Hey, Congressman, your vote does have consequences

Today, I drove my cousin and his wife down to the National Mall in Washington, DC.  It was a sad an empty sight, with barriers in front of the monuments and museums and barely a  tourist soul in sight. The government is shut down. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are forced to stay home, without pay. Washington, DC is practically closed.

But in the middle of this, Texas Republican congressman Randy Neugebauer visiting the Mall had the audacity to verbally attack a Park Service ranger in front of the closed World War II Memorial, saying that the Park Service should be ashamed of itself.

Hello! In what world does congressman Neugebauer live? Hey, there are consequences for how you vote, Congressman, at least in a democracy. But Neugebauer does not seem to understand that. The reason the National Mall is deserted today is that you and the other Republicans in Congress are sore losers. You lost on Obamacare. You lost in the Supreme Court. And you lost in last year’s elections, which came pretty close to being a referendum on Obamacare.

Have you never heard of majority rule? The minority never rules. That’s what voting and democracy are all about, and that is what really makes this present political stalemate so scary, well, such a scandal.  If you want to go out and overturn Obamacare, congressman Neugebauer, go out and win an election. That’s how it works!

As Tom Friedman wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, “the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake…”you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head.”


It’s “Nordic Cool” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

Yes, it’s big and Nordic and it kicks off tonight for a whole month with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of the Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo and with Danish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen performing Nordic music by Sibelius, Alfvén, Grieg, Leif and Nielsen.Nordic Cool 2013

Never before, neither in the U.S. nor in Europe, has such a broad Nordic culture initiative taken place, and in this case it was a Kennedy Center’s initiative, with support from the five Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland).

– Yes, it’s really exciting and a great opportunity for the Nordic countries to showcase what is best in Nordic culture, said Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth at a press briefing today at the Swedish Embassy, ​​House of Sweden, here in Washington, DC.

All the Nordic countries, plus Greenland and the Faroe Islands, have turned up in full force with all they have to offer in music, theater, film, food, dance, architecture, art and design. From Sweden, except for the Royal Philharmonics, there is the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s production of “Fanny and Alexander”, performances by Anne Sofie von Otter, workshops on Nordic literature, not the least detective novels, and films like Jan Troell’s newest, “The Last Sentence.”

It will be interesting to see how this major Nordic venture is received by the American audiences. In any case, it’s a great chance for them to learn a lot about what makes northern Europe tick, and to tick so successfully.


It’s “we” and “together” in Obama’s inclusive America

President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address today was all about ”we,” and ”we, the people,” about ”equality” and ”together.”  It was a clear and straight forward statement by the re-elected president about his view of America, a liberal/progressive view in an inclusive America  — a country for everyone.

The speech was elegant, inspiring, and passionate, given by someone who looked forward to his second term in the White House with renewed strength and great self-confidence, and it was the highlight of a most festive day in Washington, DC, where the crowds were not as large as four years ago, when almost two million people jammed The National Mall in spite of very chilly weather. But they were just as enthusiastic, clearly cherishing the moment that America’s first black president had been re-elected and handed the nation’s trust for another four years.

The president talked about America’s “never-ending journey” and that so much is remains to be done.

”Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people…This is our generation’s ask – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life and Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.

The speech was an unabashed re-affirmation of Obama’s basic liberal political philosophy, saying that  ”preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

He was full of hope and faith in America, if the nation stuck together:

“America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it—so long as we seize it together.”

He talked about equal pay for women, equal treatment for gays, right to vote for everyone,  about the importance of social security, Medicare and Medicaid, the right of immigrants, and about gun control, without mentioning the word but referring to the ”quite lanes of Newtown” and keeping the nation’s children ”safe from harm.”

“We, the people,  still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit;  but we reject the belief that America must choose between the caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”

Obama’s second inaugural address was free of political attacks and party politics. It contained no direct attacks on the Republicans, but, on the other hand, one could interpret the whole speech as Obama putting down his marker, that this is what he believes in, this is his America, and this is what he is going to fight for during his second term.

The details in his political program will come in his State of the Union address to Congress on February 12. That will also likely mark the continuation of Washington’s political battle. Will that fight be as merciless as before today’s inauguration? Probably, and maybe even more so… But, at least it is now totally clear where Barack Obama stands, and that feels liberating.

Goodnight Irene!

It’s getting close to midnight and the wind and the rain from Hurricane Irene pound the house and the windows. So far, we have fared better than we expected. Electricity is still on, to our great surprise, since power cuts are legion every time it blows a bit in Washington. Lots of trees are down. The streets are empty. People are home. All the TV channels are covering the big weather story.

Out on the Atlantic coast and around the Chesapeake Bay, about an hour east of Washington, it is worse. Irene passed right over there and up along the coast, towards Atlantic City and New York. The lovely beach resorts are practically empty, at the height of the summer season, since everyone has been told to leave.

We’ll see tomorrow when we wake up what damage Irene has caused. And we will see tomorrow how New York fared when Irene hits the Big Apple early in the morning.

So, for now, goodnight Irene!

OK, it was a scare…but come on!

Ok, it was a scare. Earth quakes, I know from my days in California and the Balkans, are not pleasant.

But nothing really happened here in Washington yesterday. Oh, the Washington Monument was slightly damaged and is closed until further notice, and bricks fell from some buildings, but there was really no major damage and, above all, no one died, not even in tiny Mineral, Virginia, at the epicenter of the earthquake.

Still, there was panic. Washington and its inhabitants were simply not prepared for something like this. But there is no excuse, writes Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney today.

“As the nation’s capital, with the memory still strong of the Sept. 11 attacks, we ought to be the world champions of emergency preparedness.”

Couldn’t agree more. And couldn’t agree more about the massive, almost ridiculous, media coverage that the quake produced — all afternoon and all evening – as Daily Beast media critic Howard Kurtz writes. Suddenly, there were no longer any rebels in Libya — “Goodbye, rebels. Hello, pandemonium.”

I had to switch over to Al Jazeera to find out what was happening in Tripoli, the day’s truly big story.

The King memorial finally opens on the National Mall

Forty-eight years after his “I Have a Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington National Mall, Martin Luther King, Jr., finally, has his own memorial on the U.S. capital’s hallowed grounds.

The statue and the new monument commemorate the civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 60’s that fundamentally changed this country, and it is fitting that president Obama on Sunday will interrupt his vacation and come down to Washington to give the big speech at the inaugural ceremony — for without King, no Obama.

The festivities on Sunday are expected to bring out hundreds of thousands, but yesterday, and continuing this week, the public got a first glance in glorious summer weather of the memorial in white granite and with walls of quotations from King’s many speeches up until that fateful April day in Memphis in 1968.

At the new memorial, Martin Luther King is surrounded by America’s history and its former leaders. Carved out from a white “stone of hope” by the Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin, King looks out over the Japanese cherry trees and the Tidal Basin where he, on the other side, can see the memorial to Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence — “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Glancing to his left is the tall George Washington monument, the nation’s first president. Over to the right, under some shady trees, lies the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial. And right behind King is the Lincoln memorial, from which King on August 28, 1963 spoke so unforgettably about his dream.

Martin Luther King is the first African American with a statue on Washington’s National Mall. It’s about time, and you could sense and hear that from many of those waiting, of all races, in the bright sun to view the memorial and read its important messages of peace and non-violence. The King memorial is an important addition to the National Mall.

Out to the sea, again and again…

When the temperature recently reached 100 degrees and Washington became hot, humid and unbearable, I slipped out of town and headed east, out over the four-mile-long bridge over the Chesapeake Bay, across the flat Eastern Shore of Maryland and out to Delaware and the sea…

The waves rolled in from the Atlantic, a salty breeze blew cool and the sandy beaches stretched north and south as far as the eye could see. To arrive and sit down in the sand brought great pleasure, not least because the journey there is not always easy.

The drive is a little over two hours but often more if you choose, or are forced to choose, to leave Washington in rush hour on Friday afternoon. Awaiting are the beautiful, mile-long, sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean between the small coastal towns of Lewes, Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany, all in Delaware, where the first Swedish immigrants arrived in 1638 on the ship Kalmar Nyckel – “The Tall Ship of Delaware” – and founded the colony New Sweden. A replica of the Kalmar Key was completed in 1997 in connection with 350th anniversary of New Sweden, and she now sails with tourists in the waters around Delaware and sometimes docks at the ferry terminal in Lewes, where boats run to Cape May in New Jersey across the Delaware Bay.

The old fishing town of Lewes from the early 1600s is especially charming today with its small historic district full of Victorian homes and nice shops and good restaurants. And it is close to Cape Henlopen State Park with its untouched nature and beautiful beaches. It’s precisely the Delaware park system and the fact that the beaches are part of the Delaware Seashore State Park, which makes them so attractive. They are peaceful destinations, away from America’s traffic, commercialism, advertising signs, parking lots and shopping centers.

No wonder the Delaware beaches have become so popular not only for Washington’s millions but also for those who live in surrounding cities like Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia. That’s the negative side of the Delaware beaches – their popularity. But if you can avoid Fourth of July, and the traffic on Friday afternoons and Sunday evenings, or simply come and visit in late spring and early summer, or in September and October, then you cannot avoid being charmed, and return, again and again…

Jazz on re-born H Street Corridor

My hometown Washington, DC is changing.

I was reminded of that again the other night, as I ventured over to the H Street Corridor and the new jazz club, HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues. Its name comes from a congressional resolution in 1987, which designated jazz as “a rare and valuable national American treasure.”

HR-57 had recently moved here, from a more established area in downtown, and oh, what a nice and friendly little place it was, with alto saxophonist Antonio Parker and his quartet, all local musicians, playing some strong modern jazz and with the son of an old high school friend from Santa Monica, CA, at the piano.

HR-57 is part of the revived H Street NE Corridor, also called the Atlas District after the renovated art deco Atlas Performing Arts Center from 1938. During my many earlier years in Washington, I never or rarely ventured there, because there really was nothing there, as it was pretty much destroyed in the riots after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968.

The same thing happened to the area around U and 14th Streets, once a focal point for many black jazz musicians. It has made its remarkable comeback in the last decade, and, now, it seems to be the H Street Corridor’s turn. Once again, this area is popping, with H Street Playhouse and with restaurants, bars, and clubs, like HR-57, Rock & Roll Hotel, Pug Bar, H Street Country Club, etc.

Along the 1.5 mile long H Street NE, Washington’s new trolley will begin to run next spring, as streetcars are brought back to the nation’s capital after an absence of over 50 years. The H Street line is part of the first step in what could become a 37-mile citywide network, connecting the H Street Corridor with Union Station. It will likely quicken the re-birth of this area, which was once a main commercial street in the city. The transition is not yet completed, but it is on its way and it’s exciting and fun.

The joy of a hot bike trip in Washington, DC

Memorial Day in Washington, DC.

Hot and humid. Concert and a parade, and many who flocked to the Arlington cemetery across the Potomac River, including president Obama, who made a speech and laid a wreath.

Many simply gathered in their gardens with family and friends, and the barbecue smoke hung in the air, everywhere. Others had left town and gone out to the beach resorts in Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia.  The city was really quite empty and the heat made it feel even emptier.

I took a bike ride while waiting for the barbecue in the afternoon, on Sligo Creek Trail along the Sligo Creek in Silver Spring, Maryland, just north of the border with Washington, DC. It was late morning, before the heat reached 95 degrees. Normally, I would never even have thought about exercising outdoors if it were not so that the bike path mostly ran in the shade of big trees and with water from Sligo Creek constantly running refreshingly along the route.

There were not many riders out on the almost 10 mile long trail, perhaps because of the heat. So there was plenty of room even though bikers must share the trail with joggers and families with strollers. It was quiet and peaceful and just one more of the many joys one can find in the green parks of the U.S. capital.