Facing The Faceless

My recent run of exposure to curious hotel art selections continued this week, during my trip to Washington, D.C.  These pieces were artwork displayed in the interior hallways on my floor of the hotel only a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol.

What’s the message conveyed by depictions of gangs of silhouetted people moving grimly and silently past government buildings?  Is it that Washington, D.C. is really in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, just as conservatives have long claimed?  Or that, in the political wonderland that is Our Nation’s Capital, you’ll never actually see someone clearly, for who they really are, but only in dim outline?  Or does the artist believe that government buildings, depicted in color and in sunlight, are much more interesting than the people, who are shown only as shadowy forms without any individuality?

Or, perhaps you might initially see the artwork as I did — as suggesting that the people of Washington, D.C. are a bunch of anonymous zombies.

Welcome to Washington, D.C.!  Grab your rollerboard and your shoulder bag and get ready to head out into the Land of the Undead!

Lament Of The “Govsters”

The Washington Post recently published a piece written by a D.C. resident about how Washington, D.C. has now become a “cool” city.  It is one of the finest examples of the “inside the Beltway” mentality ever penned and includes some great passages, like this one:

“Much of Washington in 2018 arguably has more in common with the country’s hippest neighborhoods — Williamsburg in New York, Silver Lake in Los Angeles, the Inner Mission in San Francisco — than it does with the less cool cities of middle America.”

Hey, on behalf of everyone in “middle America,” thanks!  And then there’s this classic:

tmg-facebook_social“Like all hip cities, contemporary Washington combines cool with a distinctive local flavor. New York is where cool meets money, Los Angeles is where cool meets beauty, San Francisco is where cool meets technology — and Washington is where cool meets government. That combination has created a class of people unique in American history. If the late 1990s and 2000s produced the hipster as a new type of cool in some of America’s more stylish cities, the more recent past has produced Washington’s version of it: the govster — a person who is able to enjoy the benefits of living in a cool city while also working for the federal government or somehow exercising influence over the direction of national politics.”

Wait a second — this writer thinks hipsters are cool, rather than an unending subject of mockery and derision?  And he so aspires to hipster status that he actually wants to give a special, hipster-knockoff name to Washington, D.C. residents?  That’s pretty telling.  And notwithstanding the writer’s claim to cool status, the name “govster” isn’t exactly a cool name, is it?  It’s like the “Family Truckster” vehicle that Clark Griswold drove in the first Vacation movie.  The writer has somehow coined a term that manages to be both clunky and pretentious at the same time, just like a lot of the program ideas and acronyms that the people working in D.C. regularly develop.

But don’t worry — the “govster” who wrote the article is motivated by altruistic purposes. He’s worried that Washington, D.C. may have become too cool for the poor, benighted hayseeds in the flyover country:

“Life in the capital may be good for the govster, but is it good for the country? Cool cities, after all, thrive precisely because they offer what the rest of the country cannot. Yet capitals have different purposes. If the government is to be of the people and for the people, then the capital must be able to relate to the people — and the people to the capital. A dynamic country may need a little cool in its capital; but have things in Washington gone too far? The question is as old as the republic, and arguably more important than ever.”

I have no objection to having a little pride in your city; I fully admit to being a booster of Columbus.  And when Kish and I lived in D.C. we enjoyed it.  But the notion that people in D.C., like the guy who wrote this article, now think that Washington, D.C. is just too cool for the rest of the United States is deeply disturbing.  It’s bad enough that those of us out in the country at large have had to deal with the stupid power games and pointless political machinations of the politicos in D.C.  Now we also have to grapple with the knowledge that the laws, regulations, and other governmental initiatives imposed upon us are being administered by “govsters”:  “a person who is able to enjoy the benefits of living in a cool city while also working for the federal government or somehow exercising influence over the direction of national politics.”

I shudder to think of it.

Spreading Out The Federal Effect

Where are the richest counties in the United States, as measured by median household income?  You might think one of the counties in Silicon Valley, or one of the high-end areas in Connecticut, or around Boston, or the home to bustling computer, software, and internet companies around Seattle . . . but you would be wrong.

According to recently released census data, the top four counties in the United States for median household income are all located in Virginia and Maryland — and all just happen to be suburbs of Washington, D.C.  In each of those counties, the median household income doubles the national average.  Moreover, nine of the top 20 highest household income counties in America are suburbs of our nation’s capital.

washington-capitol-building-money-cash-620x348This shouldn’t really surprise us.  The federal government is by far the biggest spender in the country, and there are lots of people — lobbyists, consultants, media analysts, messaging advisors, and countless others — who make a lot of money advising other people and groups about how to get their share of the money gushing out of the federal spigot.  And because Congress and the vast majority of the federal agencies are headquartered in the D.C. area, of course the money flowing in to try to line groups up for a share of the money flowing out is going to be concentrated in the D.C. area, too.

This is probably one reason why, in this past election, there was a clear disconnect between the political punditry and the rest of the country.  People in D.C. looked around, sipped their $10 caramel lattes after their hot yoga sessions, saw housing values going through the roof, and thought things were going pretty well in the U.S. of A.  They were blissfully unaware of what it was like in the parts of the country between the coasts — and the anger that many people apparently felt for the fat cats in Washington who were gleefully lining their pockets while the rest of the country struggled.

What to do about the income disparity?  How about considering whether some federal departments and agencies should move out of the D.C. metroplex, to be closer to the folks that they are regulating?  Is there any reason, for example, that the Department of Agriculture shouldn’t be headquartered in Iowa or Nebraska, the Department of Energy shouldn’t be headquartered in Texas or Louisiana, and the Department of Labor shouldn’t be headquartered in, say, Cleveland or Chicago?  And why can’t the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Commerce be moved to some other locations away from the D.C. Beltway?

The census data makes clear that the federal government has a significant impact on wealth production.  The U.S. is a big country; why not take steps to spread that income effect around a little?  Maybe doing so would also bring the regulators closer to the people they’re affecting, and at the same time help to minimize the “inside the Beltway” mentality that appears to be an increasing problem in the country.

A Gutless Wonder

Washington, D.C. is all agog about “Congressman X,” the Democratic member of Congress who has anonymously penned a 65-page book called “The Confessions of Congressman X” about how corrupt, cynical, and phony members of Congress are.  One chapter, for example, is entitled “Harry Reid’s a Pompous Ass.”

Well, of course he is.  In fact, so is every member of Congress.  And, for that matter, so is “Congressman X.”

5_122016_xman8201_c0-562-850-1057_s885x516Here’s what I want to know:  why doesn’t Congressman X confess for the record?  Why doesn’t he have the guts to identify himself and express those opinions for attribution?

In my view, the sad tale of “Congressman X” is the problem, writ large, with our “public servants” right now.  They’re gutless.  They’re so chickenshit, one and all, irrespective of party, that they gladly prostitute themselves for lobbyists and spend all of their time fundraising so they can be returned to the Washington merry-go-round next term.  And when “Congressman X” nears the end of his “service,” he writes an anonymous tell-all book so he can make even more money from his period of “public service.”  It’s tawdry and appalling — but it’s so Washington, D.C.

No one has the fortitude or the principles to stand up and be counted.  And that’s why we have a dysfunctional government in which the legislative branch — which the Founders designed to be the most powerful of the coordinate branches of government — has steadily yielded power to the executive branch and the judiciary, to the point where we now have a federal government that is largely governed by executive decree rather than legislation considered, drafted, and debated by the “people’s representatives.”

So I say that “Congressman X” can bite me.  A pox on his house, and a pox on all of their houses.  Won’t anyone in D.C. stand up and be counted for a change?

 

Mother Nature And The Storm

We think we’re pretty advanced, scientifically and technologically, but Mother Nature can still throw us a hard slider every now and then.

Consider the blizzard that is battering that East Coast this morning.  New York City might get as much as 16 inches of snowfall, Philadelphia is canceling public transit, thousands of flights at the Charlotte and Raleigh airports were canceled, and motorists have been stranded on snow-covered roadways.  (Surprisingly, the storm bypassed those of us in the upper Midwest, which is the normal habitat of appalling winter storms.)

Storm RdpAnd Washington, D.C. — well, let’s just say that the Nation’s Capital freaks out when even a tiny bit of snow is forecast, so a big storm causes runs on stores, gas tank topping, and other over-the-top, panicky behavior.  That’s the way it was 30 years ago when Kish and I lived there, and according to news reports that’s the way it still is today, too.  It doesn’t exactly give you much confidence about how the citizens of D.C. would react in a real crisis.  The frightened, frantic crowd scenes when Godzilla appears above the Tokyo skyline probably would be an accurate depiction.

The storm also reminds us of our interconnectedness.  With some of the nation’s busiest airports affected, good luck traveling by air today.  Airlines are estimating that more than 7,500 flights will be scrubbed, which is like dropping a paralysis bomb into the nation’s transportation grid.  Even if you’re on a flight that is leaving from an unaffected city, you might learn that the earlier leg of the flight was coming in from, say, Philadelphia.  And trying to get anywhere by roadway if you’re in the snow-battered regions is foolhardy unless the trip is essential.  If there’s one thing I learned living in D.C., when the snow does fall in Washington it’s wise to not get into your car, because people who live in places where snow is rare just don’t know how to drive in it.  Why expose yourself to the possibility that the person trying to navigate a multi-ton missile on icy, snow-covered roadways doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing?

From the news stories, it looks like Mother Nature won this round.

Dealing With The Dreaded “Airline Call”

Yesterday, as a meeting in Washington, D.C. was winding down, the sinister travel dominoes started falling.  First, lawyers from New York City got the message that their impending flight was canceled, and they had to start scrambling to make alternative arrangements. The first flicker of doubt about my flight zigzagged through my mind, but I quickly suppressed it and rationalized that it was because of bad weather in the NYC area.

IMG_1132Then, a few minutes later, those of us from Columbus got the dreaded “airline call.”  The dismal robotic recorded voice advised that our flight back also had been canceled outright — no initial delay, and therefore no ray of hope that the flight might actually leave at some point.

The message gave some gibberish explanation about “air traffic congestion” in the system, which undoubtedly is a daily condition in the busy air traffic corridor above the east coast of the United States — and said we would be rebooked.  Then another member of our party got the message that the rebooking was for a flight this morning, which meant that we faced the unhappy choice between an unplanned, no-clean-clothes overnight in D.C. — assuming you could even find a decent hotel room at the last minute in a city that seemed packed with visitors — or renting a car and driving home.

This really wasn’t much of a choice.  We quickly selected the latter option — when you’re expecting to get home, you really want to get home, no matter how difficult the journey might be, and some of us also had can’t-miss appointments early today — and then we faced another decision:  should we try to rent a car at the airport, or from one of the tiny downtown rental car outlets?  We chose the latter option, reasoning that if our flight was cancelled due to “congestion” the airport car rental counters probably were scenes of chaos.  The risk of the hotel rental outlets, of course, is that they don’t actually have a car available, no matter what the on-line website is telling you.

It was a close call, but cars somehow were found, and we headed out, conveniently leaving in the heart of the D.C. rush hour traffic/I-495/I-270 commuter snarl.  Hours later, as the clock ticked down to the midnight hour, we rolled into Columbus — about four hours after our designated plane flight arrival time.

We made it, and we gratefully acknowledge the utility of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.

What If They Gave A Hotel And Nobody Came?

IMG_6246I was in Washington, D.C. recently and saw this sign in front of the Old Post Office, advertising it as a new “TRUMP” property — in this case, the Trump International Hotel.

The Old Post Office is a beautiful building, and I have no doubt that it will make a magnificent hotel, but . . . the Trump International Hotel?  Doesn’t that seem just a tad inconsistent with The Donald’s recent political speechifying?

How many international visitors are really going to feel welcome at a Trump hotel and are going to be eager to stay there?