Thursday, June 19

DC FRIDAY

FENTY USED CITY FUNDS TO CAMPAIGN FOR OBAMA

Mark Segraves, WTOP District taxpayers paid more than $50,000 for 3 members of Mayor Adrian Fenty's executive staff, 10 police officers, and three detectives to travel with Fenty as he campaigned across the country for Senator Barack Obama over the past five months. According to records provided by the Mayor's office, Fenty went on six trips to places like Manchester, New Hampshire and Dallas, Texas to campaign for the presidential hopeful.

Fenty, who has made a point of not using a security detail when he is in the District, had a two or three member detail on each of the six trips, for a total of 496 police man-hours. According to records from the District's Chief Financial Officer, the security detail spent more than $17,000 on travel expenses, and totaled 288 hours of overtime at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $32,000. . .

While it is not unusual or illegal for elected officials to travel on behalf of other politicians, or for their staff to accompany them, it is unusual for staff to claim the days as workdays. A spokesperson for Virginia Governor Tim Kaine says Kaine took several trips for Obama, but there was no cost to Virginia taxpayers because Obama paid for a charter plane, and staff took vacation days when they accompanied the Governor. As for the security detail, Kaine's spokesperson, Gordon Hickey says, "The Governor has around the clock protection wherever he is, so there is no added cost for taxpayers when he travels."

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley made several trips for Senator Hillary Clinton; his spokesperson says that all expenses were paid for with campaign dollars.

BEING DEMONIZED FOR OTHERS' INCOMPETENCE AND CRIME

NAJI MUJAHID, BLACK AUGUST PLANNING ORGANIZATION, CITY COUNCIL TESTIMONY - My name is Naji Mujahid, I'm 27 years old, I was born in the district and I've lived here all of my adult life; I spent most of my childhood in Prince George's County, MD. I do not live in Trinidad, I live in Ward 7, in the Marshall Heights area. . .

Crime in our community should absolutely be of [our] foremost concern and its something that those of us that are most affected by it should be dedicating ourselves to minimizing and eliminating. When we examine the statistics of the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of our residents, it becomes clear the we have [either] an innate inclination towards sociopathic behavior or there is a systematic flaw in the administration of our community affairs.

The first that any intelligent person does when confronted with a problem is to critically analyze the cause of that problem. And when we look closely at our community I believe that what we witness is not a haven for a degenerate species of human beings, but we see reflections of ourselves reacting to the criminally and sadistically poor social conditions of their environment. The poor education, the poor economics, the lack of opportunities, the broken homes, etc., which is the result of either a protracted plan to keep us as a dependent, subservient, and easily exploitable under-class or of endemic malfeasant and contemptuous neglect by our elected officials and those in league with them. In other words, we refuse to be demonized for the incompetence and criminality of others.

One example I'd like to point out is the existence of drugs in our communities as a catalyst for crime. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a suffering people are likely to self-medicate with substances that make their conditions easier to deal with (I could just as easily be talking about Prozac as crack/cocaine) and when those substances can be provided with the incentive of monetary gain for the provider (I could just as easily be talking about Merck Pharmaceuticals as your local pusher man), particularly when economic opportunities are scarce. . . the outcome of those given dynamics should not be surprising; crime follows.

What should be kept in mind and considered is where the drugs in our community came from. And it has been documented by Journalist Gary Webb in his expose 'Dark Alliance,' by former DEA agent Celerino Costillo III in his book 'Powderburns', and by Professor Alfred McCoy in his book 'The Politics of Heroin', that there has been undeniable government complicity and participation in the global and local drug trade; [facilitating] the influx of illegal drugs into our communities.

As the police are deployed into our communities to seek and destroy crime - crime as defined by outsiders who stand to benefit from our arrest and incarceration - they themselves become criminals as they follow questionable orders without question. They become the antagonists in this tragedy. With their claims of protecting our well being, they become similar to an abusive spouse with a literary gift for writing love sonnets. The police are the government's answer for their inability to provide our community with the establishment of justice, the insurance of domestic tranquility, the provision of a common defense, the promotion of the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty. Once again, we refuse to be demonized for the incompetence and criminality of others.

Last year a 14 year-old was shot to death by the police with impunity of the law. Over the past two years, surveillance cameras have sprung up across our communities. This year the police initiated a door-to-door search program and resolved to arm the department with high-powered military assault rifles, AR-15s (at a time when the government is fighting against the right of law abiding citizens to arm themselves). And we are joined here today to discuss the new initiative of check points being used in our communities. This is clearly the development of a police state designed under the guise of ensuring public safety and securing our communities from the criminal element in our midst, while ignoring the real criminal element outside of our midst. When will this stop? At what point have the police crossed the line from security to intrusion [. . . .to occupation]? This is unacceptable and I repeat for a final time that we refuse to be demonized for the incompetence and criminality of others. Thank you for your indulgence.

NICKLES AND LANIER TRY TO BLOW OFF THE CITY COUNCIL

GARY IMHOFF & DOROTHY BRIZILL, DC WATCH In the early days of Home Rule government in the District of Columbia, for all its faults (and there were many, many faults), the city government was dedicated not only to protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of its citizens, but also to expanding those rights. We had administrations and city councils that looked on the Bill of Rights as the foundation of government, not as an impediment to government. Today, in sharp contrast, we have a mayor, attorney general, and police chief dedicated to looking for loopholes in the Bill of Rights, seeking ways to erode our civil liberties and civil rights in the name of "safety" and government effectiveness. . .

When Acting Attorney General Nickles and MPD Chief Lanier responded to [city council questions about the Trinidad checkpoints] , and both their answers and their demeanor were astonishing. Lanier at least kept up a mask of affability until the last half hour, when her impatience and sharpness began to show. But Nickles came with an arrogant, quarrelsome, nasty, hostile, and uncooperative attitude from the beginning. The government witnesses showed their intention to be uncooperative at the start, when they came with no prepared testimony, something that troubled even those committee members who wanted to work with the administration by striking a compromise between honoring constitutional rights and violating them. Nickles displayed his attitude of being above, not just the Constitution but even the rules of the committee, by announcing that he wouldn't be bound by the clock and the time limits set for council members' questioning of witnesses. It was a relief when Councilmember Mary Cheh . . . who teaches constitutional law at American University, took Nickles to school, and she was as good as John Houseman's Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase, toying with a hapless, incompetent, and ill-prepared Law One student. She exposed the shallowness and vacuity of Nickles' legal analysis, and she did so without the personal attacks and ill temper that she has sometimes used against witnesses with whom she disagreed. It was masterful.

Chief Lanier announced for the first time that the stated reasons for instituting a blockade of the Trinidad neighborhood were not the true reasons, or at least not the major reason, behind the cordon. There was another, more important, reason, she told the committee, but she could not reveal what that reason was. If the committee members knew what she knew, she was confident that they would agree with her actions, but she couldn't tell them what she knew. She had, she said, specific information that there were specific individuals who were going to enter that neighborhood to commit a particular crime. Preventing that crime was the real reason for quarantining Trinidad. No lesser measures - tracking those specific individuals, warning the intended victims of the crime, etc. - would have sufficed to prevent the crime. Only a full-scale lock down of the neighborhood and lockout of other citizens was enough. But council members would have to take her word for it, because she couldn't tell them anything more. Prior to that hearing, the administration had already put out two conflicting stories about the origin of and purpose for the blockade. The first story was that it was a reaction to the violence in Trinidad over the weekend of May 31 and June 1; the second was that the administration had been planning the blockage for two months before that time. Now we have the third story, that the blockade was to thwart a particular planned crime; were the police aware of that planned crime more than two months ago? If you'll buy this latest change in the administration's story this late in the day, we'll forward you some E-mails from Nigeria that will let you in on a scheme to get rich overnight.

COULD THE WASHINGTON POST POINT TO THE SECTION OF THE CONSTITUTION THAT SAYS THE BILL OF RIGHTS MUST BE BALANCED BY WHATEVER IT THINKS IS MORE IMPORTANT?

Matt Welch, Reason If ever you wanted to remind yourself of the deceptively simple logic that leads to open assaults on protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, let me direct you to today's Washington Post editorial on the probably unconstitutional security checkpoints being imposed on residents of violence-scarred neighborhoods in our nation's capitol. "Why," the faux-anguished subhed reads, "are there more protests about a police crackdown in Northeast than about the murders that caused it?" Some excerpts:

"Critics of the District's decision to use police checkpoints have reason to question the practice's constitutionality and wonder about its long-term effectiveness. What's wrong is to play down the violence plaguing these troubled neighborhoods. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier are correct to see the crime problem in Northeast as a true public emergency that warrants new thinking and bold action. . .

"Any political judgment must balance the intrusiveness of the checkpoints against the seriousness of the problem they are designed to address. . .

"There was more of an outcry over police efforts to stop the killings than over the killings themselves. And therein lies the real outrage.". . .

The Post's authoritarian illogic is almost a classic of the form, down to the pulled-straight-from-the-arse "balance" between a measure's constitutionality and the "seriousness of the problem" that it's trying to address (a formula that, if applied to something as "serious" as war, would surely eviscerate the country's basic legal framework). Unfortunately for Fred Hiatt's posse, but fortunately for the rest of us, we "must" balance no such thing at all: Either a policy is constitutional, or it ain't, no matter how publicly you may weep for the victims of crime. That's one very good reason why we still have some semblance of constitutional protections left at all. No thanks to the last two presidents, and no thanks to the Washington Post.

CHIEF LANIER BREAKS THE LAW AGAIN

Torture of prisoners during a demonstration, illegal checkpoints and now this . . .

Del Quentin Wilber Washington Post A federal judge has ruled that dozens of protesters were arrested unlawfully by D.C. police during disturbances the night of President Bush's second inauguration. Judge Ellen S. Huvelle determined that about 70 protesters, who were boxed into an Adams Morgan alley after a chaotic impromptu street demonstration, were not given a chance to disperse before police arrested them. The ruling clears the way for a trial to determine how much they can get in damages.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who led the department's special operations division at the time, ordered the mass arrests after some demonstrators broke windows, threw rocks, damaged cars and spray-painted buildings. The judge ruled that police arrested the plaintiffs without providing evidence tying them to the actions. "A peaceful political protester may not be punished for failing to cease his protected activity simply because others associated with the assembly may have committed illegal acts," Huvelle wrote.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the D.C chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. The ruling is the latest legal setback for the D.C. government over police problems tied to how they handle protesters and demonstrations. The government has paid more than $1 million to settle lawsuits alleging improper police conduct dating to Bush's first inauguration in 2001.

BARRY WANTS CHURCHES EXEMPT FROM HISTORIC PRESERVATION ACT

Poor as the preservation board's decision was on the brutalist Christian Science church, exempting churches from the law has a variety of serious consequences

RICHARD LAYMAN - The law proposing an exemption for churches from the DC Historic Preservation Act has reared its ugly head again. Churches shouldn't get a pass from building regulations. Otherwise we will get more demolition by neglect and more parking lots abutting churches in residential zones.

Frame houses, constructed in 1876, were allowed to rot by the Pilgrim Baptist Church, to be replaced by a parking lot. . . . Wouldn't you rather have two houses on these lots, paying property taxes, having residents paying income taxes, adding eyes to the street, having residents engaged in community affairs, rather than a hole in the street fabric getting used maybe three hours per week?

There are many similar examples across the city, the recent battles over the Shiloh Baptist Church's ownership of a slew of neglected properties in the Shaw neighborhood being one example.

Ironically, DC's historic preservation law was crafted and passed in response to a church's demolition of properties in the Capitol Hill Historic District--which at that time was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but preservationists learned the hard lesson that listing on the National Register only protects buildings from federal undertakings.

On June 10th, Councilmember Marion Barry introduced the "Religious Freedom And Historic Preservation Conformance Amendments Act Of 2008". If there is a religious burden imposed by DC building regulations, something which I do not see created by either the preservation laws or building regulations more generally, religious institutions are afforded protections under federal law, specifically the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. However, "religious burden" is not posed by not allowing a church to tear down a steeple, or to create parking lots from what were once houses.

Wash Post Blog - A District government attorney won a temporary restraining order in Superior Court today against his firing by Interim D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles. The attorney, who is 60 years old, argued before Judge Ronald Wertheim that his firing was based at least in part on his age and that it violated personnel rules. . . . Wertheim said the attorney cannot be fired before June 30 and will hold another hearing on the matter

Lou Chibbaro Jr, Washington Blade Long-time residents and business owners in the Dupont Circle area looked on with interest last month when members of the highly influential Dupont Circle Citizens Association elected a gay activist and former Capitol Hill staffer as the group's new president. Owners and patrons of gay bars and restaurants in Dupont Circle, especially those located along the popular business strip on 17th Street, N.W., have often joined non-gay businesses in accusing the DCCA of being hostile to nightlife activity and prone to promoting excessive restrictions on how the businesses operate. "We don't want a Bourbon Street, but we want a vibrant street," said Joel Lawson, who has vowed to work hard to build bridges between residents and business owners. . . Lawson, 42, said he hopes to improve relations between the businesses and residents, saying he's convinced that the majority of the residents welcome the businesses and enjoy patronizing the sidewalk cafes and restaurants for which Dupont Circle has become known.

Arthur Delaney, Hill Voice The District is studying the feasibility of various improvements to the way [Union Station] accommodate buses, cars and trains. Improvement is necessary, the city says. . . Key aspects of the project include parking for tour buses, integration of a streetcar service to H Street NE and a pedestrian tunnel from Union Station to 1st Street NE. . . . The District expects to finish the study by October.

Ruth Samuelson, City Paper Mount Pleasant is a place that has enthusiastically embraced going solar. More than 200 people in some 70 households joined a co-op that has worked through most of the red tape and the science to figure out how to get beyond the inconvenient truth of heating and lighting their homes with electricity alone. They've worked with their councilmember, they've signed up a volunteer accountant and pro bono lawyers from two corporate law firms. Everything is in place to make this happen-except the solar panels. After two years in existence, the group has yet to make a single installation. . . In late 2007, Pepco officials met with co-op leaders and seemed supportive. They even talked about financing the group's installation costs, says Schoolman, who testified to this effect before a city council committee in January.

The company's real attitude became clear roughly a month later. On Feb. 22, the Washington Business Journal published an article about the solar co-op and a council bill, introduced in late 2007 by Ward 3's Mary Cheh, to create an independent utility that would manage sustainable energy usage in D.C. Under the bill, Pepco would be strongly encouraged to buy solar-generated electricity from projects like the Mount Pleasant co-op-further reimbursing members for the high cost of their solar units. If the bill were to pass, "our ability to do things with Mount Pleasant Solar and other entities would be limited," Steve Sunderhauf, manager of program design for Pepco, states in the article. "We wouldn't recover [costs] on any of the initiatives on our end. . . Now, both the co-op and the utility are looking toward the council bill to decide the future of alternative energy in the city. The co-op needs the legislation to pass so members can pay for their solar systems.

Wash Times Enrollment declines in the District's public schools could lead to job losses for elementary school teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and other workers under a preliminary budget submitted by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. While the budget is not final, some schools could see a significant loss of full-time teachers if it is adopted in its current form. The spending plan would force schools to rely more on part-time teachers. . . "Some of these cuts are draconian, and I hope that the chancellor's office works with communities to be more flexible," said Mary Levy, a lawyer who evaluates the school budget every year for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs.

Some 15,000 homes in the region have gone into foreclosure in the year that ended in February.

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