Category Archives: D.c.

The Ultimate Washington Intern Guide

In my six years in the greater Washington area, I’ve come across many interns. Some of them are very talented and will go on to do great things and be successful. Others are worth the minimum wage for interning, $0 an hour and actually cause more harm than benefit.

While I never interned anywhere, I’ve picked up some (not so) helpful “tips” along the way and figured I’d share them with you.

1.) All the best happy hours are in Anacostia.

Seriously, nobody goes out in Adam’s Morgan, Capitol Hill, or DuPont except tourists. You don’t want to mingle with them. Go to Anacostia and revel in the good atmosphere, historic neighborhoods, and amazing drink specials. Order anything with Mumbo sauce.

2.) Use the bus.

Nobody takes the train except tourists and uber commuters. Washington’s bus system is extensive and will get you where you need to go in no time flat. Best of all, they’re cheap.

3.) If you have to take a train, use your ID Badge for Free Rides.

If you work for a federal agency, simply wave your ID badge to the station manager and walk through the gate on the side. You won’t need to pay. Do the same thing as you exit. (If you’re at an NGO, business, or non-profit, wave your student ID.) If you see the doors closing, run like the wind because metro doors operate like elevator doors. Stick your arm, leg, or bag in there and they’ll pop open and you’re all set. Here, we also do not hold elevator doors since people constantly do this. If somebody says “hold the elevator” — don’t.

4.) Stand left, walk right.

This town has a lot of escalators. In Washington, we stand on the left and walk on the right. If you see anyone breaking this rule, kindly inform them “Stand left, walk right.”

5.) Flag Day is an official federal holiday in the District.

None of your bosses will tell you this, as it’s a time-honored Washington prank. Nobody goes to work and all the poor interns show up to locked buildings. Don’t fall for this. Stay home.

6.) Don’t see the fireworks.

People wait for hours for a four minute fireworks show. Federal law limits the show’s length to four minutes because of airspace regulations and also because it would harm the District’s Bald Eagle population. Stay home with friends, and tune into WETA or any local PBS station to watch the fireworks.

7.) The monuments are crowded at night.

Nobody sees the monuments during the day, because they all go at night. You should plan on going any weekend day in June, July, or August between the hours of 12 and 3pm. Nobody will be there and you can recreate the scene from Wedding Crashers at the Lincoln Monument and enjoy some champagne looking out at the empty reflecting pool. On really hot days, people bring pool toys and floaties to hang out in in the reflecting pool (free!).

8.) Always bring a jacket.

Weather varies wildly during the day and metro’s air conditioning is sporadic. Bring a fleece and wear it to work on the train. You won’t be sorry.

9.) Jumping up and down is the best way to hail a cab.

New cab regulations have established an official call sign for hailing cabs in the district. Since Washington is a friendly town where people often wave to each other, persons wishing to hail a cab should jump and down as if they’re doing jumping jacks and the nearest vacant cab must stop and pick them up. If they don’t pick you up, get their cab association name and number and report them to the nearest law enforcement. Also, ask about student intern discounts.

10.) The Smithsonian Museums Are Free on Fridays Between 5-7 — The Newseum is free After Five.

One great perk about being here for a few months is that there are enough Fridays to see every museum for free. Sadly, good museums cost, but lucky for you they’re open for free on Fridays between 5pm and 7pm. The Newseum costs every day, but is free after five. Consider taking the silver line train to Dulles to see the Udvar Hazy center. It has a space shuttle!

11.) Introduce yourself to every famous person you see.

You will see a lot of famous people walking around, say hello! Washington is friendly. Interrupt them and insist on a picture. They’ll be happy to oblige. Even if they’re on the phone.

12.) Street Sense has the best “going out guide” in town.

Nobody reads the Post or the Times for going out and weekend specials. The real deal can be found on the street’s corners where vendors sell Street Sense. If you really want to know what to do this weekend, buy a Street Sense. It’s worth the $2 and goes to a good cause.

13.) Thank police & law enforcement for their service.

D.C. is a town that respects the men and women in blue who keep us safe. Thank them every time you see them, and make it heart felt. Even if they’re in an unmarked car with D.C. tags that don’t say “Taxation Without Representation.” Look for the tinted windows, hidden flashers, and lots of antennas.

14.) Drinking is legal in public, and D.C. has no federal drinking age.

Since D.C. is a district and not a state, there are no drinking laws here since states — not the feds — set drinking laws. It’s just like London.

15.) Embassies are open to the public.

Most have cafeterias that highlight their native foods. But be careful, some embassies only accept their own currency or credit cards. Iran has an amazing lunch special.

16.) Heard of traffic cameras? Washington has pedestrian cameras.

If you walk when the sign says “Don’t Walk” you’ll get busted by the FBI facial recognition software in no time and a $275 ticket will be mailed to your home. Obey the law.

17.) Camping is legal outside of the White House.

Back in the day some hippies bent on stopping the progress of nuclear weapons started camping outside of the White House. Camping is perfectly kosher as long as they’re there. If you see the tent, feel free to plop down next to them and make it a weekend.

18.) The New Republic and Daily Caller have free happy hours every day after 5pm.

Seriously. They have bars in their offices and you should go meet Tucker Carlson or Chris Hughes. Make sure you pitch them a story when you’re there, as this is the only way they’ll accept freelance submissions.

Disclaimer: Follow these (not so) helpful “tips” at your own peril and do your own research before attempting to complete any of these tasks.

 

“Did you put some mustard on that?”

Excuse me?

Let me rewind the reel-o-life by about ten minutes. Editing a podcast, I had run out of alcoholic provisions so I ran to the local 7/11 to acquire libations. On the way, a middle-aged homeless guy stops me and asks: “Do you have any money for food? I am starving.”

I politely told him that I did not and don’t carry cash. (Typically, on 7/11 runs I’ll bring my ID and my android phone, which thanks to Google Wallet allows me to pay without a credit or debit card.) He looked at me, rolled his eyes and kept walking back towards the Huntington metro.

I felt bad that the guy didn’t believe me.

The homeless outside the Huntington metro and the local 7/11 are a well-known cadre, and while I’d seen this guy before, I hadn’t interacted with him. This wasn’t a good first introduction.

At 7/11, in addition to the beer, I also ordered a hot dog in the hopes that, if I saw him again, I’d give it to him. If not, since they’re delicious, I would eat it. As I neared the metro and my home, I looked up towards the station and saw the man rummaging through the garbage can.

I walked towards him. He had what looked like an uneaten side of chicken in a paper tray. I asked him if he was the same guy I spoke with a few minutes ago, just to test to see if he remembered me. He said yes.

I told him that, while I don’t normally carry cash, I remembered him and bought a hot dog in the hopes that I’d run into him on my way back. He opened the 7/11 container and asked “Did you put some mustard on that?” I was astonished, and slightly outraged. While I myself am picky, if I was “starving” I wouldn’t be anywhere as picky. I’d have given him slightly more credit if I put the works on it and he said he didn’t eat ketchup, or something. I can understand the lingering flavors of unwanted condiments, but if you’re “starving” that seems like a small cross to bear. But no condiments? Give me a break.

He tried giving me the hot dog back to me. I refused. I asked if he was a beer drinker, and he was. I gave him a beer for the road. He told me that when he got home, he’d “put some mustard on it [the hot dog].”

I guess “starving” is a relative term. Reminds me of when I was stopped in 2007 by a homeless guy outside of Union Station, asking for money for food. I had just come, as an underpaid Staff Assistant, with burgers and snack wraps from McDonald’s. I offered him his choice. “Naw, man, I don’t eat meat” was his response.

Every few years, you run into a homeless person who really instills distrust of the misfortunate. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to help, or offer a dude a beer now and again, but it should keep you on your toes that there are a lot of people who give those who have legitimately fallen on hard times a really bad rap and that some people need help from specialists, not handouts.bsig

Some Brief Thoughts on the Redskins Loss

  • This wasn’t a failure of defense so much it was a failure on offense. The Redskins more or less give up about 20 points a game, they gave up 24 last night, all of them unanswered for three consecutive quarters. That is an offensive problem, not a defensive problem.
  • The Redskins need somebody who can snap. RG III’s leg injury was because of a bad snap. Which turned into a fumble. Which meant points. Kirk Cousins didn’t perform terribly given the circumstances, but he, too, was given a terrible snap that cost precious yards.
  • This Dr. Andrews character sounds like he really covered his ass before tonight’s game. And no, I don’t believe the people who claim Dr. Andrews got under RG III’s skin and caused him to perform poorly. His 1Q performance was just fine, it was just the rest of the game where he sucked.
  • Maybe losing to the Browns in the second to last week might have kept RG III’s leg healthy for next year?
  • The “should RG III have played” debate will be annoying and last pretty much all off-season.

Until next year.

The Wonders of Privatization (Snow Edition)

contractorsBainbridge Township, Ohio

“Did they shovel our porch?” my sister asked my mother. “Yep.” replied mom. “Wow.”

Ohio, at least northern Ohio, is experiencing one of its worst storms in recent years. Last night, the meteorologists spoke only of dire outcomes. And we’re only supposed to get a foot of snow.

This is not the same Ohio I grew up in, where snow was quite prevalent and a few feet fazed only the carpetbaggers. Snowmageddon in D.C.? Nothing compared to the great snowstorm of 1996 where we got over four feet of snow.

In recent years, snowstorms have been more mild here.

A year ago, my parents were still residing in my childhood home on Eaton road in Shaker Heights. To its credit, Shaker Heights has a very good public works system relative to neighboring communities. Of course, that comes at a high cost.

Shaker recently raised its taxes to keep its very good public works system — snow and trash removal — despite state budget cuts in the form of aid to cities. They proposed, and the voters approved, tax increases.

My parents moved. One county over, in fact, to Bainbridge Township in Geauga County, where taxes are lower (both in income and property taxes.)

Despite telling us for years they would impound our childhood in storage and buy a loft downtown, they opted to move east to an even bigger home. It’s a nice home. But, it’s in the snow belt.

Shaker Heights, like all inner-ring suburbs, gets its share of snow. Chagrin Falls and the surrounding parts of Cuyahoga and Geauga Counties tend to get a lot more snow.

The meteorologists were a little off on the timing, but they seemed to be correct on the amount of snow. It’s coming down hard.

Interrupting our alcohol-fueled games of bananagram and Jenga was the sound of snow plows. Since most of Bainbridge is unincorporated, the communities (run by Home Owners Associations) hire contractors to do the work of government that cities, like Shaker, ordinarily perform.

Dad came out of his new office and notified us that Ali and I would have to move our cars if the contractors were to plow our driveway. It was more of a command.

This, of course, was foreign to us, since we grew up using the winter mouse murderer known as the snowblower.  (If you’ve never seen mouse blood and parts sprayed over snow, then you haven’t truly lived, my friend.)

In Shaker, the city plowed the streets. When I was younger, they had this strange device designed to plow sidewalks. But given the age of those sidewalks, it often resulted in destroyed slabs and damaged machines. I don’t know this for sure, but I am pretty sure they killed that program.

The plows were big, and all of their drivers were city employees. Presumably belonging to a union. While the plows afforded bigger economies of scale, the labor contracts probably negated those benefits, since public employees’ unions have CBAs with pensions and overtime.

Of course, you had to plow your own driveway, and we used our snowblower to clear the block’s sidewalks because that’s how we roll, but the streets were plowed well — better than in the city of Cleveland.

Out here, however, the contractors plow your roads, your driveway, your walkway, and your porch.

Ali’s car — the Lesboat I call it, since it’s a Subaru — has 4WD. It pulled out of the driveway with ease. The “Silver Fox”, my dad’s old Honda Accord  that I now drive– complete with FIGHT TERRORISM license plates –does not. It was quickly evident when trying to move it why he no longer wanted it.

It got stuck.

I tried, in vain, to back it out of the driveway, a slight decline. Our driveway in Shaker was about a one-story incline that required skill to navigate. This, one would think, would be easy. Not so much. Without 4WD, skill was required.

After a few tries, my dad put on his boots and came to my aid to help push my out. It didn’t work.

All of the drivers of the snowplows stopped and got out of their trucks to help push me out.

That’s service.

(My mom rewarded them with a sixer of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold.)

It got me thinking about city-provided services and private contractors.

While city-provided big trucks may be superior at providing the economies of scale necessary to plow big thoroughfares, the same could be done by a smaller amount of F-250’s, or bigger trucks. (Ohio isn’t big into privatization, while my current home of Virginia has embraced it, with VDOT using private contractors to plow main roads.) If allowed to compete, they’d presumably buy bigger trucks.

When the weather is tame, cities eat the cost of stagnant trucks and employees. Contractors have more flexibility. If it is particularly snowy, they can hire guys with trucks to join their team for the season, or lease trucks fitted with plows. That saves time and money, especially when competing for contracts.

And when it comes to providing service, they do a better job and more thorough job, at least when it comes to plowing snow.

In Bainbridge, however, my parents still have to take the trash out to the end of the 30 foot driveway. In Shaker, they employ little golf-like carts that pick it up from the back.

In the end, it’s all about trade offs, I guess. And my parents seem to value lower taxes and better snow service.bsig

 

 

 

 

A Very Reddit Engagement

Tonight, I helped my fellow redditor John by photographing his very thoughtful surprise engagement here in Washington.

In addition to sending him the raw photo files, I added some text and edited a few for him. I left him an Easter egg in two of them. (I sent two of each, one without the Easter egg because I’m a nice guy.)

Here’s one of them. See if you can find it:

John and Nirmita

Congratulations to John and Nirmita!

Hooray internets! John — who lived in D.C. for a short while — was able to secure a photographer (me) and a cellist via the internets.

Bomblecast #18

Thanks for dropping by for episode 18 of the bomblecast. If you like reddit and we’re not reddit friends, make sure you add me. I’m still figuring out this whole reddit thing, so shoot me a message with your user name and I’ll add you back.

Links from today’s episode:

Here’s episode 18 of the Bomblecast:

Fight on WMATA [with .gif!]

Saw this on reddit, figured I would share. A recent fight on the Green Line.

Here is a .gif of the girls whose phones were allegedly stolen going after the suspected perp, and they went for the pants. Smart move.

Here’s the story from MYFOXDC.

WASHINGTON –
Shocking video obtained by FOX 5 shows a wild, chaotic brawl on a Green Line Metro train that spilled over onto the platform at the Fort Totten station.

It was ostensibly shot by a member of the self-proclaimed “44th Street Crew” from Southeast D.C.

In the video, a coed group intimidates several young women passengers and allegedly takes two of their iPhones. It happened last Friday night after 11 p.m.

Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Ron Pavlik says his officers responded minutes after being notified by the Fort Totten station manager. He says four officers were already at the station overseeing a bus shuttle operation because of the weekend track work.

Pavlik says two juveniles were arrested. More arrests are expected and the investigation is ongoing

While not probably something I’d encourage all people to do, fighting back can sometimes get results.

Sign your Petition? I Have Some Questions…

Earlier today, my friend Ed from high school and I had a discussion on twitter about the gender of committee chairs of the U.S. Congress.

What appears to be a twitter bot sent us a tweet, asking us to sign a petition.

The title of the petition?

Increase Government Productivity

Apparently, this petition has three parts. Here they are, with my thoughts.

Part one: All members of the Senate and the House of Representatives will be limited to one four-year term. The term elections will be staggered every two years just as they are now. Upon the end of their term, they will be allowed to serve for one additional year in order to help the incoming Congress person with their transition into the job.

This would require significant amending of the Constitution, since it sets the terms of both bodies membership and the length of term. This plan basically calls for the elimination of a bicameral legislature as we know it and makes the bodies very similar. While it isn’t clear what “serving one additional year” would entail, it imposes term limits — which I generally think are a bad idea since voters have the opportunity to impose their own term limits on members every two years for House members and every six for Senators.

While the Senate has become more and more like the House (bad), it still serves a purpose in divided government. The changes you propose, in my opinion, undermine this. I don’t think this is a good idea.

Part two: Once elected, each member of Congress will enjoy the same benefits package that they have right now. The American public will be allowed to vote on changes to their current benefits package. Once they are no longer serving, all of their benefits will become unavailable to them. The purpose of this is to ensure that while they are serving their term in office, they will understand that they will be held accountable to the same laws and standards as the rest of us are once they are out of office. This means that their choices while in office will have consequences in their own lives once they are no longer serving. This will give them skin in the game.

I don’t want to delve into this again into detail, but I’ll just say in short that the “benefits” for our federally elected officials are generally no different than that of any federal employee. The petition later states that once they’re out of Congress, they don’t get any benefits. How do you rectify this with “will enjoy the same benefits package they have right now”? This involves Thrift Savings, Pensions, etc. Does the petition mean that their paid benefits are unavailable to them once they’re gone?

Since there is no mechanism for “The American public” to vote on things — like ballot initiatives at the State level — it is unclear on how you plan on accomplishing this objective. If the plan proposes allowing federal ballot initiatives, why even bother having a Congress?

Further, I don’t understand how denying lawmakers a pension they pay into for 10, 20, or even 30 years will “ensure … they will be held accountable to the same laws and standard as the rest of us.”

Part three: All income received outside of their compensation and benefits package provided by the United States government from any corporation, organization or private entity will be taxed at 100%. Income can be defined as money, items of value, services or anything that can be construed as a tool used to lobby for their vote on any particular issue. This taxation will exist for the five years that they are allowed to serve in Congress. Any value added income not reported will be punishable by one year in federal prison for each count and a dollar for dollar repayment of said value to the United States government.

So, I take this to mean that any money a potential future elected official invested in stock, 401(k)s, or pensions is money that is taxed at 100%? Since we don’t know the answer to whether their four years of federal pension / TSP investments are available to them, this is a bad deal. What about people who have family owned businesses? Who would want to do this?

It’s also worth knowing that there are already limitations that apply — though the limitations aren’t perfect.

I think your petition is designed to try and put a limit the stupidity of voters — who collectively elect the members who represent us. Why not work to better educate voters? Seems to me that’s a better solution.

TL:DR — Your petition leaves me with more questions than answers, so I won’t be signing it. 

 

Unintended Consequences: Helping the Homeless

I read this morning in today’s Washington Examiner that the city is considering efforts to help homeless youth, LGBT homeless youth specifically.

The District would conduct a census of its homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth every five years, under a plan the D.C. Council will consider Monday.

Now I am not exactly what you would call a gay rights crusader, but I feel equally bad for anyone who is homeless, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity. I also recognize that the complicated issue of homelessness can be made even more difficult by having a lifestyle that might not be accepted by people on the street.

Homeless youth all have different stories and circumstances why they are where they are. In the eyes of the law, though, all should be equal. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

I continued reading:

Along with the population study, the measure would also intensify the District’s efforts to serve LGBT youth by expanding the number of beds and units that are devoted to them in the city’s homeless shelters.

This makes me uneasy. Should the District of Columbia earmark beds and units for homeless people based on criteria dictated by the knuckleheads on city council? I don’t think so.

Here’s where some unintended consequences come in. Let’s say Mary Cheh gets her way, and earmarks a lot of beds for LGBT youth. What’s to stop straight youth from lying to get a bed? If one were homeless and it was freezing cold and they had to say they were gay or identified with another gender to get a good night’s sleep and a better shot at a spot in a shelter, you’d bet most people would do that.

I doubt the District is going to recreate the scene from “In the Army Now” where Pauly Shore is forced to kiss Andy Dick to prove he is gay to avoid being deployed to the middle east under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It probably is more like checking a box.

Further, if a fixed percentage of beds and units are devoted to LGBT youth, does that mean if an insufficient number of people who self-identify as LGBT are there, the beds are held until somebody does — thus leaving empty beds and displacing other homeless people? If not, and the beds are used by non-LGBT folks, when one comes in and self-identifies, does a person who is not lose their bed?

As I understand it, this just goes for the city-run shelters, not private ones. Will the city eventually start imposing these edicts on private shelters?

Just some questions.

I understand the sentiment behind wanting to help LGBT youth, but trying to do so specifically comes with trade-offs and unintended consequences.

A better policy would be to help all homeless folks equally, regardless of sexual orientation or identity. That’s just my opinion.

UPDATE: A reader shares this story with me.  And this one. Seems like this sort of thing is growing in DC.

The New Economic Patriotism?

“And as for the television’s, so-called, plan….why don’t you gimme a call when you wanna start taking things a little more seriously.” – The Joker, Batman (2008)

I just read President Obama’s job plans booklet, called “The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs & Middle-Class Security.

I suggest you should too. Even if you know who you’re voting for, nothing bad comes from reading the actual proposals of the candidates. Read Mitt Romney’s, Gary Johnson’s, that Green Party lady’s. Maybe even Virgil Goode’s — wait, nevermind — don’t read his. He’s not a serious candidate.

As a former Hill staffer for about half of a decade, I’m used to reading proposals. Over the years, I read President Obama’s budget, despite the fact that it never attracted more than a few votes over these past four years.

Mitt Romney has been talking about his plans for what seems like eight years now, and yes, within a standard deviation or two, these plans have changed.

But, until recently, most of us didn’t know what President Obama’s plan for a second term was. He had a little trouble finding it himself (it fell off of the podium). Alas, here it is. 11 pages in all its glory. Compare that to Mitt’s earlier 87 page plan, which is now distilled into 5-point plans.

In fairness, we’re at that point in the campaign where we’re speaking almost exclusively in distilled soundbytes rather than detailed policy.

However, this is the first real big “plan” President Obama — to summon my inner Joe Biden — is literally waving around.

Many of these proposals come from previous budgets and his dead-on-arrival “jobs” bill. Of those 11 pages, most of the page is taken up by catchy photos, four charts in all, and lots of dead space.

There aren’t many words.

Even fewer are plans for possible second term.

In small font over those 11 pages, roughly 4200 words are printed. Of those, 1076 or so — roughly 25.6% — are actual plans for a second term.

A few of the plans of them are double counted (just like Obamacare accounting!), and some of them are basically regurgitating talking points about why keeping the current policies in place is, according to Obama, the best plan.

There are 28 references to the middle class, which seems kind of low. There are some surprises, like that President Obama supports “clean coal.” Tell that to southeast Ohioans! I guess President Obama isn’t lying, since coal becomes much cleaner if your goal is to use less and less of it. Which seems to be an obvious goal if you look at UtilityMACT and the CSAPR regulations.

Also surprising was his doubling down on “positioning America to be the world’s leading manufacturer in high-tech batteries” since many millions of stimulus dollars have funded battery makers that have very little work to do, other than play cards. And those batteries? Not very green.

What’s surprising to me is that previous incumbents have re-tooled their plans to recognize when their current policies aren’t cutting it. Like Bill Clinton did.

Republicans have an uphill climb in re-taking the Senate (thanks, Todd Akin!), but they’re not very likely to lose the House. The White House is a different story.

Since House and Senate Republicans have not been keen to jump behind President Obama’s proposals, and he hasn’t re-tooled his proposals in such a way that stand a reasonable chance of success, what does this tell us about an Obama second term — where he won’t control both chambers of Congress?

Answer: That he’s out of new ideas, and unwilling to compromise.

I guess that’s “the new economic patriotism.” In ten days, we will see if that is enough.