Quality books on Capitol Hill

Riverby Books: high quality used libros on Capitol Hill.

I hope and pray congresspersons regularly browse Riverby Books.

It shouldn’t be hard. The store is four blocks east of the Capitol. And it’s open everyday, 10-6.

Unfortunately I doubt it, knowing how inept our all-important Congress tends to be.

The collection – no surprise – includes many political titles. But the store houses all manner of books and includes many Washington-focused titles.

Get Smart, Check It Out!


Amtrak Surprise

18Jan09

Amtrak's Texas Eagle, on the right, and a Trinity Railway Express train, on the left, in downtown Fort Worth.

Amtrak's Texas Eagle, on the right, and a Trinity Railway Express train, on the left, in downtown Fort Worth.

A fine side benefit of the crappy economy: Amtrak trains in the middle of the country are running on time!

Sometimes, at least.

That was the fortunate case for me last week on the Texas Eagle from Dallas to Austin.

In the first half of 2008, the Texas Eagle was the worst Amtrak line, running on time only 14.3 percent of the time. It was on time zero times in July.

A quick glance of the most recent Texas Eagle trains shows more are running on time than not.

The main reason for the delays is that Amtrak does not own the rail lines, outside of the Northeast. Hence, passenger trains must yield to freight traffic.

But the current recession has reduced freight traffic, making for more on-time trains.

This is all fine and dandy, but what happens when the economy recovers?

Unfortunately,  the House’s latest version of the massive stimulus plan seriously neglects passenger rail, allotting it only $1.1 billion.

A sad affair.

Please, Vice President-Elect Biden, Mr. Amtrak, don’t let passenger rail service get the shaft!


xmasoverload-0021

Not at this house on 41st St. in Northwest, DC. Almost Maryland.

I counted 14 inflatable Christmas decorations. My guess is that they’ve been adding one additional piece every year.

Not much more yard to work with. Gonna have to go exurban – if they want to keep expanding.

I do wonder how much it costs to keep those suckers inflated. Not so enviro-friendly.

But fun, lots of fun. Every car that drove by stopped to gaze. A fine experience for the kiddies, I’m sure.


Interesting things are happening in Canada’s government.

Basically, in the midst of economic turmoil, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party have not put forward a sane economic stimulus plan. During parliamentary debate yesterday, (A great debate, just like Prime Minister’s Questions, that again shows parliamentary superiority to our bicameral borefest.) Harper and his Conservatives spoke repeatedly of their fears of deficits.

Herbert Hoover would be proud.

Into this leadership vacuum, a left-leaning coalition of parties has decided to form. Quite the rare phenomenon for Canada. Something that’s only happened once before, during the turmoil of World War I.

Elections were held in October. The Conservative Party did increase their seats in the House of Commons, from 124 to 143. (The House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament, has 308 seats.) However, turnout was low.

And the main opposition party, the Liberals, had a terrible showing, losing 26 seats, leaving them with 77 seats. Its worst performance ever.

But, and this is an incredibly big b.u.t., the Liberal Party along with the New Democratic Party and the separatist Bloc Québécois do have enough votes – at least 155, which is the minimum to control the government – in the new Parliament to form a coalition government.

(Here’s a nice overview of the difference between majority and minority gov’ts, though coalition gov’ts aren’t discussed. They’re that rare for Canucks!)

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s “paper of record,” which endorsed Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party in the October elections, doesn’t like the idea of the coalition government.

The paper does blame Harper for poor handling of last week’s economic “debate.” But the coalition would be an “experimental and unstable government at the time [Canada] can least afford one.”

The left-leaning Toronto Star thinks the coalition should be given a chance. It is the essence of democracy, according to today’s editorial. And the coalition would be less unstable than an “opposition ready to pounce and defeat [Harper’s] government at every opportunity.”

In the wake of Harper’s do-little economic strategy, Canada’s left-leaning parties will offer a more robust economic stimulus plan – something of a no-brainer, in the United States at least.

And this type of coalition government is surely not undemocratic. In Germany, for example, it is the norm.

For a liberal Yank, like me, this episode is particularly satisfying . I found it unconscionable that someone in Canada’s government – Stephen Harper? – would try to influence the outcome of the Democratic primaries.

How a sensible, progressive country like Canada allowed a guy like Harper to come to power has always been beyond me. It had the feel of some Republican-inspired conspiracy.

So now that Bush and his Republicans are out, it seems fitting for Harper to get the boot too.

Update (Dec. 9): Stephen Harper has shut down Parliament for six weeks, in an attempt to avoid a no-confidence vote – the vehicle for which the opposition would come to power.

In this time, Harper will be putting together a budget. One that will better tackle the current economic crisis.

As for the main opposition party, the Liberal Party, their leader Stéphane Dion will step down prior to Parliament’s reconvening, which will be Jan. 26.

Dion’s replacement is Michael Ignatieff, a former professor of human rights at Harvard and an initial supporter of the Iraq War.

Ignatieff has indicated a no-confidence vote could be avoided in January if Harper comes forth with a sufficient economic stimulus plan.


Henrietta, NY —

American shoppers – in just one single day – scored a major victory for the global economy.

In what will likely be known as the “Battle of Black Friday,” an overwhelming majority of average Americans showed up for duty, happily forking over their credit cards.

There was a sense of urgency in the air. A domestic D-Day, of sorts. Hard-scrabble shoppers – bags under their eyes, serious-looking faces – began forming lines at popular retail outlets well before pre-dawn openings.

“Yeah, things have been bad. But this is what we do. I’ve been shopping on the day after Thanksgiving with my girlfriends for years,” said Jill Johnson, a retired teacher, who was shopping yesterday at Henrietta’s Target.

Showing up in massive numbers that greatly exceeded expectations, shoppers sought deals with reckless abandon.

At 6:45 a.m., a happy mob of over 100 people had formed around the desk in Target’s electronics department. Spontaneously, as if on cue, they began to chant: “We want Wii. We want Wii.”

Enthusiastic shoppers gather around in the electronics department of Henrietta, NY's Target.

Enthusiastic shoppers gather in Target's electronics department in Henrietta, NY.

Similar scenes played out across the country.

Emotions were understandably hot and heavy on such an important day. In some locations, things got out of hand. Sadly, 2,000 frenzied Long Island shoppers trampled and killed a Wal-Mart employee.

But, far and away, yesterday’s events were peaceful. Some were even calling them heroic.

It was a far cry from the story line of the past few weeks. Serious doubts about the resiliency of the American shopper were commonplace.

“There won’t be a Christmas this year, no way,” said Tim Connor, senior economist at the American Consumer Society, at a recent Brookings Institute panel discussion. “Housing, the credit crunch. And now unemployment is rising. I just don’t think people will show up.”

Many others in the chattering class will, no doubt, be forced to revise their pessimistic forecasts too.

But while the victory will most likely prove to be pivotal, it alone will not be sufficient to stave off recession. Further purchasing will be necessary.

“This is a good start. But only a start. If Americans can continue to step up to the plate, like today, we just might come out of this okay,” said Jim Jeremiah, vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce.

Surely it is too early to say so. And I know I just might be jinxing our economic future. I don’t care. I just want to be the first to pass along the good news:

We did it! Recession defeated!


The always patriotic John Douglas Brown House in Old Town Alexandria.

The always patriotic John Douglas Brown House in Old Town Alexandria.

Probably the most ridiculous comment during the recent presidential campaign came courtesy of John Sydney McCain III’s brother, Joe McCain:

“‘I’ve lived here for at least 10 years and before that about every third duty I was in either Arlington or Alexandria, up in communist country.'”

It’s true. Alexandria and Arlington, the one-time home of George Washington and Robert E. Lee, are now decidedly blue. Obama won almost 72% of the city of Alexandria’s vote. He won the same percentage in Arlington County.

The “communist” claim was just a degree or two away from McCain’s official campaign line of Obama being a socialist, put forth most ardently by Ms. Sarah Palin.

With no issues to run on and a poorly organized campaign, Republicans were left with nothing but the bottom of the barrel. “Socialized medicine” was also popular.

So, for Joe McCain, “communist” was probably pretty close to “Democrat.” And Virginia is a Democratic place. Obama carried the state; the first Democrat to do so since LBJ in 1964. Democrats now control both Senate seats, the governorship, and just gained control of the state’s congressional delegation – winning three seats to take a 6 to 5 edge.

But how does Northern Virginia stack up against America’s most liberal places?

A small sampling of Obama’s percentage in America’s most liberal places:

Alameda County (Oakland and Berkley, CA): 79%

San Francisco County: 84%

New York County (Manhattan): 85%

City of Boston: 79%

King County (Seattle): 70%

Multnomah County (Portland, OR): 77%

Conclusion: While Alexandria has Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, coffee shops, and bookstores (my criteria of liberalness), it still has a ways to go.

There is no bohemian vibe, no critiquing of mass American culture. On the whole, Old Town Alexandria is a cute, squeaky clean place. The epitome of the values of Middle America.

Left of center, yes. But very American.


A hideous four-storey building that houses DC's main library. Rather fitting.

The hideous four-storey building that houses DC's main library. Rather fitting.

I go to public libraries for free internet. Good people watching is a splendid side benefit.

But I don’t like what has happened to many of America’s inner city libraries. They are veritable military zones!

Two days ago I tried to go to Washington’s central library, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, located downtown.

But I stopped, right before entering. Through the glass windows I saw a serious security regime: a bag scanner, metal detector, and a security guard. And, worst of all, a big sign advertising the library’s strict no food and drink policy.

I’ve been down that road before. Three years ago, I got kicked out of Dallas’s main public library for eating a banana in a stairwell.

I told my mom about the ridiculous story and she wrote a column about it. She told me some readers responded by calling me “spoiled.” True, I must admit. But didn’t I win? I got her to write in print – telling thousands of people – about the messed up city libraries.

I guess I just want the same to be said about DC’s libraries. Albeit to an audience of tens.

Up front, I will grant that both Dallas and DC must deal with an army of aimless homeless folks. They sleep, shower, and shout. To be frank, they are not the intended users of the public library. But should the library use a tremendous sledge hammer to deal with the problem?

All urban public libraries must deal with homeless people. However, New York and Chicago have found a way to do so without penalizing their clientele – their owners! – in such a dehumanizing way.

No scanners, nor metal detectors. A security guard just asks to see your bag when entering and leaving the building.

It’s a failure of leadership. Similar to the heavy-handed ways of the head of DC schools, Michelle Rhee?

There are issues. There should be rules.

A simple one: no showering in the bathroom. But no soap to deal with this issue? Sorry, no thank you Dallas. I don’t want shit hands when I’m reading.

Security guards can make frequent trips to all the bathrooms. They already do, I’m sure. When they see someone bathing at the sink, kick them out!

And should security guards waste their time as food and drink czars?

I say no.  Overall, public officials shouldn’t ruin a great public space just because a few people misuse it.