Greater Greater Washington


Breakfast links: Banishing the money

Photo by DavidDMuir on Flickr.
Get corporate money out of politics: Bryan Weaver and Sylvia Brown are spearheading a ballot initiative to ban corporate political contributions. This would make local rules more like federal ones. (Post)

Second Bethesda entrance delayed: Montgomery officials delayed funding a second Bethesda Metro entrance until after 2018. They saying it's not necessary until the Purple Line comes, but transit activists disagree. (Post)

Orange weeds out cultivation centers: Councilmember Vincent Orange persuaded the DC Council to limit the number of marijuana cultivation centers in any one ward to 6. Ward 5 was initially planned to have 8. (DCist)

Cheh gives Uber love: Councilmember Mary Cheh criticized the sting operation Chairman Ron Linton ran against Uber, instead urging the two sides to work together. Cheh hopes to address Uber's legality in a hearing later this month. (Examiner)

Caps lock off on signs: DC is replacing its previously all capital letter street signs with mixed-case ones. The easier to read signs comply with a new federal standard. Old signs will be replaced as needed and full conversion should take about ten years. (Post)

Rising sea levels bad for DC: A modest rise of 4 inches in sea level over the next few decades could be disastrous for DC costing billions in damages. (Post)

Size matters: Rents on three-bedroom and studio apartments in the DC area shot up 6.06% and 5.4% respectively. Meanwhile two-bedroom rents went up 1% while one-bedroom rents actually saw a 1.73% decrease. (UrbanTurf)

And...: As expected, the Ward 5 special election will be May 15. (Post) ... A Chicago columnist criticizes the Cubs for riding transit. (The Green Miles) ... As Americans get wider, so do transit seats. (NYT)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  


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Nice to see a few ANC members coming to Wells' cause; he's been out in front alone on this one for many months now.

by oboe on Jan 18, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

A Chicago columnist criticizes the Cubs for riding transit ...

One of my fondest sports memories was going to see the MLS championship in LA in 1998 to see Chicago beat LA. Flying back the next day, we picked up our bags at baggage claim, walked to the O'Hare El stop, and hopped on. Just before the train pulled out, I heard a voice cry, "Hold up!" and the Chicago captain jumped on, pulling his rolling luggage with one hand, and holding his MVP trophy under the other.

by oboe on Jan 18, 2012 9:33 am • linkreport

Real campaign finance reform would ban all contributions except from individuals. And no bundling either. There would be no contributions from corporations, unions, PACs, nonprofits, etc.

by tmtfairfax on Jan 18, 2012 9:38 am • linkreport

I don't entirely disagree, however, the Citizens United case means that corporations are people too. (And I certainly disagree with that ruling).

by Matt Johnson on Jan 18, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

@MAtt Johnson; you beloved train companies are the ones who got corporations declared as people. Look up Santa Clara v. southern Pacific.

Citizens United just confirmed that first amendment rights are also extended.

Funny -- in the UBER situation GGW wants techo-anarchnism to rule, but when it comes to regulating campaigns they go all progressive.

by charlie on Jan 18, 2012 9:55 am • linkreport

@Charlie, All that says is that people don't always agree with the party line ... But are making up their own minds on issues. I like to think that is a better thing than just blindly doing the herd thing.

by Lance on Jan 18, 2012 10:24 am • linkreport

An interesting read, certainly. And it upholds the point I was making to @timfairfax that case law would prevent his proposal from being feasible.

Also, I have no particular love for "train companies", especially not their boards of directors. My main concern with regard to railroading today is the movement of passengers — something that the railroad companies no longer do, and often actively oppose.

But that fact aside, it's a dubious argumentative strategy to associate someone's support for current public policy ideas (that moving people by rail should be encouraged as a part of the transportation program) with support for a Supreme Court decision decided about an unrelated situation (taxation) slightly less than a century (99 years) before that person's birth.

But if you think you can convince others that I'm hypocritical for regularly riding Amtrak while opposing Citizens United on the grounds of a case that indicated that Southern Pacific (a railroad) was not obligated to pay property taxes to Santa Clara County because the assessment was improperly done*, go right ahead.

*The Court did not actually rule on the subject of whether Southern Pacific was a person for the purposes of the 14th Amendment. However, some did interpret the case that way.

by Matt Johnson on Jan 18, 2012 10:28 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson; I don't think you are a hypocrite. If that was the case, I'd point out the railroad companies got BILLIONS in free land and have never given anything back to the American people. Rather if we suddenly sold our freeways to the Saudis and then had to pay tolls to use them.....

But the case-law establishing corporate personhood is long and distinguished. Far far longer than citizen united. I'll stick that to that for now.

by charlie on Jan 18, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

*Sigh* According to the article, Weaver admits to siphoning off about 90% of the bill's language from former CM Kathleen Patterson. I'm not sure how similar Patterson/Weaver's bill is to Wells' but it does seem odd to give Wells "credit" for taking the lead on something that doesn't appear to be his brainchild. It's especially dubious considering that he was the only one to vote against what you think he took the lead on.

WRT the legislation, if it works for the feds it should work here in DC as well.

by HogWash on Jan 18, 2012 10:43 am • linkreport

I agree with you wrt Citizens United. I apologize if I didn't make that clear in the last comment.

With respect to the land grant program, I have never intimated otherwise. Yes. Railroads have been subsidized for over a century. Just like all modes of transportation.

And like all modes of transportation, they have "given" back to the American people. The railroads provided (and continue to provide) mobility and opened up the land to settlers. Some have argued that the railroads bound East and West together in a way that ensured America would not split due to the vast size of the continent.

I have never argued that highway building has not provided similar benefits. My hometown largely flourished over the last 2 decades due to the construction of an Interstate spur. Without it, it would likely be economically depressed, since the primary employer (a textile mill) closed 2 years before the freeway opened. Instead, the town is now a generic suburb, and until the real-estate bubble burst, was rolling in the dough.

It's all well and good to point out how much we spend on transportation. But remember that we do get benefits back from that spending. The recent report from Metro is an excellent example.

Sure we spent a goodly amount on building the system. Sure, we have to subsidize it's operations every year. But the system has created much more in terms of real-estate investment, energy savings, and in terms of place-building.

My views on freeway building are not opposed because we don't get tolls back from users. It's that they destroy communities, promote an inefficient use of resources, and encourage an unsustainable built form. They may have a place in society, but that place is not urban areas.

by Matt Johnson on Jan 18, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

Well one obvious distinction is that Wells' bill was introduced as legislation while this is a ballot initiative..d'uh.

Wouldn't the initiative essentially ban bundling?

by HogWash on Jan 18, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport


the railroad companies got BILLIONS in free land and have never given anything back to the American people.

The railroads do pay property taxes on that land they own.

by MLD on Jan 18, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson; I see that I am raising some nerves at GGW this morning. I'll try to stay on topic here.

Citizen United is important here because why should a corporation get limited in speech -- while something like GGW can trumpet endorsements and push for legislation? Or for that matter, why should the Washington Post?

Claiming first amendment protection just for journalists -- and maybe bloggers -- is market protection, isn't it?

by charlie on Jan 18, 2012 11:01 am • linkreport

RE: Citizens United
I'm sick of people complaining about this decision as much as people complaining about lobbyists. Newsweek should put up a front page entitled "We're All Lobbyists Now." You have doctor's groups, REALTOR groups, unions, financial associations, the AARP, Chambers of Commerce, and all of the law and lobbying firms hired for specific cases, etc, etc. We all want our voices heard but don't want other people's voices heard. It's sad. Corporations are comprised of people pushing for something they want. Their shareholders and employees will benefit. Anybody who has an investment account or works for a "corporation" wants those things to succeed. Can we modify the system? Sure. But please don't complain about it being okay for individuals to do these things and not for organizations of people. Isn't it the most American thing to unite the voices of many to get something done? I sure hope Congress listens to industry groups and associations as getting elected to Congress certainly doesn't qualify you on being an expert in everything.
Alright, my rant is done.

by Pat on Jan 18, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

the railroad companies got BILLIONS in free land and have never given anything back to the American people.

The railroads do pay property taxes on that land they own.

This is like saying that the bankers made billions in bonuses from the bailouts...but hey, at least they paid some income tax on that money (a whopping 15% if you're Mitt Romney).

The Railroad Robber Barons were the Wall Streeters of the 1800s. While I'm no fan of the government being in the railroad business via Amtrak, the privately held railroad corporations do a great job of convincing me otherwise.

by Falls Church on Jan 18, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

The Railroad Robber Barons were the Wall Streeters of the 1800s.

True that they were the 1% of their day, but at least railroad robber barons were building us infrastructure along the way. I can't see what benefit we all got out of credit default swaps or subprime mortgages other than creating bad debt that wrecked the economy.

by MLD on Jan 18, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport

The transcontinental railroads largely created the value of the land they were given; there's not much value to a farm if you can't get your harvest to market. Access to transportation always drives real estate value; this was true in the 19th century and is still true today.

In addition to the creation of wealth that the existence of the railroads enabled, historian Albro Martin has made a convincing case that the rates at which the railroads were reimbursed for parcel post transport were kept so low for so many decades that they amounted to a subsidy by the railroads whose value well exceeded that value of the land they were given.

by thm on Jan 18, 2012 11:40 am • linkreport

True that they were the 1% of their day, but at least railroad robber barons were building us infrastructure along the way.

My problem with the robber barons (and wall street) was not that they were/are the 1% but that they got there by milking the government rather than hard work.

Here's just one example:

Leland Stanford and the men who ran the CPRR paid lip-service to the idea of free competition, but in practice sought to dominate competing railroad and shipping lines.... Stanford and his associates repeatedly entered into pooling arrangements to prevent competition, bought out competitors, or forced rivals to agree not to compete. Stanford and his partners viewed laissez-faire as applicable only to government controls, and not to … competition within the system.

One of the ways the Big Four milked the system was by setting up their own coal company to sell coal to their railroad. That company mined coal for two dollars a ton, but sold it to their railroad for six dollars a ton, and pocketed the difference. In other words, the Big Four essentially stole from the government that was financing the railroad — the railroad was just an intermediary involved in the theft.

by Falls Church on Jan 18, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

There is an article out there that is well worth reading. It takes a while to load but it was originally published in the Wilson Quarterly titled "The Lost Promise of The American Railroad". The US government played favorites after WWII and within 11 years decimated the rail industry.

by NikolasM on Jan 18, 2012 12:14 pm • linkreport

hugo blacon the santa clara case

'Justice Hugo Black wrote "in 1886, this Court in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, decided for the first time that the word 'person' in the amendment did in some instances include corporations. [...] The history of the amendment proves that the people were told that its purpose was to protect weak and helpless human beings and were not told that it was intended to remove corporations in any fashion from the control of state governments. [...] The language of the amendment itself does not support the theory that it was passed for the benefit of corporations."[11]'

The combination of the personhood argument, with the equally debatable determination that $$=speech and that limitations on $$ = limits on speech, is having significant ramifications. IF it turns out that super Pacs enabled by Citizens United causes the GOP nomination to drag out, and Romney to lose in November, that would be fitting.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 18, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

[I]t does seem odd to give Wells "credit" for taking the lead on something that doesn't appear to be his brainchild. It's especially dubious considering that he was the only one to vote against what you think he took the lead on.

Not sure what bill you're talking about here. If the recently passed "ethics" bill, I'm curious that you seem to be arguing that bill was functionally equivalent to the type of real ethics reform we're talking about here.

After all, if the sham ethics bill that was passed by the Council recently already included these reforms, there wouldn't be any effort to do so by ballot initiative, right?

(Incidentally, Wells' vote against was to prevent the Council from unanimously passing what amounted to cosmetic changes to DC ethics rules. Anything with teeth had been stripped out of the bill that passed. Hence the ballot initiative. It is kind of amusing, though, the dysfunction in our democracy kind of runs on a superficial understanding of what's being done. Wells vote was arguably a brave one, given that now "he's the *one* guy who voted against ethics!!" It's the same trick that leads to unsavory legislators stripping away our rights, and naming the legislation "The PATRIOT Act". "Oh no!!! My Congressman voted against The *Patriot* act??? I thought he loved America!!!")

by oboe on Jan 18, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

the railroad companies got BILLIONS in free land and have never given anything back to the American people.

In addition to taxes as noted above, people got railroads, which they wanted. Besides we were giving away land to everybody and anybody. The various homestead acts gave away TRILLIONS in free land. Texas had so much unused land that every few years they would hand over big chunks of it out west to anyone who fought in the Revolution or lived in Texas at the time or who simply wanted it. Governor's elections were run in which citizens voted for the guy who would get rid of all the unused land first (Indian breeding grounds, they called it). So complaining that they were given stuff that no one else really wanted isn't a very strong complaint. Most of the West was considered a desert.

why should a corporation get limited in speech

Excellent question. Why should a corporation get limited in its right to bear arms? I'm not worried about a McDonald's Army are you? Why not let corporations vote? Why not let corporations hold office?

Corporations are comprised of people pushing for something they want.

No. Corporations are businesses dedicate to making money. I don't own stock in a company because I believe in their cause.

Their shareholders and employees will benefit.

Will they? Do the board's goals align with employees and shareholders. What about cutting taxes on income over $10 million, which group is that likely to help most?

I sure hope Congress listens to industry groups and associations as getting elected to Congress certainly doesn't qualify you on being an expert in everything.

Me too. But I hope that industry groups don't threaten them or bribe them either, and that has happened in the past. That's what we're trying to avoid.

Oh no!!! My Congressman voted against The *Patriot* act??? I thought he loved America!!!

That's why I would name all bills the "Save the Puppies and Children Act".

by David C on Jan 18, 2012 5:20 pm • linkreport

@Oboe, I get it, with many of you fanapologists, Wells can't just walk on water, he is the water, the air, the earth, and possibly the phoenix.

The type of "ethics reform" we're talking about is the same as which Bryan is talking about. He wants DC to vote on whether to allow corporate money in dc elections.

You and other Tommifans believe that Wells is Tommy Theresa by acting on principle. The rest of us who are not already the hairs on his head don't.

We've been here before and so this is something I'm sure we'll continue to have zero agreement on.

It's also why Wells' standing as a future mayor (or even Chairman) loses steam with your "type" of unbridled support. Makes it less and less likely to happen and I would imagine that many like me will roll their eyes at the thought.

by HogWash on Jan 19, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport

Am I the only one upset about the marijuana cultivation center thing? I'm a a ward 5 resident and I thought they would be a good thing. They are just businesses that will bring jobs to the area. It's not even as if they are the dispensaries themselves. They aren't going to be handing out marijuana out side the buildings. What harm is being mitigated by limiting the numbers in a particular ward. It's just silly and totally unnecessary. This kind of pointless over-regulation is why there are so many empty warehouses in ward 5 in the first place. I can't even begin to comprehend what the logic behind this could possibly be.

by Doug on Jan 21, 2012 12:45 am • linkreport

Doug, I mostly agree, but...

If there is any risk associated with these centers, and that includes the risk that people won't want to live near them and they will drive down housing costs...then an argument can be made that that risk should be shared among the various areas of DC rather than focusing it in all places.

I'm not sure there is a risk, or how strong the argument for dispersing it is, but I guess that would be the point. Of course, I'd point out that in passing this law, no one identified the risk or - as near as I can tell - the benefits of the regulation.

by David C on Jan 21, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

Why should a society that accepts pharmacys and alcoholic beverage establishments be upset with MJ?

Unless of course its all about CRIMINAL MERCANTILISM. The drug war is a protection racket- just look at the sales of cigarettes!

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 21, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

From Licit & Illicit Drugs, by Edward M. Brecher and Consumers Reports at page 230 showing upturns in cigarette use following the times of the 1906, 1914 and 1937 U.S. 'drug control laws'

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 21, 2012 9:12 pm • linkreport

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