Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why is this man smiling?

Last week's cover of CQ Weekly displayed a large picture of the Chairman, who despite recent political struggles over the future of his major bill, was still smiling. After reading the article, which gave a fairly detailed account of the Chairman's history with the committee as well as an overview of the bill and the years of work that lead to its creation, I started to consider the amount of time spent creating bills that never become law. From my observations, its a massive amount of time spent researching, writing, holding hearings, meetings, and mark-ups with the hope that, against the odds, the bill will become law. At first it was a bit disheartening to realize that all the time and effort that the committee staff put into the creation of the bill may not amount to anything. But then I realized that its refective of the deliberative nature that makes Congress so great. Not everything can become law, but pretty much anything has a small chance- and its that chance that keeps the Chairman smiling.

Monday, June 29, 2009

DC Images

This is a collection of pictures from all over DC. Unfortunately, the photo quality of "Blogger" leaves much to be desired.

a supreme experience that had nothing to do with pizza

The Supreme Court was in session at 10:00 AM today - the final day before the summer recess. Notably, they reversed the Ricci v DeStefano decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and bade farewell to Justice David Souter.

I arrived at the steps of the Court at 7:45 ready to wait. I had a newspaper, an apple and all the patience I could possibly muster. After hours of waiting, two security checkpoints, and an awkward belt incident, I was finally seated in the courtroom. At the front there were four pillars, nine chairs, and an old clock hanging like the sword of Damocles over the center. Just sitting there, I could feel the incredible importance of that room. It was completely full on this historic day. The clock hit 10:00, a subtle buzzer sounded, we eagerly rose to our feet and the Justices appeared. They emerged from behind deep red curtains to sit in their high-backed chairs. There they were.

Chief Justice Roberts, Associate Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsberg, Breyer and Alito. They were all sitting right in front of me, and I could hardly believe it. Maybe its the feeling most people get when they see a celebrity. I'm not sure. What I do know is that after reading about these nine jurists, studying their biographies, delving into their decisions, pondering their judicial philosophies, I was totally starstruck. It was surprisingly impactful to see them in person.

They read two decisions to the public and one farewell letter to their friend. Justice David Souter read a reply. When they had finished their business for the day they departed hurriedly - except for Souter. He did not rush. He lingered. Then, after all the other Justices had left the room, he looked around a bit, and slowly walked away from the bench.

Monday, June 22, 2009


In a got to have it now society, it was a little irritating to discover that a major sightseeing spot in DC did not have a direct metro stop. But once I traveled to the quaint area of Georgetown, my initial irritation subsided. I much enjoyed the long walk from the closest metro stop and down the long road of M street. While many of buildings in Georgetown are home to upscale clothing stores and fashion boutiques, they nonetheless have a nice colonial and historic feeling that make them fun to admire. Not to mention, it was entertaining to walk into a store that was way outside the constraints of my wallet and "pretend" to peruse the racks. It was also fun to find a unique store - one that was nowhere else. Like Annie Creamcheese (a vintage shop)! I also found one location of Five Guys restaurant -- the place recently made famous by President Obama. I'll be going back sometime to indulge in a juicy cheeseburger.

It was the perfect day to take the journey to Georgetown too. The previous days had been filled with rainy and overcast skies and hot, muggy air. But not this day, blue skies and gentle breezes covered us as we walked along the streets. Not to mention we caught the occasional glimpse of the water-front of the Potomac river.

My theory is this: no metro station is located directly in Georgetown because it preserves the uniqueness of the area. If you really want to explore it, you have to take it all in and go the extra mile to reach the area. I'm sure glad I did!

The Longest, Fastest Day of the Year

After yet another phantasmagoric Friday/Saturday night combo, the CSB|SJU group rose to what was assumed to be another tranquil yet anxious Sunday. A small contingent made plans to hit up a Nationals' game, leaving a crew of a few at the apartment pondering our next move.
Well, pondering is a tiresome business, and it often leads one's mind to stray. First, there was talk of a national park home to wild ponies. That sounded intriguing, and more will undoubtedly unfold around this mysterious pony land in the future--stay tuned.
After dreaming of ponies frolicking along the Atlantic Coast, our minds turned abruptly to food, as is common for all walks of life. A quick consensus was made: farmer's market ho!
Chase, Amy, Jen and I (Pony Clan) emerged from our bat cave of a subterranean parking lot in a black Batmobile-esque Prius and headed north towards Dupont Circle. It was only after we arrived there that we learned, to our dismay, that the farmer's market wrapped up at 1:00. It was 2:32. 
Fortunately, this dismay was dismantled by a delightful DC delicacy: PETS! Dupont Circle is the site of an annual dog show. We decided that immersing ourselves in the aura of hundreds of furry little friends would not be a bad way to spend the afternoon. Before the show began, though, we cashed in at nearby book and coffee shops for an intellectual fill and quenching of thirst. Shortly after we returned to the circle, we were asked to leave by the dogs.
The police dogs, that is. Apparently, there was a suspicious item on the premises, and the bomb squad was brought in. The show was cancelled, but the Pony Clan still relished its time with our canine homies. 
And our day wasn't done. From Dupont, we headed East to dine at the world famous Ben's Chili Bowl. What a great spot--thanks to everyone who recommended we go there. Delicious. We will return.
After gorging in chili-dog splendor, we asked locals about events in the area, and were told to head to Malcolm X park, where we stumbled upon a festival. For the rest of the evening, we enjoyed a drum circle and dancers, tightrope walkers, live rock and R&B music, free acupuncture, coconuts, acrobatic yoga, and a beautiful summer afternoon.
I was about 15 minutes deep into my natural high from acupuncture when someone told me that today was the summer solstice. And later that night (after a windows-down cruise through DC), as the Pony Clan reflected in the twilight at the beautiful Air Force Memorial, I don't think any of us could have imagined a better way to spend the longest day of the year. 
Nor could we believe it went so fast.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Waiting, and a Mushroom...

Do the committee hearings ever occur at their prescribed times?  So far, I’ m 0 for 3, and losing faith fast.  Still, after enduring hours of waiting and the letdowns of cancellation, it was a good, at least didactic, experience.  Besides the inner corridors of the Rayburn House Office Building, I also became acquainted with DC’s professional line-sitters.  Apparently, they make 20-30 bucks an hour and are about the most politically knowledgeable folks in Washington.  I suppose if you spend hours and hours reading Roll Call and listening to various lobbyists talk shop, you’d have a pretty firm grasp of the political landscape.  Hmm, I wonder if they’re hiring…

 Since living here, I’ve been acquiring some of the most random bits of knowledge – which I dig.  For instance, today I learned that the National Botanical Gardens play host to an enormous fungus plant which flowers only about every decade.  This decennial bloom occurred a couple years ago and the local botanists, horticulturalists, and shroom-droppers went bananas.  It was quite a celebration, with just one drawback - the smell.  This malodorous mushroom emits a scent similar to that of rotting flesh.  Eerily, I got the impression that that fact was used as a way to attract people, not deter.  Weird, I know, but interesting still.  I think the greatest thing about living in the nation's capitol is that it seems you are constantly learning something new, and that something is usually interesting, and almost always more useful than facts about fungus.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Life in the Heart

In my three weeks here, I have somewhat fallen for this puzzlingly intriguing place. The heart of our country throbs with the lives of those who inhabit it: the congressman taking his dog on a walk through Eastern Market, the people in business suits running from building to building to avoid the rain, the family who traveled here from Oregon posing for a picture full of smiles at the feet of Abraham Lincoln, the over-dressed interns walking with a newfound air of importance, and the tourists with fanny packs who beam from ear to ear as they triumphantly wave their maps in the air upon arrival to their latest destination, “I got us here! I got us here!” As these people are metaphorically pumped through the heart of DC, it remains marked by the monuments and memorials reminding us of the people who built this country. Every morning on my way to work, I look out the Metro window to see the Washington Monument towering over the Jefferson Memorial…the magic hasn’t worn off, and I hope it never does.
The enchanting conundrum, with which I am now faced, is how such an amazing place can face such utter hardship. DC is full of inequality, poverty, and disease. Given the nature of my internship, it has been my responsibility to research the state of the AIDS/HIV Epidemic in the DC metro area. In reading the annual Epidemiology reports, my eyes have been opened to the problems faced by the permanent residents of this community. Truly suffering from an epidemic, nearly 3% of the DC population is infected with HIV/AIDS. Stop. Think about what that number means. It’s chilling. This is the highest rate of infection in our country, on par with African nations such as Uganda and Kenya. The rate of disease and infection in the district is only one of the many indications that the people here are struggling. The public schools are notoriously bad and the few good hospitals readily turn away the sick and homeless to more “suitable” hospitals (such as that at Howard University) which are struggling to care for the people living in poverty. My mind can’t grasp that these problems are seemingly invisibly plaguing the heart of our country, killing the very people who live within it.

The varying states in which the residents of DC live and function is one of the most perplexing things I have experienced since coming here. I can’t express how startling this place is. The monuments are breathtaking, the parks are beautiful, the people are entertaining, the bars are crazy, the business people are as important as they look (trust me, they’re more than happy to enlighten you), and the museums are free! The Jamaican guys flying kites on the mall and the protestor in front of the White House live alongside not only the president of our country but the child who has lost both of his parents to AIDS…all of these people, places, and stories make DC the incredible, albeit slightly quirky, place that it is.

(top left: Washington Monument through the columns of Lincoln Memorial)
(top right: Washington Monument with trash in the foreground...taken by Jefferson Memorial)
(above: a picture of the capitol building framed by the concert stage at "capitol pride")
(below: flying kites with Jamaicans on the mall and with the protestor in front of the White House)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Strong, Smart Growing Community of Washington, D.C.

This morning I was in a Senate committee hearing concerning sustainable (or shall I use the buzz word? – “green”) development. Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was a witness at the hearing, and brilliantly referenced an environmental science term, relating it with strong communities. Jackson said a simple “indicator species” of strong, “smart growth" communities is a specific kind of homosapien – the in shape pedestrian. Applying this to Washington, D.C., this city is one of the strongest, smartest growing communities in the United States. I was a little nervous about living without a car this summer, however there has never been a time I needed one. Walking, biking, riding the metro: this city (and the surrounding area) is rich in transportation options, and thus pedestrians.

The D.C. pedestrian is no ordinary pedestrian however. They are fast walking, multi-functional, and in shape. I consider myself a pretty fast walker. In Minnesota, I take pride in consistently passing people on the sidewalks or in the mall, but in D.C. my walking pace is nothing out of the ordinary (actually, I get passed on occasion!). I mention multi-functional when describing the D.C pedestrian because they never simply walk: they are either emailing with their blackberry, talking on their blackberry, negotiating with a fellow pedestrian or eating lunch. Efficient. Considering the obesity epidemic in America and all of the delicious restaurants in D.C. (Cosi, Potbelly, Five Guys, just to name a few), the size of these pedestrians is important to note as well: they are in shape.

Simply put then: D.C. has both quality and quantity pedestrians, making it a strong, smart growing community. Thank you Lisa Jackson, for that insightful titbit!

Monday, June 15, 2009

In Transit

Everyone who has tried to visit Georgetown knows how inconvenient it is to reach. The metro either goes right before it or right after it, nowhere in between. Luckily for me, my internship is in Georgetown. During my grand cardiovascular adventure to locate my internship site for the first time, I could not believe how hard it was to find! After an hour of searching, sweating, almost getting hit by numerous speeding bicyclists (who will not invest in a bell), and dehydration, I finally found it… the bliss of finally finding it quickly faded when I realized I would have to make the same trip everyday to work.

Now after working for two weeks, I have come to enjoy every second of my trip to work. Going to work in DC is nothing like going to work back at home. I cross the bustling Francis Scott Key Bridge which expands over the great Potomac River. The chaos of cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians is quickly blocked out by the relaxing sounds of my iPod and the view of the Potomac. The river is the most stunning site in the morning. The faint glimpse of the sun rising with lilac, pink, and tangerine over the river and a kayaker cutting the water with every gentle stroke is what I look forward to every morning. DC was built to make onlookers feel small and insignificant to its splendor.

Second Annual CSB/SJU Eugene J. McCarthy Center Washington D.C. Reception

Date: Jul 16, 2009
Time: 6:30PM - 9:00PM ET
Location: The Monocle Restaurant on Capitol Hill, 107 D Street NE, Washington D.C. 20002

Join our hosts Lisa Spoden '83 and David Turch '63 along with alumnae/i, friends, faculty and students of Saint Ben's and Saint John's for the Second Annual Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement Washington D.C. Reception from 6:30-9:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 16 at The Monocle Restaurant on Capitol Hill. This event celebrates the thirtieth year of the CSB/SJU Washington D.C. Summer Study Program and the second year of the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement. As our alumae/i are critical to the success of both programs we want to honor you and invite you to meet this summer's group of Washington D.C. interns.

There is no charge for this event. Appetizers and beverages are provided.

Learn more about the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement.

Register below here: https://secure.www.alumniconnections.com/olc/pub/SJN/events/SJN2227565.html

or contact Heidi Goebel at 320.363.2591 with questions.

Elevator Encounter

I'll admit it, I'm a political nerd. Some people get excited when they see celebreties and can't wait to see the next headline in People magazing. For me, its politicians and the daily edition of Roll Call. Despite spending over a month on the hill, I am continually startstruck when I meet a new politician.

This was especially true when I was waiting for the elevator one morning. The doors opened and revealed Senator Amy Klobuchar. I stepped into the elevator, jaw dropped, staring intently but unable to form words. After a brief second, I compsed myself and said good morning. After shaking the Senator's hand and sharing that I'm from Dassel, Minnesota, she responed with "Oh, that's right by the worlds largest ball of twine."

Although I'm impressed with the Senator's kowledge of central Minnesota and the location of my hometown, I am not thirlled to be remembered as the girl who lives by the twine ball. Nevertheless, I was still overjoyed by this enounter and rushed back to my office to share the story with fellow Minnesotans. For future elevator encounters, I hope to overcome my initial starstruck reaction and any mention of the twine ball.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Monuments, Museums, and Memorials Galore!!

Our nation’s capitol is the tourist’s paradise. There is plenty to do and see and some of the biggest attractions are free of cost. Within my first few weeks of being here, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to visit many of the well known and historical sites in Washington, DC. There are many to see, and if you are willing to take on the heat and humidity to visit some, much can be gained from the visits. From Washington to Jefferson to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Vietnam to Korean War, and Smithsonians – I’ve traversed and soaked in the magnitude and history that each one of these memorials, monuments, and museums has to offer!!
I took a trip to outer space at the planetarium in the Air and Space museum, which I followed with a glimpse into the actual Apollo 11 space capsule as well as John Glenn’s space pod. As I walked at ground level and touched a piece of the moon, hanging above me was Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and many more historical aviation machines. It was hard to fathom that I was standing beside and beneath such historic artifacts that opened many new doors for our world.
I stood humbled by the thousands of names engraved into the black marble at the Vietnam Memorial. I felt reverence as the words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and second inaugural speech towered above me on the walls in his monument. I was speechless as I gazed into the reflecting pool and out onto the Washington monument and U.S. Capitol and recalled the many historical events that took place in exact same spot as I stood.
It truly is a remarkable experience and I’ve only seen a handful of the sites in DC that carrying so much meaning, so I better get a move on and take in more!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The superficial, yet necessary discussion of shoes: women of DC, what are we doing?!!?

I am currently engulfed in an embarrassingly shallow predicament: what shoes to wear. After being here over a week, I have noticed DC’s obnoxious shoe trend. These driven, brilliant people wear either flip-flops or hideous sneakers with their pencil skirts and dress pants while in commute to the office. Upon arriving to the office, there is a shoe switch: many change into high heels, confining their every step (yet making them taller, more powerful and more confident…right?). I am completely dumbfounded by this practice! Why do we buy shoes we can’t walk in (thanks to the abundance of escalators in DC, walking up stairs does not even need to be considered)? Do these constraining shoes truly professionalize us? In truth, I think this whole shoe switching practice is an outrage. It is completely demoralizing to have to change shoes while at work. What is wrong with wearing walk able shoes all the time?

The actual act of switching the shoes is difficult to pinpoint: time and place are everything. I struggled with this a couple times this week. Usually the practice is to change your shoes upon arriving at your office. However on Wednesday, and Thursday, I went directly to committee hearings, not to my office on K Street. On these days, do I make the switch BEFORE or AFTER I get into the congressional buildings? Difficult question, I know. To aleve all of this shoe stress, I offer a simple solution to the thousands of shoe switching professionals in DC: wear walkable, comfortable, and visually appealing shoes throughout the day (while working AND commuting). Good thing DC has a sinful amount of shoes store conveniently scattered all over the area.

Monday, June 8, 2009

First Sunny Day

My fifth day in DC, and I finally saw the sun! Until today, DC has been raining and cool, not exactly how I envisioned my first couple summer days in DC. Within these last couple rainy days however, I have developed a brilliant scheme of meeting people. When it rains in DC, the sidewalks miraculously acquire walking black, canopy style roofs. Instead of dealing with the annoyance of an umbrella, I maneuver between umbrellas along the sidewalk. Not only am I saving five bucks by not buying an umbrella, but my scheme has also gotten me into very interesting conversations; networking at its finest.

After only a couple days in DC, I am starting to look more like a local DC’er, or rather I look like I know where I’m going. I have officially been asked by strangers, on the sidewalk or in the Metro, about directions. THREE TIMES!!! This either signals my friendly air, or my “oh so DC” appearance. Or both!

On this first sunny day, I spent the afternoon playing soccer on the Mall with other 20-something DC’ers. Although the field was muddy and increasingly weed infested, I had pride in knowing that I wasn’t just another tourist trouncing around among monuments. Of course this pride was trampled on when I forgot my soccer cleats. Step, step, ahhh…slip. Lesson learned: muddy field and running shoes don’t mix well. Apart from my ignorance when packing and slightly sun-burnt skin, my DC confidence was mysteriously heightened by my lack of lack of soccer skills.

One thing is stopping me from looking totally DC however: my hair. There are few blondes in DC, I refuse to give up my bright blonde (and admittedly dyed) locks.

Wish me luck as I continue on my journey of DC’ifying myself.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Washington Insider?

I've been living in DC for three weeks now. I know my way around, get annoyed with tourists, and consider an 80 degree day to be a little on the cold side. I feel like a Washington insider, but somehow, things continue to take me by surprise.

Like today, I was cleaning up the hearing room after the committee mark-up. After five hours in mark-up, the members had created quite a mess of newpapers, coffee cups, notes and the occasional game of tic-tac-toe or hangman. Yes thats right, the respected and honorable elected officials do not spend all day working hard to serve their constituents, they play tic-tac-toe with the guy next to them. And I thought I was the only one that was bored.... next time I'll know who to sit by for entertainment.

After I finished cleaning the hearing room, I was sent to deliver a document to the Democratic cloak room by the House floor. In the brief moment that I was inside the cloak room, I noticed a member of Congress fast asleep on one of the couches, getting in a quick nap between votes.

I'm not suggesting that members don't work, in fact I've witnessed them working hard more often than not. These stories are more of an example of how this city is unpredictable. The second I think I have it figured out, it throws something new at me.

Now, sitting in my office, enjoying the first slow afternoon I've had since my internship began, I'm wondering if there is such a thing as a true Washington insider or if I'm in a city so diverse and fast-paced that I will never be able to figure it out? I guess I'll have to wait and see...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

District of Casey

I'm pretty much a DC regular by now. 

I ride the trains, take the monuments for granted and get annoyed when people stand on the left side of the escalator.


But one thing I won't lose is the sense of awe of everything around me. As much as this Johnny may try to fit in with the political center of America, I don't think I'll lose the gravity of my situation. I'm living in DC during a period of reconstruction. Everyone knows where they don't want our country to go, but very few have an actual path to follow. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but at the moment: we're kind of stuck.

Meanwhile, I'm working at the Center for International Environmental Law, where we, like the vast majority of the world, are more than a little worried about the self-destructive nature our global village seems to adhere to. The situation is moving beyond urgent, and the longer that we're stuck, the farther that light seems away.

But here in DC, the sense of urgency is just a fact of life. People are so preoccupied, they don't even seem to notice the climate. It's hot, and it's humid. I'm not so accustomed yet, but I'm a former lifeguard. I'll deal.

I spent my first week here indoors, getting my intern on and learning how to cook. So far, I've mastered spaghetti, cereal, tuna and the stapler. I'm pretty good at this independent stuff. Food's easy with the Harris Teeter Very Important Customer card--I saved $20 my first trip the grocery store. Harris, I expect a check in the mail for another $20 for that plug. Thanks.

When not struggling in the kitchen or working hard at my internship, I've been doing the museum thing. I've been with some Bennies to Mount Vernon (G-Wash's crib), the Botanical Garden (try the Cypress tree. It's delicious), the Capitol, and the Natural Science Smithsonian. 

My favorite part of the NS museum was the ant exhibit. Crazy little amazing things. I also encountered a museum-goer less in awe than myself. I was moving backwards in time, from the emergence of our furry ancestors to the last of the Mohicosaurs. It was there that I encountered said homo sapien, we'll call him Rex, who muttered something like "I ain't diggin this museum. I ain't diggin it one bit." Being surrounded by fossils, my first assumption was "Wow! A real archaeologist!" But there was something in his saunter towards the hot dog stand that told me different. Thus, no pun is intended.

And we'll leave it at Rex for tonight. More news from Washington to come.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Romney Blasts Obama's 'Apology' Tour

Posted: Monday, June 01, 2009 4:01 PM by Mark Murray

From NBC's Abby Livingston, Katelin Schartz, and Mark Murray
At a speech today in DC sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, Mitt Romney called for increased defense spending, and also again criticized President Obama for going on a "tour of apology" while traveling abroad.

"It’s not because America hasn’t made mistakes -- we have -- but because America’s mistakes are overwhelmed by what America has meant to the hopes and aspirations of people throughout the world," he said, adding: "Britain’s Guardian newspaper noted that Mr. Obama has been more critical of his own country, while on foreign soil, than any other president in American history. That would be a most unfortunate distinction at any time."

Seeking to bolster his national security credentials, especially if he makes another White House bid, the one-term Massachusetts devoted much of his speech to calling for more defense spending. "We cannot allow the economic crisis to conceal the very real threats to our nation’s security," Romney said. "We cannot ignore the intentions of competitors who would replace America’s leadership with their own, and set back the cause of freedom."

In fact, Romney was fiercely critical of Obama's "domestic" spending at the expense of funding for national defense. "I fear ... that he will look to the military budget to find the biggest cuts and finance his domestic priorities.”

The potential 2012 presidential candidate detailed a litany of other criticisms of the Obama administration -- including its handling of North Korea. “Arrogant, delusional tyrants can not be stopped by earnest words and furrowed brows. Action, strong bold action coming from a position of strength and determination, is the only effective deterrent.”

After the speech, Romney spoke to reporters about GM filing for bankruptcy. He cited a November op-ed he penned advocating for bankruptcy and showed frustration that the action has taken so long and that the federal government has been a party to that delay. When asked if either the Bush or Obama administration were to blame for the drawn out bankruptcy, he expressed a hesitancy to "point fingers" but ultimately said, "Both."