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Posts Tagged ‘local interest’

The drop in postings was related to travel and career crises.  Now realizing that I should live on Bleeker Street instead of this swamp, expect a little more frequency again.

Other things I learned over the last several days:  College theatre is frequently terrible; there are now buses with free wireless; Washington Heights is actually pretty nice above 180th Street; the man on the A train knows that the end is near; Cornelia Street Cafe is excellent; my great-grandmother’s FBI file is 180 pages, including clandestine photos; there is a Bible museum on 61st and Broadway; those ubiquitous Bank of America ads are really annoying, though one of the girls is pretty cute.

Anyway, the thought for today is political appointments.  Not the Obama debate, not the late, unlamented burrowing Bushies.  Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President Kennedy and blameless inspiration for this tripe, officially wants Hillary’s Senate seat:

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Caroline Kennedy told New York’s governor on Monday that she’s interested in the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, making her the highest-profile candidate to express a desire for the job. Democratic Gov. David Paterson will choose the replacement.

Caroline jumped into the national spotlight in January 2008 when she described Senator Obama as “A President Like My Father.”   She had not endorsed a candidate since 1980, when she supported her uncle’s primary challenge to President Carter.  Caroline campaigned for Obama, and  eventually joined Attorney General nominee Eric Holder on the Senator’s Vice Presidential search committee.

In 2010, Governor Paterson’s interim pick will stand for election.  There are a number of state Democrats with strong legislative backgrounds, but none with Caroline’s fundraising power and name recognition.  She’s a rock star, and her uncle is pushing the idea of a new Senator Kennedy.  New Yorkers seem receptive, with Kennedy the Younger polling even with State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.  Cuomo, himself a legacy, has never been able to break through in electoral politics.  He blew a lead in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary.  Cuomo and Kennedy lead a crowded pack of Democrats including:

  • Catskills Representative Kirstin Gillibrand, a Blue Dog who stole a red district from the horrid John Sweeney;
  • East Side progressive Carolyn Maloney, former co-Chair of the House Caucus on Women’s Issues and recent N.O.W. endorsee;
  • Long Island County Executive Tom Suozzi, a moderate type who lost a quixotic gubernatorial primary bid to Eliot Spitzer by 60 points; and
  • African-American Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, previously the first black State Senator from a district outside of New York City, who has scored 57%, 62%, and 67% victories in three Mayoral campaigns.

Whoever gets the Democratic nomination may face a well-known Republican challenger (the Divine Miss Rudy denies it, but former Governer Pataki or Tsar Michael might be in if they don’t prefer to take on Paterson for Albany.)  Even with Schumer a lock for re-election, the state could have high-profile races for both the Senate and Governorship in 2010.

Paterson has kept quiet on his decision thus far, with an aide leaking that Caroline remains a long-shot.  The Governor noted Kennedy’s interest in the position, explaining “It’s not a campaign. She’d like at some point to sit down.”  Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman harshly dismissed her candidacy, claiming that she lacks qualifications “except that she has name recognition — but so does J. Lo.”  Republicans also seized on her short resume, with the generally absurdist Congressman Peter King arguing that “[no one] has a right to a seat.”

I like Caroline Kennedy.  She brought an impressive energy to the campaign trail.  But, mark it down for posterity, I’m completely with King on this one.  It isn’t necessarily Caroline’s fault.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault an Illinois-born Arkansan was basically handed this seat back in 2000.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault that the New York Congressional Delegation got in line like puppies, Moynihan, Rangel et. al. anointing their new best friend.  It isn’t Caroline’s fault that we haven’t had an upstate Senator since Charles freakin’ Goodell.  As good a carpetbagger as Hillary has been, her and Wall Street Chuck don’t much speak for anyone beyond Metro North range.  (Full disclosure: I grew up just past the last stop on the Hudson Line.)

This is a name and power seat, and I for one don’t want another candidate handed to the state pre-packaged and ready to go.  New York has an impressive backbench of Democratic Congressmen and Mayors, all of whom stepped aside for Hillary, all of whom will struggle badly if forced to face an incumbent Caroline and her money in 2010.  Although Cuomo is also a legacy, he has at least been active in state politics for a long time.  While Caroline’s fundraising work for New York schools has been commendable, there’s no reason she can’t run for her uncle’s seat down the line.  There’s no reason, other than the fact that she has a name and endorsed the right Presidential candidate, that she’s even being considered for this position.

Caroline Kennedy has every right to run for the spot, and I think she’d make a perfectly decent Senator.  However, appointing her now would all but ensure her election in 2010.  Whoever Paterson appoints becomes the obvious frontrunner, but her money and name recognition would make Kennedy particularly unchallengeable as an incumbent.

Paterson ought to appoint a caretaker Senator, someone with no interest in running in 2010.  (Either a House member planning to retire, or a low-profile member of the state government.)  Then Kennedy, Cuomo, and the rest of the gang can poke eachother with sticks two years from now in a competative race.  If Caroline really wants it, if she’s prepared to fight for the seat rather than simply accepting it, she’ll run; if her interest faded with the possibility of a long, competative process, we have plenty of qualified candidates waiting in the wings.

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Our local (American) football club has a uniquely unpleasant history.  Consider this image of an elderly black fan dressed in faux-native garb.  What makes it so incongruous is not simply the appropriation of someone else’s culture; it’s the fact that the Redskins are historically the most racist franchise in football against blacks too.  Owner George Preston Marshall, the franchise’s patriarch, brought the team to Washington in 1937.  NFL clubs began signing black players in 1946, but Marshall held out until 1962.  He rationalized being the last franchise to sign black players, long after all other teams had:  “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.”  He eventually backed down when JFK’s Secretary of the Interior threatened the lease on his stadium on grounds of discriminatory hiring practices.

This was only part of Marshall’s southern strategy.  When they came into the NFL, the Redskins were the league’s closest thing to a “southern” team.  (Franchises in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere would come later.)  Marshall aggressively marketed them to the south, and mostly drafted players from southern colleges.  His wife composed the lyrics to the team’s Dixie-lovin’ fight song “Hail to the Redskins.” Renowned sportswriter Shirley Povich once described Marshall as “one of pro football’s greatest innovators and its leading bigot.”

(In a possibly apocryphal story, head coach George Allen once called a play requested by Richard Nixon.  Allen’s son went on to greater fame.)

The Redskins obviously aren’t Marshall or Allen’s team anymore.  I like seeing them win as much as the next guy.  That said, the historical context still makes it a little incongruous seeing African-Americans old enough to have been raised under segregation all decked out in ‘Skins gear.

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…they just slink down into the dungeon.  With the Democratic House and Senate landslide, dozens of old Congresscritters are taking their pages and going home.  Sadly for them and their staff, they have to vacate their old offices as the new Members measure the drapes.  For the final month or two of their various criminal endeavors, departing Congressmen are housed in literally the Rayburn Building basement.  Mother Jones reports:

“In Capitol Hill official-speak, it’s called the “transitional suite.” In reality, the harshly lit warren of numbered cubicles in the bowels of the Rayburn House Office Building is the private purgatory of members of Congress who are no longer needed. Mere weeks after losing power, defeated or retiring US representatives move to this temporary basement setup from the comfortable office suites where they previously worked. Here they pass their final days in office, each soon-to-be ex-legislator and his or her staff issued a single work space measuring approximately 5’x5′.”

It resembles nothing so much as a bullpen full of temps doing data entry:

Welcome to Scranton, bitches

Welcome to Scranton, bitches

This basement are also serves as Ellis Island for incoming members, who shuffle through beforehand amidst their various orientations and welcoming briberies.  One staffer compared it to “Grand Central Station” when the newbies show up, and “Grand Central Station on Christmas Day” when the morose departures replace them. Former Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-France?) described the mood:

“You go from being in the middle of the nation’s business to suddenly the phone doesn’t ring,” he says. “There’s no mail that goes through. There’s nobody to respond to.”

Waiting by the phone?  Congressman Beauprez, you’ve just won the Soul Asylum segue contest!


Anyway, as Snoop Dogg says, “back to the lecture at hand:”  Mother Jones is a solid magazine, especially their photo essays on completely unexpected topics.  Where else will you find an interview feature with the woman who sews the Klan robes?  They also have galleries of Mexican superheroes, phone sex operators, and an unbelievable, heartbreaking series on children born in prison.  I recommend subscribing while you still have that Congressional mailing address.

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Reliable Source reports on The Bowtied Crusader:

Tony Williams was on K Street yesterday afternoon when a thief grabbed a package from a UPS hand truck. The deliveryman, standing a few yards away, looked up and yelled, “Hey!” but the man kept walking.

Enter the former mayor, who asked the delivery guy if he was being robbed. “I said to myself, ‘Do I just stand here? No, this can’t happen,’ ” Williams told us. “And I just started running.”

For those of you unfamiliar with Washington, this is former Mayor Anthony Williams:

Comin straight outta Yale

Comin straight outta Tenleytown

So Williams, bearer of the iconic, non-NOI bowtie, chases down the surprised perp:

Williams sprinted down K Street shouting, “Stop! Stop! You can’t do that!” With the deliveryman right behind him, he caught up to the culprit — who looked at the bow tie and stopped dead in his tracks.

“You used to be the mayor,” said the surprised thief, who simply handed over the box of computer parts.

Williams, with no police cars around, let the man go.  Asked what happened by a passerby, Mayor Bowtie stayed humble:

“I’m just fighting crime in the city.”

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“Somewhere in the universe, a gear in the machinery shifted.”

-Eldridge Cleaver on Rosa Parks

I haven’t Cleaver’s way with words, so I hope you’ll forgive my reducing history to one man’s personal narrative of 12 hours of chaos.  At best, this will fade into the millions of personal sketches that comprise the people’s history hiding behind any newspaper headline.

Two fucking years of this stuff boiled down to one day worth of drinking, voting, waiting, waiting, drinking, waiting, and drinking again.  We kicked off at Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal’s Washington leftist landmark.  (I met Shallal when he guest-lectured on business and peacebuilding; he’s fantastic.)  Busboys is a good place to spot Dennis Kucinich and his amazon wife.  Unfortunately, the place was packed like sardines in a Chongqing bus, (line around the block,) and eventually we left for more breathable climes.

Second option was a dead little Ethiopian restaurant. There must’ve been four people in the place when our group showed up and promptly piled bottle after bottle of honey wine on top of the prior stuff.  By the time they called Ohio for Hopey, everyone was shitfaced.  At this point I started texting WIN! to 18 people at a time, even while it was still technically too early to call the election.

Once Virginia came around, the entirety of DC hit the street.  Here’s photographic evidence, and the videotape.  (Sadly, we lack footage of Mireille shrieking “I LIVE IN BLUE VIRGINIA!” for the next four hours.)  Open bottle laws went the way of the permenant Republican majority, and people were passing champagne bottles (and what I believe was heroin) along the street.  I don’t think I’ve ever hugged so many strangers.

A few thousand people marched in the rain to the White House, a sort of traveling Woodstock complete with SDS signs.  Chants of “Yes we can!” and “U-S-A!” rang out in Lafayette Park as a revelers welcomed their new patriotic hero with the funny name.  Amidst the crowd I see a familiar-looking woman, and amidst the vodka I approach her.  “Excuse me, but you look exactly like Joan Baez.”  The woman puts her hands on her face, smiles, and replies: “I wonder why?”  And then, piss-drunk at 3 AM on election night at the White House, Joan Baez hugs me.

Last night was spectacular. This morning, Washington ran out of newspapers.  DCist reports that the Washington Post printed special editions to distribute Wednesday evening.  I got home to Eastern Market around 6:30, and there was a line around the block outside the CVS.  I was carrying a paper I had bought on the way to work this morning, and three people asked me where I got it — two yelled out of car windows, one offering to buy it.  (If anyone has a copy of the New York Times, name your price.)

Undoubtedly, you all have your own stories.  It’s a rare day when an editorial cartoonist brings tears to your eyes:

Having just hugged Joan Baez, I called my mother.  It was 3 AM and I’d spoken to her earlier, but I figured it was worth waking her up again.  My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  Working for Gene McCarthy at 14, she organized a walkout of her Rockaway middle school to protest the Vietnam War.  A few years later she considered joining the Weathermen.

My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  Her parents had campaigned for communist New York City councilman Ben Davis up in Harlem, and her aunt (who used to feed me Ricola cough drops as a kid) is the subject of a 91-page, largely-redacted FBI file. My mother was raised by people who inhabited a unique social and political culture, one which simply ceased to exist with the decline of the old left and the dissipation of working-class Jewish neighborhoods in New York.  My grandparents, raised in this Yiddish socialism, still see America more as the place they are than as the place they are of.

Stuck between this passing world epitomized by my great-uncle’s charcoal drawings of Paul Robeson, and the often flaky, psychoanalytic approach of the early 70s left, my mother developed a strongly class-based political consciousness devoid of both the Yiddishkeit of her parents and the hippie ethos of her generation.  Without either, she clung to a certain cultural Americanism, maybe best described as either Woody Guthrie’s red-dirt radicalism or the likely politics of the love-child of Mark Twain and Emma Goldman.

My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  She told me that she’s tried her whole life to ensure that my sister and I grow up feeling like America is our country, rather than just our home, because it took her so long to come to that conclusion.  She doesn’t fly a flag on her house, and I’m not sure she could sing you the national anthem, but that was me leading the drum line cadences in the Veterans’ Day parade and that was my sister camped out at the revolutionary war reenactment at Ticonderoga.

My mother is not a central-casting patriot.  She disdains the accoutrements of country, is uncomfortable praising a government simply because she lives under it, and tends to exist in a perpetual state of dissent.  Sadly, these traits are often mistaken for (when not deliberately spun as) indicators of ambivalence towards the fundamental promise and potential that this country has offered four generations of my family.  My mother has simply been waiting:  Waiting for a politician to talk straight with her; waiting for a politician to inspire people rather than just scaring them; waiting for a politician to reach out to people who are used to being ignored; waiting for a politician to, as John Edwards once said so well, “be patriotic about something other than war.”

So I called my mother at 3 in the morning last night to tell her that I just hugged Joan Baez in front of the White House a few hours after 64 million Americans handed a landslide victory to a half-Kenyan man, middle-named “Hussein,” raised by a single mother.  And to this my mother said the thing I’ll leave you with:

“I am amazed by your generation.”

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The Washington, DC Metro system is the only public transit system in America without a dedicated funding source.  Consequently, Metro goes ’round hat-in-hand trying to find contributions from the DC, Maryland, Virginia, and federal governments.  This please sir may I have another? approach has left the system short approximately $1 billion per year needed for the next decade to ensure upkeep and upgrades to the buses, trains, and rails.  The Senate recently ponied up $1.5 billion, and small fare hikes and increased ridership may add a bit to the pot.  (Though the latter obviously increases wear and tear as well)

So today, the Washington Post reports more bad news:

“Metro and 30 other transit agencies across the country may have to pay billions of dollars to large banks as years-old financing deals unravel, potentially hurting service for millions of bus and train riders, transit officials said yesterday.”

Huh? What happened?

“The problems are an unexpected consequence of the credit crisis, triggered indirectly by the collapse of American International Group, the insurance giant that U.S. taxpayers recently rescued from bankruptcy, officials said.

AIG had guaranteed deals between transit agencies and banks under which the banks made upfront payments that the agencies agreed to repay over time. But AIG’s financial problems have invalidated the company’s guarantees, putting the deals in technical default and allowing the banks to ask for all their money at once. “

In other words, the failure of AIG means that the banks can call in their loans whenever they damn well please; as in, tomorrow.  The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) could owe up to $400 million; one Belgian bank has already demanded payment of $43 million by next week.  They’re going begging to Treasury ASAP, but with other cities including Boston and Atlanta similarly desperate, there may not be much to go around.

The full, depressing situation is here.  Above all, the story reveals the dangerousness of the incredible interconnectivity of our modern economic system.

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(With all due apologies.)

Depending on your perspective, Washington, DC is either plagued or blessed by its ubiquitous squirrel community.  Today’s Post ran a fun little feature on the history of this national institution, tracing the local squirrel population back to its roots in the early 20th century.  Native to the area, the Eastern Gray Squirrel had been hunted out of the downtown area by the turn of the 20th century.  Around this time, hunting downtown was finally banned and simultaneously, as a Post headline read at the time, “Several Pairs of Interesting Little Animals [were] Set Free Among the Trees” in Lafayette Park and the U.S. Capitol.  A 1906 Congressional report found that the release of the squirrels “shows how much public interest is aroused in work of this kind.”  (1906 must’ve been a slow year for Congress.)  Included in this group were 18 black squirrels, native to Canada, who currently constitute approximately 20% of the DC squirrel population.

The whole piece, complete with reference to “Operation Squirrel Seduction,” is here.  Squirrels seem to engender strong negative feelings in people, for reasons I’ll never understand.  (It’s not as though they shit on you.)

As a friend of mine once said:  “The black and gray and red ones aren’t species variations; they’re gang colors.”

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