been answered, with something of a vengeance. After three years of sustained drought, which has qualified much of the mid-Atlantic US for Drought Disaster Federal relief, the rains have come. Hurricane Floyd, a truly monstrous meteorologic anomaly, failed  --  despite being larger than the whole State of Florida  --  to blow most of civilization off of the East Coast. However, widespread flooding still extends into the region, though the most serious effects are farther south, in the Carolinas, where hog-farm waste, including bloated swine carcasses, mixes with chemicals and fuel to create an environmental calamity.

Local to the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area, we see little major or lasting damage, and have instead seen a long-awaited major set of rains over a period of about a week, which have refilled most reservoirs, and soaked the ground to the point where the water-table is back almost to where it ought to be. Admittedly, we could use another such influx of water into the region to get our reserves to where they should be... but for now, at least we're not looking at a believable specter of a wintertime Urban Forest Conflagration.

Water conservation is ordinarily not a concern in this region, where the normal consideration is how to get the usually-abundant rains to drain away from basements, and into catch ponds so that urban runoff won't cascade into the ecologically-fragile stream-parks. However, once mandatory conservation measures hit the region, wasteage prevention is now something of a priority. We note with some dismay that the District led the region in "unbilled water", which is to say the percentage of water pumped into the pipes which is lost due to leakage. The District had an astounding 24-percent "unbilled water" rate, meaning that nearly one-quarter of the water pumped into the pipes is lost, mostly due to leaking city water-transport facilities. We rather suspect that remediation of this appalling loss of a vital resource  --  despite the fact that there is a scheduled 19-percent increase in water rates spread over the next our years  --  will be given a very low priority, due to the abundance of the recent rains.

Those wishing to give thanks for this restoration of usual nature may wish to join us at the Jefferson Memorial for a Harvest Moon celebration. The Mall, now green again for the first time in some years, is a welcoming place at night now, with a nice artsy centerpiece provided by the protective and decorative sheath around the Washington Monument, which is undergoing repairs. The weather, Saturday 25 at sunset, is expected to be temperate, and clear.

Federal Washington

Be advised that over the next two months, NCPC, the Nation's Capital Planning Commission, will be hosting a variety of meetings and conferences regarding future development of the Nation's Capitol. They have essentially proposed dividing Washington DC into three zones, with the first being "the reservation", a flattened-cross-shaped zone from roughly Lafayette Park on the north, the Jefferson Memorial on the south, the Capitol building on the east, and the Lincoln Memorial on the west, and of course the Mall within that, and all conterminous waterfront. The areas immediately adjacent to that are "sub-reservation", which includes the Cemetery across the river, and the riverfront immediately across from the "reservation" riverfront. The rest of the town is zone 3.

We've been advised that there will probably be little or no further development of monumental or artistic-celebration facilities within the "reservation". The "sub-reservation" is reserved for very little further development, being primarily reserved to provide the high honor of military burial to those who have given their lives and/or careers to national service. The rest of Washington DC? "Up for grabs" is probably an extreme term, but a point has been made that considering the vast diversity of Washington DC, even as it is (much less what it will be once successfully revitalized), it will probably be a better reflection of the Nation at-large if future monuments and celebratory spaces are better-distributed throughout the City.

The intention is to scatter all of the major and minor national monuments throughout the community spaces of Washington DC. Instead of centering the developmental axis on the Washington Monument, being limited by the Capitol on the East, rather development of monumental and celebratory space will be centered on the Capitol Building, with development being primarily energized towards the South and East, with particular emphasis on developing the waterfronts of the Anacostia River. Please see the most-excellent Extending the Legacy (in lovely PDF format).

Rather than having the visiting citizens of the nation to their capital being essentially packaged up into little tour busses and schlepped around a central core that amounts to a theme-park, instead the nation's citizens would be invited to participate in the culture and monumental and celebratory spaces of the entirety of Washington DC. Never again would there be the sad possibility of Washington as it was, where tourists were shielded from the forces of decay and the horrors that lurked within (unless they made a wrong turn and wound up getting their remains shipped home to foment revolution  --  and rightly so)  --  rather Washington will itself not be a divided city, with many little insular communities divided each from the other and dreading discovery by the People of the United States  --  instead Washington, which may be reasonably expected in the future to see some 40 millions of visiting citizens annually, shall be a vast continuum of integrated spaces celebrating Washington as  --  not some reviled and despicable horror of "Inside the Beltway"  --  the Crossroads of the American People, where all come to meet and to greet and may at all times and in all seasons participate in the celebration of their nation, and their sovereignity of governance through a participatory democracy and a Constitutional Republic.

District Revitalization

At long last, the Columbia Heights Metrorail Subway Station has opened, completing all of the original Metrorail Plan lines, but not without controversy.

Originally intended to be one of the first-completed legs of in-District public subsurface/surface commuter rail, the Green Line construction has been difficult from the start. Primarily serving the poorest parts of town (Fort Totten NW, to Anacostia, SE) the rail has also had some of the greatest construction engineering challenges. Driven through exceptionally deep tunnels, ostensibly to avoid surface disruptions, the tunnels have encountered such problems as an underground river, requiring the pressureized pumping of some 12 million tons of grout in order to establish sufficient footing so as to construct the tunnel walls, as well as very deep tunnelling to avoid disturbing landmark trees.

The Columbia Heights neighborhood has long been plagued by a general malaise; since the commercial strip was largely burned to the ground in the riots following the assassination of civil-rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr, few have been willing to invest in Capitol Heights, and the neighborhood had generally gone downhill. Once Metrorail construction began in earnest, the neighborhood was reduced, like neighboring Petworth, to a devastated warzone, pocked by potholes, infested with displaced rats, obstructed by blocked off streets and sidewalks, and was in general ruined and reduced to a horrifically crime-plagued and employment-free enclave.

It has long been known that one day the Columbia Heights and Petworth Stations would be completed, and that the barricades and fencing would disappear, and since last year it has been known that Federal Revitalization monies would be added to other funding, repairing the streets  --  already repairs and resurfacing have been ongoing elsewhere in places such as the Southeast Freeway and the 8th & Monroe Streets NE Bridge  --  and pumping money into development, especially aiding with tax-breaks and other incentives anyone who wanted to start up a small business and employ locally. In preparation for this long-anticipated opening of the Columbia Heights Station, the District Redevelopment Land Agency had extended a request for developers to submit proposals to develop several vacant parcels of land near the Columbia Heights Station.

At present, passengers exiting the Columbia Heights Station emerge into a urban wasteland of barbed-wire fences and construction debris. Once you get out of that immediate ugly scene, you're still at the focus of even more ugliness. 14th Street and Park Road, NW, is by night a thriving open-air drug market, overlooked by the grim facades of abandoned businesses, some of which have not been a going concern for at least a decade. Various alleyways lead to blind lots, where vermin lurk. Nearby streets are, admittedly, a very eclectic mix of ghetto dwellers, gentrifying yuppies, struggling immigrants, and the terminally-hip yupster "alterna-stylers". The place has massive potential, once something's done about the desertified landscape.

The proposals finally selected were  --  suspiciously, many say  --  those put forward by New-York-based Grid Properties and District-based Horning Brothers, whose projects were relatively unambitious compared to a nearly-grandiose, but possibly ultimately more satisfying, proposal by Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises. The reason for suspicion is that the plans finally selected were put forward by firms which had established a relationship with a former Cabinet officer under the Barry-Cronies(tm) Regime, one Robert Moore, President of the "Development Corporation of Columbia Heights. Moore is also a board member of "DC Agenda", itself described as an organization designed to smooth transition from the outgoing Sharon Pratt Dixon administration, to the returning Barry-Cronies(tm) administration.

Horning Brothers has a reputation of working closely with neighborhood activists to redevelop blighted commercial strips. We must thus approve of their selection as developers, but we are rather appalled at their proposal to gut the historic Tivoli Theater and retain only the facade, while building a Giant grocery store within. Admittedly, this would bring some competition to the neighborhood; the District is almost totally dominated by Safeway grocery stores, whose local prices are among the highest in the nation. However, the competing Forest City proposal would have built a larger grocery store on the opposite side of 14th Street, and would have redeveloped the Tivoli, restoring it to a performance art space and making that space available to the burgeoning local arts community. We would personally much prefer that the Tivoli be restored to something surpassing its former glory. Perhaps the Grid and Horning groups can work something out to preserve the Tivoli, and build the grocery store elsewhere nearby.

In any case, much of the space available in the region will be developed into a major mall, with a variety of entertainment and name-brand retail. Also there will be youth-entertainment centers, which according to MPD Chief Ramsey, will be heavily policed. At present, the nearby Latin-American Youth Center, site of some particularly messy youth-gang shootings recently, has requested a full-time police officer be stationed by the city at their facility. Mayor Williams is reported to be giving the request all due consideration. This comes shortly after the DC Commission on Mental Heath Services came under protest by local Latino organizations due to their failure to renew a contract for Andromeda Transcultural, Inc., to provide bilingual mental-health services.

Heavy policing is a good idea in any case in Columbia Heights, which has recently become the scene of a variety of killings, most believed to be drug-related. If you plot the killings in the area since May, they are quite-neatly centered around the new Columbia Heights Metro Station.

District Government Improvement

We note in passing, with something rather approaching glee, that a solution has been found to improve efforts to speed housing inspections in the backlogged Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Back in early 1997, we made some suggestions in Usenet:dc.generalregarding improving efficiency, to the effect that Mobile Computing should be deployed within the District government agencies, particularly where it would aid workers in the field. We suggested that they use Beltcom. If you don't know what Beltcom are, follow the link.

Well, the DCRA won't be using Beltcom exactly as I suggested, but it won't be far from it. They will be using book-sized computers, connected via satellite links to access the central files, determine status of properties, do information-system searches, update information, and even print out violation notices. If the initial $149,000 test program is successful, a $450,000 one-time-cost program will follow, moving the District from, as Mayor Williams says, "from the Stone Age into the Space Age in neighborhood preservation, all in one step".

Thanks for paying attention, Mayor Williams, if not to me, to the signs of the times.

This program will essentially pay for itself, as it would in the first year of full-scale deployment probably save roughly $400,000 in roughly 14,000 manhours. You're welcome, Washington.

Public Safety:
Police Special

Noted with glee is the arrival of a highly-technologized mindset in the Metropolitan Police Department. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey is right on the money when he says, as reported by the Washington Post:

In many cases, we're moving [directly] from the 1970s to the new millenium because we've fallen so far behind the [technology] curve ... I am not talking about buying a bunch of new computers. I am talking about using technology to fundamentally change the way that the [police department] works with the community to police the District of Columbia.

The Chief then went on to reiterate our 1996 and 1997 assessments of the antiquated information systems which are, some of them, a quarter-century old, as "weird iron"  --  some of them are so old there's probably "nobody alive" who can figure out their programming.

New technology will include:

Noted in passing, the MPD now has two SkiDoo personal watercraft to aid in enforcement of boating and water-safety laws.

Noted, and not in passing, the District's foreign merchants state that they despair of even calling the MPD when they are crime victims, noting language difficulties as a major sticking point. We personally believe that rather than blaming the police for not having a large number of fluent- or native-speakers of some 140 languages represented here, that the shopkeepers should Learn English and Become Americans. This may seem to the foreigners to be an unwarranted burden on them, languages being difficult things, but as the Japanese say, shikata ga nai ("there is no other way").

It's also essential that the foreign shopkeepers understand the US legal system, and also try to understand American culture. A common complaint is that the officers come and take a report, and either nothing happens, or they never hear the result of the case. It is in fact up to the police to assure the shopkeepers that results do occur, and we strongly recommend that the MPD as a whole, and officers as individuals, make a concerted and continuous effort to apprise shopkeepers of the outcomes of complaints, whether or not successful, as they say, "Justice Unseen is Justice Undone". It would also be worthy of both the shopkeepers and the police to better define the roles expected of the criminal-justice system and the shopkeepers. In recent years, a great controversy erupted when a Korean shopkeeper beat an alleged shoplifter nearly to death with a golf-club outside his store. The police, you see, require evidence that a crime has been committed and that a certain person committed it, before they can make an arrest which could withstand trial  --  and in Korean culture, it is apparently the practice that swift (if relatively minor) summary justice be administered by the offended shopkeeper who then escorts the miscreant to their family, whose shame causes them to administer a more lasting and severe justice. This latter cultural trait combines with a lack of faith in, and perceived poor-performance on the part of, the police, probably eventually leading to the shopkeepers simply taking up their own defense in probably-illegal ways. The police and the shopkeepers should get together and devise pro-active strategies which both benefit the shopkeepers' safety, and increase the likelihood that successful prosecutions of criminal will occur.

The Fire Department notes an acute shortage of "ladder trucks", which are used along with the "pumper engine" trucks. One fourth are reported out of commission and two are reported as near-inoperability. Procedure have been initiated to remedy the shortage.

Social Issues
Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Outreach

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has, within the last month, at last come forth and made good on promises, delivering a grant of some $30 millions to the District. This will go to finance, among other things:

Among other things, the HUD is taking to heart a great deal of rethinking of "lessons learned" during the abysmal failures of the Johnson Era projects and other preceding public-housing experiments, all of which had taken the approach that public housing was best accomplished by building giant hives to be populated exclusively by the poorest of the poor. These philosophies and approaches have done absolutely nothing in the sort-term except to concentrate poverty, and in the long term have blighted entire generations, not only the people but the neighboring communities, where property values have suffered compared to similar properties elsewhere not located adjacent to public-housing projects; businesses have abandoned the regions as customers fear crime and will not shop; employment opportunities vanish locally; and huge and forbidding icons of dispair and hopelessness are plopped down upon the land without any respect or consideration for the flows of civic energy or for continuum of community space. To summarize, massive public-housing blocks are nothing if not destructive of lives, and the art and souls of communities.

HUD is adopting the style of creating townhouses, or garden apartments, which will be intended to have families of mixed-incomes and mixed origins. This is an excellent idea which has proved wildly successful ove the last few years when practiced outside of Washington, which has resisted the idea as it tends to disempower the vast Democrat pork feeding trough of a bloated Welfare Establishment.

We must state directly that it is of the utmost importance to have families which have exhibited the habits of success, however modest, living with, and imparting to the former lifelong recipients of welfare and proceeds of crime, their culture of diligence, resourcefulness, and education.

Regarding Garden Apartments, we must note that in the District, Garden Apartments are almost inevitably doomed to be the breeding grounds of crime and vice. Instead, there should be townhouses, ideally situated in open-sided courts which invite the community in, also inviting the residents out into the community. Isolated enclaves of association are engendered by Garden apartments, and thus it is essential that any public housing be inclusive of, and included in, the extant neighborhood continuum of spaces and activities.

General Public Health

Mayor Anthony A. Williams had, last year, made a proposal of extending Medicaid or some other insurance coverage to the roughly 80,000 District residents who are not covered by any type of health insurance, and has also been exploring ways to remediate the financial stresses on District hospitals. There is a gross surplus of hospital beds in the District, almost all of which are world-class, but most of those hospitals are facing extreme difficulties, largely because uninsured persons tend to wait until they are desperately ill, and then present themselves at hospital emergency rooms, from which they cannot legally be turned away, and then not paying due to indigency.

The proposal was scrapped, mostly because hospitals were afraid that by the time money could be found to insure residents, and pay hospitals, they'd go broke. But now a group of experts and lawmakers has been empanelled to address the issue and find a workable solution to this element of DC's health-care woes. The are:

Focus On The Children

A report released by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that Welfare Reform may not be having all of the intended results. There is clearly, despite the robust economy, a deleterious effect upon female-headed families with children living near or below the poverty line. Among the poorest 10 percent, a decline of one-seventh of income has been seen. Most of this income loss was primarily due to loss or reduction of "safety-net" programs, particular cash assistance and food stamps. Please read the report, and ask yourself which is more important, a reduction of caseloads on the Welfare loads, or an improvement in the condition of the poorest and most-vulnerable women with children living on the edge of starvation and animality. As a nation, we must strive to improve the conditions of those who are our national shame, the vast population of people living in poverty in this great land of plenty.

In the District, a general improvement has been seen in some areas, yet all is not rosy, and in fact there is vast room for improvement.

In the first place, there has been a vast decline in the number of children living in the District since 1990. We won't for the moment address the issue of population control  --  in any case, most of the reduction in child population is due to population migration. The juvenile population has declined some 17-percent (roughty one-sixth), from 114,200 to 94,500 from 1990 from 1997, not addressing continued migration from the District, probably at comparable or accelerating rates, from 1997 to 1999. Over the same period of time, the general population of the District declined by roughly one-sixth, primarily due to concerns about safety, and in particular, the safety and effectiveness of DC Public Schools. We can easily, though not definitively, presume that most of the loss in child population was a result of families with children abandoning the District, generally for neighboring Prince George's County in Maryland.

Violence in the District of Columbia has, along with crime nationwide, generally declined, moreso in the arena of crimes against property than in violent-crimes, which remain high in the District when compared to the nation, or to neighboring jurisdictions, particularly the crime of murder. One major exception to this trend is a major decrease in youth violence, particularly in juvenile morbidity. There has been a decline of almost 25-percent in juvenile crime cases referred to the courts. Also, both out-of-wedlock births ("OOWB") and abortions have been on the decline in the District  --  with a $20 millions Federal bonus being paid to the District for the 3.7-percent drop in OOWB and a whopping 11.4 percent drop in abortions between 1995 and 1997  --  and better prenatal care is reducing infant mortality although infanticide and child abuse levels remain troublingly high, with an increase of approximately 20 percent reported between 1997 and 1998 alone.

It is difficult to determine whether some of the trends which have been reported are due to actual increase of incidence, or simply better reporting, due to a number of factors. In the first case, a new Medical Examiner and improved equipment have enabled much more precise detection, and where formerly cases of child death were simply marked "undetermined", they are now indicated as infanticide, neglect, or death by child-abuse. It is also now much easier to report child abuse and neglect in the District. Also difficult to understand is the near-doubling of reported cases of chlamydia in the District, which rose from 907 to 1,480 from 1996 to 1998. Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted disease which generally has few or no symptoms, but which can have severe long-term consequences, including newly-discovered associations with deadly or debilitating cardiac and circulatory disorders caused by one non-venereal species of the disease. Nationwide, almost 1 in 10 young women test positive for chlamydia, which is easily cured. Girls aged 15-19 have nearly half of all infections diagnosed.

Chlamydia has been, for the last few years, increasingly the subject of public-service advertisements and public-health initiatives, so the indicated increase may to some degree result from more women in at-risk groups (being teenaged is a primariy risk factor) submitting themselves for testing. However, this does not explain the troubling increase in HIV and AIDS.

New cases of HIV/AIDS in children under the age of 13 jumped from 157 to 267 from 1997 to 1998. Among teens, new cases in the same period doubled, 40 in one year, 88 in the next. As troublesome as preadolescent HIV/AIDS is, it's easily explained as infected mothers passing the infection to their children. However, due to the unlikelihood of a child born with the virus surviving to the age of 13, the teen infection rate is a loud alarm indicating the need for much greater public effort to prevent unprotected teen sexual activity.

District Schools and Child Care Issues

The District's public schools are, as always, an ongoing center of controversy.

Basically, they stink. Once the envy of most of the nation, they have in the last generation cosnistently produced the worst scorers on any standardized tests, even while having one of the nation's highest per-capita expenditures. Also, data which has at long last been released gives hard-figure support to something long suspected  --  1 out of 3 District students drops out.

Continued lawsuits over school building safety, campus security, teacher pay, and in-particular the special-education programs have raged or years, and despite vast infusions of money thrown at the problem, very little has changed, other than some remedial repairs to the buildings themselves.

In the arena of special-education, which serves one-tenth of the District's children  --  while absorbing a full one-third of its budget  --  massive controversy has erupted over a proposal to pick up special-education children at home, and further controversy has erupted over a proposal that if no parent is on hand to greet the children at drop-off, that the children would then be taken to what amounts to an after-school holding facility, with the third instance of such after-school holding resulting in a notifcation to the District's Child Welfare agency, itself a troubled organization. Predictably, in a city where a vast percentage of mothers are single and must work (or seek work, or attend school or training, or all of the above) this has inspired outrage. Add this to the dearth of child-care facilities in the city, and the questionable quality of many of those facilities, the outrage is understandable. To the credit of the District, however, it does have the nation's only full-day, free, pre-kindergarten program, open to all 4-year-olds.

Combine this with the District's recent enforcement of a teen-curfew, violation of which can result in the violator being held overnight or being remanded to Child Welfare, and we can predict the eventual creation of at least one specialized agency, which will be the de-facto guardian, at least part-time, of children outside school hours. While it appears that this will happen essentially by-default, we believe that it may make a great deal of sense and in fact be progressive if not visionary, in terms of providing some security or stability for children, when this cannot be satisfactorily provided by an adult, for whatever reason. But we must caution that the City has no business taking on the role of parent, while they remain so dismally unable to execute the role of educator. We note in passing that court-ordered receivers in the Oak Hill troubled-youth facility report continuing failure to adequately comply with the court order, citing inadequacies in education and medicine, and substandard living conditions.

We note in passing that for older non-special-ed students, the Mayor has promised an expansion of the Summer Youth employment program for next year, where hopefully these older students can not only suppliment their incomes, but "be kept out of trouble" for substantial portions of the day, with their employers ideally acting in loco parentis and even more-ideally, teaching maturity and responsbility.

Rather than default to the creation of a separate system, School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, and her special assistant for special-education, Ann Gay (formerly highly-rated principal at Janney Elementary), are attempting to integrate special-education facilities into the existing schools, and improving the resources at those schools, with the addition of specialist staff and some integrationist programs. Also, the Taft Junior High will be re-opened as a transitional school, with special programs designed to help those who can be mainstreamed to prepare for eventual re-introduction to the mainstream schools.

In any case, the US Department of Education has awarded the District School a grant of some $11 millions specifically earmarked for special education, including the $4.5 millions which were withheld last year due to the inadequacy of the special education programs.

Moving right along, in the Shaw neighborhood, a battle has been brewing between the long-established Metropolitan Baptist Church and neighboring Garrison Elementary School, and the District government, or rather between factions of all of the above, and all possible combinations.

At issue is the fact that the school's playing field has been rendered unusable because the church's congregation, most of which reside outside of the District, use it as a parking lot. The Church does in fact compensate by paying to have the childern bussed elsewhere for athletic endeavors, and also the church members have been vigorously expanding activities dedicated to the advancement of the children, such as tutoring.

The Post quotes Deputy School Superintendant Elios Brooks as saying:

It's more than just parking versus children ... For some of these children the mentoring and interaction with members of the church are more important than going out to kick a ball on the field.

And here we have the essence of the problem: it's a First Amendment Constitutional issue. The church has so far intruded across the lines of separation that not even a District Schools offcial is aware of how far she has transgressed, or supported transgression. Note that she stresses that it is more important for children on school time to interact with church members, than to engage in government-required physical education as a school activity. This position is further supported by principal Diane Worthy, in an unquoted letter of May 7th, cited by the Post, to Metropolitan Baptist pastor H. Beecher Hicks.

More importantly, when school is not in session, the field becomes a public park for the entire neighborhood, which has no other such facilities. Thus, church intrusion into government affairs, and destruction of government/public property, infringes upon the rights of the neighborhood at large, and deprives the whole neighborhood of substantial liberty.

If a public space is to be hijacked by the church, while district Schools employees endorse this activity, to the clear detriment of those neighborhood residents who neither attend that church nor attend that school, this is an absolutely clear violation of the Constitutional rights of those neighborhood residents, and the District government must take immediate steps to stop this violation of Constitutional rights.

Schools Superintendnant Arlene Ackerman negotiated with the church, which agreed to resod a nearby school field for use in soccer goames, and to improve most of the field for use as a baseball field, while still allotting some city land for church parking. Neighborhood activists promptly issued notice of intent to sue for a temporary injunction.

Lawyer/Activist Glen Melcher gave his opinion of the matter, with which I absolutely concur, as he gave his notice of intent to sue:

In an urban environment, it is absolutely a crime to take an inch of green space away from children.
On 1999 September 16, a Federal judge issued the order banning parking on the school field for 10 days.

Predictably, the following Sunday, Rev. Hicks issued a condemnation of the city's tentative moves to reacquire its own property and abide by the highest law of the land, with a stunning but predictably racist diatribe (as quoted from the Washington Times:


 There is always an issue that draws both Christ and culture into
conflict, and when we come here we often bring those issues with us. We
are the Calvary crowd, and we know our path is never easy. . . .
 You are aware, no doubt, that our church has been the target of both
television and the print media in regard to the conflict over the use of
Garrison Elementary's school yard as a parking area for the church on
Sunday. The press has been biased [and] the church's view has not been
told. It is time to hear the rest of the story. . . .

 To demonstrate our good will, the church has sponsored cross-cultural
trips for students to and from West Africa; created after-school skills
programs for the students and provided buses for field trips; provided
food for Garrison families; opened church facilities for school special
events; mentored Garrison students; and supported the Garrison faculty
and staff in numerous ways. We have contributed services worth $210,000
to Garrison school. . . .

 You have every right to applaud the professionalism and evenhandedness
of Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman. [But] reports that council member
Jim Graham, [Ward 1 Democrat], worked to arrange new parking for the
church is absolutely untrue. Your trustees have worked for a year to
secure parking at the Reeves Center without the assistance of Mr. Graham
or anyone else. . . .

 The issue before us has nothing whatsoever to do with parking or a
playground. This conflict has to do with the shifting of our culture.
God no longer has any place in our cities. One historian has stated,
"The West has said a definitive farewell to a Christian culture. The
Christian faith has been absorbed by the culture and has become simply
another cultural outlet." In this generation, people are not concerned
about God, Jesus or the church or any of you religious types who are
here.

 Second, the conflict has to do with whites who have come into black
communities with no desire for collaboration, cooperation or
conversation. This is their world, or so they believe, and they intend
to take it back. Thirdly, this conflict has to do with long-standing
community institutions with their changing neighborhoods in Washington,
D.C. While the influx of well-off, mostly white urban pioneers and
carpetbaggers into the inner city may improve their socioeconomic status
and raise property values, there is danger in the notion that these
newcomers share the interests and values of the holdovers, their
African-American neighbors. . . .

 The black church has been vital in the life of most African-Americans.
To treat with disdain the only institution that has consistently
supported the welfare of black Americans is to dishonor our history and
contribution and risk polarization of our neighborhoods. In other words,
if you thought we were free, look again. Racism is alive and well in
America. . . .

 Be assured that in this struggle Metropolitan is not alone. There are
churches everywhere experiencing the same struggle, and many are opting
to moving to more receptive locations. I told Mayor Anthony Williams
that unless Washington takes a stand for the faith-based community, the
District of Columbia might well become the city that God left. . . .

 The Bible says, "Love your enemy. Bless him that curses you. Do good to
him who hates you, and pray for him that persecutes you." The Bible also
has a word for my adversary. In Galatians 6:6 it says, "God is not
mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."

To this we can only point out that turning what's essentially a Constitutional issue of Separation of Church and State, into a conspiracy-theory racist rant, serves no good purpose.

I find it rather appalling that I, who am Pagan, must point out to someone who's making a living off of twisting the Gospel, that the words of Jesus of Nazareth himself directly support my Constitutionalist interpretation of a proper resolution of the matter.

See Matthew 22:18-21 --

        [18]But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, 
        "You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me!
        [19] Show me the coin used for paying the tax."
        They gave him a denarius, [20] and he asked them,
        "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
        [21]"That is Caesar", they replied.
        Jesus then told them, "Give to Ceasar what is 
        Ceasar's, give to God what is God's."


Happy Hallowe'en!
And Not A Bit Too Soon
Focussing on The Region, and Reform

Welcome back again to the show that never ends.

I must once again make my usual apologies for having let exactly a month go by between updates, you know that you wish this was an every-day update.

This month's reasons for delay include: the obligatory bad Feng Shui; extreme neck pain and recurrent headaches brought on by the ubiquitous jerks who insist on attempting to determine exactly how many pieces of unclad glass optical fiber they can jam into my back and neck (it's a DC thing, you wouldn't understand); Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy; Goths Gone Bad or more appropriately the Bad Posing as Goth; excessive UseNet; and last but not least, a major dearth of truly-interesting local news. For what it's worth, I can't really blame the horoscope this month.

The Region

At long last the drought had ended, as of last-month's writing, but we had not had anywhere near enough rain to replenish the watertable locally by month's end. We can report that this is no longer the case; once again the Greater Washington Metropolitan Region is nice and Wet.

It's worth noting that this year, the Potomac River, once designated as one of the most-polluted and filthy rivers in the US, is now one of the cleanest for most of its length, and in the area from Washington down to the Bay, is practically boiling with gamefish.

Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning has decided to scrap, once and for all, the InterCounty Connector ("ICC"). This 30-year-old massive bone of contention was to run roughly from the Sam Eig Highway off of I-270 between Rockville and Gaithersburg towards I-95 around Laurel Maryland. While the region clearly needs traffic alternatives to the nearly impassably-jammed Capital Beltway, the environmental impact of the ICC upon some of the best remaining "down-county" greenspaces would be severe, and would also undoubtedly impact the entire Patuxent basin from which these counties draw much of their water. Improvements of existing roads are expected to ameliorate the cross-county traffic needs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, but improvements can go only so far. Still, it must be noted that Glendenning's awareness of "limits to growth" policies, as well as his "Smart Growth" policies are some of the best in the country, not quiet going so far as in Portland Oregon, but still he's determined to preserve at least some of Maryland's rural heritage. It is worth noting, however, that local politicians are wisely battling to retain ownership of parcels acquired by the State of Maryland for right-of-way.

In any case, the Greater Washington Board of Trade is developing a set of proposals to address the transportation bottleneck hereabouts, which is in fact an abominable mess, and which will only get worse if something isn't done, and started quickly. The standard and undying proposal, to simply widen the Capital Beltway to 12 lanes, will not sufficiently address the need to get quickly from one side of the region to the other. The worst bottlenecks are, of course, the Potomac River crossings. Proposals include a new superhighway from roughly Rockville Maryland to the general vicinity of Dulles International Airport in Virginia, where explosive growth has occurred within the last few years.

An interesting revelation in a book based upon smuggled KGB documents, since confirmed by former high-ranking Soviet officals, has revealed something that I've known all along: My own neighborhood, Aspen Hill, Maryland, was a favorite place for the activities of Soviet Spies. I knew there was some reason for all of the goddamned weirdness hereabouts, and especially for all of the truly screwy and painful things that have happened to me here in recent years. Assets, once in place, are never withdrawn unless exposed; and spooky gloomy sharp-eyed persons such as myself -- especially when they are known to write investigative journalism directly to the Global InterNet -- have an annoying tendency to expose spies and infiltrators. People have been trying to stop the continuation of this page. And why not? A weak Capital is a vulnerable capital, leading to a weak nation, and this page has done nothing other than attempt to increase public awareness as to the defects, weaknesses, and special conditions of the District of Columbia and to some extent the surrounding regions, and in fact this page and its author have been among the most vociferous leaders of those raising a call to arms to Fix The Nation's Capital and Don't Stop There! -- this page is a menace to those who mean our country harm, and thus they are a menace to me. Yet I remain undaunted and this page remains here... so long as I remain capable, and perceive a danger to my beloved capital and nation, I shall continue to oppose all enemies thereto, be they foreign or domestic -- and continue to bring you the local news, the sort of thing that you'll never hear out in the greater United States, and I'll especially continue to bring you the news, as I always have, that "they" don't want you to see.

Regional Cultural Change

The Washington Post reported recently that along with the whole Metro region being the region best-connected to the internet (1999 Oct. 15), it is also the national mecca for well-educated foreigners (1999 Oct. 9), who are not only much better-off financially than immigrants nationwide (7 percent below poverty line locally, 22 percent nationally) but are in fact less likely to be poor than their local American-born neighbors. In the Washington-Baltimore "standard metropolitan statistical area" (SMSA), 11 percent of American-born locals live below the poverty line, compared to the 7 percent of foreign-born.

Noted in passing, the rate of naturalization, of Becoming American, is at an all-time low for this century, with only some 35 percent bothering to become citizens in 1997, compared with 64 percent in 1970, 51 percent in 1980, 41 percent in 1990. This bodes ill in any case and in any place. However, it must be noted that the Washington DC area is one of the top-five destinations for immigrants, in particular for immigrants of Latin and Central American origin. We note that in Montgomery County, Maryland -- long-noted as a hotbed of political activity considered Radical Leftist even by the vast local majority of Maryland Democrats -- legal immigrants from Latin and Central America comprise more than ten percent of the population. No reliable figures on the number of illegal immigrants are available from Montgomery County. In Northern Virginia, the numbers of illegal immigrants are so high that rather than have to deal with massive irruptions of crime, some Fairfax VA police officers have taken it upon themselves to aggressively pursue contractors who take advantage of the illegal status of day-laboerers to defraud them of their pay.

Nationally, the highest rates of naturalizations were, predictably, among immigrants from Europe (53 percent of 4.3 millions); Asia (44.3 percent of 6.8 millions); and Canada (43.8 percent of one-half million). The lowest rates or naturalization nationally were among immigrants from Mexico (14.9 percent of 7.0 millions); Latin America (23.6 percent of 13.1 millions); Central America (23.7 percent of 1.8 millions); and South America (31.5 percent of 1.5 millions). The average rate of naturalization was among immigrants from Africa, 34.8 percent (of 600,000).

We note with mixed feelings that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has announced that it takes quite seriously the possibility that various factions -- ranging from religious fanatics to politically-motivated organizations -- will take advantage of Year 2000 disruptions to service, and promote a greater chaos. Also, on 1999 October 21, the special agent in charge of coordinating regional emergency response to terrorist threats, one Jim Rice, spoke to over 100 local law-enforcement and emergency officers, stating that the Washington area was the number-one target for terrorists worldwide, in particular for biological/chemical attacks due to the excellent level of preparedness against explosive attacks.

Widespread regional disruptions due to organized terroristic activities are considered fairly unlikely during Washington's Year 2000 celebrations to be held on the National Mall, although there may in fact be considerable local-element disruptions of an opportunistic nature. Please note that in downtown Washington, only the cops and the criminals are armed, as it is quite illegal to even own a handgun except under very unusual conditions and thus most residents are unable to legally defend themselves. In neighboring Maryland, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran has proposed highly restrictive laws leading to an eventual handgun ban throughout Maryland. Should extensive local Y2K disruptions develop, you may do well to head in the general direction of Virginia, where there are large numbers of solid citizens who not only possess weapons and the skill to use them both properly and judiciously, but are licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia under one of the nation's model "shall-issue" concealed-carry laws. I expect that Northern Virginia will remain orderly.

District Reformation

First off, Mayor Anthony A. Williams appointed:

Resigned, one Ulysses B. Hammond, a highranking executive at the DC Superior Court, as of 2000 February 18. Among other things, Hammond founded the Mid-Atlantic Association of Court Managers, was the first black American to administer a general jurisdiction and appellate court system in the US, started the nation's only court-system of in-house Spanish-language training for employees and officials, established drug-courts and domestic-violence projects, and mentoring for abused and neglected children brought into the judicial system, among other things. His has been a long and distinguished career, lately tarnished, however, by a GAO report citing a lack of leadership and poor overall budgeting, and also for stopping payment of lawyers appointed to indigent defendents by the courts.

REFORM

Mayor Williams has made a proposal to permit the firing, without the present requirement of a detailed explanation, of mid-level City management, for reasons of poor performance.

Initially, this seems like a superb idea, and under Mayor Williams, it may well be so.

Yet we are reminded that only recently have the general rank-and-file of the District Government come under any sort of Civil-Service-style protections whatsoever.

The former regime of Mayor Marion Barry and his pack of cronies and bottom-feeders was singularly empowered by two factors: the Mayor could appoint anyone to any position, with no checks and balances, and the Mayor could fire anyone at any time for any or for no reason. It was a system which was exquisitely amenable to extreme abuse. If you stepped on the figurative toes of "His Honor", or interfered with any protected project of one of the Mayor's cronies or bootlickers, your career could come to an astonishingly quick end. After the takeover by the DCFRA "Control Board", when Mayor Barry was being quickly isolated from power in order to forestall any attempts to cover tracks, one of the first things to happen was him being stripped of the power to hire and fire. Now Mayor Williams wants that power back. The question here is one of motivation, but the tools appear to be substantively similar, and where Mayor Williams may in fact want this power only for the best of reasons, without adequate checks-and-balances, this power may quickly corrupt, and reverse such gains as have been made in removing corruption from the governance of the District.

Moving right along, Mayor Williams -- who has been catching a mild-yet-unending blask of flak from all directions, for "not consulting people enough" -- has publically invited all residents to get involved, not just in their own neighborhood, but with all aspects of the entire city.

This is certainly a great idea, and does show a great deal of growth from a competent financial administrator; he's statring to become a politician, which is a sort of necessary evil. Yet a word of advice for the good Mayor...

For what it's worth, Mr Mayor, I was in fact one of your earliest supporters; there's some slight question over whether or not I might have been the first person to whisper into the ear of the person who eventually became your campaign manager, at a dc.story get-together at a pizza joint in Cleveland Park, "Well, maybe that nice Mr. Williams, remember he fired all of the deadweight? Well, he'd be a good mayor I bet... he's not running? Heh heh. Maybe you can draft him. If elected, I bet he'll serve!"

Since the election, many of the mayor's most-ardent supporters in the campaign have been a little miffed that they haven't been handed posh positions or won lucrative contracts, or even been greeted at events, and can't get past the secretaries; I myself am still a bit miffed over the stunning and heavy-handed dismissal of my kind offers of free Linux operating systems, and low-cost configuration and consulting.

Yet I have come to the conclusion, that for those who campaigned tirelessly for Mr. Williams, to somehow hope for some sort of reward other than good governance, is sort of failing to "get it" -- Marion Barry and his Cronies had to go, simply because Patronage as a root cause was devouring the city. To continue Patronage in the new administration would be terrible in terms of being any sort of Reform. But the thing is, it's Bad Politics of the good sort -- it's not going to make any friends. See Machiavelli's remarks about reform for more clues. However, it's better to practice the good, rather than the truly bad, version of Bad Politics.

So it appears that the Mayor is in the process of extending an olive branch and a welcoming hand -- just not a Patronage system welcoming-hand -- to not just his supporters but to the entire community at large, and asking people to not just be interested in padding their own pockets or making their own playground prettier: he's asking everyone to work together and cooperate.

District Revitalization and Rebuilding

Noted in passing, the Army Corp of Engineers is planning to restore some 42 acres of marshlands along the Anacostia River, in a prioject expected to last roughly a year. Marshlands, while certainly a breeding place for bugs, are also essential to the health of any river system, and additionally provide excellent spawning grounds to some of the most desirable game fish.

Also noted in passing, the "Q" Street Bridge across Rock Creek Park in NorthWest has been closed for repairs, which are expected to be completed by 2000 August.

Noted with some satisfaction, the plans to firm up plans for development around the Columbia Heights neighborhood and Metrorail station of the same name. Local citizens groups have protested all plans, and in particular protested the selection of a particular plan which would have gutted the historic Tivoli Theater. We'll report as things develop.

District Police

Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey ignited a storm of controversy amongst his officers, when he proposed a so-called "power shift". Part of the proposal, which included no new officers, would be a rotating shift for all non-midnight-shift officers, who would remain as a central core of "cogniscenti" of Washington's nighttime streets. The rotations would be 56 days on early dayshift, 56 days on evenings, and 28 days on the proposed 6PM to 2AM shift.

Being slotted onto a Monday through Friday shift during the daytime hours has long been considered a perquisite of promotion in the MPD. During the daytime, particularly in the business districts, Washington DC is unusually safe, due to the massive numbers of cops available. However, as Chief Ramsey notes, "[t]he bottom line is we are not allocated properly along crime lines." Critics have noted that an evenly-spread allocation of officers is not sensitive to the nature of crime in Washington, which tends to be more-concentrated in certain times and places than in others. In particular, criminals do tend to concentrate their activity in times and places where cops are known to be more rare; the number of incidents where people have -- for instance -- robbed or assaulted the police station is low. Chief Ramsey isn't exactly posting notices on where the officers on the "power shift" would be concentrated, but we can presume that he will be saturating high-crime areas, or areas where crime is generally of greater violence, regardless of frequency.

In general, officers were not pleased. In particular, those who had families were particularly annoyed. Noting that crime was in fact ("outside of the killings" to quote ex-Mayor Barry) down, it didn't make sense to many of the officers, but Chief Ramsey was quick to clarify that the ultimate goal wasn't simply lowered crime, but to make Washington DC the safest city in the nation.

Moving right along, due to a chronic leak in the underground storage tanks, and a sudden overspill into surrounding soils, and basement leakage of the same gasoline, the 1st District Police Station had to be evacuated and closed for several days.

Chief Ramsey -- stung by increasing pressures to disclose exactly what steps he had taken to reduce mismanagement and eliminate questionable practices within the Department, as disclosed in a $400,000 investigative report which was "shelved" for at least a year since it was completed -- gave a press conference where he reported that he had mandated a 40-hour in-service training program for all sworn personnel as well as semi-annual requalification for weapons certification. A few years ago, the MPD came under fire as "the gang that couldn't shoot straight" when some 40 percent of officers failed to qualify with their weapons. Ongoing investigations combine with the US Attorney's Office's best efforts to root out and fully prosecute malfeasance and lawbreaking on the part of officers-gone-bad. Since 1998 January, 16 officers have been convicted of criminal offenses.

Also, a judgement was returned in civil court against the MPD and four officers in the death of informant Terry Butera. He was beaten to death in a botched undercover investigation attempting to locate the assailant at the infamous Starbucks Triple Murder in Georgetown two years ago. The award was in the $98 millions.

District Schools

The District Schools are, as always, the subject of scrutiny, debate, and the occasional foul-up. The most recent foul-up was a computer glitch that required a large number of teachers and other staffers to report to the central office to pick up their paychecks, instead of having them mailed, or deposited directly to their accounts.

On the positive side, Superintendant of Schools Arlene Ackerman has announced that she will begin screenings of volunteers, including fingerprinting and background checks for criminal histories, and also for tuberculosis. While TB is not exactly rampant in the District, it is in fact increasing in prevalence, and almost all new cases are turning out to be the antibiotic-resistant strains originally developed along the US border by illegal-immigrant migrants workers due to their inability to comply with the very expensive and rigorous one-year regimen of medication. The District does have a very aggressive anti-TB campaign ongoing. We must applaud this decision, as it may in many instances assure that the volunteers aiding isntructors and students will be of cleaner histories, and better health, than the parents of students.

Ackerman has recently been awarded a raise to $165,000 annually, with an additional bonus for her strong performance last year, amounting to $25,000.

During the coming year, Ackerman and other educators will be attempting to develop a variety of programs dedicated to intensive remediation of spceific students. While some students are being retained to their previous grade level due to poor performance, others who show the greatest motivation, or who have made the graetest strides, will be promoted along with their classes, and be given special tutoring. We will continue to report as the situation develops.

We note in passing that even as changes occur in the District's traditional schools -- though scores on standardized tests still lag far below national average -- the District's "charter schools" have grown rapidly. 1 of 11 District students are now enrolled in a charter school, almost doubling last year's fall enrollment.

Again on the positive side, it appears that the court-appointed receivership of the "abysmal" Oak Hill youth correctional school has been overturned, and authority has been returned to Ackerman by the DC appelate courts. In any case, during the period that Ackerman and the receivers have had authority over Oak Hill, conditions have improved substantially. However, informed sources state that the place is far from being a model facility, and the years of decay will take years to repair.

Ackerman is also shaking up the Schools' transportation units, requiring some 70 administrative employees to reapply for their jobs. Also scheduled is a review of the $40-million contract with Laidlaw, which provides most bus-rivers and bus attendants. Laidlaw, the third contractor in a row, has done a fairly miserable job. Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous is reportedly touting the idea of developing a transportation department within the Schools itself, but we'd recommend that other problems with the schools should be addressed before even more complexity is added to the problem.

It should be noted here that there are issues concerning compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act in many of the schools, where there are either no, or insufficient, accomodations made for persons in wheelchairs in the restrooms.

District Health, Hunger, Homelessness, & Poverty Outreach

Housing is, nationwide, in short supply. This is particularly true of apartments, and nationally apartment rents are skyrocketing out of the reach of lower-income families. Some one-sixth of families, nationally, spend half or more than half of their income for rent. The less vacancies there are, the more people are willing to spend to have a roof, any roof, over their heads.

This is presently the case in the Washington Metro region, where a recent survey (by Delta Associates) of all local apartment complexes of more than 150 units revealed exactly 10 vacant apartments in the District, 435 in contiguous Maryland, and 293 in Northern Virginia. People have been searching for apartments here for as long as four months before finally acquiring one, and the rents are astounding. Unofficial bidding-wars have erupted, with people offering to pay $2000 per month for six months in advance for a semi-decent one-bedroom apartment in a decent building. There are only about 1200 new units expected to be completed inside the District in the next few years. The vacancy rate is the lowest it has been since WWII.

Moving right along, ongoing problems at Child and Family Services have threatened some 3128 foster-children in the District. Assorted computer problems, general bad management, and a nearly-irreversable slide into complete dysfunction have delayed some of the payments for those children's care, in some cases for months, and to the tune of many millions of dollars.

Despite being already in receivership at court-order, for previous failures and incompetence, services, in the form of support checks to fostering families and tuition, haven't been reliably delivered. The accusation has been made that upgrades to the agency have largely benefitted the agency itself, to the exclusion of children's welfares. We will spare any references to "trickle down effects" or other "voodoo economics" theories. The problem presently seems to be that there are a variety of District agencies which contribute funds to Child and Family Services, but the lines of authority seem to be extremely unclear -- after all, there is the DCFRA to contend with, although it may not in fact have absolute authority due to the court-ordered receivership; there is the same uncertainty of authority ostensibly descending from the Mayor; and in any case, with so many contributing agencies all of which have their own chains of commands and layers of bureaucracy -- it's a wonder anything gets done at all. But there's no wondering to be done. Nothing is getting done. children are at risk.

We note that on 1999 September 27, a few days after we posted some mind-numbing rants on this subject in the previous entry of this column, Mayor Williams announced a new initiative dubbed "Safe Passages". Thanks for reading, Mister Mayor, or whomever. Safe Passages was to greatly increase the level of attention given to the Future of Washington, also known as "children in the District". Among other elements, this would include a fairly massive "net fixing" effort; included were some provisions regarding random substance-abuse testing for city employees, and development of an information system collecting data from various agencies, and tracking youth essentially from cradle to grave.

We would suggest that this appears to be, to some degree -- and rather obliquely -- to be underway. But we would of course recommend that people not waste time trying to get the Grand Overview implimented from the top down; rather, we favor the multidisiplinary approach. We see the beginnings of Child Safety taking effect starting with the one place that almost all District children are spending the most time in direct contact with any aspect of the government; and Arlene Ackerman is already intending to impliment background and TB checks on volunteers, and we presume that this is already done for the teachers and paid aides. We also note, and not in passing, that there is already a multiagency tracking system, or at least the nascent core operating in profound disarray, in the multiagency system whereby Child and Family Services recieves its fundings from a wide variety of agencies. As after all, the concern of Child and Family is in fact children and families, we strongly urge that a very high level of development and whatever money is available be directed towards rapid resolution of interagency rivalries and system inefficiencies at the core of Child and Family -- duplication of effort in the various agencies should be handed over to one top-down, well-organized, and proactively managed core unit at the heart of Child and Family. That unit should have as its mission one major element: streamlining unification of all aspects of delivery of services to minors. If necessary, from this core one can grow a new agency, or rather a separate entity which will eventually become the New Child and Family Services. It needs to cooperate with Employment Services, Health Services, etc etc -- or perhaps a better paradigm is that functions of Health or Housing which deal directly with children's issues need to be reorganized from their present agencies, and placed under an omnibus Children's Authority, dealing with only one revenue stream leading in; finding the resources ought not to be a concern. Getting the resources delivered on target and in timely wise ought to be the sole concern.

Moving right along, SouthEastern Comunity Hospital has been in financial trouble for a long time. Already bailed out once this year by the city, the sole local hospital resource for the community east of the Anacostia is teetering at the edge of complete financial collapse. This private hospital is at least $70 millions in debt, and Mayor Williams has declined to permit city funding to prop up the facility. An Arizona corporation whih owns four other urban hospitals has offered $24 millions to take over SouthEastern Hospital. The bankruptcy court judge has said that a decisions must be reached by October 27.

Further developments in the general "hospital crisis" in the area included a strike of Howard University Hospital by the nurses, who said that understaffing was placing patients health at risk. But possibly the most far-reaching event was the departure, after four years, of Medicaid Director Paul Offner. Paul Offner was hired at the very beginning of the changes that have led to the ouster of former Mayor Marion Barry, in an attempt to rein in the District's Medicaid program, which was consuming the vast majority of the budget of the District's Health Department, with expenses growing by roughly 10 percent per year. Among Offner's revisions of then-current practice was an offloading of patients from private practice into managed-care programs. This has managed to eliminate the budgetary growth of the Medicaid program, and it is estimate that the expenditures will decrease by roughly $7 millions in 2000. At present, persons not covered by either private insurance or Medicaid are simply going to the non-HMO hospitals, and commonly have no medical resort other than that of waiting until the condition is life-threatening, and then going to the emergency room and then stiffing the hospital for the bill. Many of the city's public hospitals, such as DC General, are then compensated by the city, via an s bureucratically top-heavy system called the Public Benefits Corp. It was this phenomenon, combined with the private non-subsidized nation of SouthEastern Community Hospital, which brought that entity to bankruptcy court. Offner was at the center of the greatest menace to the present system, as he was spearheading the Mayor's initiative to expand Medicaid -- or to create a parallel system -- to cover another 80,000 of the city's poorest. Predictably, the City Council bowed to the monied interests of the established Hospital System and the Public Benefits Corp and shelved the idea. Still, Offner is credited with extending improved Mdicaid health-care access to a much larger number of people than were being served before. He tendered his resignation in the first week of October, stating an intent to do public-policy research at Georgetown University.


Happy Thanksgiving!
Busy Busy Busy
We're Talking Turkey Here, and It Ain't A Gobbler!

1999 November 28
Welcome back again to the show that never ends.

I must once again make my usual apologies for having let exactly a month go by between updates, you know that you wish this was an every-day update.

This month's reasons for delay include: the obligatory bad feng shui, good weather late into the season, raking leaves, and other generic fripperies and time-wasters. General laziness and failure to track the increasing pace of changes hereabouts, however minor, are also to blame.

Also, there were assorted major issues which had been moving towards major cusps in development, and I decided that I would wait until these forces moved to a point where I could grok them. Well, I am not "grokking in fullness" yet ("waiting is") but I have in fact gotten a good taste of the way things are going, sufficiently as to share them with you today.

The Region

The Greater Washington Metropolitan Area remains economically strong, with one of the lowest overall unemployment figures in the nation, with September's figures of 2.7 percent barely half of the national average unemployment figure of 4.1 percent. There is in fact a general shortage of workers in the region, hampering business growth to some degree. In the District proper, unemployment is a fairly high 6.8 percent, while in neighboring Montgomery County Maryland, the rate is an astoundingly low 1.9 percent, which is considered several points below full employment. According to my calculations, evidently only myself and about 12,000 other Montgomery County folks who want jobs don't have them. In Prince George's County Maryland, the rate is closer to that of the District, at 3.7 percent, while in Northern Virginia, the rate averages about 2 percent. However, during the period in question (the most recent accepted figures for some categories are from June) Job Growth was headed rapidly downwards. Yet inflation was steady at the national average. The region accounts for some 9 percent of the Gross domestic product for the United States.

Moving right along to bad news, the FBI reports that the region is the most likely US target for terrorism in general, and for millenial violence in particular.

Back to the good news, recent election victories in Virginia have placed various anti-sprawl candidates in line for accession to power. In Loudon County Virginia, one of the fastest-growing suburban/Edge-City regions in the nation, one Scott K. York was elected to the chair of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors. In nearby Prince William County, also growing rapidly, another slough of anti-growth officials were elected. Curbing sprawl will be difficult, as there are already tens of thousands of homes as-yet unbuilt, which are "in the pipeline", having been approved before the election. It's also to be noted that attempts to curb sprawl, if done too quickly or forcefully, can damage prospects for economic growth. It might be difficult to put a damper on business growth in Loudon, however; the region around the Dulles International Airport -- and all along the Dulles Access Toll Road -- is experiencing an unprecedented explosion of corporate headquarters construction and staffing. Under state-led programs and incentives, this part of Northern Virginia is starting to become the so-called "Silicon Valley East", in part due to the McLean Virginia Network Access Point or "MAE-East"; almost all US Internet backbones intersect here, as well as a few other places nationwide -- thus the area is a hotbed of internet startups, network data-mining operations, and other information technology firms. In particular, the area is becoming home to a variety of high-security/high-performance "server farms", where major corporations shell out the big bucks to have their mission-critical sites attended-to by full-time professionals.

However, "Slow Growth" advocacy is not at all restricted to the far-flung edge of suburban sprawl. As much as we are seeing the innermost brownfields and former housing projects being razed, reclaimed and rebuilt -- or at least poised for such restructuring -- we are seeing residents and their advocacy groups within the aging inner-suburbs (such as Alexandria VA or Silver Spring MD) waging resistance against the opposite of Sprawl, or Densification.

Increasingly, we're seeing redevelopment in the inner suburbs, generally occurring in the form of densifying development, with blocks of former low-density housing being bought up and converted to office space, apartments, and condominiums. Clearly, so long as births and immigration to the region are greater than required to replace deaths and emigration, there will be a tug-of-war between a need to expand the frontiers of sprawl, or alternatively to in-fill developed areas. However, one of the attractions of the entire region has been the interscattering of undeveloped properties providing greenspace alleviation of urban and suburban clutter. Also to be addressed is the issue of traffic -- despite the far-flung public transportation systems such as Metrorail, The Greater Washington Metropolitan Region already has a traffic congestion problem amongst the worst in the nation, with four of the twenty worst-congested freeway interchanges evenly-scattered around the Beltway.

Another concern which must be addressed is the constant "upscaling" of downtown non-commercial properties, where aging houses are being bought and razed, with new and larger properties replacing them. These larger properties often amount to more of an eyesore than did the former relics. There is generally little attempt made to fit into the neighborhood motif. Generally, there is no continuity of local space; rather the Corbusierian model of plopping down a dissociated chunk of large building is followed, disrupting local feng-shui and generally also reducing local greenspace. Neighborhoods which were formerly welcoming and ralatively open thus might become mere canyonlands of streets winding between imposing and discordant monolithic exteriors which may or may not enclose private courtyards of greenspaces almost guaranteed to be exclusive of, and potentially combative with, local ecologies and lifeforms.

Noted in passing, there is a continued call for a regional approach to water management. Even though the region did get a good soaking through this last hurricane season, still there is some water-deficit remaining regionally. We appear to be moving into a repeat of last-year's weather pattern, which was characterized by very low rainfall indeed, combined with above-average temperatures. At present, water-usage policies have been largely set by the utility companies until emergency conditions exist, with laggard and necessarily over-reactive actions then taken by local governmental auhority.

Also noted in passing, regionally, the preferred target of auto theft is the minivan.

Finally, we note that the Metrorail system has at long-last begun staying open to 1:00 AM on weekends, and if the program (widely cheered by late-night revelers and decried by taxicab drivers) is a success, it may begin staying open until 2:00 AM on weekends. Ideally, it would stay open until 3:15 AM, one half-hour after Last Call.

Regional Cultural Change

We note that the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area continues to be an extremely popular ultimate destination for immigrants. In the region, schools are challenged by some 160 distinct langauges and cultures, but it should be noted that in some jurisdictions, one language is prevalent, and a multifarous group of cultures all speaking one or another variant of that language: in the District, and in Alexandria, in the public schools, the majority of caucasian students speak Spanish as their first language.

In the city of Alexandria, enrollment is roughly as follows: non-Hispanic white, 22.6 percent; Hispanic, 24.7 percent; 46.5 percent black. In Arlington County: non-Hispanic white, 41 percent; Hispanic 34 percent. Alexandria has, it should be noted, only one Hispanic school-board members, of nine seats which will be up for election in May.

Noted in passing, both Montgomery County Maryland Public Schools and the District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA") have contracted with AT&T Language Line Services to assist those who do not speak English. The DCRA will thus permit public business to be conducted in languages other than English.

District Revitalization

One of three, or 35.6 percent, of children in the District is being raised in poverty, according to US Census figures. This is partly due to the fact that the District, which is entirely urban, is one of the most economically stratified cities in the nation, with a sizable population of very wealthy, and a very large population of rather poor people. There is in fact almost no population in the city which would be considered "middle class"; the middle class is dispersed throughout the suburbs. Nationally the overall poverty rate is 13.7 percent, still one of the highest rates among technologically-advanced nations. The District's overall poverty rate is 21.1 percent, ranking roughly equally with the four next most impoverished states.

Moving right along, long-time readers will recall that one of the final dysfunctions of the District government -- leading directly to the Congressional takeover of the city -- was that of unsafe water. Immediately before that there had been rapid action, short of a full city-wide takeover, against the dysfunctional Blue Plains Sewage Treatment plant. The plant had been brought up to compliance fairly rapidly, and having been assured that the facility was working properly, Congress and the government turned their backs on the facility, assuming that all which was in good order would remain in good order.

A stunning revelation was made, then in the form of a wake-up call in the 1999 November 5 Washington Post. Investigative reporter Eric Lipton called our attention to a facility with degraded wiring, faulty sensors, inadequate safety equipment, and almost no sane emergency-response protocols, and all of this surrounding 180 tons of liquified chlorine gas in easily accessible rairload tank-cars. I promptly posted an inflammatory article to the UseNet newsgroup dc.general and apparently I was not alone in my outrage and fear. By the next day, all major political forces in all surrounding jurisdictions had chimed in and were demanding someone's allegorical head on a figurative platter. Congressional hearings resulted, the Mayor and other officials sent out crews to work around the clock for the next day or two, and the plant is rapidly moving to switch over, from a liquid-chlorine model of decontamination, towards a sodium-hypochlorite model -- it's still not totally idiot-proof but is certainly less of a ticking time bomb in the heart of Washington.

A recent investigation concluded that while there was not an "immediate and catastrophic" risk, still there were a plethora of semi-major issues to be addressed before the situation could be considered to have been satisfactorily resolved.

Government Reform & Control Board Issues

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, initially criticized by many for being standoffish, and unresponsive to citizens seeking to speak with him to offer advice or give complaints, responded by creating the Neighborhood Action Citizens' Summit. The first of these was held 1999 November 20, at the Washington Convention Center. For direct coverage, please see this article I posted to dc.general, scooping the Post, or at least being the first to get coverage into public distribution.

In essence, this was a long-awaited opportunity for the citizens to get their opinions together. More importantly, this was a demonstration of a New District Government in action. The affair went off flawlessly. If the District Government could carry this off without a hitch, as they did, I would think that we need have few worries as to their competence, in either carrying off projects themselves or outsourcing those projects to people can can carry off those projects. Some 2600 people came, and saw, and talked each other's ears off, filled out some paperwork, voted their minds electronically, and submitted a variety of statements of concern, vision, expectations, and priorities.

Moving right along, Mayor had made a proposal to provide bonuses of as much as $1700.00 to some 6500 city unionized employees, as an incentive to get unions to accept some of the Mayor's proposals which would offer city workers the opportunity to compete for bonuses, or get their tasks outsourced to private industry if unable to compete successfully. The Mayor had thought to divert funds from a severance-pay allocation intended for fired District workers, drawing some fire from Congress over this diversion of funds earmarked for one thing to another purpose.

Moving right along, the DCFRA "Control Board", the Congressionally-mandated, Presidentially-appointed body overseeing the reform and revitalization of District government, is redefining its mission. While it could be disbanded after two more years of successfully balanced District budgets, it wisely wishes to leave a legacy which would endure far past the time the board members go their various ways back into private pursuits.

It is the collective opinion of the Board that while substantial gains have been made in eliminating deadwood and containing the mismanagement and financial hemmorhage which had bled the city to the edge of total collapse, there has been insufficient economic development, and we concur. Many of the District's fiscal gains recently have been due to Federal assumption of many debts and expenses as well as one-time infusions of raw capital resource, combined with an unprecedented prosperity in the national economy. This last cannot be expected to continue indefinitely, and when the looming easy-credit overextension crunch comes to a head, the District will need a very solid economy to weather the crisis.

The District's economy has never been exemplary, as it never had any major industrial base, with such industry as there was being primarily military (Navy Yards manufacture of munitions), and that is long-since departed. Thus, the District's economy drew mostly from Federal government wages delivered to via the employees to the local merchants; from there the money was dispersed through their employees, and so-forth. However, when the Johnson Administration began their ill-fated Welfare Society projects, the District's economy took a massive hit -- please see the "District Welfare" section below for more details. The tax base was further eroded with each successive year, leading to declining infrastructure all around, withthe final blow being the Federal government's unfunded mandate of a massive pension program for DC firefighters and police.

As schools declined, and in fact became hugely-costly public embarassments, more and more of the middle class fled to the suburbs, with the District losing some 87,000 since 1990. These middle-class families took a very large portion of the District's tax base with it. Then-Mayor Marion Barry, to give him good credit, did a massively successful job of enticing businesses to the downtown, with his famed "A Capital City" programs. However, as part and parcel of the enticement, such businesses as relocated to the District were given massive tax-breaks. The hope was that the District would increase its revenues through taxes on the wages of the employees of these businesses, which were expected to hire locally from within the District. However, as schools faltered and the middle-class emigrated, it became impossible to tax the wages of those employees, who now resided outside of District tax jurisdiction. The Control Board is expected to propose some remedy to this by beseeching Congress for the authority to tax all wages earned in the District, to be offset by a Federal tax-break for those same wages.

This would, outside of the matter of the decadent public schools, remove the last of the stumbling-blocks making the District inherently less attractive to the middle-class, as if they work in the District they'll be taxed the same as if they lived there, no matter where they actually reside.

Regarding the schools, the Control Board has been asked to delay the transfer of power back to the elected School Board until 2001, which otherwise would occur in June of this year. As the school board is in pretty poor array, we have to concur, and further we would ask that by the end of 2000, an in-depth management consultancy investigation should determine the progress made by School Superintendant Arlene Ackerman, and additionally detail suggestions for improvements.

While the Control Board finds that many of the services formerly poorly-provided by the City to the residents are in fact much improved, there are also areas that remain troubled, as evidenced by continued court-ordered receiverships. In some cases even under receivership there is litle improvement. Please see sections below dealing with Homelessness, Hunger, Poverty Outreach, and Mental Illness. Additionally, a recent Federal study of the DC Department of Corrections reamed the agency, cetegorizing most administrative procedures as antiquated and inadequate, and completely unresponsive in correcting its own deficiencies even when those deficiencies had been unquestionably recognized. Furthermore, audits of the DC Superior Court show continued irregularities, poor documentation, extremely lax financial systems, and evidence of systematic "shellgaming".

Mayor Williams has declared that he will appoint at least one official to delve into those agencies, and improve their function. We are of the opinion that it will take considerably more than one official. We are also of the opinion that the DCFRA Control Board should begin to work very closely with the Federal judges who ordered the receiverships, as well as with, if necessary, the US Department of Justice and the special prosecutors who deal with mismanagement within the District. It will probably all work out that after suitable investigations into the matter, that Congress will work out some plan whereby these "receivershipped" agencies will be placed under direct Federal control and funding, if not actual Federal management.

District Planning

Essential for economic development in the District will be a good plan. We welcome, then, the arrival of the Director of City Planning, formerly the planning and zoning director of Oakland California, one Andrew Altman.

The DCFRA Control Board has noted that economic development will commence fully only when there is a large base of taxpayers making a decent living in Washington. Building strong neighborhoods, then, will aid in attracting taxpaying residents. But how to build strong neighborhoods in the District, which has in many respects been sliding down a slippery slope since at least the mid-1980s? One success story is that of LeDroit Park, once a thriving little community at the turn of the century and before. Sited just downhill from Howard University, the old community had once been essentially abandoned, with the properties being acquired by Howard, and being scheduled to be razed. However, a consortium of parties decided to renovate and restore, assisted by a diverse range of community groups and activist organizations. Some 42 single-family homes will eventually be built at the site, which should attract taxpayer families. This will give an additional boost to the nearby U-Street Corridor, and other restoration activities northward along Georgia Avenue, including development into parks eastwards along the Columbia Road/Michigan Avenue axis eastwards towards North Capital Street should do a great deal to attract taxpayers and their disposable income.

Also very likely to attract the middle class taxpayer families to the District would be a plan by the National Capital Planning Commission which calls for major development of the potentials of the city's waterfront, a plan which is heartily endorsed by Planning Director Altman, who also supports the notion of developing attractive neighborhoods with vital economies.

At present, the District's lovely waterfront resources are pretty much walled away from use by the residents. This is not only bad feng-shui, but it's bad for business. If the riverfronts are made accessible to the public, more of the public will use it, doubtless spending more money at local shops on the way to and from their recreational activities. More importantly, Washington boasts a fairly astounding resource in the Potomac, which has had record fish populations in the last year or two, abounding with large healthy fish. The Anacostia is not so fortunate as it remains intensely polluted in parts and is considered generally unhealthy as a whole. But efforts towards remediation are ongoing and of major scale. In any case, Washington and its rivers need to engage in an embrace, instead of a separation. Astounding sums will have to be expended over the next three decades but by mid-century, Washington should be a city which celebrates the water as much as it does its land and its edifices.

Other tasks loom before Altman and any other city planners. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has noted that one of the region's main attractions, the famous Urban Forest of Washington, has been withering, from a variety of factors, but none so obvious as neglect by the city. The mayor has proposed to re-forest much of Washington, with increased attention given to removal of problem trees and replacement with more-appropriate varieties -- some 6000 trees'-worth.

Also troublesome is the lack of any routes for public input, especially as regards expansionist plans of several large institutions such as the multifarious colleges and universities in town.

One issue that will have to be resolved, and resolved quickly, will be the issue of how to develop the properties adjacent to the Columbia Heights Metro station. Whatever's done, let's get a move on, this development will unquestionably be the best possible economic boost to the entire area of the City, which has been mired in devastation for nearly ten years due to the Metrorail subsurface construction.

The Planning office has many obstacles to overcome. Such planning as has been done in recent years has been strictly ad-hoc, with very little resembling a consistent vision. Rather than integration of proposed development into existing urban space, again we have seen the Corbusierian model of designing very large projects as freestanding megaliths plopped down onto the landscape, with effects on the surround not dissimilar to that of a crashing meteorite. Space is disrupted, vistas destroyed, routes disrupted, and the energies of the former architectures and civic population scattered into directions which might be worse then useless. We can hope that the planners will keep in mind that that a city should be a continuum, and that they'll work towards the re-establishment of Washington as one continuum.

District Welfare

In the 1960s, under President Lyndon Baynes Johnson, a well-intentioned series of social initiatives were undertaken which effectively paved a road to Hell. Welfare was extended to the teeming poor of the nation -- with a set of provisos which effectively banned male participation in family lives. Vast housing projects were created to house the recipients of Welfare, concentrating recipients who were effectively given cash rewards for excessive procreation, with disincentives for any activity leading to career development. Crime flourished as a generation grew to adulthood with no positive male role-models, and the predominant female role-model was a shiftless mom giving repeated births to the children of men who were legally-required to be essentially strangers to their offspring. As crime flourished and the black working-poor class was essentially destroyed and reduced to a dependant clientele of a system which regarded them as little more than a captive voting-bloc assured of returning to office whoever promised to not change the system, businesses abandoned the neighborhoods, and those which remained basically tended to either sell liquor or low-value/high-cost prepared commodities to the captive communities, which were locked into a cycle of poverty, hopelessness, despair, and self-destruction.

Eventually the voters understood, and understood well -- in 1994, a landslide of Republican victories respondent to the so-called Contract With America, combined with an American President who well-understood that the voters had spoken with nearly one voice. The result was the "end of welfare as we know it". A five-year limit was enacted, and it is now exactly one half of the way through that period -- and the goverment of the District of Columbia, one of the cities most-affected by the destruction of the black working-poor and lower-middle classes, is last on the list of governments successfully moving people from Welfare-to-Work.

Earlier in the year, we covered mis-awarding of a contract to G & S Services, the subsequent investigation, and the firing of one A. Sue Brown, and the revocation of that set of contracts. But in the meantime, there hasn't been much progress.

Among other woes, there has been almost no discernable attempt made to judge actual success rates; while there are hard figures available to indicate the numbers shifted off of Welfare, and the numbers of those entering the system, there apparently is no system in place to discern how many left Welfare, and were forced to return -- nor does there appear to be any system in place to track the income levels, access to health insurance, housing accomodation, or child-welfare aspects of people leaving the Welfare system. In short, there are no systems in place to provide feedback to the system so that it can judge its own level of function.

DC's Welfare recipients have a lot of cards stacked against them. First, there is the general stigma of having received Welfare, which isn't so bad for people who got on it and then got off of it -- that latter is commendable rather than stigmatic. However, the stigma attached to being a second- or third-generation Welfare recipient is rather great. Employers are often reluctant to consider someone who is the cultural product of one of the most unsuccessful social experiments ever attempted. Secondly, Welfare recipients often are very poorly educated and also often have no cultural work-ethic precepts remaining; they'd always been "cared-for" and probably had no reasons to expect otherwise, and didn't much prepare for the eventualities of a life at work. Over one third of DC's adult Welfare recipients are known to read at less than a sixth-grade level.

We do wonder exactly what will become of those who are hardest to educate, train, and place, and to those who simply don't want to work. So we have written a bit of informed "science fiction", with the science in question being sociology and political-science. Please take a quick look at our little cautionary tale and please keep in mind that this was written not because we want to see this sort of thing, but rather because we dread that our morose vision will in fact be seen with the passage of time to be very near to prophecy.

We note in closing that the District is again falling into a pattern of failing to make effective use of rather massive amounts of Federal programds-and-grants monies already in hand, and thus risking future allocations.

District Rebuilding

First, we note with some satisfaction that the 900 block of "G" street NW has been reopened to traffic. During the 1970s, it had been closed to vehicular traffic, and converted into a pedestrian mall. This had a very deleterious effect on the region, as it turned first into a high crime zone to which police could not readily respond, and then when businesses whithered, it became a haunt for the homeless. Now re-opened and laned to accomodate local traffic, it will also permit passersby to more easily notice the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library, which many had avoided as the main entrance was on the scary pedestrian mall.

Let's move right along to the District's streets. Washington is presently the center of an exploding Information Technology interest, with a great number of InterNet-based firms, or firms which rely very heavily on the InterNet. One District-area company, StarPower (a consortium of the Potomac Electric Power Company "PEPCO", and internet access provider Erol's), is running cable and fiber into many downtown apartments and condominiums, and fiber is being laid all over town. This has ripped up a great many streets, particularly downtown.

Constant complaints by residents and commuters alike have urged Mayor Anthony A. Williams to address the issue, which he's done by issuing a 120-day deadline, from the time a "cut permit" is issued to the utility, to the time the surface is to be repaired to condition equivalent to that before the cut. Starpower intends to dig up literally every DC street to provide fiber and cabling. Mayor Williams had given a deadline of Thanksgiving for all Downtown work to be completed, but this hasn't actually occurred. Instead, due to a moratorium on street construction Downtown, no more work will be done, nor repairs completed, until 2000 January 3.

In any case, the Mayor and the Department of Public Works have issued a call for the outfits carving up the streets to work out a cooperative system so that the streets need be cut only once. Also, they're asked to coordinate with DPW so that DPW can do road repairs after the cables have been laid.

Noted in passing, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, or Metro) has graciously decided, once final details are worked out, to farm-out its large staff of veteran construction workers to the District's Department of Public Works, which has encountered an extreme shortage of available skilled labor for their road construction projects. the money is there, they just needed the crews.

District Safety

Noted in passing, various improvements have been made in the DC Fire Department. District Fire Chief Donald Edwards had been strongly criticised in recent weeks for declining safety in the Department, as well as for the number of out-of-service fire trucks. Replacement equipment has long been on-order and is scheduled to arive probably in early 2000 January. Also, he had been criticized for residing outside of the District, contrary to a policy of Mayor Anthony A. Williams. As of about 1999 December 1, he has tendered a resignation. More to come on this issue.

It must be noted with some amusement that a large number of parking tickets issued to District police cruisers caused them to be rendered unable to be issued inspection stickers. Officers responsible have been disciplined or fined, and the cars are now undergoing inspection. This was most likely not an actual safety issue, as Congress bought the MPD a new fleet a few years ago in the early days of the Control Board era.

Hunger, Homelessness, Poverty Outreach
& Mental Illness

The many pundits who concern themselves with touting the glories of the present American economic boom have studiously avoided the fly in the ointment of unction which they've plastered far and wide.

While stockholders are seeing the probability of record return on their investments, whilst dividends are paid, while millionaires are being generated by the InterNet IPO frenzy... still the poor are growing poorer while the middle class is being eroded from both ends. And even as the rich get richer, and become more numerous, the poor are not only getting poorer, but their ranks are swelling.

In Washington DC, there are more homeless now than at the height of the last recession.

Particularly worrisome is the fact that increasingly, the homeless of the District are homeless primarily because they are severely mentally ill.

(As an aside, even those homeless who have in fact secured any form of employment are often working at povery wages, which in the District's incredibly tight and expensive housing market cannot possibly provide housing. We are in dire need of affordable housing for the working poor.)

Nationwide, perhaps five percent of the population has one or another form of severe mental illness. The most crippling and least amenable to treatment are such afflictions as schizophrenia. While schizophrenia can be treated by drugs, with a nearly-miraculous reduction in symptoms, in general schizophrenics tend to experience lifelong difficulties in atttaining and retaining meaningful jobs. Despite the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act covers phychiatric conditions, still the stigma remains -- largely due to media overcoverage of extremely-rare violent-and-disturbed individuals -- and many employers are reluctant to knowingly hire schizophrenics, and insurers are likely to be unwilling to provide any coverage for persons who may incur catastrophic mental-healthcare expenses. This is particularly true in this era of managed health "care" for-profit organizations.

Many schizophrenics are reluctant to continue taking their medications, as many of the medications can have profound and permanent side effects such as "tardive dyskinesia" or "pseudo-parkinsonism". Newer medications are available which have few of those side-effects, but they are quite expensive, as they are not yet available in generic issue.

The District's mental-healthcare agency was places under a court-ordered receivership several years ago, but in a judicial hearing of 1999 October 28 before US District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, witness after witness described the difficulties of dealing with the mental health system. Figures were provided indicating that some 7200 severely mentally-ill persons in the District could not be provided with the modern effective and nearly harm-free medications. Apparently such persons had the option of taking the older medications, though apparently (and unsuprisingly) most refused to take them. Apparently nobody knows where the money budgeted for the District's mentally-ill goes. The Commission on Mental Health has a budget of some $208 millions, and not a lot of it seems to be getting to the mentally-ill. In fact, many of the District's mentally-ill may be actively avoiding the system. The District has so-called "involuntary outpatient committment" laws, which permits forcible injection of drugs by roving strike teams. Some local organizations dealing with the homeless have severed all relationships with the Commission on Mental Health, possibly because homeless persons have sought aid and have been forcibly medicated.

Among other failures of the system, increasingly mentally-ill persons are being apprehended by the police, generally on "quality of life" charges such as public urination, and are jailed in environments which are clearly not therapeutic. Please note that most mentally-ill persons are no more violent, per-capita, than are non-mentally-ill persons.

There are plans being touted which would at last decommission the decrepit (described professionally as "the worst of the worst") St. Elizabeth's Hospital, replacing it by roughly 2003 with a more collected and ultramodern facility in SouthEast DC. As for the disposal of the former facilities, once replaced with modern facilities with roughly 250 beds for long-term patients with criminal histories, it's anybody's guess. Some are Federally-owned, and some are historic landmarks and cannot be completely razed.

Noted in passing, Greater SouthEastern Hospital has been sold, once details are finalized, to "Doctors Community Healthcare Corp", of Scottsdale Arizona, and will continue to operate.

District Children and Schools

We note that at this late date, there are still major problems dealing with finance, administration and tracking in the District's schools and Foster Care payments. Not only are many District Schools teachers still having to chase down their paychecks at the central office instead of having them delivered to the schools where they work (and with irregularities in amount paid, prompting recent large-scale protests), but irrgularities in the Foster Care system are triple-paying some caregivers, while failing to pay other caregivers at all.

On a positive note, President Clinton did sign a bill which gives DC residents in-state tuition at any US college. Recruiters from various universities are reported to be flocking into town to attract local students to their campuses. This will have many beneficial effects, outside of merely giving locals a choice other than the moribund University of the District of Columbia ("UDC"). Another effect will be that possibly a majority of college-bound locals will attend outside of the District, providing exposure to mainstream American culture, instead of leaving them at home to fester and possibly run afoul of the law.

Noted In Passing

Noted in passing, groundbreaking ceremonies in late October started construction of the National Japanese-American Memorial at the intersections of New Jersey and Louisiana Avenues NW, between the US Capitol Building and Union Station.


Merry Christmas/Super Solstice!

1999 December 20
Welcome back again to the show that never ends -- Welcome to Washington.

First a note about this site.

As of 2000 January First, or as soon thereafter as the power comes back on, the entire site, including this page, will be moving the HTML 4.0 Transitional, which means that people may wish to upgrade their browsers to the latest issue so as to take advantage of cascading stylesheets. What you'll see is a slightly different look, but you can expect the same inimitable reporting.

As soon as is practicable, I'll also be migrating as much of the site as is possible to formats which will be readable over beltcom. For those of you who've forgotten what a beltcom is, you might spell it a "cellphone web-browser" or a PalmPilot Connected, but it is in fact pronounced "beltcom". As beltcom become more popular, and more capable, and as standards emerge for generation of content, I'll be migrating the site so that no matter where you are, you can still "get the skinny" on what's up in Washington.

As always, my apologies for the delay in getting the issue out in time. This month, I blame massive irruptions of weirdness: the obligatory bad feng-shui, a dead car battery, curious squirrels infesting my garage, the "nighttime maglight face-illuminator cult", a few suburban idiots who think they're the Trenchcoat Mafia, the inescapable anti-pagan fanatics armed with sharpened unclad optical fiber, and the sort of people who cover their storefront windows with all sorts of obstructive posters like a bunch of vampires trying to block out the daylight and not be obvious about it. Also, with absolutely no rational reason for it, I blame academic dishonesty, H-1B "professional visa abusers" and their international networks of on-campus enablers.

But enough with the blame, one with the show.

The Region

Regionally, local governments are rolling in wealth. Virginia expects to gather in some one billion dollars in revenues over the next two years, which are not already dedicated to specific projects. Maryland is predicting a budget surplus of nearly $300 millions, or about ten percent of the present operating budget. According to Maryland Budget Secretary Fred Puddester, as quoted by the Washington Post,

"This is an extraordinary opportunity to make investments in the future of the State... This is a remarkable time to be in government."

Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning has vowed to plow the surplus into the sort of expenditures which are one-shot, rather than "slushing" it into the general treasury where it could get overextended in expansion of recurrent-expenditure programs, which could become a net drain if the economy experiences a downturn. We heartily approve of such projects as a massive upgrade of road infrastructure and public schools facilities.

In Northern Virginia, there has been a proposal by the NoVa transportation planning board, which calls for a major expansion of the existing roads, and possibly a new bridge across the Potomac -- perhaps midway between the present American Legion Beltway Bridge at Cabin John, or perhaps crossing in the region of Seneca Maryland. Also proposed is a major extention of the MetroRail lines, by 20 miles or more, perhaps with branch lines, which would be an excellent idea. At present, Northern Virginia, especially fast-growing Loudon County, is served only by roads.

In the meantime, Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore urges everyone who can, to telecommute, to help ease the horrendous traffic, some of the worst in the nation, getting worse every day.

Much of the massive growth in Northern Virginia is fueled by the information technology ("IT") industry, with the area near the Dulles International Airport dubbed "Silicon Valley East". Much of the growth in Maryland is also IT-related, but more important in the future of the state is the nascent and burgeoning biotech industry in a corridor stretching from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda MD to near Germantown Maryland, between MD Route 355 (Wisconsin Avenue extended, Rockville Pike, and Frederick Road) and I-270. Increasingly, information technology, electronic miniaturization, and biotechnology will become interdependent and in fact will become essentially inextricably intertwined as we move to develop workable Nanotechnology, and its probable precursor, "organo-nanotech". Rapid and efficient direct-line communication and transportation between these two communities will be eminently desirable. As nanotechnology will be capable of literally remaking the world, it is essential that the United States be the first to develop useful nanotech, and we thus support any and all efforts to bridge the Potomac in the straightest line praticable between Rockville Maryland and Dulles Virginia.

Noted in passing: the courts have just dismissed a suit blocking the start of construction on the badly needed 12-lane span replacing the delapidated Woodrow Wilson Beltway Bridge across the Potomac River at the southernmost point of the District.

Maryland intends to also become a major IT center. A blue-ribbon working panel has sent a list of recommendations to Annapolis, one of which is to make Maryland "the digital State". Please see the e-Maryland -- Maryland Technology site. These plans are nothing less than visionary on the face of it, but I shall report any flaws that I might find with the proposal to the reader at a later date.

Maryland remains totally committed to eventually converting US 301 -- from its intersection with US 50 (New York Avenue NE extended to Annapolis MD, the Bay Bridge, and Eastern Shore points) in Bowie MD, south to the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge crossing the Potomac -- into a major limited-access superhighway. Construction is expected to begin within the next five-to-ten years, with completion expected around 2020.

Noted in passing: the Seventh-Day Adventist Church-owned Adventist HealthCare, Inc.'s Shady Grove Hospital in Montgomery County Maryland, along with associated nursing-homes, are falling under intense scrutiny from Maryland authorities. Sufficient deficiencies were found so as to have the State revoke the hospital's accreditation on 1999 November 15.

We wish to note with some dismay that the region's population continues to soar. In places such as Frederic and charles Counties in Maryland, schools are hard-pressed to find room for the students in overcrowded, yet still well-rated, facilities. Finding new teachers is extremely difficult. Also, in Fairfax County Virginia, there is talk of building new County Government facilities to serve the "south county", where there is rapid growth.

Noted in passing, the regional culture is changing rapidly. Please see this Washington Post article detailing how entire villages are moving here from South of the Border.

Also noted in passing, the Potomac River is scheduled for a dredging at shallow points south of the District, to open the Washingotn Channel to large shipping at all stages of flood or tide. It was last dredged in 1965.

The District
The Human Cost

In the middle of last month, Washington was rocked by yet another expose by the exceptional human-interest investigative reporter Katherine Boo, who had some years before exposed astounding conditions and lack of certification in District Day-Care Centers.

The District has long been under fire, especially from yours-truly, for simply not giving a damn about the downtrodden, the poor, and the disenfranchised, especially if they couldn't vote for then-Mayor Marion Barry. It's almost understandable if the City of Washington is perfectly willing to let the Homeless wander the streets, scavenging from trashcans, wandering the alleys stinking of filth, and freezing in winter asleep on the steam grates downtown near the Mall. It's almost understandable if the City of Washington wants to let severely mentally-ill people out of St. Elizabeth's Hospital drugged to the gills with a weeks-worth of food stamps in their pockets and no other provision for their well-being; after all it cuts costs and you can forcibly drug them when they run out of food stamps and come back for more. It should be noted that such improvements in homelessness outreach as have been made are almost entirely the work of charity and the especially useful efforts of the Downtown Business Improvement District, which has opened a center where the Homeless can take a shower and get cleaned up.

It is absolutely intolerable that abuse, neglect, mismanagement and outright cronyism, fraud and coverup resulted in the untimely deaths of over 100 mentally-retarded wards of the city over the last decade.

Please read Invisible Deaths: The Fatal Neglect of D.C.'s Retarded, by Katherine Boo.

And for what it's worth, Yer dern tootin' "heads rolled" over this. But you should really read about the cover-up.

On December 19, Mayor Anthony A. Williams named a former head of Wisconsin's Bureau of Developmental Disabilities, one Beverly Doherty, to head up the District's Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration. Doherty, will be paid $80,000 per year, and comes with excellent recommendations from her work in Wisconsin.

Governance & Revitalization
The Money's Here Now

Moving right along, the Mayor and the City Council have not been getting along all that well.

After trying several different approaches to secure promised bonuses totalling about $9.9 millions for workers who haven't -- for several years -- gotten the pay promised in assorted union negotiations with the city, the Mayor had one of his better ideas rejected by the City Council. He had planned to tap into a city's settlement from the tobacco companies. He had tried, earlier in the year, to secure funds for these bonuses by diversion from a fund earmarked in the budget for severance pay for fired workers, to have that blocked in Congress. This time Mayor Williams tried to divert it from the tobacco fund, and then repay that from next year's budget, or from the budget surplus. The Council was having none of it.

Mayor Williams is reported to have been quite upset and to have taken this personally. He took it rather more personally when the Council took it upon themselves to compare him to former mayor Marion Barry, under whose administration -- hampered among other things by out of control crime and staggering under an unfunded pension mandate -- the city was run into the ground, as much by creative accounting as by ineptitude and cronyism. The Council may be somewhat forgiven if they are anxious to prevent any first step on a slippery slope that leads back to Barry-Town. But eventually, the issue was resolved with a deal that includes $2.2 millions in money from the DCFRA Control Board's surplus, $3.5 millions in savings worked out in the city's budget, and $4.2 millions from the tobacco settlement. The deal is subject to congrssional approval.

Moving right along, the Council is making moves towards spinning off the Housing Authority -- presently in receivership under David Gilmore -- and making it an independent agency. It would have a nine-member Board with six members appointed by the Mayor, with three tenant members selected by election. Gilmore -- under whose competent and radical leadership the Public Housing Authority went from a laughable shambles to a national model -- is hoping to begin phasing out the receivership sometime in mid 2000.

Hired as the head of the Housing Authority is the New Orleans Housing Authority's director, Michael P. Kelly, 47.

Mayor Williams has named four deputy mayors for direct oversight of a wide variety of city agencies: