Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Washington DC Notes

The “Mall” is a wide strip of grass growing between the US capital building and the tall obelisk of the Washington Monument. Most days of this week have been lovely spring weather. Local people and tourists come out into this green space to enjoy the warmth and the sunshine. Large beds of tulips – red – yellow – white – variegated are intermingled with pansies and hyacinths.

Flowers in front of the Capitol building

Eighth grade school groups from all over the US march by on the sidewalk, often with the leader holding aloft a special umbrella which serves as a rallying point for his or her group. Tourists from every party of the country come to see their government in action. It is spring – really spring!

2. I feel a renewed sense of what the American government is about when I come to Washington DC. I am a Liberal Democrat in my own political beliefs – and here I rub shoulders with people whose T-shirts identify them with all manner of beliefs.

Supreme Count Building

We actually have much in common - All these fellow Americans and me - our American form of government is remarkable for being a democracy based on law! There are many “democracies” in the world not based on law – not based on a constitution. We are also remarkable for our system of checks and balances... frustrating as it sometimes appears to be.

Inscription in Smithsoniam Museum - James Madison
Beccause of our two house system of congress the voices of the people teoretically have a way to be heard, This provides a means by which ideas can contend. . (Atop one of the buildings is a carving of the tortoise and the hare – a reminder that swiftness does not always win the race…)

Spring Flowering Trees - US Capitol Grounds
In this world of human foibles our system continues to function remarkably well. It has been said that the reason that America does not have abrupt changes in government, like many other governments of the world – is because the party out of power has ready opportunities to challenge the prevailing system and say – “we will soon have a chance to compete to get back in power”… and the party in power always has the accountability of the voters always breathing down their back. The figure atop the US capital building is "Sophia" mentioned in the Bible as Wisdom...our ideal...

Supreme Count . Sophia atop the US Capitol Building

Today we walked down C Street. This is the infamous side of Washington DC. These attractive houses across the street from the House and Senate office buildings are the offices of some of the most powerful financial, business, and special interest lobbies in Washington.

C street offices

This sadly is an aspect of government that is not included in our constitution and was not anticipated by the founding fathers – yet lobbyists remain a powerful voice in determining the policies of the US government. If you are a representative and you are offered big bucks to support a particular position – and if this money might make the difference to your being reelected – would you have the courage to say NO?

Suppose there are issues that are sacred cows to everyone (and there are several) – if you knew that supporting or opposing this action would cause your finances to dry up and your opponents to gain - what would you do?

The founding fathers in their wisdom also could not have anticipated the concept of public opinion engineering as it is practiced today… Money can determine what the newspapers report... TV and internet too… If you have enough money to spend you can engineer large numbers of people to think that they are thinking independently and supporting or opposing major ideas that they know little about. That is the scariest thing of all.

Here in Washington you can also find citizen groups on every issue that come to Washington to express their concerns - to advocate for what they believe in right or, to seek answers to their grievances.

4. Butte College students, building awareness of the clean water v. commencial use issues on several N. Cal Rivers

Washington has many Smithsonian museums – most are along the length on the great central “mall”. We visited several this week that we especially enjoy …my current favorites are the Portrait Gallery, the Native American gallery, and Natural Science. Several of the museums also have lunch cafes… The Native American Museum serves Native food from 5 different regions of America – incredibly good!

5. We also visited the National Botanical garden -

Jack in the Pulpit - national arboretum

first it is immense – Second it is divided into fascinating smaller specialty gardens – such as Herbs, dogwoods, Chinese plants, Bonsai, Varieties of Lilacs, etc… a gret variety of regional plants are included –

18' Bonzai speciman

including some domesticated flowers and groomed gardens. It is incredible –

it is world class – I went from one superlative to another and saw plants I have only heard about for years…

6. Today we went up to the House of Representatives office building to “say hello" to our congressman. It is Easter Week and they were actually closed for a week recess – but we got to see Pete Stark's office and staff.

– and just down the hall we stopped in to express our support for Nancy Pelosi. The office staff of each congressperson treated us with courtesy... we are invited to leave a note .

And so now we go back home... In our absense we have been fortunate to have someone living in our house and taking good care of things in our absence. Like my Mother used to say - "Its wlways fun to get away from home and its always nice to return"!!