29 April 2007

Why You Count More Than I Do

Over 3,000 Americans have died trying to bring Democracy to Iraq (depending on which lie, er...reason for invading Iraq you believe).

One of the seminal events that helped bring about the birth or our nation was the Boston Tea Party. A protest against taxation without representation.

Yet President Bush and Republicans in Congress (and a few weasel Democrats) insist that the U.S. Citizens that call Washington DC home, should be denied the right to have full representation in Congress. The 581,000 residents of DC (66,000 more than the state of Wyoming) are second class citizens who have no vote in the House or the Senate. Not only are we denied the right to have any meaningful access to Congress, but that very same body has the ability to nullify any local law passed by our elected city council. And anytime one of us has a concern over issues of national importance (war, peace, the environment, Social Security, taxes, etc.) we have absolutely no one to turn to in Congress. Our only opportunity other than the courts is to vote for a President every four years. I can't imagine that writing a letter to a sitting President is bound to have much impact.

The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would give our Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the right right to vote on the floor of the House. Besides the fact that the Senate is likely to oppose the measure and the President has said he will veto it, the bill as passed does not do enough. I know it is baby step, the result of compromise and wheeling and dealing that would give us at least some kind of representation. And I do have respect for those that are trying. But the fact is, we are American citizens and deserve to have a Representative in the House and two, yes count 'em, two Senators.

I also realize that there may actually be reasons why the current bill, if passed, may not be Constitutional. Of course there is a way to fix that by amending the Constitution, but the chances of that happening are slim to say the least.

There is no way the Republicans would let DC have full representation in the Senate while the population of DC remains enthusiastically Democratic. The vast majority of DC residents are Democrats or left leaning Independents.

So here is my take on an obvious idea: DC residents should not have to pay federal income taxes. We have no representation, why should we have the taxation? I will got further, however, and insist that the federal government still make appropriate payments to the District. The presence of the federal government in DC puts a huge strain on our infrastructure and means that about 70% of the land in our city is non-taxable. Imagine if your city had to do without 70% of its property taxes.

The different spin is this: such an action may actually help bring full voting rights to the District in the end. If residents of the District didn't have to pay federal income tax, it is quite likely that a lot of Republicans living across the Potomac in Virginia would move into the District. Perhaps enough of them to even up the political makeup of the electorate. Once evened out, or at least altered enough to give Republicans a fighting chance at winning office, Congress might be so moved to give DC the full vote. Once we have the vote the feds can start taxing us again. After all, we're used to it.

15 April 2007

Oh, the Buskers I've Known (or Death to the Peruvian Pan Flute Mafia)

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A good busker can turn the crankiest of commuters (me) into the happiest of humans no matter what the time of day. A bad busker can drive me to fantasies of instrumenticide. For me the difference between a good busker and a bad busker is not always related to level of talent but has much more to do with the artistic honesty of the performer and the performance.

The worst offenders are those guys with the Peruvian pan flutes playing their crappy, amplified garbage. They generally wear some kind of "native" dress to fool the unknowing rube into thinking that their craft is somehow genuine. It may have been genuine at some point, but the fact that they seem to be in every city in the world leads one to believe that somewhere there is an academy churning out pan flute trios to terrorize the world and make big bucks for some musical pimp. (Kind of like the time Homer Simpson went to Krusty the Klown Clown College...) Since 1989, I have seen these groups all over Europe and North America. The bland homogeneous nature of their music makes them the McDonald's of the busking world.

And like McDonald's, their omnipresence displaces a wide variety of performers that are much more original and life affirming. The most egregious example of this I encountered here in Washington DC. At the Dupont Circle Farmer's market a few years ago, there was a group of three junior high-aged kids playing their instruments. No amplifiers, no CDs to sell, just three kids making music and a little extra money. The following week the Peruvian pan flute mafia showed up with their overly loud amplified garbage and drowned the kids out.

The beauty of busking is that it showcases variety, creativity, and oftentimes musical expressions that have roots in the local area. I have heard buskers that have moved me to tears or made me smile uncontrollably.

Some of my favorites have included:
  • an old blind woman in Lisbon singing traditional fado music in a haunting contralto with nothing but a triangle to accompany her
  • an accordionist playing on a warm summer's evening who made Washington DC feel like Paris on the Potomac
  • two guys with acoustic guitars covering Indigo Girls tunes in Munich.
Some of the weirdest include a gorilla playing a trumpet on the London Underground and a bunch of shirtless guys banging on boxes singing "We're Not Going to Take It". Some of the more annoying ones (beside the pan flute mafia) include the guys who sit for hours playing the same monotonous rhythms on some old buckets (enough already, it was creative the first 82 times I heard it...) or the guy who regularly plays the trumpet really loudly on the street in DC.

I know not everyone feels the same way that I do. Most people really don't care a whole lot about buskers. Recently the Washington Post did an experiment by placing the world famous virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell at a Metro stop in DC and no one paid much attention to him. I am not sure if I would have recognized Mr. Bell, but I do know that I would have stopped to put some money in his case. I alight from that very same Metro station every weekday and on the rare occasion that I hear a busker as I ascend the long escalator I am immediately drawn out of my morning funk. Unfortunately, I missed Mr. Bell's appearance but I guess that means I have an extra dollar for the amateurs that are out there trying to make a buck by making me happy.