Posts Tagged ‘President Ronald Reagan’

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Tim Russert’s headstone at Rock Creek Cemetery

After recently reading “Big Russ and Me, Father and Son: Lessons of Life”, the critically-acclaimed memoir written by Tim Russert, I found myself nostalgically remembering NBC’s Meet the Press when Tim Russert was the moderator.  While it was a nationally broadcast show, it was based here in D.C. And Russert was the moderator of the Sunday morning political news talk show for 16 years, until his death in 2008.  I also thought about how he was considered one of the most trusted and admired figures in American television newscasting.  But now the words trusted and and admired and news don’t seem to go in the same sentence much anymore.  A lot has changed in the world since he passed away.    

So, on this bike ride, I chose to ride to Rock Creek Cemetery, in northwest D.C.’s Brightwood Park neighborhood (MAP), to visit the gravesite where Russert is buried.  

Born Timothy John Russert in Buffalo, New York (about an hour from where I was born), he was the second of four children and the only son of Timothy Joseph “Big Russ” Russert, a sanitation worker, and Elizabeth “Betty” Seeley Russert, a homemaker. He received a Jesuit education from Canisius High School, before earning a bachelor’s degree in 1972 from John Carroll University and a Juris Doctor with honors from the Cleveland State University Cleveland–Marshall College of Law, in 1976.

After completing his education and before becoming moderator for Meet the Press, Russert’s career highlights included running one of U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s five major law offices based in Buffalo. Within five years he became a special counsel and chief of staff to Moynihan, a Democrat from Hell’s Kitchen, New York. He then became a top aide to New York Governor Mario Cuomo, also a Democrat.  

He left politics in 1984 to become a journalist when he became the senior vice president of NBC News’ Washington operations. Four years later, in 1988, he was promoted to Washington bureau chief of NBC News. And in 1991 he took the job as moderator of Meet the Press. Throughout his time on Meet the Press, Russert also moderated numerous political debates between candidates in U.S. Senate races, governor races in various states, and between presidential candidates. The candidates in those debates included politicians ranging from David Duke to Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Russert met Maureen Orth at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. They were married three years later at the Basilica de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain. Maureen was also a journalist, and still works as a reporter, author, and a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine. Together they had one child, a son, named Luke. Luke is a former NBC News correspondent, and was an intern with ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Luke currently hosts the XM Radio show 60/20 Sports with political consultant James Carville, who has made numerous appearances on Meet the Press.  

In June of 2008 Russert returned from a family vacation in Rome, Italy, where they had celebrated Luke’s graduation from Boston College. While his wife and son remained in Rome, Russert had returned to prepare for his Sunday show. On June 13th, at the offices of WRC-TV where he was recording voiceovers for his show, Russert collapsed from a heart attack. A co-worker immediately began performing CPR on him while 911 was called. The D.C. Fire and Rescue service received the call at 1:40 pm and dispatched an EMS unit which arrived four minutes later.  Paramedics attempted to defibrillate Russert’s heart three times, but he did not respond. Russert was then transported to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 58 years old, the same age I am now. 

As I sat on the bench at Russert’s gravesite, I thought about how much more vitriolic and divisive politics have become since he passed away.  In 2008 Donald Trump was a celebrity TV star who hosted “The Apprentice” and co-hosted “The Celebrity Apprentice”.  And that year Donald Trump backed Hillary Clinton for president and stated that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should impeach President George W. Bush.  And as I sat there I wondered what Russert would have thought of the fact that Donald Trump was now the President, who beat Hillary Clinton to become President, and was later impeached by Speaker Pelosi.  And I wondered if, considering how different the world is now, things could ever get back to the way they were when Russert hosted Meet the Press.   

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Some additional interesting aspects of Russert’s life include: 

  • Although he wasn’t the first to use the terminology, Russert is credited coining the phrases “red states” and “blue states”. However, when Russert used the phrases Republican states were blue, and Democratic states were red. The colors have since switched places, and how the colors got switched is not clear.
  • Russert once told a story on Meet the Press about how he went to Woodstock “in a Buffalo Bills jersey with a case of beer.”
  • While in law school, an official from John Carroll University called Russert to ask if he could book some concerts for the school as he had done while a student there. One concert that Russert booked was headlined by a then-unknown singer named Bruce Springsteen, who charged $2,500 for the appearance.
  • During his coverage of the 2000 presidential election, Russert calculated possible Electoral College outcomes using a whiteboard, and that whiteboard is now in the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Russert was an enthusiastic sports fan. He grew up as a New York Yankees fan, but switched his allegiance to the Washington Nationals when they were established in D.C. in 2005.
  • Russert held season tickets to both the Nationals baseball games and the Washington Wizards basketball games.
  • Russert was also a lifelong fan of the Buffalo Bills football team, and often closed Sunday broadcasts during the football season with a statement of encouragement for the franchise. The team released a statement on the day of his death, saying that listening to Russert’s “Go Bills” exhortation was part of their Sunday morning game preparation.
  • After he passed away, the route leading to the Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, was renamed the “Timothy J. Russert Highway”.
  • Russert was also a fan of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team and appeared on an episode of Meet the Press next to the Stanley Cup during a Sabres playoff run.
  • Russert, when he was a student at the Cleveland–Marshall College of Law, attended Ten Cent Beer Night, a promotion by the Cleveland Indians which ended in a riot at the stadium. “I went with $2 in my pocket,” he recalled. “You do the math.”
  • Russert was elected in 2003 to the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
  • Russert was friends with Fred Rogers, host of the iconic PBS children’s program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”.
  • During his career, Russert received 48 honorary doctorate degrees.
  • Russert’s favorite beer was Rolling Rock. And, at his funeral, friend and fellow NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw brought and raised a Rolling Rock in Russert’s memory.
  • Russert received an Emmy Award for his news coverage of the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan.
  • Russert was a lifelong devout Catholic, and shortly before his death he had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
  • In 2008, the same year in which he would later pass away, Time magazine named Russert one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
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Grace Murray Hopper Park

I rode over to Virginia during this daily bike ride, and during my ride I happened upon a small park tucked in among the massive apartment and office buildings of Crystal City.  It is located on South Joyce Street in Arlington (MAP), and named Grace Murray Hopper Park, who was a rear admiral in the United States Navy.  Finding a park named after a female rear admiral piqued my curiosity.  So I did some research to find out what I could about her when I got home.  And I found out that she was a very accomplished and interesting person.

Grace Brewster Murray was on December 9, 1906.  That same year, Xerox, a digital office machine brand, was founded in Rochester, New York. Albert Einstein had just published his “Theory of Relativity.”  And the Women’s Suffrage movement was soon to receive major-party support and worldwide attention. An era of scientific and social innovation and eruption was about to begin. Change was on the horizon. And Grace would eventually contribute greatly to that change.  

Grace was born in New York City, the eldest of three children born to Walter Fletcher Murray and Mary Campbell Van Horne. She attended private school at the Hartridge School in Plainfield, New Jersey. At the age of 16, Grace applied for early admission to Vassar College, but was initially rejected because her test scores in Latin were too low.  She reapplied the following year and was admitted.  She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar in 1928 with a bachelor’s degree with a double major in mathematics and physics. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in 1930, and a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1934, both from Yale University. Hopper began teaching mathematics at Vassar in 1931 and was promoted to associate professor ten years later.

She was married to New York University professor Vincent Foster Hopper from 1930 until their divorce in 1945. They did not have any children.  And she did not marry again, but chose to retain the surname of Hopper.  

The Navy had always played an important role in Grace’s family because her great-grandfather served in the Civil War as a Navy admiral.  And when World War II broke out while Grace was still teaching at Vassar, she attempted to enlist in the Navy.  But she was rejected because of her age of 34, her low weight, and the importance of her work as a mathematics professor.  Therefore, she continued to teach at Vassar and was promoted to the position of Associate Professor in 1941 – the year of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Two years later Grace left Vassar to join the U.S. Naval Reserve, also known as WAVES.  But even for that she would need to get an exemption because she was 15 lbs. under the Navy’s minimum of 120 lbs.  But she received a waiver, and went on to graduate first in her class at the Naval Reserve school in Northampton, Massachusetts. 

Grace was commissioned a lieutenant and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance’s Computation Project at Harvard University, where she worked on Mark I, the first large-scale automatic calculator and a precursor of electronic computers. After the war, she remained at the Harvard Computation Lab for four years as a civilian research fellow. In 1949, she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, where she helped to develop the UNIVAC I, the first general-purpose electronic computer. Throughout her postwar career in academia and private industry, Hopper retained her naval commission.

Grace initially retired from the Navy in 1966. However, one year later, she was recalled to active duty for a six-month period that turned into an indefinite assignment directing the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy’s Office of Information System Planning, standardizing computing languages.  She retired again in 1971, but was once again asked to return to active duty in 1972.  She was promoted to Captain in 1973, and finally Commodore (later renamed Rear Admiral), the highest peacetime military rank possible, by Presidential appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.  She remained on active duty for several years beyond mandatory retirement by special approval of Congress.  In 1986, when Rear Adm. Hopper retired for the third and final time from the Navy at the age of 79, she was the oldest officer on active U.S. naval duty.  

Following her retirement from the Navy, she was hired by Digital Equipment Corporation.  She proposed in jest that she would be willing to accept a position which made her available on alternating Thursdays to be exhibited at their museum of computing as a pioneer, in exchange for a generous salary and unlimited expense account. Instead, she was hired as a full-time senior consultant. In this position, Grace represented the company at industry forums, serving on various industry committees, along with other obligations.  She retained that position until her death.  She died at home in her sleep of natural causes at at age 85 in 1992.  At the time of her death she was a resident of River House Apartments, which is adjacent to the park named in her honor.  

Throughout her career she was a computer pioneer, and she came to be known as “Amazing Grace” for her groundbreaking achievements. Some of her achievements and other interesting facts about this amazing woman include:

  • Grace was an especially curious child. At the age of seven, her mother discovered she had been dismantling alarm clocks to figure out their inner workings. She had taken apart seven clocks before her mother intervened and limited her to a single clock to tinker with.
  • The clock in Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper’s office ran counterclockwise.
  • After a moth infiltrated the circuits of Mark I, she coined the term bug to refer to unexplained computer failures.
  • The famous quotation “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission” is often attributed to her. 
  • A minor planet discovered by Eleanor Helin is named “5773 Hopper” in her honor. 
  • Women at Microsoft Corporation formed an employee group called Hoppers and established a scholarship in her honor.
  • During her lifetime, Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world.
  • Hopper College, one of the residential colleges of Yale University, was named after her.  
  • She was awarded The Data Processing Management Association’s Inaugural “Man-of-the-Year” Award.  
  • She was awarded The National Medal of Technology.
  • The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper was named for her. 
  • Also named after her is he Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.  
  • The U.S. Naval Academy also owns a Cray XC-30 supercomputer named “Grace,” hosted at the University of Maryland-College Park. 
  • Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded by the Department of Defense.
  • She was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery
  • On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

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Operation Eagle Claw Memorial

I remember the fall of 1979.  I was a senior in high school.  And it was an eventful time.  Some of the events seemed more significant at the time than they would be in the long run, such as when the Pittsburgh Pirates  defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.  It was before the Washington Nationals existed.  So the Orioles were as close to a local team as we had. 

Other events from that time became ingrained in my memory because of how they affected me on a personal level, such as when several fans of The Who were killed at a concert at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio.  A combination of “festival” (unassigned) seating and too few entrances being opened resulted in eleven kids being trampled to death when the crowd surged forward trying to enter the concert.  Those kids were all approximately my age, and I remember thinking that it could have been me.

Still other events were even more significant in nature and would have rippling effects on history.  One of those events would come to be known as the “Iran hostage crisis.”  It started on November 4th, 40 years ago today, when hundreds of Iranian Islamic fundamentalists who supported the Iranian Revolution under the Ayatollah Khomeini, mostly students, took over the United States Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage, demanding that the U.S. send the former Shah of Iran back to stand trial.  or days nothing was known of the hostages’ condition until their captors finally released all female and black hostages. Later, one other man was released for medical reasons, leaving 53 Americans captives.

By spring of the following year the situation had reached a standstill.  All diplomatic attempts to secure their release had failed.  So President Jimmy Carter authorized a secret joint-services military operation on April 25, 1980, to rescue the hostages.  The plan, known as Operation Eagle Claw (Operation Tabas in Iran), called for a rendezvous of helicopters and cargo planes at a remote desert site in Iran, known as Desert One, before attempting the actually rescue of the hostages. However, the mission was aborted when two of the aircraft collided.  The ensuing explosion and fire claimed the lives of eight American service personnel.  They included three Marines:  Sergeant John D. Harvey, Corporal George N. Holmes Jr., Staff Sergeant Dewey Johnson; and five Air Force personnel:  Major Richard L. Bakke, Major Harold L. Lewis Jr., Technical Sergeant Joel C. Mayo, Captain Lyn D. McIntosh, and Captain Charles T. McMillan.  Their bodies could not be recovered before the surviving aircraft had to abandon the desert staging area. Shortly thereafter the eight bodies were returned to the United States. 

The failed rescue operation resulted in some rather undesirable consequences. Firstly, the hostages were scattered across Iran, to make another rescue mission impossible. Also, the US government received heavy criticism from governments around the world for making such blunders in a very critical situation. As a matter of fact, experts and President Carter himself believe that the failure of Operation Eagle Claw was a major reason he lost the presidential election to Ronald Reagan.

Only 20 minutes before Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President on January 20, 1981, Iran finally released the hostages.  They were held for 444 days, making it the longest hostage crisis in recorded history.  

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited a monument dedicated to the memory of the gallant servicemen, who died in the valiant effort to rescue the American hostages.  It is located in Arlington National Cemetery, near the Memorial Amphitheater.  The monument consists of a white stone marker that bears a bronze plaque listing the names and ranks of the three Marines and the five airmen killed in Operation Eagle Claw.

NOTE:  Although it was a failed mission and its widespread failure would be a moment of profound humiliation for the United States, the operation has since become known as the “most successful failed mission in history.”  Many tactics and procedures were first used and developed by the military personnel of Operation Eagle Claw, including blacked out landings, landing on unprepared runways, multi-aircraft air field seizure, clandestine insertion of small helicopters and many other procedures, some of which are still classified to this day.

The Assassination Site of President Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the 20th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881, until his death by assassination six and a half months later while waiting to catch a train at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station.  The site where it happened s just a few hundred yards from the 20th President’s official Presidential Memorial in an area of the city that has gone through many changes since the train station’s building and tracks were demolished in 1908 during a redesign of the National Mall.  The National Gallery of Art’s West Building is now located there (MAP).  But one thing stayed the same at the site for the first 137 years after President Garfield’s assassination.  That was the absence of a plaque or historical marker to indicate what happened there on July 2, 1881.  But that recently changed.  So on this bike ride, I went there to see the new historical marker.

When President Garfield was elected in 1880, a man named Charles Julius Guiteau falsely believed he had played a major role in his victory.  He also thought he should be rewarded with a consulship for his efforts in electing the new President.  So he submitted applications to serve in Paris or Vienna, despite the fact he spoke no French or any other  foreign language.  But when the Garfield administration rejected his applications, he decided it was because he was part of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, and President Garfield was affiliated with the opposing Half-Breed faction of the party.  Guiteau was so offended at being rejected for a consular position that he decided President Garfield had to die so that Vice President Chester A. Arthur, who was a fellow Stalwart, would succeed him.  He thought this would not only end the war within the Republican Party, but would lead to rewards for fellow Stalwarts, including himself.

As difficult as it is to imagine in today’s political world, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was seen as a fluke due to the Civil War, and Garfield, like most people, saw no reason why the president should be guarded.  In fact, the President’s plans and schedule were often printed in the newspapers.  Knowing his schedule and where he would be, Guiteau followed Garfield several times.  But each time his plans to kill the President were frustrated, or he lost his nerve.  Then in the summer of 1881, when the President had been in office for only four months, Garfield decided to take a train trip to New England to escape the swampy summer heat of D.C.  Right after he arrived at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station, Guiteau emerged from where he had been hiding by the ladies’ waiting room and walked up to Garfield and shot him twice, once in the back and once in the arm, with an ivory-handled pistol, a gun he thought would look good in a museum.  Guiteau was quickly apprehended, and as he was led away, he stated, “I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.”

The wounded President was taken upstairs to a private office in the train station, where several doctors examined him.  There they probed the wound with unwashed fingers, another thing that is difficult to imagine today.  At Garfield’s request, he was then taken back to The White House.  The physician who took charge at the train station and then at the White House was Willard Bliss, an old friend of the President’s.  About a dozen physicians, led by Dr. Bliss, were soon probing the wound, again with unsterilized fingers and instruments.

Although in considerable pain despite being given morphine, the President did not lose his sense of humor.  He asked Dr. Bliss to tell him his chances, which Bliss put at one in a hundred. The President then replied, “Well, Doctor, we’ll take that chance.”  In addition to his treatment, Garfield was also being given oatmeal porridge and milk from a cow on the White House lawn for nourishment.  However, he hated oatmeal porridge.  So when he was told that Indian chief Sitting Bull, a prisoner of the U.S. Army, was starving, Garfield initially said, “Let him starve,” but then quickly changed his mind and said, “Oh, no, send him my oatmeal.”

During the President’s treatment, Alexander Graham Bell attempted to locate the bullet with a primitive metal detector.  (The use of X-rays, which likely would have helped the President’s physicians save his life, would not be invented for another fourteen years.)  However, he was unsuccessful.  But they were able to help keep Garfield relatively comfortable in the stifling heat that he had been trying to escape with one of the first successful air conditioning units, which reduced the temperature in the sickroom by 20 degrees.

During the weeks of intensive care after being shot, Garfield would alternately seem to get better and then take turns for the worse.  He developed an abscess around the wound, which doctors probed but most likely only made worse.  He also developed infections that cause him to have a fever of 104 degrees, and he lost a considerable amount of weight.  Eventually, Dr. Bliss agreed to move him to Elberon, part of Long Branch, New Jersey, where his wife had been recovering from an illness at the time her husband was shot.

There, Garfield could see the ocean as officials and reporters maintained what became a death watch. Garfield eventually succumbed to a combination of his injury and his treatment.  On September 18, Garfield asked Almon Ferdinand Rockwell, a friend and business associate who was at his bedside, if he would have a place in history. Rockwell assured Garfield he would, but told him that he still had much work to do.  The President responded, “No, my work is done.”  He died later that night.

According to many medical experts and historians, Garfield most likely would have survived his wounds had Dr. Bliss and the other doctors attending to him had the benefit of modern medical research, knowledge, techniques, and equipment.  In fact, much like President Ronald Reagan after the assassination attempt at The Washington Hilton here in D.C., Garfield would probably also have survived being shot.  Instead, the treatment he received at least contributed, and most likely caused his death.  It is thought that starvation also played a role in President Garfield’s death.

Four presidents have been assassinated while in office.  And two of them occurred here in D.C.  President Lincoln was killed at Ford’s Theater in 1865, and just 16 years later President Garfield was shot by Guiteau less than a thousand yards away from where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Boothe.  There were already official markers for President Lincoln at The Petersen House in D.C. where he died, President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, and President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  Now all four sites have been properly recognized.  I’ve now been to the two sites here in D.C.  The other two, however, are a little too far away for a lunchtime bike ride.

   

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National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an annual observance inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation.  It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress which requested the President to proclaim a day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation in places of worship, in groups, and as individuals.  It was subsequently signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.  In 1988, the law was unanimously amended by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Thursday, May 5, 1988, designating the first Thursday of May as a day of national prayer.  Each year since its inception, the president has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.

It was announced late last year that the theme for this year’s observance is “Pray for America – Unity,” based upon Ephesians 4:3, which challenges believers to mobilize unified public prayer for America, “Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

In recognition of this year’s observance, during today’s bike ride I stopped by the American Center for Prayer and Revival, located in the basement of 117 2nd Street (MAP), right across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court Building, in northeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.  There they provided a prayer room, a red, white and blue “Pray” button for me to wear for the rest of the day, and a pre-packaged Eucharist pack with both wine and a communion wafer.

The American Center for Prayer and Revival is a center designed for day-and-night prayer in the National Capitol city, much like David’s Tent is for worship.  Through hosting teams of intercessors who maintain a 24/7 prayer vigil focused on asking God for a spiritual re-awakening and re-evangelization across our country and among our nation’s leaders.  Believing that only a powerful movement of repentant prayer and engagement in God’s Word will bring America back to spiritual life again, the center hopes to see a true religious revival in the United States, much like the great awakenings led by Jonathan Edwards in the 1750s and Charles Finney in the 1850s.

As I left and passed by the Supreme Court building, it made me wonder about the legality of the National Day of Prayer, and if it had yet been challenged in court.  Some people might say that it is wrong for the President to issue such a proclamation, contending that it is improper for the government to do so because it violates the separation of church and state and is, therefore, unconstitutional.

But while looking into the National Day of Prayer and learning more about it, I discovered that it has been challenged in court.  And the court ruled that it is perfectly legal.

In October of 2008, an organization named the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to challenge the constitutionality of the designation of a National Day of Prayer. On October 3, 2008, the Wisconsin-based organization filed suit in a federal court in Madison, naming as defendants President George W. Bush; White House press secretary Dana Perino; Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle; and evangelist James Dobson’s wife, Shirley Dobson, in her capacity as chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.  After initially being declared unconstitutional in April of 2010 by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Crabb’s decision.

The panel ruled that the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to sue because the National Day of Prayer had not caused them harm and stated that “a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury.” The court further stated that “the President is free to make appeals to the public based on many kinds of grounds, including political and religious, and that such requests do not obligate citizens to comply and do not encroach on citizens’ rights.”  In its issued opinion, the Federal appeals court even cited President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which referenced God seven times and prayer three times.

         
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Mama Ayesha and the Presidents

During this lunchtime bike ride as I was riding across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in northwest D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, I saw a mural on the side of a building on the eastern end of the bridge.  So I rode over to get a better look at the mural.  I discovered it was on the side of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, located at 1967 Calvert Street (MAP), and depicts the restaurant’s namesake standing in front of The White House.  She is flanked on either side by eleven different presidents standing in chronological order, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. The content of the public artwork is so unusual that I just had to find out more about it.

The mural was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and private donors.  It was created in 2009 by Karla Rodas, also known as Karlísima, who is a native of El Salvador but moved with her family as a child to nearby Alexandria.  After graduating from Annandale High School and Washington University, she returned to D.C. and has since become one of the capital city’s most well-known and respected muralists.

The initial concept for the mural was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960. However, the original plan did not have Mama Ayesha as the centerpiece of the work. Instead, the family wanted Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be at the center of the mural. She was envisioned to be seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand. However, Thomas politely declined the family’s request, opining that Mama Ayesha should be portrayed instead.

The final design depicts Mama Ayesha in traditional Palestinian garb standing in front of the White House. With six presidents on her right and five on her left, she stands in the middle between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with their arms interlocked. Interspersed throughout the mural are other symbols and additional scenes and landmarks from the national capital city. They include a bald eagle, the city’s famous cherry blossoms, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building.  And representations of the U.S. flag appear on the sides of the painting.

With President Obama’s successor to be determined in tomorrow’s election, I hope the mural will be updated.  There is sufficient space in front of the Reflecting Pool for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  I very much look forward to the election being over.  And I also look forward to being able to come back to see the updated mural at some point in the near future.

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Headstone for Tip O’Neil

On my visit to Historic Congressional Cemetery during this bike ride, I happened upon a headstone for someone I knew of and remember, but didn’t know was honored at the cemetery – Tip O’Neill.  Located at 1801 E Street (MAP), in the southeast portion of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the cemetery got its name when in 1830 the United States Congress appropriated money for improvements, built cenotaphs to honor representatives who had died in office, and purchased several hundred burial sites to be used for members of Congress.  Although the cemetery itself is privately owned, the U.S. government owns 806 burial plots.  This includes many members of Congress who died while Congress was in session.  And I now know that Tip O’Neill is honored there among them.

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill Jr. was born, raised, and lived out almost all of his life as a resident of North Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was also in North Cambridge where he got his start in politics. He first became active in politics at the age of 15, when he campaigned for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. Four years later, he helped campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Then, as a senior at Boston College, O’Neill ran for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. It was his first race, and his first and only electoral defeat. But the campaign taught him a valuable lesson that would later become his best-known quote: “All politics is local.” O’Neill’s first electoral victory came shortly after he graduated from college, when he was elected at the age of 24 to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. From there he would go on to become the first Democratic Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in its history. He remained in that position until 1952, when he ran for the United States House of Representatives from his home district, and was elected to the congressional seat vacated by Senator-elect John F. Kennedy.

O’Neill became a very outspoken liberal Democrat and influential member of the House of Representatives. He would be reelected 16 more times, and served for 34 years. In 1977, O’Neill was elected the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He served as Speaker until his retirement a decade later, making him the only Speaker to serve for five complete consecutive Congresses, and the one of the longest-serving Speakers in U.S. history.

One of the first things that comes to my mind when remembering Tip O’Neill, particularly during the time near the end of his career, was that it was a time when politics and governing was not the animosity-filled, adversarial process that it is today. Republicans and Democrats could have differing opinions and significantly different political philosophies, but at the end of the day they were congenial, and even friendly with each other. And no two people exemplified this type of relationship better than Tip O’Neill and the President at that time, Ronald Reagan. Despite O’Neill being described by his official biographer, John Aloysius Farrell, as an “absolute, unrepentant, unreconstructed New Deal Democrat,” O’Neill was able to have a friendly relationship with a President who rehabilitated conservatism, led the modern conservative movement, and turned the nation to the right. O’Neill and Reagan vehemently disagreed on almost everything, yet were known to occasionally have a beer together at the end of the day, or get together along with their spouses for dinner.

As I stood at the headstone and thought of those bygone days, I couldn’t help but lament the decline in the civility of the current political process in this country.  I find it impossible to imagine Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along with Melania Trump and former President Bill Clinton, ever choosing to get together socially today.  I miss the days when politicians and people could disagree with each other, yet still respect the other person and their opinion.  And I think Tip O’Neill would feel the same way.

UPDATE:  I later learned that the maker in Congressional Cemetery is actually a cenotaph, not a headstone.  A cenotaph is a monument built to honor a person or people whose remains are interred elsewhere or whose remains cannot be recovered.  Tip O’Neill is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Harwich Port, Massachusetts.

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Tomb of the Unknowns

Although it is one of the most universally recognized of the numerous monuments and memorials located within the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), the memorial I rode there to see on this lunchtime bike ride does not have an official name. It is most commonly referred to as either the Tomb of the Unknowns, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but it has never been officially named.

In March of 1921 the United States Congress approved the burial of the unidentified American soldier in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. So an unknown soldier was exhumed from an American military cemetery in France, and transported back to the United States, where he laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Armistice Day of that year. Then, in a ceremony presided over by President Warren G. Harding on November 11, 1921, the unknown soldier was laid to rest and the Tomb of the Unknowns was dedicated as a monument to all those who had fallen during World War I.

Over the years the monument has changed a number of times in regard to both its appearance and purpose. In July of 1926, five years after its dedication, Congress authorized and appropriated money for the completion of a superstructure on top of the Tomb. A design competition was held and won by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones. The Tomb was completed without formal ceremony in April of 1932. But the biggest change to the Tomb took place in August of 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the unknown soldiers of World War II and the Korean War. Finally, on Memorial Day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan presided over the internment of an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War.

Interestingly, with subsequent improvements in DNA testing, the remains of the unknown from the Vietnam War were identified as those of Air Force Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Lộc, Vietnam, in 1972. The identification was announced in June of 1998. The following month, Blassie’s remains were sent home to his family in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Today, the slab over the crypt that once held the remains of the Vietnam Unknown has been replaced. The original inscription of “Vietnam” and the dates of the conflict has been changed to “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen” as a reminder of the commitment of the Armed Forces to the fullest possible accounting of missing service members.

One of the most distinctive and unique features of the Tomb of the Unknowns is that it is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in any and all kinds of weather.  In fact, there has been a sentinel, as the guards are known, on duty in front of the Tomb every minute of every day since 1937. Sentinels, all of whom are volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the U.S. Army. Also known as The Old Guard, the Sentinels are headquartered at nearby Fort Myer, which is adjacent to the cemetery. It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

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German-American Friendship Garden

The German-American Friendship Garden, where I went on this lunchtime bike ride, is located on a direct line of sight between The White House and The Washington Monument on the National Mall, at 1600 Constitution Avenue (MAP) between 15th and 17th Streets in northwest D.C. The ornamental garden’s design, developed by landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme, features plants indigenous to both Germany and the United States, and contains benches on which visitors can rest while enjoying the gardens.

The garden was commissioned in 1982 after a visit to D.C. by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. After the Chancellor’s visit, President Ronald Reagan created a Presidential commission to design and construct a garden to commemorate the tricentennial anniversary of the first German immigration to America, and celebrate 300 years of friendship between the United States and Germany. Later, the garden was dedicated at a ceremony in November of 1988, which was attended by both President Reagan and Chancellor Kohl during their last meeting together.

During his speech at the dedication ceremony President Reagan stated, “In a few months, I’ll be leaving the White House, but the garden, and all it represents, will remain, to be nurtured and sustained by the friendship between Germans and Americans.” Chancellor Kohl agreed in his response, calling the garden a symbol “of friendship and of solidarity which will have validity for the future.”

Eventually, the garden was in need of extensive restoration, so in 2013 an initiative was jointly launched by the German Embassy, the National Park Service, and the Association of German-American Societies of Greater Washington D.C.  Subsequently, new flower beds and other native plants were planted and revitalized in the fall of that year.  A new irrigation system was also installed, and the central square panel of the garden’s plaza was restored in keeping with Oehme’s original design.

The garden has been the site of annual celebrations on German-American Day, a holiday in the United States which began in 1883. The custom, observed each year on October 6th, died out during World War I as a result of the anti-German sentiment that prevailed at the time, but was revived during Reagan’s presidency in 1983 on the 100th anniversary of the first celebration.

Today, the German-American Friendship Garden’s ideal location in one of the city’s most well-travelled tourist areas provides it with an estimated seven million visitors passing by each year.  Unfortunately, most overlook the garden as they walk by it on their way to another destination.  So my recommendation is to make the garden a specific  destination so you don’t also miss out on all that it has to offer.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

United States Institute of Peace

United States Institute of Peace

Congress has the power to create, organize, and disband all components of the Federal government. But there is no complete official government list, and even experts can’t seem to agree on the total number of Federal government departments, agencies, commissions, offices, bureaus and institutes. Most estimates suggest there are probably more than two thousand, each with their own organizational structure and areas of responsibility and authority. However, their duties often overlap, making administration and keeping tracking of what your tax dollars are supporting even more difficult.

On this bike ride, as I was riding in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, I happened upon a modern, glass-fronted building which upon further exploration turned out to be the headquarters for one of the Federal entities that I had never heard of before – The United States Institute of Peace.  Located at 2301 Constitution Avenue (MAP), just a block west of The Albert Einstein Memorial, and near the northwest corner of the National Mall near The Lincoln Memorial, their headquarters is a LEED-certified building which was designed to house the Institute’s offices and staff support facilities, library, conference center, auditorium, classrooms, and a public education center, all while serving as symbol of this country’s commitment to peacebuilding.

The United States Institute of Peace is a non-partisan, independent, Federal institution that provides analysis of and is involved in conflicts around the world.  It is relatively new, having been established by an act of Congress that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The Institute’s staff of approximately 275 is split among its D.C. headquarters, as well as field offices, and temporary missions to conflict zones.  It is governed by a board whose members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

In this city that often seems to thrive on it, the Institute and its headquarters building are not without controversy.  The Institutes board members have historically had very close ties to the American intelligence community, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency may assign officers and employees to the Institute.  And critics assert that the Institute’s peace research looks more like the study of new and potential means of aggression through trade embargos, austerity programs, and electoral intervention.

Further, the Institute is funded annually by the U.S. Congress, and during its first 30 years its official funding has increased almost tenfold. However, it also receives funds transferred from other government agencies, such as the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense, making its actual operating costs unknown.

The controversy and criticism of the Institute also affected the construction of its headquarters building. Officials broke ground for the new headquarters in June of 2008 at a ceremony that included President George W. Bush. However, by 2011 Congress voted to eliminate all funding for the U.S. Institute of Peace, including for the construction of its headquarters. Funding for the building was eventually restored the following year by both the House and Senate.

Additionally, the Institute is prohibited by law from receiving private funding and contributions for its program activities. However, the restriction on private fundraising was lifted for to construct the massive headquarters building which I visitied on this ride.

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